Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Tampa’s Darwinian Dominator

August 23, 2012

Romney, Ryan, and the other Republican also-rans face new competition from Rebus the Rhesus. Polls show that the newest prehensile-tailed sensation to arrive in time for the Grand Old Primate party convention in Tampa has grabbed low-hanging votes. Pundits suggest that the only chance for the other Republican candidates to dislodge this Darwinian dominator from the electoral tree is if Rebus slips on a political banana peel.

Supercomputations on Harassment

January 27, 2012

Recent articles attest to the huge progress made by China’s computer industry. They wish to be a dominant force in the future of supercomputing.

But what is all this computing power for?

From keeping dissidents under a booted heel, to squashing the legal electoral process, China has run out of ways to harrass its citizens when they go too far. Say for example a Chinese person dares to criticize a public official for corruption, that whistle-blower will be harassed in a variety of ways, from having his employer fire him. or having his kids ejected from a desirable school, to keeping the individual and his family under 24-hour watch and arms-length surveillance.

But Chinese members of the Paranoid Bullying Party, the ones who really run China, are low on original ideas for keeping the malcontents under wraps. The supercomputers will be used to come up with more imaginative and unusual methods for intimidating and harassing the public. Here are a few new harassment techniques from some supercomputer test runs:

Top 10 Harassment Techniques

10. forcing Chinese to eat with knife and fork
9.  prohibited from gambling for a year
8.  not allowed to eat dog for a month
7.  must practice Tibetan throat-singing in Tiananmen Square
6.  will have hair dyed blonde and styled like Donald Trump
5.  must address everyone as “Dragon”
4.  can have as many children as you want, as long as they’re girls
3.  mothers of the Standing Committee will come and live with you
2.  forced to breathe Beijing’s polluted air — no, wait, you already do

and the #1 harassment tactic:

1. made to work at Foxconn assembling iPhones.

Guest Star

November 29, 2011

Good day to you. Today I am pleased to announce that I have a guest blogger here in the newsroom, Mr John Cleese. I wish to make it perfectly clear that the article below is entirely his work, and not my own. Granted, I am sure that if given a few more decades I might be able to write something as funny as what he can knock out during a cup a tea, but that is possible only if a costly and slightly dangerous brain transplant is performed.

This was sent to me recently by yet someone else with a bigger brain than my own, who shall remain nameless.

Without further ado, I give you Mr John Cleese:

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“The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Libya and the announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden, and have therefore raised their security level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.”

Soon though, security levels may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross.” The English have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from “Tiresome” to “A Bloody Nuisance.” The last time the British issued a “Bloody Nuisance” warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.”

The Scots have raised their threat level from “Pissed Off” to “Let’s get the Bastards.” They don’t have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from “Run” to “Hide.” The only two higher levels in France are “Collaborate” and “Surrender.” The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France’s white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country’s military capability.

Italy has increased the alert level from “Shout Loudly and Excitedly” to “Elaborate Military Posturing.” Two more levels remain: “Ineffective Combat Operations” and “Change Sides.”

The Germans have increased their alert state from “Disdainful Arrogance” to “Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs.” They also have two higher levels: “Invade a Neighbor” and “Lose.”

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from “No worries” to “She’ll be alright, Mate.” Two more escalation levels remain: “Crikey! I think we’ll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!” and “The barbie is canceled.” So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level.”

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Thank you for visiting The Fountain, where we may once again one day feature a guest writer.

Where There’s Smoke

November 26, 2011

There has been much activity in the international press and the Chinese social media lately regarding the deteriorating quality of air in Dragonland. Chinese citizens are upset that they are forced to breathe very dirty air. On one day recently the official government body in charge of monitoring the air quality in Beijing classified it as “Not too bad, really.”  But according to an air quality measurement device mounted on top of the US Embassy in that ancient city, it was “Wow! This air sucks! I mean, run inside right now and find some oxygen as quick as you can!”

(Please see the footnote below for further clarification of these highly technical appraisals.)

Obviously, the two assessments do not agree. Part of this is due to the way the air quality is measured.

The Chinese air quality measurement device was made in North Korea, which has a special trade relationship with China; North Korea imports 99% of its food and all of its handcuffs from China, while North Korea exports to China kazoos and air quality measurement devices. This device, the SmogMaster5000, appears to be a whistle attached to a red balloon and a speedometer from a ’64 Chevy Impala. The SmogMaster5000 is available online for $1.98, plus $1,000 shipping fees, plus another $300 in unspecified handling and transaction-smoothing costs.

The Americans, in contrast, use a Swiss device of unsurpassed precision, the ZauberLuft1000, which is assembled by highly trained technicians in a clean room kept as taint free and pure as the air was in a Swiss meadow one thousand years ago. The ZL-1000 is very expensive, and if you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.

