Sunday, 30 September 2012

Lindsay Perigo: Total Passion for the Total Kindle Book!

Guest post by Sam Pierson


Great news, punters: Lindsay Perigo's new book The Total Passion for the Total Height is now available on Amazon for Kindle. Get it here!


This is the first collection of Perigo’s writing, on everything from religion to politics to opera. Just as Perigo can light up the switchboard on talkshow radio, this work will light up the mind of its reader because, as Wimbledon finalist and friend Chris Lewis says in the Foreword, "he's going to make you think."

Those who value thinking and an independent spirit will find a unique source of personal fuel as they follow Perigo's evaluations of the philosophical landscape, his no-holds-barred aesthetic and cultural commentaries, and his accounts of his heroes.

Those comfortable with the status quo, with consensus-building, with further political extension into private life, will find a worthy opponent and may risk conversion.

Subtitled 'Life, Liberty ... and the Pursuit of Their Enemies' it is salvo after passionate salvo for the advance of liberty and reason. Boldly militant and genuinely caring, like a Mencken or modern-day Voltaire, Perigo challenges the status quo with wit, intelligence and urgency. He clears away cant. He speaks from mind and heart. He wants to change the world.

Grab it here.

(NB: Kindle book reader software is available free for Mac, iPad or PC. A quick Google search will take you there. eg; search for 'Amazon Kindle for PC')

Friday, 28 September 2012

Friday Morning Ramble: Let’s get started

The media are still talking about John Banks. And Kim Dotcom. I can’t be arsed. Let’s take a ramble…

More on China…

Ah yes, the book that started the modern environmental movement. “This week Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring will turn 50.”

  • “In Silent Spring, Carson crafted a passionate denunciation of modern technology that drives environmentalist ideology today. At its heart is this belief: Nature is beneficent, stable, and even a source of moral good; humanity is arrogant, heedless, and often the source of moral evil. Rachel Carson, more than any other person, is responsible for the politicized science that afflicts our public policy debates today.”
    Silent Spring's 50-Year History of Selective Data – Ronald Bailey, REASON
  • “It’s not polite to talk about brown and black people dying because rich white people in America feel better about themselves when the brown and black people don’t get to use DDT," says the University of Alabama's Andrew Morriss, co-editor of the new book Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson“The legacy of Carson's best-known book - widely considered the starting point of the modern environmentalist movement and the international ban on the malaria-fighting pesticide DDT  - has caused many more problems than it has solved.”
    Rachel Carson's Silent Spring at 50 Years – Joshua Swain, REASON
  • “Did cancer doom ever arrive? No. In Silent Spring Carson cites data showing that American farmers were then applying about 637 million pounds of pesticides to their crops. The most recent EPA estimate is that farmers used 1.1 billion pounds in 2007...What happened to cancer incidence rates? According CDC, age-adjusted incidence rates have been dropping for nearly two decades.”
    Silent Spring's 50-Year History Of Selective Data – CLIMATE DEPOT
  • “I don't want to talk about the particular topics she was hyping: they don't deserve it.
    Instead, I want to say that she was a pioneer of an ideologically driven pseudoscience pretending to be science. When she talked about the life of birds and their interactions with the environment, it sounded like a science – ecology. When she talked about pesticides, it sounded like a science, too – some kind of biochemistry. So by the choice of words, she could have pretended she was speaking as a scientist. A problem is that the claims she was making were actually never scientifically justified, at least not with good enough standards. They were ideological slogans. And she was one of the first people in the West who intensely insisted that the compatibility of a proposition with her ideology may replace the scientific rigor that was normally needed to establish scientific claims…
    “While pesticides are pretty important to feed the whole mankind today, they're not really an essential and omnipresent part of the civilization… What the newest fearmongering wants to ban – carbon dioxide emissions – is much more universal and crucial for the civilization…”
    Fifty years after Silent Spring – Lubos Motl, REFERENCE FRAME
  • How about praising a real hero.
    When it Comes to Human Flourishing, Forget Rachel Carson & Remember Bruce Ames – REASON
  • Disaster sells. But do the facts matter when we're scaring ourselves to death, or is it okay to lie in order to "wake people up" to calamity?
    Selling disaster: The four horsemen of modern apocalypse – NOT PC, 2006
    When politics masquerades as science – NOT PC, 2006

Do you think the National Cabinet could sit still for long enough to discover what a Reagan-era apparatchik has to tell them about how “crony capitalism”corrupts?  Would they even understand?

Is he really talking about Mittens?Potentially the most transforming president of the twenty-first century – Steve Kates, CATALLAXY FILES

Mitt Romney, class warrior?
Economic Status Doesn't Determine One's Ideas – Harry Binswanger, FORBES

Freely trading EnZed would not do well with a Mittens presidency. “But the bigger and more disconcerting story in all of this is the apparent ascendancy of economic nationalism within the GOP [and] Romney’s persistence in trying to brand himself the “most protectionist” … in the presidential race … Have you seen the Romney ads? … It was once the case – not too long ago – that Republican candidates argued in support of trade and the freedom of Americans to partake of the opportunities afforded by the global economy. But things, apparently, have changed.”
Mitt Romney’s Contrived Trade War – Daniel Ikenson, CATO

They sure have.
Peter Schiff Smacksdown Mitt Romney – ECONOMIC POLICY JOURNAL

Know your enemy. If affordable housing is your wish, then developers are not your enemy. Planners are.
Developers fight to house citizens – NZ HERALD
High price of land thorny issue – NZ HERALD
Factions divided on why NZ housing so expensive – NZ HERALD
Building Battle: Fees drive up prices – NZ HERALD
The Answer Is Urban Consolidation – What Was The Question? – CITIES MATTER
Housing Affordability Inquiry [343-page PDF] – PRODUCTIVITY COMMMISSION

For those who need assistance…
Ahmadinejad and Morsi lay out the Islamic agenda – Robert Spencer, JIHAD WATCH

Just in case you missed the agenda behind the latest pretext for protest: “Freedom of expression must come with ‘responsibility’-- i.e. it must be restricted in accord with Sharia.”
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi at UN, calls for restrictions on free speech – Robert Spencer, JIHAD WATCH

Pretext? Yes, pretext.
Libyan President Confirms: Movie "had nothing to do with this attack." – REASON
Shameless liars – Steve Kates, CATALLAXY FILES

Yes, it is possible.
Feature Length, Honest Muhammad Movies in the Offing? – ANDREW BOSTOM

Only in Pakistan?
Minister willing to pay for contract killing – LIBERTY SCOTT

There’s a lot of pseudo-intellectual blog wankery about. Fortunately, with a Grade Level of 13 and Reading Ease Score of 40, there’s much less of it at this blog than is spouted forth from your average Labour MP.
There's a lot of pseudo-intellectual blog wankery aboutWHALE OIL

Q: How do you confuse an Apple FanBoys and Girls queuing for the latest model? A: Drop a case full of iPhone 5s at their feet. “Do thy get irate at the bigmouthed handtruck-tipping klutz? Do they offer to help out? Do they look up from their earlier-gen iPhones? Do they try to get an irregular discount? None of the above. As Alex Goyette finds out in this prank, Apple users do what they do best: sit passively and wait to be told what to do.”

