Friday, May 26, 2017

Yang Shuping’s speech



Yang Shuping is a Chinese student who graduated from the University of Maryland and gave a commencement address on May 21, 2017.  Numerous Chinese students have given such speeches lately, but only hers generates much attention.  The core issue is that she hailed American air is “sweet”, compared to the polluted air in China, and also the US is freer.  This attracts a lot of criticisms and attacks, as well as a lot of defense.

What to make of her speech, and more importantly, the reactions?

Yang Shuping, in fact, could make her main points, objectively.  Few people could say the air pollution in China isn't worse than the US, and certainly freedom of expression in general, etc.  Thus she is certainly not wrong factually on those fronts.  That much is the argument of her defenders, and even her critics acknowledge it.  So why the fuss?

First an interesting detail.  She used her own experience of wearing a mask to counter bad air in China, a personal story and tiny sample size.  It was soon pointed out she came from Kunming, a city far from the worst air in China.  It is nonetheless debatable that Kunming is still worse than most American cities.  And she had a sinus in China which disappears in America.  Now, a lot of people have sinus in one place but not in another, and sinus is a common health problem with known and unknown causes.  I also have sinus in China that mostly goes away in the US, and I was from a place with likely no worse air than Kunming, and I left in early 1990s, at a time when air was supposedly better than now.   This suggests that many factors besides air dictate whether one has sinus or not.  I have further found that wearing a mask alleviates my sinus in China in the winter.  The mask is not of any specialty kind, so the main mechanism is likely to maintain a warm environment for the nose and face, not to filter out bad air.  This leads me to conclude that in China room temperature is usually not well controlled, too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer, causing all kinds of problems for many Chinese, whereas in the US you pretty much live in a constant, comfortable environment (houses, offices, shops, cars), which is good for your body.  Why is it the case in China?  Well, mostly economic reasons, and simply old ways die hard.  So based on other people’s experience, Yang’s sinus and story is not convincing.  It could even be due to allergy to pollens unique in China, for example, hardly a valid good US-vs-bad China example.  But this point is minor.

Then, the freedom of expression in general.  It needs a long book and many more, but in essence, one can say whatever he wants (not exactly true), but he should also be ready to face any reactions and consequences from other people’s freedom of expression as well.  In Yang Shuping’s case, a few people went overboard with personal attacks in the digital space, and some defenders also erred by casually dismissing critics’ freedom of expression.  Indeed, so often her defenders are calling her critics doing "cultural revolution".  This is despite the fact that the quickest and strongest criticism came from Yang's fellow Chinese students at UMD and elsewhere in the US, who are typically only in their late 10s to early 20s, whereas the "cultural revolution", as commonly known, occurred over 40-50 years ago in China, when many Yang's defenders were actually born or even active at the time.  The phrase "cultural revolution" has become so politically charged among Chinese, almost like holocaust or Hitler or genocide in the West, that it is devoid of any actual meaning or value for dialogs.  If one wants to see any fresh evidence of "cultural revolution", plenty can be found in any online forums about sports, fashions, cell phones, and any political issues, etc, everyday, everywhere, on the globe.  Those heated arguments rival or exceed criticisms or counter-criticisms of Yang Shuping.  Are those people, most having never been in or known of the Cultural Revolution, defined as a particular historic event, also doing "cultural revolution"?  If so, the significance of "cultural revolution" is greatly diminished.

In reality, Yang Shuping later apologized, not for her facts, but for what she implied in her speech.  Implication, THAT is the main issue.   

Suppose you are an African-American, and you talk about black crimes and disparage Black Lives Matter in your commencement address, what do you expect the reactions, even if you cite all the correct statistics?   Or you are from India, and you gush about fresh and sweet air in the US, even though Indian cities do have the world’s worst air pollution?

We can all objectively debate whether the US is the best in the world.  Yet even if so, does it mean everybody elsewhere is a less deserving country or person?  Is the glee and moral superiority, exemplified by so many, including Yang’s speech, really justified?  Here lies the focus and motivation for her critics, which is conveniently ignored by her defenders.

When you are young, you tend to say, write, or do things you swear you will never, ever do it again when you look back a while later.  This can take years, or just a few months later.  While at a middle school I once wrote a composition assignment whose content I regretted very soon, and it didn’t even offend anyone.  Experience and learning needs a lot of time in life, no one is the same from 20- to 60-years old, genius included.

In a sense, such an occasion invariably reflects just the thinking of a young person at a time of her biggest achievement thus far in life.  Its significance is akin to that of a drizzle on a sunny day.  The attention, no matter what she says and whether positive or negative, should have never reached this high a level.  And now it will blow away in a few days.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye, 2016


The year 2016 has been bad for a lot of people, on a personal note and on the global scale.  It is funny to think that the turnover of a calendar page would change luck, but it is human nature to reflect on 2016 and look forward to 2017.

2016 went by with many surprises, such as the Brexit vote, Columbia’s rejection of a peace deal, and of course, Trump’s election.  These results went heavily against polls and predictions, although Clinton’s 2.9 million popular vote advantage would have made her the clean victor in any other countries.  As things go, we won't see the actual Brexit and Trump effects until 2017 and later.  Will they be good for a regular Joe?  

