April 2009 Archives

swine flu.png
American history is dotted with dramatic events and significant social movements. Part of America's (soft) power comes from its ability to give catchy names to such occurrences and turn them into global events, shared by everyone. Memorable examples include "Nine Eleven", "The War on Terror", "The Great Depression", and the "Summer of Love". 

Seven months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, we finally have an official name for the current financial crisis: The Swine Flu.

Swine Flu offers a perfect summary of current events: A global disease caused by the poor (moral) hygiene of (capitalist) pigs in North America, spread across the globe by modern communication and transportation methods, putting all of humanity at risk. 

P.S. - and just like the excess liquidity that led to America's financial crisis, the origins of the Swine Flu are very likely to be in Asia. 
China's exports fell by more than 17% in March, following a decline of 25.7% in February. This has been the trend for the last five months, since the beginning of the global financial crisis. About 140 million of China's migrant workers work in export industries. According to official figures, about 23 million of them lost their job since the beginning of the year. Many were sent on long "vacations" and/or are working less hours per week. The figures are based on data from December 2008, and cover only migrant workers, the most vulnerable segment of the local workforce. A more moderate rise in unemployment is visible in other parts of the economy as well. Taking into account the continued deceleration of China's growth over the past 4 months, it is safe to assume that the number of unemployed is now higher. 

China is stuck with too many goods and not enough consumers and is now trying to shift its economy towards local consumption. The task of dealing with rising unemployment while trying to convince workers to spend more money is not going to be easy.


An old Jewish joke says that modern society is based on the ideas of three old men: Marx said "Everything is about Money". Freud said "Everything is about Sex". Then, Einstein arrived and concluded that "Everything is Relative".

The Chinese economy has slowed down dramatically over the past six months and demand for real estate in China's major cities declined sharply. Concurrently, new data has been published about the disparity between China's male and female citizens and the subsequent troubles Chinese men face when trying to find a wife. Now, a local Real Estate Developer is trying to strike a new balance between Marx and Freud in order to get the market going again.

This is real. Search for Drorism on Google and see what suggestions it gives you.


A couple of months ago, (parts of) the world celebrated the 200th of Charles Darwin's birth. The british scientist published On the Origin of Species in November 1859, ten months after Karl Marx published his theory of Historical Materialism in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.

For most of their adult lives, Marx and Darwin lived only 20 miles apart, in England, but they never met. Friedrich Engels wrote to Marx about Darwin's 'splendid' new book in December 1859, only a few weeks after it was originally published. Upon reading the book a few months later, Marx recognized the threat it posed to his idea of communism*. Moreover, Marx did not accept the theory of Natural Selection as pure science and wrote to Engels that Darwin merely 'rediscovered his English society among animals and plants'. 


More photos from Shangri-La in my Flickr archive.
"The first stage of the economy's domination of social life brought about an evident degradation of being into having -- human fulfillment was no longer equated with what one was, but with what one possessed. The present stage, in which social life has become completely dominated by the accumulated productions of the economy, is bringing about a general shift from having to appearing -- all "having" must now derive its immediate prestige and its ultimate purpose from appearances. At the same time all individual reality has become social, in the sense that it is shaped by social forces and is directly dependent on them. Individual reality is allowed to appear only if it is not actually real."
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 1967. 
In 2004, I analyzed the experience of posting short messages online. I used my mobile phone to post 'anything that grabbed my attention' directly to a web site built using a customized version of blogger.com's platform. And so, I started posting little snapshots of my life, made of short sentences, in real time. Today, the world has a dedicated platform for this type of messaging, Twitter.com, and such messages are refered to as Tweets. Back then, I called it verbography - verbal photography. Roland Barthes once wrote that a photograph is unique since it is not only a representation of an object, but also a testament that the depicted object really existed. In this way, the photograph confirms the existence of the object but also destabilizes it by taking it out of the present and into an unknown future, when the photo will be watched (in Camera Lucida).
Yesterday's Tomorrow.
One of China's most severe problems is the huge gap between the way it sees itself and the way it really is. China is a self-styled superpower but it responds hysterically to the slightest criticism. It boasts "5,000 years of history" but spent most of the 20th century erasing every trace of its own culture. It is a country in which harmony is the most popular word but disparity is the most common attribute. Etc. etc.

This gap between subjective and objective reality is one of the most destructive factors in China's modern history. It prevented the country from pursuing proper reforms after its first contact with the western powers, and led it (proudly) into a century of humiliation and defeat. Since then, the Qing dynasty has been replaced by the CCP, but the perception gap remains wide, and seems to be expanding.