“Your teacher asks you to challenge me to give ‘one good reason why the law should not require that women be paid the same as men for the same work.’  I’m happy to oblige.  There are many good reasons, but I’ll here stick to one… Suppose that the law your teacher endorses were applied to the market for women’s dresses…”
Letter to a Very Bright 11th Grader – Don Boudreaux, CAFE HAYEK

“Last summer, two researchers from the New England Complex Systems Institute published a short paper examining the correlation between rising food prices and civil unrest. It was a timely analysis, to say the least. A number of food riots were occurring throughout the world, not to mention waves of revolution sparked by the high cost of food… The researchers’ [reached] a simple conclusion– whenever the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)’s global food price index climbs above 210, conditions ripen for social unrest. Today, the FAO’s food index is at 213… and rising.”
Two no-brainer ways to play rising food prices – Simon Black, SOVEREIGN MAN

See, I told you. “Don’t get me wrong, that high Kiwi dollar hurts me like billy-o. Yet as one exporter to another there is much more than monetary policy involved. We know from experience that we cannot take on the world. Nor should we start pumping out five dollar notes because that is a race to the bottom.”
Whining about the high exchange rate misses the key point; it is our fiscal and regulatory failings that are doing the real damage. – Bruce Wills, INTEREST.CO.NZ

It’s now officially a 3-way race to the bottom between the dollar, the euro, and the yen. Why would we want to join in?
It’s officially a 3-way race to the bottom – Tim Staermose, SOVEREIGN MAN

A bunch of links, most courtesy of Cafe Hayek, on Ben Bernanke’s bazooka:

  • “We are reaching — or may already have passed — the practical limits of “economic stimulus.” … Let’s do the sums.”
    Bernanke on the brink – Robert Samuelson, WASHINGTON POST
  • “Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke evidently thinks that driving up the stock market will quicken the animal spirits of the affluent 20 percent who own 93 percent of equities, and this “wealth effect” will spur economic activity, eventually benefiting others. So, the interest rates Barack Obama favors are a form of the trickle-down economics he execrates.”
    A different kind of inflation problem – George Wills, WASHINGTON POST
  • "The increased dependence of the individual upon government which inflation produces and the demand for move government action to which this leads may for the socialist be an argument in its favor.  Those who wish to preserve freedom should recognize, however, that inflation is probably the most important single factor in that vicious circle wherein one kind of government action makes more and more government control necessary.” Pete Boettke finds inspiration in FA Hayek.
    Quotes of the day inspired by recent ECB and Fed actions – Pete Boettke, COORDINATION PROBLEM
  • You have to be kidding!
    The Fed Has Another $3.9 Trillion In QE To Go (At Least) – Tyler Durden, ZERO HEDGE
  • Here’s the reason many investors pulled back this week. “There has been very little coverage in mainstream media about the Fed super-money printing and how much of it is going into excess reserves… But for the second time in two weeks, Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser is warning about the time bomb that is excess reserves.”
    HOT: Fed Prez Spills the Beans on the Excess Reserve Inflation Time BombECONOMIC POLICY JOURNAL
  • Yes, Virginia, it’s true.
    Fed Virtually Funding the Entire US Deficit: – CNBC

The problem is not just the Reserve Bank targeting inflation. The same problems occur whatever they choose to target.  “Here is the prime fallacy behind the nominal GDP target and, in fact, [of all similar targets]: It tacitly assumes that money is neutral, which money never is. Let me explain…”
The fallacy of nominal GDP targeting – Detlev Schlicter, PAPER MONEY COLLAPSE

“Indeed, the fact that central banks can create money out of thin air, so to speak, is something that many observers are likely to find surprising and strange, perhaps mystical and dreamlike, too  – or even nightmarish.” Says the President of the Bundesbank!
Money out of thin air, mystical and dreamlike – Ralph Benko, COBDEN CENTRE

Speaking of fractional-reserve banking (come on, you knew that was the topic), it’s interesting to see the capital ratios of local banks.
Fitch Ratings says NZ banks' will be barely impacted by RBNZ's tougher new Basel III capital standards given they already meet them - Gareth Vaughan, INTEREST.CO.NZ

“You have probably seen this video here, where Paul Krugman explains why the threat of an alien invasion could be a good thing. It would lead to the kind of stimulus package he wants: politicians would put their philistine concerns about the budget deficit and inflation aside, and bring on a fully-fledged fiscal and monetary bazooka.”
What if Paul Krugman’s aliens had already landed? – Kristian Niemitz, IEA BLOG

“The monthly unemployment report is not much use as a real-time statistic. The data is meaningful only after it has been revisited, revised and is no longer current.”
Any month's Unemployment Report is useless – PRACTICE GOOD THEORY

The BBC has a new three-part series they call “Masters of Money,” a title belied by two of the three “masters” chosen to eulogise: Keynes and Karl Marx.  In the first episode, they repeat all the usual Keynesian fallacies, including Keynes’s description of unexpected changes in economic behaviour as “animal spirits”. “Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England no less, said on the programme that it was the best explanation for the banking crisis five years ago. To describe such an event in those terms is not an explanation and exposes a yawning gap in King’s knowledge.
“Animal spirits” amount to the failure of Keynesians to explain a basic phenomenon of human action.”
Animal spirits – Alasdair McLeod, COBDEN CENTRE

The BBC’s other choice, presumably due to dialectic necessity, is Hayek. But if you want to watch it to learn anything, even one word, about his economics, you’re going to be disappointed.
Masters of Money: Hayek (BBC) – YOU TUBE

Even The Economist doesn’t have a clue about the actual economics of the Nobel Prize winner.  Here’s a letter to The Economist
The Price of Monetary Meddling – Don Boudreaux, CAFE HAYEK

You’ll learn more about Hayek’s actual economics in five minutes from this than you will from the BBC’s sixty minutes:

A random web search led me to this neat site (click to head straight there):


I’m excited. The Ayn Rand Bookstore has finally joined the e-age, allowing lectures to be downloaded for peanuts that formerly cost megabucks to buy on CD, or cassette (remember cassettes?).
For me, I’m putting time aside over the weekend to listen to A Brief History of the Middle East, Philosophy of Education, and The 19th-Century Atomic War. Optimistic? Me?