Take Trump for an example.  It is hard to tell what what he says means, what he will do, or what he will be able to do.  The first definitive thing he likely does is to repeal ACA, since it is what he says and what the Congressional Republicans avow to do for years and are finally able to do now.  The law cannot be easily repealed, but the Senate will use budget reconciliation to block ACA’s many measures.  What happens next is suddenly unclear.  Is there a replacement, what is the replacement, how soon is the replacement, or nothing at all?  I guess the US healthcare can always go back to 2008, as this debate is truly just about what the country wants to be like.
 
Then Trump’s economic plans.  He wants to bring back US companies’ overseas cash by lowering taxes.  This 1 trillion dollar extra money can’t hurt, but who will benefit?  The stock market will go up because of certain stock buybacks and dividend hikes, but how much will the inflow help the manufacturing jobs?  If American companies, like Apple, IBM, are not hiring in the US, it is not because they are starved of cash: they have plenty of money in the US already and can always raise more by issuing bonds.  The job market is of a structural not monetary issue, with the extra cash changing little of that.    
              
Trump also proposes to change corporate taxes, no export taxes, new import taxes, etc.  It is hard to know how they will turn out, because of the Congress and world trade rules.  If the export and import tax changes survive WTO arguments, other countries will follow, trade wars will ensue (not counting the other tariff wars Trump promises).  The net results will likely be that the poorer people in the US will pay more and save less for daily essentials, and the rich people will pocket more.  This same follows repealing ACA and the other, Trump’s income tax proposals.    

In the next four years Republicans will likely move on to cut the social security, Medicare, Medicaid, ostensibly to reduce deficits.  But Trump’s proposals will blow a big hole in the deficit, 1 trillion dollar oversea money coming home notwithstanding.  Here lies a fundamental problem with conservatives’ thinking in the US (the libertarian wing as an exception).  The conservatives preach small governments, want to reduce deficits, but increase military (as if military isn’t governmental), so they have to cut the social safety nets.  Reagan tried that and it didn’t work out, and when did it ever work?  Cutting the social safety nets will eventually hurt the economy and the society.  Of all the frauds the conservative are ranting about social security, Medicare, and Medicaid, they pale way in comparison with those by the Pentagon.  And given a choice between a bomb and bread, how would a guy on a Nebraska street choose?  

2016 has seen a lot of tragedies, wars, bombings, airliners going down, police and gun violence, etc.  One salient point is that female politicians fared badly, such as the Brazilian and South Korean presidents, and Hillary Clinton.  As terrible as Clinton can be, her famous “basket of deplorables” quote has been astute all along.  Since Nov 8 we have witnessed an outburst of racist, sexist, and xenophobic remarks and actions by many Americans, including plenty of officials.  The feelings have always been there, but now they are OK to express openly and proudly, and likely acted upon soon.
With Democrats losing elections in recent years, one has to wonder why.  Perhaps the Republicans have better ideas?  But this is not the case, even if Democrats are no angels either.  R claims to be for small governments and lower taxes, but what they really will achieve is more bombs, 100k tax breaks for a millionaire, maybe $500 for a middle class, and then crumpling social services, like roads, schools, dirty air and water, etc.  R foster a dream that if you work hard enough, being a millionaire is guaranteed, and if you don’t make it, you, and you alone, are to blame.  It might have been closer to reality in the 1800s, but not this day and age.  Because people, and their products, and often their services, are now competing against the globe, against countless individuals, against small and big corporations.  Many things are out of you control now; if something is gone, it is better to let go and try to find something else, instead of staying put and bitching about it.

If ideas are not to blame for D losses, then what?  There are at least three, interconnected explanations.  The first is that gerrymandering.  Clinton losing the election despite winning the popular votes is a prime example, but at the congressional, state and local levels D have been losing the battle for years, even when they got more total votes.  

The second is the R are more ideologically homogeneous, rallied by the Bible, guns, and small government, even though the last part is a plain illusion.  More R will vote against their own interest because of that and unity than for any better ideas.  In Obama years, the S&P500 goes up 2-3 folds, GDP only up 1-2% annually, cities recover better than the countryside, where many R are.  This only hardens them.  D are just a collection of diverse groups, a loosely connected, ideologically lax bunch.  The D base consists of more people, but the enthusiasm is lukewarm.  The joke is that many more R than D will vote for a dog if it is their party nominee.  

The third is that D can be just as corrupt.  If they are in the same position as R, they might not be much better.  At least true at the local level, this helps explain many hard cored R and less enthusiastic D.  Granted, D presidents historically, generally do better for national economies, and there are indeed real differences in recent years in their political stands, but that is mostly due to R turning hard right lately.    
  
With constituencies’ concentration in cities and a small number of big states, and gerrymandering, D have a systemic trap that is hard to escape any time soon.  The next two years D are powerless to stop Trump and the R Congress.  Only if Trump does something so outrageous will the many R get hurt enough to abandon his ship.  Then it will be anything but Trump, only if the anything is a Republican.  

Lastly, “fake news” has become a fad word following the Nov election.  It is mostly used to explain why Clinton lost to Trump; the story goes like this: R, and perhaps the Russians, were making up news to malign Clinton to help Trump win.   This word, however, is nonsensical, unless it limits only to individuals working alone in a basement writing craps.   The mainstream media have been doing this same stuff for as long as one can remember, either for R or for D or for whatever.  Any readers with memory can see through this, in NYT, WP, Fox, and all the others.  See "Ten commandments in modern societies-6" and other blogs.

