Arab, Jew and Chinese


It’s not typed on my resume currently. But were I applying for a job with a Chinese employer, I might consider adding it. Seriously. Right at the top of the page, where young Chinese grads customarily note their ethnic background, whether Han, Hui, Hakka or one of the 50-odd other official minorities, anyway. Tell them you’re a youtai ren (Jew), and it’s a bit like dropping casual mention of your M.B.A. from Harvard.
Jews, from what many well-educated Chinese have heard, are smart, well-off, and in proportion to their numbers, highly influential in international politics, media and business. Yes, their knowledge of the youtai ren is often limited to those “stereotypes”, as we call them. But it’s best not to take this penchant for profiling too personally, insofar as, until recently, few Chinese really grasped our concept of stereotypes, or the political incorrectness we attach to them. Chinese have never made much pretense of color-blindness.

And so the knowing masses of the Middle Kingdom, who over the millennia leading up to the humiliations that began with the Opium Wars rated themselves and their achievements unrivalled, have in recent decades developed a special affinity for that tiny minority of people who call themselves “chosen”. The Confucian and Judaic traditions, educated Chinese are often quick to note, share certain priorities: education, family, a zest for debate, and a spirit of entrepreneurship. Some older Chinese fondly recall how during the Holocaust, when the whole world closed its ports to Jews fleeing Hitler, Shanghai took in an estimated 50,000. In several cities on the eastern seaboard today, China’s best-travelled merchants hold competing claims to the moniker “Jews of the East”. Speaking before a crowd of 100 at my nuptials a few years ago, my father-in-law, who’s Chinese, could not contain his pride in my heritage. “Jonathan, as you all know, is a Jew,” he kvelled. “And Einstein was a Jew,” he added. “And Oppenheimer was a Jew,” he went on. “And my wife and I, as Communist Party members, also have a Jewish ancestor – Marx!”

So does that mythic status of Jews in China translate into sympathy for Israel? Not necessarily. With respect to the current conflict with Hezbollah, the answer would increasingly seem to be “no.” Particularly after a Chinese observer with the UN was felled by an Israeli bomb which the U.N. Security Council did not condemn. A day afterward, a long litany of Israel-bashing by readers at the popular Chinese news portal,, read like this: today:

“I recommend that China send arms to Lebanon via a third country, like Iran.”

“What is Israel? Before World War II, was there such a country as Israel? All of the land in the current nation of Israel was seized from Arab countries?”

“If Lebanon doesn’t resist as a nation, why are groups formed among the populus called terrorists?”

And in response to a letter home by a journalist from the Global Times, a hawkish tabloid published by the Communist Party flagship People’s Daily, the 50,000-plus messages posted included this one:

“The Chinese people have a new enemy – Israel.”

Of course, such venom reflects the extreme patriotic impulses that take over when the loss of Chinese lives bring a faraway conflict home. One anonymous commentator blamed it on the “angry youths” who often dominate opinion on China’s electronic bulletin boards.
Until last week, in fact, popular opinion was not nearly so one-sided. The state media airwaves and news wires, trained to take the anti-imperialist diplomatic cues of the Chinese government, concentrated on the ugliness of the fighting and the suffering of Lebanese and Palestinians, but without strong partisanship or opinions on how resolve the issue. And an early sampling of the reaction to daily dispatches suggests that the Chinese actually leaned, more than the country’s leadership, toward Israel. “Israel is the epitome of righteousness. Long live the people of Israel,” read one message repeated over and again. Others wrote soliloquies on Israel’s commitment to save the lives of just a few soldiers, or remembered the aid Israel provided after the Tangshan earthquake of 1976.

Interestingly, people have plenty of news to form informed opinions, more than ever. Much of the original Chinese-language news comes straight off the Xinhua news agency, but certain press and Web outlets can get away with translating local news reports or even using their own correspondents. Censors are considerably more relaxed than they are, say, when it comes to the North Korean nuke issue, since Beijing is not directly involved in the Middle East conflict and has little direct role to play outside of the United Nations Security Council. China’s government shares an Cold War-era bond with the Arab world and an old pang for the Palestinian plight, dating to Arafat’s visits with Mao. But it has bolstered ties with Israel too. While it pipes in oil from Iran and sells Tehran military technology, it also deals in all sorts Israeli tech, from dairy to ordinance. Only U.S. opposition prevents it from buying Israeli arms. In contrast to the hardcore Marxist days, current Chinese diplomacy with its emphasis on non-intervention, is chiefly a defense of its economic interests. To do business with everybody and ensure its energy security, all China really wants here is to end the violence.