Speaking of history, I know some readers are going to be fascinated with these:
JFK audio recordings available – HISTORY NEWS NETWORK

Now, this is very cool: “Even the most skilled and steady surgeons experience minute, almost imperceptible hand tremors when performing delicate tasks. Normally, these tiny motions are inconsequential, but for doctors specializing in fine-scale surgery, such as operating inside the human eye or repairing microscopic nerve fibers, freehand tremors can pose a serious risk for patients.  By harnessing a specialized optical fiber sensor, a new "smart" surgical tool can compensate for this unwanted movement by making hundreds of precise position corrections each second -- fast enough to keep the surgeon's hand on target.”
Cyborg Surgeon: Hand and Technology Combine in New Surgical Tool That Enables Superhuman Precision – SCIENCE DAILY


I confess, I’ve always wanted to design Tatami mats into my houses. I’ve yet to find a client with a matching enthusiasm.
Quick History: Tatami Mats – APARTMENT THERAPY

“We’ve talked about the myth that the post-WWII period demonstrates that Big Government fosters Big Economic Growth. A new report from Mercatus takes a careful look at the postwar boom. Particularly interesting, it addresses the left’s claim that much of the boom was a result of the GI Bill.”
Economic Recovery: Lessons From The Post-World War II Period – Don Watkins, LAISSEZ FAIRE

I doubt you go to Law School for an enjoyable career path. So does it pay?
The Economics of Law School – Orrin Kerr, VOLOKH CONSPIRACY

If you’ve ever wondered why only white people can be racist, the two word answer is “Karl Marx.”
Only white people can be racist – LIBERTY SCOTT

Should an atheist refuse to have a religious wedding?
Question: A Religious Wedding for an Atheist Groom [AUDIO] – Diana Hsieh, NOODLE FOOD

When should nuclear weapons be used, if ever? Under what circumstances should a free society use nuclear weapons?
Question: The Morality of Nuclear Weapons [AUDIO] - Diana Hsieh, NOODLE FOOD

Yes, it surely is the age of the Infographic.
Greg Beato on the Age of the Infographic – REASON

No, it’s not easy is it.
On having sex in the bath – GIRL ON THE NET


In preparation for OctoberFest, UBS Bank has been doing important work, showing showing the cheapest parts of the world to buy a beer. See above. Yes, America wins … but have you ever drunk American beer!
U.S.A. Wins In Beer Affordability Index – REASON

But where the hell is EnZed I hear you ask? Fear not, the noble folk at Stats Chat have heard your plea. “On average it takes 13.62 minutes to earn a pint in New Zealand. There are no figures on the plot, but we seem to sit somewhere between Australia and Argentina, our fellow Rugby Championship competitors, but a long way below South Africa.”
How is the beer up (down) here? – James Curran, STATS CHAT

And in homage to their homage, here’s NZ’s La De Das’ “How Is the Air Up There,” pithily described on YouTube as “a stormer of a garage track”!

I’ve never heard him play it himself, but I’m told Duke Ellington was a lifelong fan of Scott Joplin’s almost classical ‘Solace.’

Isn’t YouTube great! We can now watch, at our leisure, any time we want, brilliant performances by legends like Toscanini.

And finally, it’s Grand Final weekend in Melbourne—Swans v Hawks. (No, no Geelong this year. But having beaten both in recent weeks, we do have bragging rights, no?)
So … enjoy the start of the Special Grand Final Edition of the AFL Footy Show…

[Hat tip Michael D., Russell W., Julian D., Noodle Food, Thrutch, Robert Wenzel]

Have a great weekend!

#NZ Post, and a tale of three parcels [updated]

As Ian Fleming almost said, once is happenstance, twice is coincidence and three times is rank incompetence.

Speaking of rank incompetence, as we were yesterday morning, let me give you the performance of NZ Post. I don’t mean their performance in “returning a dividend” to the government, or in administering the Anderton Bank—I mean in doing the core job of a postal system: delivering the mail.

Remember mail?

Here’s the story of three parcels.

About this time last year, I bought several books from overseas, of which one never arrived (William Hutt’s Rehabilitation of Say’s Law, now you ask). I only realised months later it was missing, because in the meantime I’d been enjoying the Kindle version, but when I did realise and chased it up with NZ Post (they have a nifty tracking page on their website so you can see where they think all your stuff went to) they had no idea where it had gone. Their “records” showed no record of non-delivery; my bookshelf begged to differ. I flagged it away as bad luck, and continued to enjoy reading the e-book.

Then in April another parcel of books went missing. But it wasn’t lost, said NZ Post, they just didn’t know where it was. Records showed it arrived in the country in good order, then disappeared. After a fortnight of phone calls, it finally turned up somewhere I could collect it—turned out it had the package’s wrapping and address label had been damaged somewhere in the NZ Post system and then somehow been put outside in the rain—whereupon some kind soul had wrapped the whole package in plastic to produce the perfect moist, humid environment in which you can be sure mould will flourish. I’m sure they wouldn’t have been disappointed with the final result: my copy of How the Far East Was Lost now boasts an irreplaceable patina that will ensure my copy will never be confused for another.

Undeterred, I am now expecting yet another package. I have been expecting it for a month. But I haven’t got it, and neither it seems do NZ Post. At least, they don’t know if they’ve got it.  They don’t know very much at all.  They do know a driver did take it to my address, and upon finding no-one home he did take it away again.* Nice. No card, no note, no communication—which is supposedly the reason to register on NZ Post’s bloody website. Nothing. And assuredly, no parcel. And once again, I’m told by NZ Post it is not lost—they just don’t know where it is. Not exactly. It could be in Auckland; it could have been sent back to its overseas source; it could be sitting in a cage out at the airport containing sundry other similarly undelivered parcels; it could even, conceivably, have been sent as a care package to Kabul to help English-reading Afghanis through the inevitable transition to Taleban rule in twelve months time.*** But until this cage has been sorted through, which must be a very large cage since it seems to take several days to rummage through, no more news about my parcel is apparently available.

Until then, I wait for a phone call.

As Ian Fleming almost said, once is happenstance, twice is coincidence and three times in twelve months must surely be rank incompetence.**

But I’m also waiting for a fourth parcel. A certain Kickstarter package containing two long-playing vinyl discs. A package that should have been here and on my turntable around a fortnight ago. But that package hasn’t even appeared on NZ Post’s tracking page.