Looking forward, 2017 will bring a lot of uncertainties, unknowns, and most likely the outcome won’t be good.  But at least 2016 is over. 




Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Athleticism a key to elites’ success in sports

It goes without saying that one has to be an outstanding athlete to win in sports.  When someone dominates a sport or is at the top for a long time, is it because he possesses the ultimate athleticism among peers?  It sure looks more and more so in today’s world.

But first look at the alternatives.  A competing factor may be that he is just smarter or learns and masters techniques better.  Some of that may be due to athleticism as well, as a quick reflex, etc, but suppose he just has a good touch with his racket and does wonder that nobody else can.  In short, he wins because he is technically superior, not because he is the fastest or strongest.

Another alternative may be that he has a good coach or team that helps him prepare his matches better. 

Such factors undoubtedly influence the outcomes of competitions, for no two players are the same with the same environment.  But in this day and age when video analyses are ubiquitous, and so many players and coaches are investing heavily, it is practically impossible to monopolize any techniques or hide any strategies.  This leaves us with the only other option that if you have better practicing partners, your level of play should be higher.  But then again in most sports nowadays your best practicing partners are your actual competitors in the tour.

So a general conclusion is that in any sport there could be about a dozen players, more or less, that have a similar level of skills, but being the winner requires the best athleticism, at least in the particular events he wins.  This is amply illustrated by recent results in the table tennis, badminton, and tennis competitions.

In the latest World Table Tennis Championship concluded in May 2015 in Suzhou, China, Ma Long finally won the men’s singles event.  He is certainly well deserved it, but the real story was how the defending two-time champion Zhang Jike performed.  He started out nicely in early rounds, constructing and manufacturing points well and not making many customary mistakes.  When he played Vladimir Samsonov, who gave him trouble numerous times before, the match was close early on, but ZJK was never in stress.   During these matches ZJK played a deliberate, controlling game, relying on spins but not outright power or speed to beat his opponents.  ZJK continued this game plan against Mizutani, but showed signs of distress in later sets, which gave the first impression that he was not completely well and that his risk-averse game plan was his only capable way of playing at the moment.  This turned out to be the case, as ZJK fell to the massive attacking style of Fang Bo in the semi.  ZJK could not control FB’s forehand topspins, and he could not initiate his own attacks either, so he had zero chance in that match. It might have been fortunate that he played Samsonov and Mizutani, who themselves are finesse players.  Had he had faced a furious attacking player like some Korean, he would have been ousted earlier.  It was revealed that ZJK had a shoulder discomfort during the tournament, like Xu Xin.  ZJK has always been a supreme athlete, but physically he is not 100%, and this shows.
Turning to badminton, which is muddled water right now, as nobody can win two tournaments in a roll.  Parity in competition is good, but one can’t help but thinking about LCW winning one event after another in recent years.  A surprise is that Lin Dan hasn’t won any super event, not for a lack of trying.  In the last two events he lost in a similar fashion to two different players in the first round: winning the first set closely and losing the next two.  This implies that he can’t maintain his intensity in three tough sets.  LD being a legend now has always relied on his athleticism.  In fact, he is arguably among the best athletes in all sports ever.  But perhaps age finally catches up with him; i.e., he is simply too old.  In any case, LD can’t possibly be as quick or strong as 5 years ago, and, of course, we are not sure how motivated he is these days. 

Women’s singles tell a similar story.  It is common for one wins one event and loses the next match in the next event.  A big disappointment is Li Xuerui, who hasn’t done anything since London 2012 and performs worse and worse with every passing year.  She has a script of winning the first set, losing a close second set, and losing badly in the third set.  This is a clear sign of passable techniques but poor stamina.  She has never had the best athleticism, but her style of playing has become more and more conservative, which is terribly suited for her.  In 2012, she had the same stamina issue (she is still not that old), but she attacked a lot, making her opponents spending a lot of energy defending.  So at the third set she was still the fresher one.  But as she plays more and more the rallying style these days, she is wasting a lot of energy, and her opponents are having more and more reserve in the third set, leading to her sure defeat at the end.  I think the culprit is Chen Jin, the Chinese coach.  Chinese women’s singles have performed poorly in recent years as a whole, and no one particular person has been any better, which clearly demonstrates the failure of Chen Jin, for not adjusting to the latest evolution of women’s attacking style.  With Chen Jin at the helm, there will be no world or Olympics championship for China in 2015 or 2016. 

Finally tennis, Serena Williams is the best example of being the best athlete winning the most.  At such an old age, she conserves her energy well and stays calm during matches.  In terms of ground strokes she is not better than many others, but her serves are much better, and she gets to more balls when the stakes are higher.  She wins all the three setters, as her opponents see chances but never quite finish it.  The only question about GOAT (see blog "Table Tennis and Tennis, all in one Paris, 2013") is whether her contemporaries (really the younger generations) are just too weak, as one can’t possible be better in the 30s than 28.