The other main difference in air quality readings is that the Chinese results do not include particulates smaller than 2.5 micrometers, while the Americans do include them. (Many health professionals believe that the American measurement presents a fuller and more accurate picture of the air quality in China.) As far as these units of pollution badness go, the extra-fine, teeny-tiny bits can be inhaled and travel down into the lungs, where they can cause serious respiratory symptoms, heart disease, childhood illnesses and terminal halitosis. It’s like being born and raised in a coal mine.

Because Chinese authorities wish to avoid even the slightest appearance of trouble and embarrassment, and because they hope that ordinary citizens are really dumb, they have suggested new designations and guidelines for air pollution particles. NH-1 particles are too big to enter your nose or mouth, and so are considered “safe”; NH-2 particles are small enough to enter the nostrils but are big enough to be captured by nose hairs; and the NH-3 particles are so small as to evade nose hairs and pass all the way down into the lungs, where they can do great damage.  X-ray photographs of these beastly little NH-3 particles reveal them to be so awful, so horrific, that it would be irresponsible to publish them here; if you saw them they would make you sick and give you nightmares.

In another example of special privilege for China’s elite, expensive air purification equipment has been installed in offices, conference rooms and private homes used by the cream of the Communist Party crop, since they don’t want to breathe the dirty air, either. Currently one of the best jobs in Beijing is limo driver, since the highest-ranking officials are not only ferried to and fro in limousines, but they carry their own clean air in mobile air supply packs supplied by North Korea.

The limo drivers get to breathe residual clean air during the trip, and then retain as much as possible by keeping the windows up.

In a rare display of sensitivity to popular discontent, Hua Lei, vice director of Beijing’s environmental monitoring center, has announced that common citizens will be allowed to tour the monitoring facilities. (Among the party elite, common citizens are called “filters,” since they breathe in and absorb the dirty air.) There has not been any indication that the measuring standards or monitoring equipment will change, but Mr Hua is confident that allowing people to see the offices for themselves will “allay their fears”. Um, I don’t really believe that providing tours will do very much to mitigate fears regarding air pollution, especially if no changes are to be made either to measuring procedures or equipment, but I guess this is the way that Chinese bureaucrats think.

Part of the excessive air pollution is caused by the unregulated factories that belch and spew great gobs of airborne gunk into the environs. The lion’s share, or rather, the dragon’s share of factories relies upon coal to provide power, and coal burning technology in China is notoriously out-of-date and dirty. Coal is used to heat homes all across China, and even powers such common kitchen appliances as coffee pots, blenders and rice cookers, which have been modified to suit the Chinese market by using a few lumps of coal to make them function. (Three out of five Chinese now concede that they prefer their rice with a slightly smoky taste.)

But analysis suggests that in recent years the greatest contribution comes from the profusion of newly imported cars and trucks. China has emerged as the juiciest new market in the world for cars, and every manufacturer from Germany, France and Italy to the US and Japan is bringing home record profits by selling record numbers of vehicles there.

Contrary to long-standing norms of American car branding identity — Buicks are for really old guys, Corvettes for mature guys who want to look younger, Volvos for the granola-eating Birkenstock set, VW’s the choice of hip, young hot-rodders and so forth — Chinese consumers have taken foreign and domestic car brands and stamped their own set of stereotypes on them. Dairy executives who mix Melamine with milk powder prefer the Chinese-made Chery; thugs who beat up journalists and other supporters when they try to visit dissident Chen Guangcheng drive a BYD; and plain clothes police who drag protesters away from Tiananmen Square like the locally produced Geely.

But there’s a new source of air pollution in China, although the Communist Party doesn’t like to talk about it. International scientists have determined that much of the smoggy, unhealthy air in China is due to all the protesters lighting themselves on fire.  Human beings are not considered a green energy source, and the amount of smoke and toxic particulate matter they produce is considerable.

International journalists in China are convinced that the rampant corruption from the highest levels of the Communist Party down to its lowest strata prevents not only truthful assessments, but also any chances for ameliorating the air pollution problems. I was informed of an anti-corruption convention to be held in Beijing recently – was even hoping to attend — but found that the organizers were bribed to cancel it. Witnesses say they saw a man wearing a mask hand over a briefcase and then disappear into the smog.

Shedding Tears and Dissidents

November 1, 2011

Can tears be put to work? Are they a plentiful and renewable resource? This intrepid reporter has uncovered a startling new plan by the Chinese government to harvest large volumes of tears. But to what end?

A recent New York Times article reveals that China wants to become a global leader in desalination, the process of removing salt from water. Supplying fresh water to the world would surely be a hugely profitable venture, placing the producers in what James Thurber would call the catbird seat.