I can feel already it’s not going to end well.

And I wonder what Ian Fleming would say about a fourth?

PS:  Anyone else have similar problems to report?

UPDATE: I have had a phone call! The parcel, I was told, is still in the hands of and yet to be returned by CourierPost, the non-deliverers of the parcel, who are due to return it sometime today, tomorrow or next week to “the cage” so that it can be reassigned for re-delivery by … Courier Post.
I asked to go in and pick it up myself when or if it is ever actually sighted.

* * * * *

* Which begs the question, do we now, as they used to in the Soviet Union, need to stay home peering through our curtains on days NZ Post might deliver, ready at a moment’s notice to leap forth and wrestle our parcels bodily from their delivery persons?)

** Only three? I’ve occasionally been told by friends that things have been sent to me that have never arrived,

*** While they would certainly benefit from a thorough reading of Omnipotent Government, I wonder how they’ll enjoy my copy of The Turgot Collection: Pocket Edition, and The Socialist Tradition, from Moses to Lenin?

Architectural Mini-Tutorial: Ceiling Decks

Hamilton Organic Architecture

Open plan living is a vast improvement on life in a box -- or in a series of boxes, which is what describes most traditional houses, unfortunately.

But it’s not enough just to be “open plan.”  The biggest open plan space is just a field, right?  Good open-plan living still requires a delineation of spaces within the larger space – it’s just more difficult for the designer to ensure the right degree of separation between the sub-spaces, and the right amount of integration of each sub-space with the main space.

In a well-designed open space, each space will have its own character, and will flow easily and comfortably into other spaces – especially if the spaces are successfully “nested.” It should feel natural, not forced, with each space retaining its own character within the larger space, but still being a part of it.  Done properly, the “separation” or division of spaces gives the right feelings of liberation or enclosure appropriate to the space.

It’s important that the definition of each each space within the larger whole is done a subtle manner so as to avoid there simply being a space like 'one large barn.'  Some popular methods of achieving this separation are:

  • different floor coverings in different space;
  • changes in floor level between spaces;
  • furnishing layouts;
  • the use of sliding or folding 'screens';
  • the use of room proportions and wall returns to break up a larger space into smaller sub-spaces;
  • posts and the like between spaces;
  • changes in window and door layouts, e.g., a french door layout in one part of a space, and perhaps clerestory windows in the other;

The method by which the separation is achieved is usually dependent on the extent and quality of the spatial separation required.

All these methods of suggesting separation of spaces, from subtle to obvious, can be used in virtually every open space. In fact, one of the best places to see these methods in action "out in the wild" is in some of the best-designed bars and pubs, which use virtually every method there is to make small sociable, friendly spaces within a much larger whole. And here's one of the most effective methods to do this job:

  • changes in ceiling height, including the use of lowered ceilings and lowered ceiling decks, like this: brings me to ceiling decks – a special kind of “overhead plane” that is among the very best ways to frame a space and begin making a home out of a house.

A ceiling deck is essentially a lowered “ceiling slab'” that you can see over, and in which you might have downlights, uplights and all your other services. (Great for future proofing because it's very easy to rewire!)

Your cunning designer can use ceiling decks to frame a space; to separate two spaces; to direct a view; and to give order and pleasurable contrast to a series of different-sized (or even same-sized) spaces.

If you've got them at the right heights, by playing off expected proportions with the unexpected proportions you build in, you can really begin to make a small space appear very much larger indeed.

And oddly enough, if the “decks” are done well and they become the primary ordering element of a space – the means by which all the space in your building is “read” – then your walls and all the home's other enclosures start to lose their importance.  You’ve started to “break the box”-- reducing the sense of enclosure without removing the sense of place a home should give you.

Which maybe explains why you see them so rarely. Most modern designers like boxes.  And they despise subtlety.

Ceiling decks offer a particularly subtle way both to 'frame a space' and to divide one space from another, but also – if you do them well -- lowered ceiling decks that 'frame' a space help to make that space and those around it appear larger than they are.

So basically, a lowered ceiling deck is simply a lowed or independent part of a ceiling, usually horizontal in the manner of an above-ground 'deck.'

Why do they work so well? Well, here's one reason--your "space bubble."  See:

Social Space Bubble Personal Organic Architecture

Each of us has our own personal space bubble--and, if we're with friends or family, a social space bubble within which we feel our personal space is contained.

Ceiling decks help "frame" these larger bubbles to give real presence to a space. And with lower decks, they offer a very good way of "squeezing down" a space bubble over eating areas for example, or at an entrance, which can then be "released" into a larger space--the contrast between the two making the large space feel larger and the lower space cosier.

This is simply a three-dimensional use of the technique of “containment” and then “release” used for centuries by the designers of Japanese landscapes and courtyard gardens. The same technique built in and updated.

A ceiling deck, or a lowered ceiling, can be in any style and suit houses of any era. Here are some examples of lowered ceilings, ceiling decks, ceiling dividers and “picture rails” (used to suggest a lowered ceiling) using different styles, and from different eras, all of them successful. See if you can see all the designers are hoping to achieve in each case:

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Thursday, 27 September 2012

In China, construction means (wealth) destruction

Guest post by Suzuki Samurai
Everything is old in China, not just the ancient stuff, but the new stuff too. Oxymoron? Welcome to China.
I commented to a Chinese colleague that I wanted to move a to a newer apartment complex, he told me that he would find me a new place and that my current residence was indeed “very old” - ten years “old” in fact. I thought I had misheard him, I thought he’d got his English numbers mixed up and corrected him, “You mean thirty years old,” he looked at me as if I was mad and, as Chinese do, used his fingers to indicate the number ten by crossing his two index fingers - like one is supposed to do to ward off vampires. Incidentally I never did move, but I can now count up to ten using one hand. (A clenched fist is also ‘ten’ by the way).
Looking around it is easy to see why things look so shabby so quickly. Time horizons are not long here. Chinese are not ones to plan, foresee, or let alone care what happens after, um… anything really. This might appear paradoxical, but the Chinese consider “what if” to be an alien concept that simply gets in the way of daily life & business; yet at the same time they are great at saving for a rainy day. This is due perhaps to having ao many and long ‘rainy days’ in the past.
Looking at the outside of buildings you’ll notice two things, the first thing is the security bars affixed to every window in the country—which keep non-existent burglars outside, and you nice and toasty inside in the event of a fire. The second is all the rust stains running down the wall from air-conditioning units. The thought never seems to cross mind of the developer or builder (or anyone for that matter) to use galvanized dyna-bolts to hold the units in place; even though it is obvious this is occurring time and time again, they continue the same practice. This might sound trivial, but when there are hundreds of these buildings in a single development, multiply these with the thousands of developments across China (did I say thousands; it feels like millions!), you can imagine the result. Added to that is the use of single coats of the cheapest paint; though I’m sure Chinese would point out it is cheaper to send legions of swinging-from-ropes painters up to re-paint every year than do it right first time.
Anyway, from paint, to screws, to cobbled common areas, everything starts off all bright and shiny; but after a year (or immediately in some cases) things start looking very depressing. Anyone who visited the Soviet Union will know what I mean.
Chinese apartments concrete smell
Inside an apartment, you find garish light fittings, what appear to be fine modern leather lounge suites, and tiled floors; nice on the face of it if you like that sort of thing—and in China face is everything. The bathroom though is the room with the least thought put into it. They are generally cramped and crap. All the plumbing is plastic pipe fixed to the wall, bent and angled in hap-hazard manner; I’ve seen better plumbing in a 1950’s fibrolite Kiwi beach bach. Also, one of the first things you’ll notice is the damp smell of concrete. Concrete, being porous needs to be sealed. But not here, it is simply painted over; I’ve not seen one apartment with ‘Gib-Board’ on the walls or anything covering them but a single coat of cheap paint and a cheap print. The apartment’s smell intensifies on laundry & shower day (yes, shower ‘day’ for a lot of locals). The washing machine is often in the bathroom; its drain-pipe joins the shower run-off, which flows –hopefully - down a 100mm wide concrete or PVC pipe. This pipe is shared by every other apartment’s’ occupants. The ammonia smell that rises from this pipe is eye-watering. Literally.
From light switches that spark, to grease-laden kitchen extractor fans, to paint falling off the walls, to sinks and baths and benches that aren’t sealed … these places are rubbish – even the new ones.
How does this happen? Why don’t people do something about it?
A number of reasons as far as I can tell.
1. Developers. Developments do not progress as they do elsewhere. Here, an architect simply draws the building cookie-cutter style, based on the best-selling book, “Tall rectangles for grown-ups.” He doesn’t attach his name to its finish quality. He simply does the pretty pictures and then hands over the drawings and flees.
From there the developer commissions huge hoardings surrounding the immense site that show the most absurd impossibilities like grassy fields, and blonde American families skipping through meadows. The Chinglish is fantastic though and keeps me entertained, some of my favourites (all true):
“Windsor Castle: Lush - Family, Meadow, Life, Child, Landscape, Drunk.”
“Chateaux Palace: Brilliant, Today, Relax, Love, Pragmaaaaasticks.” [WTF?]
“Paradise: Beach, Puppy, Dance, Live, Double-Nice.”
Anyway, the developer (meaning Communist Party member with special loans & power ) gets the construction company (meaning Communist Party members with special deals) to forget about the pretty pictures and get the job done. The former suddenly forgets about all the promised pre-sales, after-sales service, and maintenance. The latter buys materials which are a lot cheaper and dodgy than spec, and/or doesn’t finish the fit-out due to being a complete bastard for whom reputation is unnecessary. More often than not though, it is because the new owners ask to do the fit-out themselves—either to save money, or because they have low expectations of quality from the builder I don’t know—but either way it’s a shambles. Added to that is, as an owner, even if you wanted to do something about a breach of ‘contract’ the chances of getting any kind of result apart from an emptier wallet are remote at best; getting physically threatened is a much more real possibility.
2. Landlords. Now this goes for commercial and residential. All rent for a year is paid for in advance. Unless demented by Chinese standards, the landlord takes no responsibility whatsoever for the upkeep of fittings or internal structure. For example: your plumbing stops working because the pipes on the wall are poorly fitted or blocked, responsibility? Your responsibility. The light in the ceiling falls to the floor? Your responsibility. Burning gas burns down your kitchen due to poorly-fitted gas work … responsibility? You guessed it. Yours.
There are rental agreements, but seldom do they say anything about who pays for what; and even if it does it is presumed that it is always the tenant who pays.
3. Commercial. Same deal on the rent paid up-front. There is once again, as far as I can tell, no contractual responsibility assumed by landlords to conduct maintenance on commercial buildings, nor agreements between the parties as to usage rights, maximum people flow etc.; this leads to vast under-capacity of lifts and toilets, and outrageous fire risks. Again no one seems to care or even give it any thought; and the idea of making a rectification complaint to the landlord is ludicrous and down-right rude; once again he might lose face you see – geez, he may be a government man or at least he must have government connections otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to own it in the first place.
If a commercial tenant does have a notion of maintaining their brand reputation and invariably find the building crumbling around them, they simply move out to a newly built building down the road. The banks (all government entities) do this on what looks like a daily basis. This leaves empty, rotting buildings all around town; including very large shopping malls.
Government buildings on the other hand are grand. By this, I don’t mean nice: I mean maintained, landscaped, looked after etc. This is unusual. And by government building I don’t mean “a building containing a branch of government.” I mean “a building containing members of the government.” Sometimes for example you’ll see a government school next to a government building; not often however, but with no sense of irony the school will be rough as guts, with open trough toilets and shabby facilities. Not so however for the ‘chosen-ones’, who will be well ensconced in lavishly large offices,with flowering gardens, underground car-parks, and fully earthquake-proofed ivory towers.
This last is important.
Ai Wei Wei, the once in-favour artist & designer of the ‘birds nest’ stadium in Beijing, is now a Party enemy for being bravely vocal about the Sechuan earth quake tragedy, pointing out how government buildings remained standing while government schools collapsed killing nearly 20,000 kids.
The amount of capital being blown here in China is just mind-blowing. More so, because just a few years ago there was no capital here to blow. It has accumulated, and could go, with equal speed. With no maintenance of capital goods and a hopelessly misallocated capital structure; with a construction boom that dwarfs even the most recent one in the US; with endemic and systemic corruption; with cheap and highly risky loans; with a government too frightened to accept or to tell the truth; with all of that  the chances of a very loud and very calamitous popping of this bubble is even more certain than a Muslim protest at a cartoon of Mohammed.
And for all of that you don’t even get a nice aesthetic. Everything here does, or will, look like shit.
Shanghai collapsed apartments
TO SEE UP CLOSE for myself what malinvestment and capital destruction on a massive scale looks like, I took a jaunt recently to a small ghost city, it is situated in the middle of a barren wasteland about 70 Km's from anywhere. There was barely a soul to be found except for me and a lone, rather stunned, security guard.
If you look closely, you can see me and my motorbike at the base of a new and completely empty, very  large government building.
Opposite there behind the camera I'm looking at an equally large Police station that outside has a single cop car; again, not a soul around. There is also a man-made lake. With nobody on it.
If ever a decent new series of The Prisoner were filmed, this would be the place to come. A captive Patrick McGoohan would be right at home here.
I'm trying to paint a picture of what it feels like there but it is hard. Try and imagine the worst waste land you've been to and imagine a resort being built there.
And this is when they’re trying to build nice.
In conclusion, here’s an ostrich. (Did I mention China is insane?)