On the other hand, recent results including the French Open 2015 clearly show that Federer and Nadal are too old to be the athletes they used to be.  For Federer it has been a while.  For Nadal, it remains to see if he can bounce back to be competitive for any grand slams.  Novak Djokovic is by far the best male player, but if there is one who can beat him now, it is Stan Wawrinka, and he did.  Djokovic’s backhand is his best weapon against Nadal, but Stan’s single handed backhand style, as Federer’s, is its best antidote (see blog "2012 French Open men's final").   Compared to two-handed backhand, single-handed backhand is more versatile and easy to get to, but lacks stability and power.  But if one has the stability or variations or power, he can neutralize Djokovic's advantage better than Nadal.  Federer is no match to Djokovic today only because Federer is too old, but Stan’s athleticism is higher, and his backhand, while lacking finesse, has much more power.  Also, Stan serves faster than Djokovic, which can’t be said about Federer or Nadal.  So it is plain that the better athlete won the French Open.  In fact, the battle between Stan (not the much hyped Federer, Murray, Nadal) and Novak in GS events have been the real story in the past two years and could continue for two more. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Obama’s score cards



Obama has been the US President for 6 years and has been the subject of fierce criticisms from the Right and sometimes from the Left for most of the 6 years.  It is probably sufficient at this point to evaluate his performance, even with two more years in the WH. 

To begin with, it is not off the mark to say he qualifies as a war criminal under any conventional definitions or if he were the president of a weak country.  Giving Obama the Nobel Prize in Peace is, in contrast to popular thinking, entirely consistent with the Prize’s character.  Obama has largely continued Bush’s war policies after Bush, often even exceeding in the details.  He has bombed many countries, killing many civilians, even with his definition of military aged men as automatic enemies.  But this is naturally true for any US presidents, and you are a war criminal only if NYT says you are.  So why beat the dead horse here? 

On the other hand, anybody other than Obama residing in the WH right now is likely to have been more blood thirsty than he is.  Can you imagine what Hillary, McCain, or Romney would have done?  So, Obama does deserve a few credits, even if not everything he claims for or what some supporters or critics say.

1. Ending the Iraq War, notwithstanding the recent ISIS situations.  Obama claims he withdrew the US troops from Iraq, and his critics in the Right said he was wrong to do so.   But the agreement with the Iraqi government was negotiated with Bush, and Obama actually tried but failed to get Iraqis’ concessions on troops, so the US had no choice but to leave.  It is disingenuous for Obama to claim credit, and it is also disingenuous for critics to blast him for this. 
Obama’s score card: 30 (from 0 to 100, with 100 being the most humanly decent action).

2. Afghan war.  Simply natural flows from Bush’s and Obama’s policies.  Less US ground assaults, but more drone attacks.  No more renditions, just bombs away.  This also applies to other countries US had attacked and is currently attacking. 
Obama’s score card: 0.

3. Iran.  Obama has been negotiating and so far resisted bombing and even blocked the Israelis from doing so.  This is something any of his major presidential challengers and presidents before and after Obama would have done differently.  Hillary is always a hawk, McCain sang “bomb bomb bomb” in 2008, and Romney, largely a novice, would offer no resistance from conventional Washington thinking.  The only thing preventing Obama from resolving the Iranian nuclear issue is Israel keeps bogus documents and accusations alive, and Obama has no stomach to defy it and the long standing US hostility towards Iran.  So the peace prospect remains dim.   Still, we need to consider the fact that anybody, even the President, is constrained by circumstances, conventions, and the system.  So Obama has done something unthinkable, whether or not he possesses the courage to finish the right thing.
Obama’s score card: 90.
4. Cuba.  Obama announced in Dec 2014 to start normalization with Cuba, reversing a US policy of the past 50 years.  This is another remarkable thing Obama has done, or said so far.  On the other hand, this is something recent US presidents had thought of: clearly the right thing to do in their mind and with the support of most Americans.  But they failed to act because of a few vocal Cuban-Americans in FL.  In reality, this is not as a big deal as the Iran issue, and maybe the 2014 mid-term congressional losses spurred Obama, but it still requires courage. 
Obama’s score card: 70.

5. Syria.  Obama has taken side in the Syrian civil war but resisted bombing Assad’s forces directly.  The UN have blocked the authorization of force, having learned the Libya lesson, so Obama has a cover and can’t claim much of the credit.  Yet, a notable episode is the so-called Syrian chemical attack in August, 2013.  Obama had previously set a red line for the use of WMD, which was silly: what is the difference?  But when the reports of chemical attack came in, Obama was forced to say something and act, and he acted belligerently, even when the evidence then and till now never implicated Assad.  With Obama ready to pull the trigger, it was Russia that actually saved him from being Bush, and it did require brain and gut from Obama to climb down.  Brain: Obama likely knew soon afterwards that the evidence against Assad was weak to nil, so he and his people never claimed as much later.  But US presidents knew the initial reports to be wrong all the time, think LBJ, but few had the gut to reverse course.  Thus, it did take Obama nerve to correct his own mistake.  Critics all blasted Obama for drawing a red line then failing to act on it, but few considers whether it is the right thing to do, or is the credibility of a president more important than human decency?
Obama’s score card: 60.