Hence the multimedia melodrama, which appears bound to become at least a low-fi repeat of coverage of second Gulf War in Iraq (a breakthrough in Chinese central television history). Beijing was outwardly opposed to that war, and turned it into a kind of win-win on propaganda. The media got a chance to run the footage of everyone from CNN to al-Arabya, and for officialdom, the propaganda effect was supposed to be cathartic. Here it is too. Chinese are made to witness for themselves the gory ravages of war – mostly on the Lebanese side of the border, mind you – so that they’ll support the government’s catch-all policy objective: peace and stability.

But do they? Certain Chinese pundits are grappling more critically with the question of how long-term peace can be achieved. Last week in The Beijing News, Zhou Qing’an, a Tsinghua journalism doctorate and frequent writer on international affairs for that newspaper, made the underappreciated point this is an epic conflict pitting Israel against much of the Arab world, particularly Iran and Syria (China’s allies). “In a land that has lost the hope of peace,” he asked, “who can keep watch at night? Who can jot down a friendly, peaceful stroke in the history of the Middle East?”

Of their many contentious views, one that does enjoy broad-based support is that the people of Lebanon should decide their own fate. That much is clear from the featured blog on’s. Eyeonlebanon is a first-hand diary written by the wife of a Chinese doctor working in Lebanon. Her impressions are emotionally raw, analytically sharp yet ultimately, quite well-balanced. Over the weekend of July 22, for instance, she noted that Lebanese people want the same concessions out of Hezbollah as does Israel. “From the Lebanese government down to the common people, everyone dares to despise at Hezbollah but dares not speak out.” Hezbollah, she continued, pays no electricity or water bills to the Lebanese government, is better armed than the Lebanese army, and threatens Lebanese officials. “Thus a lot of Lebanese people very much support the present war. They call it ‘scraping off a sarcoma’.” But then she describes why the Lebanese cannot act on this impulse – just the opposite. She quotes a Lebanese soldier: “’Israel, first you say the Lebanese army should not fight back, and then you come and hit us!’” On July 26, when Lebanese president announced the country’s army would mobilize in the event of an Israeli ground invasion, Eyeonlebanon termed it a political “show”.

The next day, her compatriots online erupted over the death of a countryman. And her blog was understandably silent.

Epistemology of Global Warming

Yesterday morning at the gym, I overheard to not-so-naturally blondes talking about the weather… “Like, omigod! It’s soooo hot!” said one, to which the other replied, “Oh it must be global warming.”

I wanted to turn around and suggest that maybe the phenomenon which has caused temperatures to rise in the past few weeks in Los Angeles could be called, “summer,” but their exchange got me to thinking. Since starting my own business and opening an un-air-conditioned home-office, average temperatures have climbed twenty degrees in my neighborhood.

These last few days, I have taken to calling my apartment-slash-home-office, “The Furnace.” Even when temperatures abate at night, it seems to remain a toasty ninety-plus degrees. Some genius in 1959 must have figured that climate controls were not necessary in Southern California when our courtyard apartment was built.

It’s obvious to me that opening my own business has caused global warming…because, as Al Gore points out in his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, correlation equals causation.


Before you tell me that I am just being silly—temperatures rise in summertime and so Los Angeles’ latest heat wave is not caused by Global Warming—let me point out that I already know that. But in the context of World History (the 5 billion-year version, not the 5000-year one), my six month data set is about as statistically-significant as the 111-year set of data used to claim that 2006 is the hottest year in recorded history. My data cover 1 ten-bllionth of time compared to One 50-millionth of the earth’s life.

Does climate change exist? Certainly. I won’t deny that—but I will challenge anyone who claims that they know why or how.

What I did learn from Al gore’s movie is that once every few 100,000 years, there is a significant increase in global temperatures. We’re in an upswing which looks a lot like those which came before it.

Using the data from ice cores over the last 600,000 years, we see that as temperatures rise, so does the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. For Al Gore, that’s proof enough that carbon dioxide causes global warming.

Perhaps—but how do we know that it isn’t the other way around? How do we know that there is not an external force which has much longer cycles—such as a cyclical increase in solar storms or something about our position in the Milky Way—which would cause temperatures to rise yet be undetectable to humans since it has been the “normal” since we’ve been able to track such a thing?

This is a big universe, and it’s been around a long time, so whenever someone says that it’s getting awful hot lately, please remind them…it’s Summer!