Fresh water is required by each of the planet’s 7 billion souls, and the quantity of fresh water needed will keep increasing. How many farm animals and non-farm animals are there in the world, and how much water do they need? What about farms that grow crops? Stop and think of how much fresh water could be sold to vast and arid nations such as Egypt and Australia, or nations bordering salt water lakes and oceans; it becomes more staggering.  China, with roughly 1/5 of the world’s population, soon will need more than any other country. People, animals, crops, and many sorts of heavy industries need water. Hey, all this talk is making me thirsty!

The Communist Party has given Code Brue status to achieving technological superiority in producing fresh water cheaply. This is partly to satisfy Chinese needs, and partly to export.

China’s water demands are most dire in its western provinces, far from sources of both fresh and salt water. In recent months, however, a source has presented itself.

All across China, dissension and protest have risen due the public’s disfavor with government corruption and many other contentious issues. The Internet-fueled civil resistance of the Arab Spring scares the daylights out of the Central Committee, who fear that it might spread to China. The attempted cover-up of the fatal high-speed train wreck in eastern China was promulgated with lightning speed by Internet-based social media, a new force in China. Forced evacuation no longer applies to just the lowly and powerless, but has spread to the well-to-do, helping to spread the feeling that corrupt government officials hoping to profit from increased land values are behind it.

The Chinese food industry is in disarray from nationwide food scandals, and ordinary citizens are frightened about food safety. A hugely popular TV show has been cancelled, for the only plausible reason that TV viewers chose the winner, and this smacked too much of democracy. Recently, the tenth Tibetan monk set himself on fire to protest the forced occupation — is any occupation unforced? — of Tibet by Chinese nationals.

Prior to all this, the Communist Party has been ominously expert in quashing any and all protests, calling such outbursts threats to “harmony and stability.” Recently the government has begun cracking down even more severely on those dissident netizens who spread potentially embarrassing “false rumors” and “wrong information” suggesting that the government is fallible or corrupt.

The paranoid old men who run China are scared to death of anything that might lessen their absolute grip on power. This is why so many bold and critical Chinese are whisked away at night and not seen or heard from again. There are costs, however, to separating Chinese citizens from their freedom: China is suffering from a shortage of prisons.

Since it would cost too much to build prisons in remote areas, the Chinese government plans to “construct” prisons made from prisoners. Not made “by” prisoners; made “from” prisoners. These new prisons are to be called Harmonious Bamboo Gardens.

Detailed plans smuggled out of Ganzi in the alimentary canal of a goat show that prisoners will stand close together, mimicking the bars of a jail cell. The incarcerated must use the honor system and stay within the confines of their cells, or they will face severe punishment. Likewise any prison bar personnel will be cruelly punished if they “bend” and allow the escape of a prisoner.

Those who are given the duty of standing in place for excruciatingly long periods of time, and playing the role of a steel bar, are to be called “vertebrates.” Those who are imprisoned in the flesh and blood jail cells are referred to as “the guilty.”

Since their plight is expected to be awful, government authorities predict that both the vertebrates and the guilty will spend most of their time crying. Their tears will be collected by drains in the flooring, leading to a clever piping system and pumped to desalination plants close by. In an irony of Chinese marketing, the bottled water is to be called Freedom Water.

It is not known if any of the Freedom Water will be used to extinguish the flames of the Tibetan monks who set themselves on fire.

Droning On and On

October 15, 2011

Unmanned aerial drones — also called ‘unmanned aerial vehicles‘ or UAV’s — have become the weapon of choice in today’s theatre of modern warfare. Why send soldiers into battle and risk loss of life when a highly-trained technologist can sit safely hundreds or thousands of miles from danger, and demolish a target as easily as zapping aliens in a video game? Furthermore, the precision allowed by a drone attack means that concentrated force can be applied to very small targets with surgical accuracy.

Instead of blowing up an area the size of a city block or small village — approximately the same area taken up by most of today’s SUV’s — a military officer can choose and hit much smaller targets, such as a pool table or Smart car. (Common sense says that we should avoid both; we were all warned about the dangers of playing pool in “The Music Man” and elementary physics tells us that Smart cars will lose in any collision contest with a vehicle bigger than a Volkswagen, and become tiny airborne coffins.) Almost like a sniper, a drone can destroy a selected, small bull’s-eye while leaving surrounding objects unharmed.

Early success has led to rapid growth in the industry, and as history teaches us, superior weaponry leads to big dollar business, which tends to fuel more research and development. While currently the drone business is aimed, so to speak, at nations doing battle with other nations, and the elimination of terrorists, I predict that the personal drone industry will soon eclipse that of the big boys of the multinational scene.