6. Healthcare.  ACA is Obama’s signature domestic achievement.  It is controversial only because it is a big issue affecting everybody and so many interest groups.  Considering how expensive and how ineffective American healthcare system is, reform is inevitable, but if you want to enroll more people but keep the existing system largely intact, you have to have individual mandates, hence, taxes and penalties.  ACA provisions are reasonable or supportable for anybody, but the only real objections are about cost.  Can we afford it?  Many people object to the extra, usually small expenses and further elevate the issue to a matter of personal freedom.  At the end of the day, this is something people need to consider: what kind of country should the US be, and is healthcare a right?  Regardless, Obama deserves credit for doing something instead of just talking, even if his negotiation and promotion of ACA has been faulty.
Obama’s score card: 70.

7. Surveillance, transparency, and torture.  Obama campaigned to have the most transparent administration ever, but his is arguably the least in recent memories.  He has come down hard on unofficial leaks, while official leaks continue.  What has Obama done with regard to Snowden’s leaks of NSA?  Nothing, except trying to get Snowden.  In fairness, this kind of NSA activities have gone on forever, increased with technical feasibilities.  Critics of ACA often have no qualm with NSA, even though NSA has been infringing on privacy and freedom much longer.  Then the CIA torture issue.  Obama banned it after he took office, but it is largely ceremonial, as few will think the US is no longer engaged in such acts, just that no longer an official figure like Cheney is openly advocating it.  This remains a system matter, remember Abu Ghraib, by the US military and other agencies?  Obama’s position rang hollow with his refusal prosecute anybody in the Bush administration and senior CIA officials. 
Obama’s score card: 0.

8. Other policies.  Despite a minority of points above, Obama has continued long-standing domestic and international US policies for the most part.  Understandably, it is hard to change or defy a system.  Notably is the SONY-North Korea-Obama spar in Dec 2014.  In short, SONY computer system was recently hacked, and North Korea was suspected because of a SONY movie “The Interview”, and Obama retaliated by blocking North Korea internet access.  But the role of North Korea in SONY hacking is never proven, and the evidence is not even much or strong to begin with.  Obama likely felt he must do something, or anything, to placate his critics, so he chose internet outage as a punishment.  At least it is not bombs, but wait, North Korea has THE bomb too!
Obama’s score card: same as every other president.

In summary, Obama is the best anyone can have among the few choices there were and all recent US presidents.  He did or didn’t do certain things anybody else wouldn’t or would have done.  His policies along with his skin color have promoted enough animosities in the American political system that it is largely paralyzed for the past several years.  While Obama can still do something in the next two years to further distinguish himself in history, the long term prospect of peace is not promising and likely worsened after 2016.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Losses and near losses by the Chinese table tennis teams

Chinese table tennis teams, men or women, don't lose often, so it is a big deal when they did or nearly so.

The 2014 World Team Championship could have been one such loss for the men's team.  The final score is 3:1, but if going to 2:2, high chance Germany would have won.  The key is that Zhang Jike being used as the second single was a baffling choice.

Zhang Jike is miles ahead of any active players in terms of winning major titles, except for the semi-retired Wang Hao, but he may also have the dubious title of the most lucky overachiever (previous blog "Table Tennis and Tennis, all in one Paris, 2013").  Regardless of the past, he hasn't been that good for a year or in this tournament.  He almost lost a point against Austria, and lost a game to Taipei's third, pretty weak single in the semi-final.  The same lineup against Taipei would have been non-controversial in the final against Germany, but changing that and playing Zhang in such a form for two potential matches can't be a good decision on the part of Liu Guoliang, the Chinese coach, win or lose.

Form aside, Zhang Jike has the worst records against Ovtcharov and Boll compared to Ma Long and Xu Xin, for a reason: his style of playing.  Zhang is a counter-puncher, control player, a stronger version of Kong Linghui, backhand-oriented.  As a result, it is not that he can't beat a power hitter like Ovtcharov or a skillful, left-handed Boll: he just has to work really harder.  Unlike Ma Long, whose only real question is whether he can maintain his quickness in the next match.

Ma Long must have been penciled in early on against Germany by Liu Guoliang, so the question is why Xu Xin, who was clearly playing much better than Zhang in previous rounds and played the first point in the semi, was the third single in the final?  A worry might be that Xu Xin's backhand be exploited by the Germans.  This worry is valid for most penholders, but not necessarily for Xu Xin.  For Xu Xin is a left-hander, likes to rally, and runs very well.  His only problem is to use his backhand more to save his knees.  The German players are used to Zhang Jike and Ma Long's styles, but not to Xu Xin's.  Franziska, the third single who won a point against Japan yesterday, was clueless against Xu's top spins, swinging and missing a lot. 

As the match went, first was Ma against Boll, a replay of 2013 Worlds Singles quarterfinal.  Boll was much slower this time, losing 0:3.  Maybe Boll is no longer young, and his two points against Japan yesterday was too much for the body.  The second was Zhang against Ovtcharov.  Can't say Ovtcharov was playing over his head: he was probably on the good, bronze-medal form of 2012 London.  Zhang was content to block from his backhand side much of the match, but Ovtcharov didn't miss, winning 3:0.  After Xu's easy win, the crucial point is Ma against Ovtcharov.  Ovtcharov lost a close first game and quickly the next two, ending the championship.  It was almost funny that Ma had so many net and edge points against him in the six sets he played, but he won all six. 