[Pictures by Suzuki Samurai, AP, Sulekha.Com]

The DotCom

Q: What’s the similarity between Kim DotCom and Tame Iti?
A: The NZ police and security services did their level best to
make them both look good.

I wonder if incompetence can be measured. Perhaps, if it could, the unit could be called “The DotCom.” The Dot Com could be defined as the ability of one govt agency to blow one case sky high by one piece of rank incompetence.*

Every now and then we get a clear peek into the inside of the government machine—a look behind the scenes into that ever-growing armed bureaucracy that asserts its power to run our lives, and to attempt to run this country.

The revelations of blunders, mistakes and cockups made by virtually every police and govt security organisation in the investigations of both the Urewera 18 and Kim DotCom and his band of pirates is such an occasion. Organisations set up to enforce the law can’t even follow their own laws they are employed to enforce.

It seems there is virtually nothing the police and its fellow agencies could not cock up, does there.

But they’re not alone. This is really the record of every govt agency everywhere, from ACC to the Auckland City Council—though not all their cockups make headlines…

We know the Soviet Union did not collapse because of the competence of its govt departments. In the same way, we can be confident that the incompetence revealed in the botched investigations of Iti and Dotcom are simply the very public tip of an iceberg of endemic incompetence.

I suggest that next time and every time you are confronted by a man with a plan to be carried out by government, you just think back to occasions such as these and remember: these people really do not have a fricking clue.

* * * * *

* But this might be confused with the other obvious use of “The Dotcom”: which could be defined as the ability of one person in one visit to parliament to put a Prime Minister on the back foot for one week.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

You don’t get richer by making yourself poorer

A “DEBATE” IS SUPPOSEDLY under way about monetary policy in New Zealand. A “debate” begun by economic ignoramuses calling for the Reserve Bank to redirect its efforts from “stabilising prices” to lowering our exchange rate.

What this amounts to is a call to use the printing press to lower our exchange rate—and hence to lower real wages.

Revealingly, however, none of the politicians promoting this call to lower wages by means of the printing press give this as their method. Instead, they like to use metaphors.

Russel Norman, who has all the economic credentials of an organic termite farm, reckons "you can't be a pacifist in an international currency war."

David Cunliffe, a man never short of a desire for more “tools” in the politician’s toolbox, reckons “a broader range of tools are needed.”

Meanwhile, the bloke whose back Cunliffe has his knife in Cunliffe’s colleague David Parker talks about “pulling the levers” to get the dollar down. How? An explicit answer to that question still eludes him even after his flying trip around the globe to ask a gaggle of famous inflationists which specific levers to pull.

The most any will allow is that “the Reserve Bank should be actively considering selective intervention in currency markets.” Which, given the Reserve Bank’s size, would be roughly equivalent to pissing uphill in an attempt to reverse the flow of Niagara Falls.

It is left to alleged economists like Bernard Hickey and Rod Oram to make their case for them.  “Bernard Hickey wonders why New Zealand is not printing money and thinks we are being severely disadvantaged by not following the crowd,” says the fiscal fool’s own headline. And Oram’s column in the weekend’s Sunday Star Slime was essentially a begging letter to the Reserve Bank’s custodians to take the tarps off the printing presses and let rip.

After all, they both say, everyone else is doing it!

What a fruit loop of fucking fools!*

It appears to have escaped their notice that “doing it” has done nothing at all to effect any recovery. Anywhere.  They’ve been “doing it over there” for five years now, with nothing noticeably positive to report.

Indeed, they might observe that those who have done it--most conspicuously, the US, Britain, Europe and Japan—have only made things worse. Worse for themselves, and worse for everyone around them. (Try and analyse why Japan has now enjoyed two “lost decades” before even beginning to fall for the easy delusion peddled by monetary cranks like Hickey, Oram and Norman.) Will currency devaluation make the Eurozone, the US, Britain or Japan wealthier? Answer: No.  But it will help to impoverish them all.

Every country in the world is printing money at the moment. We are too, just not quite so fast. What all the “debate” amounts to is a demand by the fiscal fools that we catch up.

LET’S CONFRONT RIGHT off the bat here a serious delusion about the desirability of any interventions by the Reserve Bank at all.  They cite the “effectiveness” of the Bank at its job of price stabilisation, without ever bothering to notice that their policy of price stabilisation has depreciated the value of the dollar by around 35% since the policy of stabilisation was begun, and when followed in both the 192os and 2000s the policy was fully responsible for pumping up unsustainable booms that led in both cases directly to economic disaster. This should surely bring into question any demand for any intervention by the Bank at all!

Second, they reckon it should take its eyes off that ball to try having a lash at “fixing” our exchange rate. (How? Somehow. At what level? At whatever level the fools decide—up one day, down the next, sideways presumably the day after.) But even if it were successful at reversing the flow of Niagara, or of printing sufficient amounts of our currency to have an effect without blowing us all up, what would the effect of that intervention actually be?

At the moment, for no good reason other than having interest rates marginally higher than elsewhere and a government borrowing hundreds of millions of foreign currency every week, there is an avalanche of foreign money wanting to be exchanged for our paper.

The net effect has been to raise the value of said paper. And the net effect of that, if you follow the argument through, has been to raise the purchasing power of our dollar. Which means, yes, that the prices exporters get are not translated back into as many local dollars, but it does raise sky-high the ability of businesses here to buy capital goods and supplies needed for production, thus lowering their costs; and it does, when you think about  it further, mean that every worker’s wage goes that little bit further when buying any of the thousands of goods and services whose production is priced in a foreign currency.

Which means that the pleas by Labour and Green politicians to lower our exchange rate amounts to a plea to lower real wages. Yes, to lower real wages—for that is what the call to lower our dollar’s purchasing power amounts to. A ‘round the houses’ means by which one of the chief difficulties created by the rigidity of wages may be overcome. It is a kind of subtle, surreptitious, supercilious beggar-thy-selves mercantilist type of policy explained by Adam Smith more than tw0-hundred years ago, and exploded by Friedrich Hayek less than one-hundred years ago.