As imagined by the New Yorker cartoonist Mick Stevens in the drawing above, we will soon be able to purchase personal drones to fulfill our needs. Your spouse is cheating? Send in a drone. Your boss is harrassing you? Send in a drone. There’s a bully at your school? Send in two or three drones and kill him slowly. Is the second bassoonist a little flat in the Beethoven concerto? Send in a microdrone.

The “Occupy Wall Street” protests have become a more global phenomenon recently, but many participants seem unable to articulate reasons why they are doing what they are doing. Personal drones could circle the area of interest, and listen to conversations on the ground. If, during a televised interview with, say Geraldo Rivera, the protester uttered something like, “Corporations aren’t fair!” or “Capitalism is greedy and the devil’s playground!” a drone could plummet like an angry coconut and take the offender out. Audience participation software could decide if Rivera would also be eliminated.

Too Many Left Feet

September 14, 2011

Here we see an undated News of the World photograph of The Republican Party in a top-level “Strategy Dance” in preparation of the 2012 election. After the most recent Republican presidential debates, the Grand Old Party had come under withering criticism from the Democratic Party, political consultants, Quakers, Seattle baristas, Switzerland, Morris dancers, Libyan rebels, the Viennese Boys Choir, and two little girls operating a lemonade stand in DC’s Lafayette Square.

Republican insiders suggest that the party leaders had been floundering clumsily, and were willing to try anything to help them get organized. A dance metaphor seemed as good an idea as anything else they had tried to unite their energies into a cohesive team effort.

Sarah Palin, second from the left of those facing away from the camera, is inexplicably going the wrong way — walking backwards — in this shot of the “Strategy Dance” and is about to step into a badger hole. Gov Rick Perry, looking up at the heavens for clues instead of watching where he is going, wound up tripping over Ms Palin, and suffered minor reindeer antler stab wounds. Newt Gingrich decided to do his own dance and crashed into everyone, popping most of the festive balloons provided and blown up by Dick Cheney. Michele Bachmann, third from the left of those facing away from the camera, and also going the wrong way, is about to execute a sweep kick against the advancing Ron Paul, who merely jumped over her and continued his dance routine, stepping, however, into some bull moose poop.

If you zoom in on the left side of the image, you can make out Orrin Hatch in the back row riding the hobby horse given to him by George Bush Sr. George Jr is out of view behind the other strategic dancers, and was sulking, as he “wanted to ride the horsie again.”

Political dance coorespondent Mikhail Baryshnikov said that the performance indicates that their strategic choreography still needs work.

On the far right John Boehner is seen attempting to “blow his own horn” by huffing and puffing on his set of reindeer horns, as if they were a set of bagpipes. Earwitnesses admitted that the sound was abject scrannel, a combination of the infernal screeching of AC/DC blended indifferently with the atonal maunderings of Bartok. Once while waiting to tee off at his club, Boehner was observed trying a Pied Piper motif with a five-iron to lure the off-duty caddies into becoming Republicans. I don’t know if this is relevant, but it seemed worth mentioning and broke up the monotony.

An observer on the sideline noted that if you can’t dance, then you shouldn’t be in statecraft. I would say something, but I don’t want to step on any toes.

Testing the Envelope

September 3, 2011

International business provides one of the most interesting arenas to observe humankind at its best, and its worst. For thousands of years, traders have bought and sold over-priced goods and rendered shoddy services in the great market towns and port cities of the world. Vast numbers of stinky people would congregate and speak dozens, if not hundreds, of impenetrable languages while navigating myriad cultural differences with the dual purposes of making money and improving one’s situation.

Often, however, there would be someone else who wanted to make money and improve their situation, and that person could get in your way. This conflict, my friends, is called competition. Trust me when I say that business competition today looks the same on a stock exchange floor as it did when gladiators fought back in Rome’s Colloseum, only today they wear ties.

Fighting implies a winner and a loser, and when the need to win is high, some contestants cheat.

Market towns and ports also provided unique circumstances for learning, whether about new products and services to sell, or finding cool new ways to sell old products and services. Traders who imitated successful business practitioners and acquired new knowledge stayed ahead of the pack, giving themselves new opportunities to succeed. Success and wealth meant that they could buy Ferraris and then die while still young and beautiful. And if they couldn’t succeed honestly, they could learn new ways to cheat.

So just like children imitate their parents, businesses can imitate, or even try to copy, other businesses which they admire. And even at a more macro level, some countries may try to imitate other countries. India, it turns out, wants to be more like China; the land of Buddha wants to imitate the land of the dragon.

According to a recent article, in which many politicians and business owners in India were interviewed, Indians are envious of much of what China has accomplished in recent years: high if not stellar growth rates; herculean infrastructure improvement projects such as dams, bridges, railroads and airports; and – a shocker – its system of government. It is a “widely held view” that China is outperforming India because it is more “disciplined.” Indians feel that this is due to the fact that China’s Communist Party runs things unilaterally, while India has one of those typically sloppy, multiparty democracies that appears to be about as manageable as a herd of cats.