A variable is Ma vs Boll.  Boll served too many long balls to Ma's forehand, with disastrous results.  If Boll had had worked Ma Long well like in 2013, extending to 2:3, after the next, two quick matches, Ma could have been a bit tired against Ovtcharov, then Ovtcharov would have had a better chance of an upset.  If Zhang vs Boll in the fifth match, you can bet Boll would be hell bent to beat Zhang, as he did in 2012 London.  Then China would lose the championship, for using Zhang, not Xu, as the second single.  Ma Long saved the day, but Liu Guoliang knew that he dodged a bullet.

An analogous example is 2001 Worlds China vs South Korea in the semi.  China's first single, Kong Linghui, lost to two Korean power hitters, people he always had trouble playing, and it took Liu Guozheng and miracles for China to go through.  China should have used Ma Lin or Wang Liqin as the second single.

There were still quite a few other 3:1 and 3:2 wins by China, yet not every one deserved a second guess.  Sometimes you used your best lineup but your opponents just played excellent.  But there are indeed real losses in recent years, the 2000 men's team and 2010 women's team.

The 2000 men's 2:3 loss to Sweden had a few excuses.  The first is that they shouldn't even be playing in 2000.  The original schedule was in 1999, and Liu Guoliang actually won the singles title in that Worlds.  It instead played in early 2000, a time in the year Chinese not in peaks due to the traditional Spring Festival.  But the more pertinent were that Liu Guoliang had to experiment with a new rubber in 2000 and at the time also was under a cloud of drug suspicion, not a public information then.  Cai Zhenhua, the Chinese coach had to use Liu for his name, even though he likely knew Liu was no longer the player he was in 1999.  Liu lost both his matches, and Kong Linghui lost one point in that final.

The 2010 women's loss is an entirely different matter, due to a strategic blunder by the Chinese team to promote two young players, Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen, too quickly.  And one has to acknowledge that Wang Yuegu played the best match of her career in that final.  And Feng Tianwei.  After that loss, an older player Li Xiaoxia was "re-discovered", and she is now the only active player with all the major titles.

One underlying issue in these matches is the argument between veteran-safe vs young-risky selections. The coaches largely adopt the veteran-safe option, with the up-and-coming as the third single.  It gave more dramas but most of the time worked out OK.  The only time the young-risky option was deployed, the outcome was poor (2010 women).  Thus, Liu Guoliang explained after the match that Xu Xin was the third single because he had never played in the final before.  This thinking, however, has holes beyond the ones explained above, for it betrays your lineup completely before the final.  Xu Xin was fully capable in the semi and not known for losing under pressure, while Zhang Jike had lost in teams finals before.  Anyway you see it, Liu Guoliang is getting too conservative and too predictable.  It is good he has a strong team.  If it were in the 1980s China vs Sweden, Sweden would have won more. The last point to note is that the 2010 women's final still featured the best, albeit very young, Chinese players at the time.  The mistake was made before that championship, not during.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Three songs that last forever



In 1985, “We are the world” was made as a charity single and became an instant classic worldwide.  Inspired, Lo Ta-yu (罗大佑), probably the greatest musician ever from Taiwan, wrote “明天会更好” or “Tomorrow will be better” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEDZyIUbSd0). Then, in 1986 and in honor of UN’s International Year of Peace, mainland China produced “让世界充满爱” or “Let the world be filled with love” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nIDC4wqxpg).  All three were of the same theme and format, originally recorded by dozens of singers (over 60 in the case of “明天会更好/Tomorrow will be better” and 100 for “世界充满爱/Let the world be filled with love”).

I hadn’t heard the two Chinese songs since 1992 and never watched any video, at least not in any significant length, until 2014, and only watched “We are the world” on TV a couple of times in between.  I am struck by how much has (not) changed through the years.  Some of the singers are no longer with us.  Amazing how some of the big stars looked like back then.  And how much peace is desired but lacking now as then.  But just the songs for today.

世界充满爱/Let the world be filled with love” is forever compared to “明天会更好/Tomorrow will be better” for good reasons.  People, while professing a love for both, would often like one better than the other, a matter of subjective tastes.  Although in fairness, this is almost like comparing Ernest Hemingway’s “A farewell to arms” to his "A very short story".  “Tomorrow will be better” and “We are the world” are typically singles, each about 5 min (depending on their versions), while “Let the world be filled with love” is 16 min, composed of three related yet distinct parts, similar to a mini-musical.

Analogy to “A farewell to arms” is apt because “世界充满爱/Let the world be filled with love” is one of the softest and sweetest songs one will ever hear.  The music flows like a smooth river on a clear day, particularly the second, arguably the best part, of the song.  The lyrics in Chinese are simple yet inspire imaginations.  On this front, “We are the world” is as plain as water, while “Tomorrow will be better” is sophisticated and loaded. 

An objection to “Let the world be filled with love” is that the transition between the three parts is not always seamless.  This is likely unavoidable since it packs three songs into one, although the over-arching aim is unmistakable.  Perhaps a more relevant question is why the composers made such a long song.  Certainly they had a lot of strong feelings.  And they learned from and would like to pay attribute to “We are the world” and to show varieties as well.  So the first two parts are crooning and the last rock and roll.  