My Big Fat Life

I’m a little uncomfortable with the new darling of the media and literary world, the fat girl. I don’t like that she is being “exposed,” changing the cardinal rule of fatdom: maintain a low profile.
Now fat girls are everywhere are speaking out, bemoaning the culture that labels them ugly, dredging up childhoods of pain and embarrassment and proclaiming themselves free of dieting, depression or capitulation. What’s next? I’m waiting for fat girl bars to open or someone to organize a Obese Rights march on the capital.
Let me just say up front that I am and have always been a fat girl. I was fat before fat became interesting and profitable; back when our clothing was relegated to a tiny rack of hideous flowered tents in the back of the store under a big sign that said “Chubbies;” back when it made sense to a pediatrician to place an 8-year-old on a 400-calorie-a-day diet and send a 13-year-old to school on what was, basically, speed; back before “tolerance” was a buzzword we use to point out someone’s differences.
I suspect all this attention started when statistics showed up saying that more than half of the adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Naturally, the response was a lot of people making money offering diet and exercise programs and books, but very little actual weight loss going on.
No one wants to talk seriously about what is causing this “obesity epidemic.” They want to talk about what they can sell to its victims (oh, that word) and how they make can make money off the trend.
For any health care people reading this, let me, a long-time “sufferer,” make this very clear: It’s. Not. The. Food.

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A Hausfrau Explains Global Warming

Al Gore was just on the front cover of the Sunday magazine of Spain’s leading daily newspaper as “The Prophet of Climate Change” with an interview inside where he talked up his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” (“Una verdad inconveniente”) about global warming and his concerns about the environment.
(That’s how the global news cycle works, by the way. Spaniards get exposed to U.S. trends in books, movies and ideas (at least the ones being well flacked) with a slight delay. Americans get Spanish thinkers on the cover of the NY Times Sunday magazine…um, never?)
It was a “preaching to the choir” interview, in part because Europe is considered a relative good guy for the environment. Or at least better than the U.S. When people are looking for an example of how the U.S. can be less wasteful of resources, some will point to Europe, which has a fine standard of living but is generally less piggish.
So I figure it’s time to look at a few ways this actually translates into daily life. For example, that most basic act of dailyness (well, not daily if you’re lucky) — going to the grocery store. Here, I’m mainly thinking of how it is in Spain, less environmentally conscious than Northern Europe but also with lower income levels so perhaps less wasteful for that reason (which is not to say that some of Spaniards’ bad habits aren’t increasing as income levels rise).
How do you get to the grocery? SUV? Super-sized SUV? Tank? A European might actually – walk.
And what do you have when you get there? Not as much stuff, that’s for sure. Like all the food storage stuff — big baggies, little baggies, throw-away containers, foil, waxed paper – exists, but with fewer brands and styles, so there’s not as much encouragement to wrap up a leftover pea in a hunk of plastic until it rots in the fridge and it’s time to throw it out. Want to save something? Use a plate. Or maybe Tupperware-style stuff (which of course can be reused).
Now what about after you’ve walked home with your little wheelie cart and want to haul your groceries into your apartment? The hall lights are on, right? Nope, try a timer switch that you need to hit when you walk in. Some public bathrooms also have timer-switch lights. Very short timers, occasionally.
Paper products likewise just aren’t flung around as much. I’m thinking about one of our typical meals with kids in the States, where you walk away from the table leaving behind a three-foot-high stack of crumpled paper napkins. Here quite often any napkin dispenser on the table has flimsy little tissue-paper-type napkin things. Parents just don’t leave the same kind of stack. I don’t know what they do. Maybe a cloth from home? You can’t tell me their kids are neater. Well, maybe you can.
The question is, are Americans interested in the small sacrifices necessary to save energy, trees, space in their toy boxes? Who knows?
Here’s one way to save gas. Two of my most car-alert American visitors have each wanted to wrap up one of these cuties and take it home in their suitcase. One insisted we walk in the showroom and get her a brochure, which went with her as a favorite souvenir. The other spent some vacation time on the Internet researching how much it might cost to import the car or to try to buy it in the U.S. Now the Smart car is apparently heading to the U.S., but part of what makes it so cute is the relatively low price in Europe, which might not be the case when it’s in the U.S. But the closer U.S. gas prices get to European levels, the cuter it might look.

Cancer is a bad thing, right?