But do they really want to be like China? It is a “widely held view” that Dragonland is a hotbed of bribery and corruption. In 2006, Wal-Mart conducted a series of audits of companies in China making many of the zillions of low-cost items the world’s largest retailer sells. The auditors found that only a very tiny minority of Chinese businesses manufacturing products for Wal-Mart adhered to contractual agreements such as paying the legal minimum wage, paying for overtime work, not employing underage workers, and providing the equipment, training and working environment considered proper and safe when handling toxic or otherwise dangerous materials.

What popped my eyes out was that there are consulting firms in China that will help your company to cheat, by such means as: generating bogus employee time-sheets; coaching you on what to say to auditors and how to answer questions they are likely to ask; and providing helpful tips such as throwing blankets over the heads of the cheeky employees, the ones who are likely to tell auditors the inconvenient truth, and hustling them out of the factory when the audit teams arrive.  Unbelievable.

This year China has been mired in food industry scandals, as described on these pages, with such things as infant milk powder tainted with melamine. In your kitchen are probably spatulas and other items made of melamine, but do you wish to ingest them? Evidently, by judiciously adding amounts of finely ground melamine to the infant milk formula, testing instruments are fooled into thinking that the levels of nutrients are higher than they really are. So Chinese dairy managers figured they could cheat by adding ground up spatulas and feed the results to babies, and that would be OK, as long as they made lots more money.

The Three Gorges Dam, a huge, late-1990’s project of which the Chinese are really proud, already shows signs of cracks and leaking, and scientists are worried that no number of little Dutch boys will be able to fix it. During an inspection of dykes that suffered more than expected damage after floods along the Yangtze River in 1998, then premier Zhu Rongji discovered that some had melted away “like bean curd” due to corrupt and shoddy compliance with best engineering practices. Cutting corners and bribing inspectors, no matter if public safety is involved, is the Chinese way.

The recent bullet train catastrophe has caught the world’s attention, and two of the key railway ministers reportedly pocketed billions of dollars. The railway minister and the boss of the high-speed train system, is Liu Zhijun. He was fired back in February, and it is estimated that he received approximately $320 million in bribes. His second in command, Zhang Shuguang, deputy general engineer of the railway ministry and director of its transportation department, was found back in March to have been the recipient of many fat envelopes too. Reportedly he has $2.8 billion squirreled away in Swiss and foreign bank accounts, this on a purported $1220/month salary.

Officials from the Chinese telecomm industry have just joined the party. Zhang Chunjiang, at one time the vice chairman (ha ha, “vice” chairman) of China Mobile, the largest mobile phone service provider in the world (if measured by number of subscribers), has been a bad boy. In July, he was charged with accepting somewhere in the vicinity of $1.15 million in bribes. (He should have worked for the railroads.) He was sentenced to death, which was reduced for good behavior, which in China means that he has to share his ill-gotten gains with the Central Committee.

Last week, Li Hua, the former chairman and general manager of the Sichuan branch of China Mobile, was convicted of accepting more than $2.5 million in bribes. Like Zhang, Li was sentenced to death, but will also receive a commuted sentence — I understand that the poor bastard will be forced to watch videos of Jo Calderone for the rest of his days.

As everybody knows, India has been very successful at out-sourcing, which has been made possible by a well-educated workforce. These highly trained Indians  are paid less than their American counterparts, which helps to keep costs down. One area in which they excel is the medical industry. For example, Indian doctors, many of whom trained in the US, analyze x-rays which have been sent by American doctors. At the end of an American’s workday, a radiologist can send an x-ray over the Internet to a doctor in India. This doctor, due to time differences, then receives the x-ray and examines it while the American sleeps. Then when he or she is done, the doctor in India, at lower cost than is possible in the States, sends the report back to the US doctor, who sees the results first thing the next morning.

Similarly, workers in the Indian software industry can receive umpteen lines of code from an American software engineer, assess the work, provide revisions and corrections as necessary, and then send it back for use in the US. Again, costs for such work in India are lower than in the US.

Call centers, as many Americans know, have been in the forefront of Indian out-sourcing. Many of us are familiar with the movie (2006) and TV show (2010) of the same name, “Outsourced.” We are also aware that when we call a large company to order something, or if we try to get some tech support, instead of speaking to an American operator, we are likely to get connected to someone in India. This is pretty easy to tell, since the person in the monster cubicle field, perhaps in Mumbai, has that unmistakable accent, as in “Thankyouverymuchplease.”