You would think that at least the trades union’s economist would recognise this Keynesian subterfuge for what it is. But instead, he applauds it. “Stop talking, just do it,” says CTU economist Bill Rosenberg, oblivious apparently to the fact he is calling for a reduction in his members’ wages by monetary means.

THE SO-CALLED “IMPROVED competitiveness resulting from purposeful currency depreciation is a delusion, explains Australian economist Frank Shostak.

The so-called improved competitiveness resulting from currency depreciation in fact amounts to economic impoverishment. The "improved competitiveness" means that the citizens of a country are now getting fewer real imports for a given amount of real exports. While the country is getting rich in terms of foreign currency, it is getting poor in terms of real wealth — i.e., in terms of the goods and services required for maintaining people's lives and well-being.
As time goes by, the effects of loose monetary policy filter through a broad spectrum of prices of goods and services and ultimately undermine exporters' profits. A rise in prices puts to an end the illusory attempt to create economic prosperity out of thin air. According to Ludwig von Mises,

The much talked about advantages which devaluation secures in foreign trade and tourism, are entirely due to the fact that the adjustment of domestic prices and wage rates to the state of affairs created by devaluation requires some time. As long as this adjustment process is not yet completed, exporting is encouraged and importing is discouraged. However, this merely means that in this interval the citizens of the devaluating country are getting less for what they are selling abroad and paying more for what they are buying abroad; concomitantly they must restrict their consumption. This effect may appear as a boon in the opinion of those for whom the balance of trade is the yardstick of a nation's welfare. In plain language it is to be described in this way: The British citizen must export more British goods in order to buy that quantity of tea which he received before the devaluation for a smaller quantity of exported British goods.

    Contrast the policy of currency depreciation with a conservative policy where money is not expanding. Under these conditions, when the pool of real wealth is expanding the purchasing power of money will follow suit. This, all other things being equal, leads to currency appreciation. With the expansion in the production of goods and services and the consequent falling prices and declining production costs, local producers can improve their profitability and their competitiveness in overseas markets while the currency is actually appreciating. Note that while within the framework of loose monetary policy exporters' temporary gains are at the expense of other activities in the economy, within the framework of a tight monetary stance gains come not at any one's expense but are just the outcome of the overall real-wealth expansion.
It must be appreciated that, contrary to popular thinking, both tight fiscal and monetary policies provide support to wealth generators while undermining non-wealth-generating activities. [Hickey, Oran, Norman, Uncle Tom Cunliffe and all], by pleading for looser policies, are in fact asking to strengthen wealth-destructive activities and thereby recommending a prolonged economic slump.

That conclusion should hardly surprise you.

THE FACT IS, WE are still an economy in depression. The fact is, a reduction in costs would help businesses recover, while a reduction in wages would help reduce costs and help produce full employment.

That none of the politicians is honest enough to admit that’s what they’re after, a reduction in wages, tells you all you need to know about either their honesty (if they intend a fall in real wages) or their competence (if they don’t). That neither Oram nor Hickey—nor even Bill Rosenberg—even recognises that’s what’s afoot tells you they’ve never actually read all those Keynesian tracts they claim to be using in their playbooks.

The fact is, we have two basic choices regarding exchange rates. We can either work to the exchange rate we have. Or we can tell this irresponsible government presiding over our decline to stop borrowing $300 million of foreign currency a week, and to start living within its means. 

That is really the message given to this irresponsible over-spending government through the price signal of foreign exchange rates.

That is the real fiscal message given through the monetary discipline effected by foreign exchange markets.

That would do more to produce our real exchange rate than all the lunatic pulling on random levers would ever do.

That would help more effectively to bring about the recovery I’m sure we do all want far more successfully than will continuing to borrow and hope.

Good luck ever getting a politician interested only in buying votes to understand that.

* * * * *

* “fruit loop” = the collective noun for fiscal fucking fools.