I’m against cancer.
There. I said it.
I’m taking a stand against cancer. Call me a Godless radical, a left-wing bleeding heart, even — (shudder) — a Hollywood actor, but I think cancer is a bad thing. I think it should be stamped out.
I think – and here’s where I’m treading on dangerous ground – that if there were a vaccine that would prevent people from getting cancer and that vaccine can be produced without threat to any other life form, it should be used.
Honestly, I didn’t think it was necessary to take a stand against cancer, but apparently it is not the cut and dry issue I thought it was. And it’s only thanks to my good bud Jag, who I consider my personal health and science issue advisor, that I know there is an element in this country who apparently thinks that cancer is not so bad as Other Things.
I was naïve enough to think that everyone would be rejoicing when it was announced that a vaccine – Gardasil — has been found that prevents cervical and vaginal cancers. I figured this would be a uniting moment in medical history because it prevents something that people die from.
I know, I know. What was I thinking? Just at an uplifting positive moment, someone is bound to find a reason to be offended. In this case and, sadly, once again, it is the religious right.
What the issue boils down to is that the vaccine can only be given before there is any chance of infection by the HPV virus that causes cervical and vaginal cancers. That virus can only be contracted through intercourse, so the vaccine must be given before there is any chance of the patient being sexually active. If given after contracting the virus, the vaccine can be deadly.
FDA has approved the vaccine and it is currently in the hands of an advisory committee, specifically, a Centers for Disease Control advisory committee, wherein lies the rub. It seems the most effective way to distribute the vaccine is to make it one of the many mandatory vaccinations before a child in admitted to public school.
The typical conservative knee-jerk reaction is understandable in a sort of broad ideological way: requiring the vaccine is a violation of parental rights. However, no one is arguing over DTP or polio vaccines, also mandatory. You don’t want to vaccinate your child? Fine. Homeschool, send them to private school, but don’t prevent other children from being vaccinated.
And I know it couldn’t possibly be the threat of “mandatory” meaning having to fund the vaccinations for the needy. Right? Right?
What is it about the Gardasil vaccination that has the religious right working up to a hissy?
(Adopting a passive/aggressive Church Lady voice) Could it be. . . . . . . . SEX?

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So Now You Know

There is an old Italian saying that goes, “Only the spoon knows what’s going on at the bottom of the pot.”
Basically it means don’t judge and don’t give advice unless you know every aspect of a situation, which you probably don’t, so shut up. Only it sounds nicer in Italian. And it rhymes.
That being said, there are, though, some universal truths that actually exist. But because my family ascribed to the above, I was never informed of the written-in-stone adages.
And so, as a public service, I present to you Things I Wish I’d Known Ahead of Time (The Short List, sadly):
1. When you have babies and toddlers there will be people with grown children who will “advise” you on areas where you perceive you are having problems. Their suggestions will sound flawless and you will get the impression that, while their spawn were every bit as challenging as yours, their brilliance in parenting was the only thing that saved the little beasts from the psychiatrist’s couch or incarceration. You will feel like a dolt.
Just know that they are speaking from the safety of having completed the parenting task and knowing the outcome. And they are the editor’s of their story. They were just as unsure and made just as many mistakes as you, no matter what they want to lead you to believe.
Besides, have you actually met their children?
2. 22-year-olds: The age of 33 is not old. There is still time at age 33 to change careers, be attractive and have ideas that are not out-of date.
If you are 33: Same as above for the age of 44.
If you are 44: Learn the above like a mantra.
3. Ice cream, pie and donuts are not scarce. They will always be there. You don’t have to eat them all at one time.
4. The odds are the guy with the cool car and the great clothes before the age of 30 is self-absorbed, short-sighted and in debt up to his ears. Look for the scruffy guy with the Dodge Dart.
Just trying to save you some time.