By bribing people from Beijing to Bangalore – which was horrible – this intrepid reporter has discovered that India and China are about to sign an unusual agreement. We know that bribes flow through China like blood through an Olympic gymnast. But lately, there is growing fear of getting caught and then severely punished.

(The Chinese don’t worry about bribery and corruption as being morally wrong; almost like little children they are just frightened that they might get caught and spanked.)

While China knows that India has a competitive advantage in out-sourcing, and can provide many services at prices far below those charged in other countries, India wants to be more like China and learn more about Chinese business practices.

Here’s what I found: Chinese companies have signed contracts with Indian out-sourcing firms to perform off-shore bribery services.

These pioneering Chinese firms hope to save money and still enjoy the many benefits of offering and accepting bribes, while reducing the risk of being caught; Indian businesspeople will get their wish and learn how to be more like the Chinese.

Using nude photos of celebrities downloaded from the Internet — no, sorry, there isn’t a link — I bribed officials on both sides of the arrangement, and uncovered the new schedule of bribe transaction fees that will be used. It looks like India will be able to dominate this new sector by providing high-quality, out-sourced bribery services at cut-rate prices.

Formerly, to gain approval of a contract to obtain, say 1,000 tons of yttrium, it would cost the foreign firm $500,000 in bribes to a Chinese official or manager.  But by out-sourcing to India, and taking advantage of exchange rate fluctuations, a firm might spend only $350,000 and still enjoy the same relative benefit (“bribe power equivalency” or BPE).  In the old days, in order to bribe railway or construction inspectors in China for a large-scale project, a firm would have to spend around $1.25 million to pass a routine inspection.  But as an out-sourced bribery, India can perform the same service for only $700,000.

In order to gain expertise in this “theatre of dissimulation” the less knowledgeable Indian firms have been gathering works on the subject and have been schooling themselves on the finer points of what the Chinese call “guanxi.” The Indian companies have also purchased a large quantity of an excellent publication by The Economist, a detailed report on global bribery. These companies feel that this primer on the protocols and etiquette of bribery will give them a leg up on this age-old way of doing business.

Bribery economists at the University of Massachusetts, where William M. Bulger used to be president, estimate that India could become the world’s leader in out-sourced bribery within 5 years.

To run the new Indian bribery call center in Mumbai, rumors have spread that Li Hua, the former telecomm executive has been hired. Evidently, those wishing to offer or accept a bribe will be given a discount on processing fees, if they call using their China Mobile account.

There is no word on whether spanking will ever be out-sourced.

The Bigger They Are…

August 30, 2011

The Chinese government’s paranoia hit new heights this week when it banned songs by Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and the 1990’s boy band wonders, the Backstreet Boys. Clearly these performers’ songs represent a unique threat to harmony and stability. What are the Central Committee geezers so afraid of?

According to a recent article, top censors in Beijing believe that the citizenry should not be exposed to the lyrics in these songs. Evidently the words themselves and the imagery and symbolism suggested by them are so poisonous, and so inflammatory, that if 1.4 billion Chinese heard them, they might stampede into Beijing and burn the place down. Gosh. Why do the censors feel this way?

Hu Zhed Dat, of the Ministry of Paramount Paranoia, says that not only the title but also the lyrics of the Backstreet Boys hit single “I Want It That Way” include such incendiary phrases as “Ain’t nothin’ but a heartache” and “Ain’t nothin’ but a mistake,” which he feels are nothing less than naked exhortations for the people to revolt.

Katy Perry’s song, “Last Friday Night”, refers to a ménage à trois, which Mr Hu found to be not only vulgar and tasteless, but also very unlikely in China, as the One Child Policy has led to a shortage of girls.

Hu believes that Lady Gaga’s song, “The Edge of Glory“, which includes the line “I need a man who thinks it’s right when it’s so wrong” is right out of the pages of some perverse protest manual.

Beyoncé’s song, “Run the World (Girls)” is all about girls taking over, which is not to be tolerated in the male-dominated mainland. The singer revealed at the Video Music Award (VMA) ceremony last night that she is pregnant. It is not known if the baby is a girl, in which case a Chinese adoption agency may wish to buy it.

The director of China’s music censoring protectorate, Noh Toh Tapping, has issued a comprehensive list of other musical artists that are also banned from play in China: Tiny Tim, AC/DC, Mongolian throat singers, ABBA, The Chords, Blues Image, Devo, The Five Stairsteps, and Pat Boone. Punishments for airing these one-hit wonders and screechers of scrannel were not made public.

Fine arts censors also released a long list of other, non-musical artists who have been banned, either for content that is deemed too revolutionary, too contrary to harmonious Chinese values, or for simply being too non-Chinese. These proscribed artists are: mimes, especially those who do that irritating ‘stuck-in-an-invisible-box’ shtick, The Blue Man Group, all sculpture by Rodin, all paintings by Leonardo DaVinci, the paint can spill stylings of Jackson Pollock, all Lego structures, and all of the episodes of the Scottish sitcom “Still Game“.