Let the world be filled with love” was also a milestone in mainland China’s pop music history.  At the time, if the US was a senior in college, Taiwan a freshman, the mainland perhaps only in the third grade, still learning how to write, record, perform, and distribute pop music.  Thanks to “Let the world be filled with love” and others, within the next 10 years or an even shorter time, the mainland market exploded and matured quickly.  Nonetheless, “Let the world be filled with love” remains the pinnacle of pop music production in China, surpassed by none, although one may be comparing “A farewell to arms” with short stories again.   

Still, an age of innocence and hope.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rule of law



The rule of law is a major pillar of today’s world.  It demands that the populace understand what to expect and do under myriad situations and that the authorities regulate and reinforce certain behaviors.  Rule of law, like many others, sounds excellent in concept but is forever elusive in practice, even in a mature society as the US.    

The most recent case is the standoff between Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher, and the federal Bureau of Land Management.  The dispute went back to 1993 when the Bundy family refused to pay BLM gazing fees for their cows.  The Bundys have their reasoning and arguments, but a long story short, they have lost every court battle there is and now owe over one million dollars.  Then in early April 2014 BLM came in to roundup the rancher’s ~ 1000 cattle as compensations.  The Bundys resisted and were supported by hundreds of militia that came to their ranch and politicians in and out of the state, forcing BLM to drop its plan, at least for the time being.  

On the surface, what the Bundys have done is clearly illegal and serves the public no good.  Otherwise, why should Martha Stewart and Wesley Snipes go to jail?  The sound bites of militia and politicians all danced around how heavy-handed BLM was but skirted the core issue that the Bundys have had their days in courts but always lost for the past 20 years.  It is curious that BLM chose to round up 1000 cows instead to arrest Cliven Bundy only.  Maybe BLM has no such authority, but it surely was much more work to get those many cows, and the federal government can indeed conjure up many excuses and ways to get anybody if it chooses to, considering what has transpired now.    

Similar occurrences happen in China (and other countries as well) a lot.  A common example is the disputes between street vendors and street or city inspectors (see “Problems with Chinese courts and laws”).  Street vendors need licenses and conduct business at designated areas, which is reinforced by the inspectors.  When the vendors set up shops at the wrong places and the inspectors come along, most vendors will flee.  Some vendors do get caught or refuse to leave, then they will have to pay a fine, which most of them do.  But once in a while, there are scuffles between the vendor(s) and inspectors which often become major local news, and the sympathy usually goes to the vendor(s) if the media are to be believed.

So the Nevada standoff is nothing new per se, just that the distinction between mature vs immature societies is only relative.  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Lessons from the attack of the Kunming Train Station

There was an attack on the Kunming Train Station in Yunnan, China on March 1, 2014.  According to http://news.sina.com.cn/c/2014-03-02/033829599206.shtml, over 10 people wielding knives randomly attacked people near and inside the Station, killing at least 28 and wounding over 100.  At this point the identities of the attackers are unknown, but there is little doubt that this is a classic terrorist attack in most people's definition (more on this later).

A number of lessons can be learned from this attack and the subsequent, nothing new but still worth mentioning here.  The first is that Chinese police has always been slow to respond and largely powerless to stop the initial wave of attack because they are poorly equipped and not well prepared.  In prior incidents either the police themselves or the civilians greatly suffered.  In the US, cops all carry weapons, often at least two guns, and especially after 911, have a mechanism to quickly mobilize.  In China the logistics is simply absent.  The first line of defense, police at the scene, as most Chinese cops, usually don't carry firearms or are only lightly armed.  And I am not sure if there even is a real mechanism responding to such incidents and how fast help can arrive at any moment.  It is high time the government properly arms the police and has a genuine plan for emergencies.  One can imagine that if the police at the Station had had enough guns and bullets, the terrorists would not have had inflicted such a heavy casualty.

The second is that knives have been the most commonly used weapons in recent terrorist attacks in China.  This, luckily, has reduced the number of dead people.  In the US, a single gunman could kill over 10 people easily.  But this will likely change soon, and it will exacerbate the problem posed in lesson #1 quickly.  The government needs to have a wholesale plan for such an inevitability.  Again, learn from the US, GB, and Russia.  Clearly, one can argue that such attacks can not be prevented completely anywhere, but at least loss must be minimized. 


The third is that Chinese people should be more prepared as well.  Since the 1980s Chinese people have got used to a largely uneventful society, which is good.  But the world is changing, as many other countries have had this problem for many years.  Next time, it would be a bomb, guns, and chemicals, it would be in a movie theater, or somewhere that Chinese are not used to but happened elsewhere before.  Mentality has to change, can't rely on the government all the time, need to do something yourself.  Like paying attention to your surroundings.

The fourth is one of my favorite subjects that yet again confirms my negative view of the mainstream media in the West.  News of the attack was everywhere in the Chinese official and social media, and some details emerged quite early on, like a group of criminals.  For AP, CNN, etc, the first reporting was hours late, understandable because one needs verifiable, perhaps more information, in a world far away, so it is OK that the first report contained no mentioning of terrorism.  But it didn't leave out the motive-instead it included a sentence at the end that suggested that it might be a grudge against society. 