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Network Utopia

The rhetorical battle for moral high ground in the ‘Net Neutrality debate is reaching a fever pitch, and while the loudest voices – those who foolishly believe neutrality means unfettered access for anyone for any purpose – have marshaled their forces in fearsome array, I fear we all may be losers when the dust settles.
The idea of a tiered system of access strikes this group (let’s call them the Utopians) as particularly odious, and is met with an impassioned argument that such an arrangement would be anti-freedom and anti-free market. Tiered access, the Utopians claim, would squelch innovation and prevent all but the most powerful corporations from creating new technologies.
Evocation of the Corporation is always a nice touch.
Remember the good old days, before those evil Corporations got in the game and spoiled everything? Don’t you wish you could go back to a time when your ISP was the hobby shop across town and you were the envy of your BBS community because you splurged for a 14K modem? I don’t know about you but I want access to fast Internet, I want a superior quality of service, and I am willing to pay a certain price to get it.
Today, I have relatively cheap high speed service and I enjoy it, but I’ve heard others with the same ISP who live in the city report that their service drags interminably during times of peak usage. Why? Bandwidth hogging services like voice over IP and video file sharing soak up available resources.
The idea that high-bandwidth applications should be allowed to function to the detriment of all is silly, but that is apparently what the Utopians want. And they’ve managed to do the populist calculation and win many converts, including some that could rightly be described as powerful corporations; companies like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, eBay, and have signed on to the Utopian movement known as
A missive from eBay president and CEO Meg Whitman is pretty typical
The former Procter and Gamble exec sounded all the right sales pitch notes, including this moving passage:
“Today’s Internet is an incredible open marketplace for goods, services, information and ideas. We can’t give that up. A two lane system will restrict innovation because start-ups and small companies — the companies that can’t afford the high fees — will be unable to succeed, and we’ll lose out on the jobs, creativity and inspiration that come with them.”
Convincing at first glance, but flawed upon closer examination.
In a free market system innovation is driven by need and the likelihood of return on investment. Under a tiered Internet, innovation will still be possible and will likely be enhanced as it will provide for a system that is based on merit and demand. The Internet will remain available as a test bed for new products, and those that find a ready market will be afforded the opportunity to be promoted. It’s how business operates in the real world.
The idea that a free market means anyone has the right to do whatever they want, whenever they want, is preposterous. In real estate the mantra is location, location, location… and buyers pay dearly for prime location. In my hometown there is a McDonald’s on the main drag, Route 119. Nearby is a pizza and sandwich shop, Pizza Pizzazz, a little less conveniently situated.
The local McDonald’s franchisee pays much higher location and marketing costs than does Pizza Pizzazz, but that doesn’t mean Pizza Pizzazz is denied the opportunity to compete for patrons. Using the Utopian argument, Pizza Pizzazz should be granted the right to move its location – at no cost – adjacent to McDonald’s, since Route 119 is a public thoroughfare. Instead, the free market system encourages Pizza Pizzazz to offer a better quality product. It encourages innovation, and both restaurants thrive under this arrangement.
Now translate that to the Internet and throw out a few sacred cows while you’re at it. Whitman’s idea that “the phone and cable companies [that] now control more than 95% of all Internet access” are going to force us all onto a system that relies on soup cans and string is nonsense. As with management of telecom services and network management today, the “owners” of the network won’t be able to give themselves preferred services, but would have to treat themselves equally with their competitors.
Let market forces do their thing with the Internet as they’ve done with pizza. We’ll all be better for it.

Her Majesty’s Healthy Service

I was born a Brit but I moved to America in my mid-20s, fell in love with the sun and the fun in California, and never plan on going back. This apparently is bad for my health. On the other hand, perhaps I should move to Canada. Yup, both the Brits and the Canadians apparently are healthier than Americans.

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Making Nice

Son the younger’s preschool didn’t quite work out, so he’s on vacation until we try again in the fall. What this means is what I’ve been trying to avoid all along: I’ll have to be nice.
Misanthrope and mommy are two words that just don’t go together. Son the younger does need playmates, and since at two he doesn’t quite know how to make phone calls and set up playdates or even get to the park himself (although now that I think of it, maybe he does and I’m just holding him back), I the mommy have to step in. (When son the elder was a baby I was lucky. We found a playgroup, serendipitously and somewhat pathetically, thanks to my parents. They, friendly people that they are, were pushing the stroller in our new neighborhood one day and picked up a mommy for me, and then I did manage to take it from there.)
There’s lots of things mommies (and daddies of course have their own stereotypes) are supposed to be: nice and friendly, even outgoing, at least if the kid wants some friends. When sand toys come out at the playground, it’s gotta be “share, share, share,” not “hoard away, kid,” even though, Enron guys’ recent comeuppance aside, selfishness seems like a pretty successful adaptive trait nowadays. And “hit them before they hit you,” just is not going to cut it, despite its foreign policy use.
Unstated expectations pervade the mom image: Pregnancy books never bother to warn against unprotected sex with strangers. Mommybloggers who use curse words are playing against type.
Someone even thought it was newsworthy recently that not all mommy animals have what humans think of as a maternal instinct. (In other stereotype-busting news the seahorse always gets trotted out because it’s the daddy seahorse that gives birth. As if this odd sea creature might make people consider variations in human parenting roles. “Gee, think about the seahorse. Maybe we should offer paternity leave.”)
Obviously it’s good for mothers to be friendly and promote positive traits in their kids, and do much of the other good stuff you hope for from mothers. (And how wonderful that kids can help their parents be better in certain ways.) It’s good, just don’t take it for granted, OK?