Last on this vast taboo list would be any and all works of art known popularly as “domino toppling” configurations, since the Peoples Bullying Party fears anything that has to do with toppling. While the government censors did not explicitly ban Irish step-dancing, this fear of toppling has led them to stomp a tap-dancing shoe on the throat of social media.

Just a few days after the ban on selected songs was announced, one of China’s Twitter-like microblogging services, Sina Weibo, announced to all of its 200 million users that a handful of them were to be publicly spanked in Tiananmen Square by members of the Chinese Olympic ping pong team. Their crime? Spreading “fake and misleading rumors.” As defined by Beijing, if information is provided by official channels, it is “factual, truthful, legal and correct.” If it comes from regular people or foreign governments it is “false, illegal, incorrect and complete crap.” And if the dissemination is really critical and embarrassing to government officials, and too close to the truth regarding official government corruption and incompetence, then officially it must be defined as gibberish, but gibberish that must be stamped out.

When Weibo users heard that some of their own were to have their accounts “suspended” for a month they went ballistic, complaining — much like Americans or Europeans would — that their right to say what they want online is being thwarted. They believe that the Chinese government is behind this move, since only the government would want to prevent free speech, and only the government would have the clout to order such a large company to impose these draconian restrictions.

Indeed, last Monday a high-ranking member of the Politburo, the only arm of the Communist Party authorized to carry whips, paid a friendly visit to corporate headquarters of Sina.com. Liu Qi, the party’s Committee Secretary, is used to getting what he wants, and holds a degree in – I am not making this upsmelting. He told the company’s managers that they have been naughty and lax in allowing the unrestricted flow of criticism directed at officials of the Peoples Bullying Party.

Not only will the guilty bloggers be prohibited from collecting new followers, and forbidden to post destabilizing messages and disharmonious grievances for a month, during that time they will be beaten, hand-cuffed and gagged in a harmonious and stable wheelbarrow while being re-educated.

In recent years Chinese citizens have been enjoying unprecedented freedoms because of the Internet. (Or, if your last name is Bush, “Internets.”) Average people have been communicating like never before, and discussing news and politics just like folks from other parts of the globe. One of the trends upsetting the Peoples Bullying Party is that ordinary netizens are – gasp! –complaining openly for the first time about corruption and incompetence in government and industry, and directing anger and sarcastic criticism at specific officials. Government and industry leaders once considered untouchable are getting dumped on, and the Communist Party does not like it.

If this ominous trend continues, the “criminals” risk being severely punished. The penalty for using smart phones for the crime of spreading false and misleading rumors through social media is heinous indeed. The Chinese government will force repeat offenders to turn in their old phones, and will be issued fake iPhones made by Foxconn. Not only will these phones be pre-loaded with approved songs and videos, but will feature fingerprint-recording capabilities and GPS.

Built-in word filters will censor unsuitable messages before they are sent, and phone-hacking software provided by experts from News of the World will be listening. If the user attempts to over-ride the phone’s software, the phone is programmed to melt in the culprit’s hands, a feature developed by Liu Qi himself. And top officials at the Ministry of Paramount Paranoia announced that those microbloggers who persist in spreading false and misleading rumors will be forced to watch – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – horrible, tortuous footage of Lady Gaga strutting and babbling as “Jo Calderone.” 

How Do You Spell Yttrium?

August 25, 2011

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has a very nice house on the beach in Southern California. Let’s stop right there for a massive ooh and a heartfelt aah. We do not know if Gidget or Annette Funicello are regular visitors, but if I owned a beach house in Southern California they would be.

Mitt feels that his 3,000 square foot abode is no longer big enough for his needs. A spokesman has mentioned that Romney has five grown sons and 16 grandchildren, and that when they get together for family barbecues and volleyball parties there is simply not enough room. So they are knocking down the old pile of rubbish and building a new 11,062 square foot mansion there in La Jolla, just north of San Diego.

If we calculate the approximate number of party-goers involved, we have Mitt and his wife Mittsy, the five sons and presumably their wives, plus 16 grandchildren, which gives us 28 people. (That does not include the Southern California standard number of servants per rich person, which is 2.25, giving an additional 63 people.) Divide the original 28 into 11,062 square feet, and we have roughly 400 square feet per rich person. By comparison, my wife and I used to live in a 457 square foot Boston condo, which works out to about 230 sq ft per person, which was OK when an elbow wasn’t in your ear or your nose. We didn’t have to worry about 16 grandchildren visiting us, which might have been a little cramped, whether we counted the cat or not.