Inside China, with Suzuki Samurai

After my request yesterday for inside information on China, and the protests ostensibly about the nationality of those rocks in the picture above, I spoke to Suzuki Samurai (right) who’s spent the last few years living there.  Unlike others there who might be afraid to speak out, Russell doesn’t h0ld back. “I've discovered that criticism is okay,” he says, “as long as you don't do it with others in groups of more than the authorities consider dangerous.”
Here’s our interview:
Q: How long have you been there now?
I've been here almost two years. I came to see what all the fuss is about.  
Q: Which area?
Being that cities here are much the same, it suffice to say that I live in a typical pile of bricks in the North East; on same parallel as the Korean DMZ (38th I think).  Small city of 'only' two million.   
Q: Where would you rank that area for prosperity compared to the rest of China? Compared to NZ, e.g., closer to Ruatoria or to Remuera?
Neither. The rich and poor live in the same place; well not the same buildings obviously, but a development over or two and things are pretty grim by our standards. To paint a picture for you, it is not uncommon to see A8 Audi's sitting at the traffic lights next to donkeys pulling trailer loads of bricks.
Street people tend to be more on the crippled side of things rather than alcoholics or glue sniffers like home. I mean seriously crippled.     
Q: Main industries?
Oil, petro-chemical, and the light-heavy industry that goes with that. It's a dirty old (20years old, which is old for here) town. 
Q: Do you feel welcome there as a foreigner?
Good question. I think so. I mean people are very inquisitive, stare a lot, but seem pretty genuine in there pleasantries. Interestingly there is a pragmatic value they tend to place on us too; in that they are pleased we are here to 'show them how', so to speak. Hmm, I'm never sure on their sincerity.   
Q: What gave you your biggest feelings of ‘culture shock’ when you arrived?
Filth. Both at street level: constant spitting, kids (and drunk men) shitting and pissing in the street, and vomit inducing restaurant toilets. Oh, and toddlers up here wear pants with a slit in the back so they can do their business at will, anywhere it seems. 
And. The environment: the sky is there from time to time, but it is acrid at times. In fact I've known days when it is 35degrees, and viability is 500 meters; - Imagine being in a giant sauna that smells like Janola.   
Q: What’s changed most since you arrived there?
What I don't notice anymore. Oh, and how excited I am to be leaving.
Q: So just what the fuck is going on there?
China is one enormous construction site. 1000's and 1000's of apartment blocks that are badly built eye-sores that will never be occupied; I can see probably 80 high-rise cranes from my window where I'm writing this - that's just looking south on a smoggy day. The Chinese have, for the last ten years been building about 6 million square meters (per month) of excess floor space. I drove along 10km a stretch of highway that ran into the city of Yantai. In each direction for about 3km's (x 10 km's) there were empty and abandoned industrial units. Think of every industrial unit in South Auckland with not a sole around except the ubiquitous lone 'security guard', and remember this is just one edge of one town among 100's...if not 1000's of other cities in China.     
Q: Tell us about the madness. What’s the maddest thing you think you’ve seen.  In a good way….
Four fully grown ostriches walking through a fishing village I rode through; no one seemed to own them, nor did the locals seem to notice these very large chickens.
Oh, and a young Irish mate of mine squashed his cock up against a restaurant window, pressed-ham style. That was hard to forget as it led to a rather large brawl with some locals. Funny though. 
Q: …in a bad way?
The driving here is simply nuts. It really is just brainless, and that's just the so-called cops. Belligerence towards everyone else; kinda like everyone is 16 years old, pissed and has a large black German sedan.
There is no regard for each other; and they most certainly will not render assistance to someone in peril or injured. This is the most foul trait of Chinese. 
And, they don't trust each other, and with very good reason. They expect to be lied to, due to such cultural absurdities as 'saving face'. As an example: Ping tells Pong that he is good at his job, though Ping actually thinks he isn't. Now Pong believes that he is indeed good at his job but feigns humility and tells Ping he isn't; this goes back and forth "yes you are," "no I'm not" for as long as it takes for lunch time to come. The funny/sad thing is both Ping & Pong know that each other is engaged in this pantomime; but they consider this to be in keeping with a 'harmonious society'. It's bollocks on stilts. 
There are many other such stupidities but that should give you a wee idea.         
Q: Have you seen overt signs of nationalism? Protest? Bloodshed?
Yes, in a night club a goon with a microphone chanting (in Chinese) “Fuck Japan,” “Kill Japan”—and the crowd indulging him by chanting back.   
More disturbingly, I asked a class of teenagers the other day to write down ten things that will be different about China in ten years. Eight of the ten had variations from ''Japan will be game over" to "Japan will be part of China" to "We will kill all Japanese and Americans" All nice thoughts from 14 year old kids don't you think?
It is worth noting that the Communist/fascist government made anti-Japan rhetoric part of the curriculum in 1990. If you look at the protests, aside from the local soldiers in civilian clothes that are trucked in, the faces are those of people in there 20's and early 30's at most. The government has backed themselves into a corner by peddling this line for so long, now young people are accusing the government of being cowards for not attacking the Japanese. The very thing the Communist/fascist thought would keep them safely ensconced in power, i.e., a population distracted by nationalism, may well, one day force them into doing something crazy like attacking Japan - I wouldn't put anything past them.        
Q: What makes you most frightened?
In no particular order:
  • Lack of perspective/information, actual history.
  • Mindlessness adherence to tradition.
  • The nationalism.
  • That once they get the vote they'll vote for exactly the same thing.
  • The Borg.
  Q: Or most interested in hanging around?
Q: And what’s the most lurid food you’ve eaten?
BBQ Cicadas.
* * * * *
I’d love to hear other thoughts and observations from readers who’ve spent time in China, or who have friends and family there.  Send them to me at organon at ihug dot co dot nz.
imageYou might also like to check out Diana Hsieh’s fascinating interview with philosophy professor Robert Garmong (right) on teaching in China—and his blog about life and teaching there: Professor in Dalian.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

QUOTE OF THE DAY: On layoffs

“We have a weird double standard. When an employee leaves a
company for greener pastures—maybe higher pay, maybe more
satisfying work, maybe a more pleasant commute—nobody
complains. Of course he should do what’s best for him.
“But when a business does the same thing? When it judges that
some jobs are draining profits and need to be cut? Then it’s as if
some nefarious sin has been committed…
“Small comfort to the guy who finds himself out of work, though,
right? Actually, it should be something of a comfort. Think about it.
You work for an employer because you think it’s a good deal for you:
would you really want to stay if you thought it was a bad deal for him?”

         - Yaron Brook, “Creative Destruction includes Layoffs

What’s going on in China?

What’s going on in China? Well, who the hell knows really.  I’d love to hear stories from those who are living there, working there, or who have friends or family there that might throw some light on China right now, right when it’s on the edge of a new, and perhaps the most difficult, period of its post-Mao existence.  A period in which the inhabitants of this fragile giant will have to handle, not just a new leader, but a slowdown in their rising prosperity—and maybe even a collapse.

How will Chinese people react to their having embraced western prosperity, and it seemingly rejecting their efforts?  How will we know?

Not all of China has experienced a boom. This wonderful Penn and Teller jaunt through the stranger parts of China is unexpectedly revealing. And sometimes grotesque.  And awfully “bearish”—parts two and three especially.

Violent nationalism is too frequently the last resort of the dispossessed. We’ve watched the nationalistic sabre rattling going on between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands (if you’re Japanese)—or is it the Diaoyu Islands (if you’re Chinese)—a  few rocks in the East China Sea over which a battle is going on about their possession, and their name. Just a bit of opportunistic headline grabbing from a few self-serving nationalistic politicians? Well, think again. Anti-Japanese feeling in China goes back a long way (and vice versa) and when prosperity dies and old hatreds are allowed to re-emerge and become a new focus (as they did in, say, Yugoslavia, after the iron fist of Tito disappeared) things can get very nasty indeed.  In fact, they already are.

Here’s the smiling staff of a Chinese Audi dealership. The perky slogan on their banner reads: “We will kill every Japanese person even if it means deaths for our own.”  Fun times!


The clip “explains” it all.

Think this is an isolated incident? Think again. It seems part of a national wave of nationalistic sentiment directed (at the moment) at the country that invaded and committed savagery on so many Chinese seventy years ago.  It ranges from the bizarre…



…to the creepy (according to Google translate, sign says, “I am willing to give free blow jobs to those whom want to fight the Japanese devils for eight hours today”) …



…to the violent. Especially if you’re in a Japanese-owned shop, a Japanese restaurant, or driving a Japanese car…





And if you were horrified by Christchurch children being urged and trained to protest by their teachers, how about this:


There have been demonstrations in Yunnan, Hunan, Xian, Nanjing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Shanghai…



Frightening, right?  Especially because China and Japan did $345billion worth of trade last year, yet a battered Japan “is shuttering Chinese facilities as mainland anger spreads.” And because Japan is a US ally. And because US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, while urging “restraint.” says “the United States would stand by its security treaty obligations to Japan.”

China is at a crossroads.

The whole Pacific region might be too.

Maybe a very good time to consider signing up for Scott Powell’s online Asian History course, “Japan, China, and India: The New Era of the Balance of Power”—for which the Chinese component has just started.


[Hat tips to Zero Hedge, Scott Powell, Peter Rothlein. More pictures at Right Now I/O and Zero Hedge]