An economic crisis is upon us, and the public (finally) seems to be fed up with financial types who see the world through charts and graphs. The common view is that economic "experts" have led us into this mess. Now more than ever, it is clear that economics, unlike physics or chemistry, cannot make accurate predictions about real situations based on empirical research. This is because its subject matter is influenced by natural, political, psychological, and cultural factors. Thus, economics can mostly be used to test theoretical assumptions about isolated phenomena and describe processes after the fact.

Still, a quick look at internet traffic over the past twelve months reveals an interesting trend: traffic for the web sites of some of the world's most popular economists - Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong, and Nuriel Roubini - has grown by an average of more than 160%. Krugman's blog on the New York Times web site enjoyed a growth of more than 260%, while the site's overall growth stood at slightly more than 22%. The bulk of the growth has been during the past six months. One could argue that at times of crisis, people consume more news. However, traffic for the world's most popular news web sites - CNN, International Herlad Times, and the BBC - has grown by an average of less than 6% during the same period.

Nearly sixty years after it was first published, C. Wright Mills's White Collar still offers one of the most comprehensive and accurate descriptions of America's Middle Class and the global consumer society that was created in its image. Below is the opening paragraph, first published on January 1, 1951.

"The white-collar people slipped quietly into modern society. Whatever history they have had is a history without events; whatever common interests they have do not lead to unity; whatever future they have will not be of their own making. If they aspire at all it is to a middle course, at a time when no middle course is available, and hence to an illusory course in an imaginary society. Internally, they are split, fragmented; externally, they are dependent on larger forces. Even if they gained the will to act, their actions, being unorganized, would be less a movement than a tangle of unconnected contests. As a group, they do not threaten anyone; as individuals, they do not practice an independent way of life."
I came up with this tune about twelve years ago, and have been playing with different variations of it ever since. Below is a version I recorded this evening.  It's original Hebrew name is "Leut", meaning something like weariness or exhaustion.

The player above requires the Flash plug in. You can download the MP3 here.
I am now reading Jonathan Fenby's biography of "Chiang Kai Shek and the China He Lost". One of the interesting bits in the book is the fact that 75% of all cadets at the Whampoa Military Academy came from relatively well to do families and were either sons of landlords, middle-income farmers, or local officials.

The academy was established by the KMT (China's Nationalist Party) in 1924 in Guangdong province, and served as the breeding ground for China's leading revolutionaries. Nationalist and Communist figures such as Chiang Kai Shek, Zhou Enlai, Lin Biao, and even Vietnam's Ho Chi Min were among the academy's instructors and graduates. Mao Zedong, the son of a well to do farmer,  was never a student at the academy, but served as the Director of Propaganda for the KMT between 1925 and 1927.

At times like these, it is especially important to remember that China's revolutions were almost always instigated and managed by people from the country's small middle class. So, while today - as before - the country's farmers don't have the means to bring about political change, it is their rich compatriots in the cities that the government shoud be more worried about. And it is.
Separation Anxiety.
More photos tagged with girl on my Flickr archive.
The discussion surrounding the global financial crisis is plagued with dishonesty. In most cases, the crisis is used by commentators and politicians as an excuse to promote their agenda - big/small government, nationalization/chapter 11 for banks, more/less regulation, etc.

While US commentators differ widely in their analysis of the causes for the crisis and their proposed solutions, most of them have one thing in common: a reluctance to accept the fact that the crisis was caused by anyone other than the US and that the prevention of the next crisis requires more than just regulatory and political change in the US. In a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of sorts, Americans blame themselves for the crisis, and seem to enjoy describing the fall of their own empire and the invalidity of their own values.

And so, I was pleasantly surprised to read Paul Krugman's article in yesterday's New York Times. Krugman seems to be America's new economic oracle, and has been an ardent critic of Bush and Obama's response to the current crisis. In the article, Krugman is finally pointing his analytical skills towards China and stating a few important facts:

Danwei is running a T-Shirt design competition. The theme must have "some connection with Danwei's content, or the meaning of the Chinese word 'danwei'". My contribution is below.


For those not familiar with China: The text - 为人民服务 - means "Serve the People", an old Communist maxim. The image is based on the signature look of Chinese government officials.  

Note: The views and observations expressed on this web site are published for the sake of public discussion and do not represent my personal opinion or the opinion of my companies, clients, and/or employers. If you would like to get my opinion on anything, ask me.

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