Some critics have jumped up to say, “Good heavens!”, does he really need a house that big?!? Why does it have to be so much bigger than the average American home, that is, the average American home on a Southern California beach. How often are all these kids and grandkids going to be there anyway, and don’t they have their own palatial homes on beaches somewhere? Could there be another use for a structure almost as big as the Pentagon? Does Romney have an ulterior motive?

This intrepid reporter has been poring over building plans, architectural sketches and other publicly available documents in libraries, museums and briefcases buried under twenty feet of dirt. The results are astounding. If the results were not astounding, you wouldn’t be glued to your computer screen as you are now.

You may have read recently that there are scarce and valuable minerals used for all sorts of modern products, like cell phones, hybrid cars, and glow-in-the-dark breakfast cereals. A few of these special elements are cerium, scandium, and of course yttrium. (If you had never heard of yttrium, you should be ashamed of yourself.) These are called rare earth elements, and their prices have been skyrocketing lately, because, according to experts, the Chinese have been playing a sort of cat and mouse game, which in that part of the world would be called a ‘dragon and lotus blossom’ game.

The Chinese like to roam the earth, investing in whatever they want, enjoying unfettered access in this mostly free-market world. But when it comes to outsiders investing in China, the government insists on carefully controlling the flow of foreigners salivating to get in, like a bouncer at an exclusive nightclub keeping the undesirables on the wrong side of the velvet rope.

Let’s get back to our discussion of rare earth elements, and for this you had better break out your old high school chemistry book and look up lanthanoids. What’s that? You didn’t keep your high school chemistry book? What were you thinking? Didn’t you believe that it — and your trigonometry book and your geography book and all your other textbooks — would come in handy one day? Harrumph.

By the way, the label “rare earth elements” is a bit of a misnomer, because some of them are relatively plentiful, it’s just that they are bloody difficult to find and are very expensive to get at. Anyway, China boasts the world’s largest known supplies of these rare earth metals, and the Chinese government is playing its usual version of supply and demand hardball with other countries and other companies.

As China has become the world’s low-cost manufacturer, and makes more and more of the things we want, these rare earth materials are becoming more important, so supplies are crucial; China wants to keep an iron grip on the supply. (No, iron is not one of the rare earth materials.) It’s kind of like the competitive display the Chinese put on recently during a “goodwill” basketball game in China.

This exhibition game was between the Georgetown University college team, the Hoyas, and a professional Chinese team, the Bayi Rockets, made up of men who serve in the Chinese army. The game must not have been lopsided enough in favor of the Chinese, since the officials — Kung Pao, Krak Sznap and Zhap Bhonk — started calling three times as many fouls on the Hoyas as for the Rockets, for infractions like having wavy blonde hair. These same officials did not call the vicious fouls committed by the Chinese players, who evidently wanted to reshape the multitude of American ears and noses by using their elbows and knees. It soon turned into a full-blown brawl, with the Bayi players throwing punches, stomping on the Georgetown boys and using folding chairs to gladiatorial advantage.

I guess you could say that the Chinese didn’t want to lose.

And now, using what the World Trade Organization has determined to be unfair trading practices, the Chinese don’t want to risk losing the rare earth game either. Which takes us back to Romney’s very capacious house. Companies controlled by him have been quietly buying up the biggest drilling and earth moving equipment in the world. Geologists from Harvard, MIT, Oxford and Switzerland have made visits to San Diego for secret meetings with Romney people.

If you start in Southern California, and drill way down into the Earth, and then turn left a bit, and keep going, you will come up in China. You can look it up in your trigonometry book. That is what Romney is working on! He is calling it the Romney Undetected Drilling Enterprise (RUDE). They plan to use the huge new house as a cover for the enormous drilling and excavation equipment, and then to dig all the way to China — well, not ALL the way to China, since they want to stay under the surface. Then, while still underground, they can extricate the rare earth elements at will and transport them back through the big tunnel and right up into Californian markets. It’s a very cunning plan.

Another cunning aspect of this ambitious plan is to raise money while the project is in progress. My sources tell me that Libya’s Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is already tired of hiding in the warren of tunnels under his beleaguered palace. There are plenty of South American drug lords who would love a vacation. And Casey Anthony is tired of being hounded wherever she goes. The smart money inside the Romney camp says that the new mansion will provide a safe and comfortable haven for selected refugees with big wallets. Security for the entire operation will be handled by Romney’s old Boston friend, Whitey Bulger, who has extensive ties with law enforcement.

An insider so close to Romney that he knows that after the great man has had a wee-wee, he doesn’t even put the toilet seat back down, says that Romney has one final wish after scoring big in rare earth metals. After he corners the market, an odd thought considering that we live on a sphere, he plans to build, at the North Pole, an exact replica of the Fortress of Solitude, and live there like Superman for the rest of his days.