It smells like a preemptive whitewash more than anything else.  For I am sure the 9-11 attackers also had a grudge against society.  On the other hand, if there is one guy doing this, maybe he is crazy, but everybody knew by then there were a group of attackers.  And the US has labelled many a single terrorist.  I am not aware of any case a group of people attacking bystanders in this manner in the West not being labeled terrorism, although for China it is different fro western reporters.  This nicely fits their talking points that minorities are oppressed in China, so whatever happens must be the government's fault, because it can't be terrorism when they are just mad.  We don't know who did this yet, but for prior attacks the Chinese government claimed terrorist (and the public agreed), the Western media and government always voiced doubt and hardly if ever agreed.  I wonder if this time will be any different.  If it is, will it change how they view the other attacks, as the Chinese government always cries wolf?  Is this time the lone wolf, or wolves all along?

I wouldn't bet on it, especially on the West changing their long-standing narrative, because, frankly, it is a common knowledge that they are the backers of the generals, if not the foot solders, of the attacks, which is once again reflected in the initial reporting.  But it doesn't matter.  Let the Western media and their perrot, the "public intellectuals" in China whine for evidence.  The vital thing is the Chinese government and public need to be better prepared for such emergencies. The Chinese people have largely supported the government's positions; if anything, they think the government and police are too weak.  The responses should be faster and more decisive; learn from the US, but only apply it in China. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Frederick Sanger (1918-2013)



If there is ever a God in biochemistry, Frederick Sanger is (was) the one.  Sanger died on Nov 19, 2013.  His work has been enshrined in every biochemistry textbook and well known to everybody in the field.  He was the first to sequence a protein (insulin), winning a Nobel prize in chemistry in 1958.  He then devised a simple and easy way to sequence DNA, earning the second Nobel prize in chemistry in 1980.  An advisor of mine spoke of seeing Sanger at a meeting in the 1990s like someone greeting the Beetles.

Few people had won the Nobel prize twice.  An interesting comparison is with Linus Pauling (1901-1994).  He won the prize in chemistry in 1954 and the peace prize in 1962.  Although the Nobel peace prize is nothing more than a joke (earlier blog “The Overhyped Nobel Prizes”), and the peace prize committee seems to have the mentality of a pupil trying to fill out a blank in an exam as the time is up, e.g., recent awards to the EU and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  But Pauling was the first to predict secondary structures of proteins.  He then tried to predict DNA structure but lost to Waston and Crick. Had he succeeded, he would have achieved the equivalence of hitting two grand slams in a world series.  The difference might be that Watson and Crick, but not Pauling, saw a DNA X-ray photograph.  It just shows that even a genus mind can’t work consistently in a vacuum.

Sanger retired in 1983.  Not young but still early, considering many scientists work into their 80s or until death.  A reason was that Sanger believed it would be hard for him to top his DNA sequencing achievement.  It is true.  There doesn’t seem to be any dark matter left in a cell on the planet Earth, and even if it existed, it might not be as important as DNA.  Few Nobel-winning scientists were/are able to top their Nobel-winning discoveries after their signature discoveries or Nobel awards.  This is because it always involves a degree of luck, and lighting doesn’t usually strike the same man twice. A case can be made that David Baltimore should get his second for discovering NF-κB and RAG-1 and RAG-2, the master regulators of immunological processes.  Nobel prizes have been given to finding water channels or determining a structure of a protein or complex.  I don’t think they are more significant that finding NF-κB and the RAG genes.

Sanger’s work was truly the Nobels of the Nobels.

Two small steps for a man, two giant leaps for biology.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Problems with Chinese courts and laws


There are a number of high profile judicial cases in China in recent years that have garnered a great deal of attention and stirred strong emotions and reactions.   It is interesting to speculate what would have happened if the same things had happened in the US.  China and the US have very different systems.  The Chinese system is similar to that of many countries in the world, while the US to others.  So if China and the US would give different verdicts, speculative for sure, it should be interesting to know why.  Or, if both would likely give the same verdicts, it will also say something. 

The first verdict is in Bo Xilai’s case, as the judge sentenced BXL to life in prison earlier this week.  My take and comparisons to the US system are already discussed in the blog “Mature vs immature societies: on the trial of Bo Xilai”.  In sentencing, the judge in Jinan completely took the prosecution’s words and ignored the defense, making one wonder if defense, in any case, not just in this one, is ever useful.  The judge did not have a mindset of “reasonable doubt”, so in case of conflicts and valid issues raised by the defense, he just believed the prosecution.  This happened when BXL confessed but recanted in court, when BXL never confessed, and when (most of the times) all prosecution had was “he says she says he says” with a long line of irrelevant physical evidence and no cross examinations in court.  People understand it is a political trial, so the result is not surprising.  But it begs the question: why bothered, when you can’t promise fairness?  If in the US, BXL, if he indeed did some of the things, like his wife being involved in murder and his police chief in a cover up, would be forced to resign long ago.  If he accepted bribery in the accused, rudimentary form, he would be charged in the US.  But with that kind of evidence shown in China, it will be a stretch of imagination that any DA will ever take it to a court, and the judge and likely the jury will laugh at a guilty request.    

The second case is about 夏俊峰(XJF).  XJF was a street vendor accused of stabbing death of two street inspectors (SIs) and seriously wounding another in 2009.  He was convicted of murders and sentenced to death in 2009, which, after appeals, was finally upheld by the Highest Court in China on 9/25/13.  It is not a complicated criminal case, but received a lot of attention for two reasons.  One is that SIs have a bad name in China, justified or not.  What they do is maintaining order and cleanness in the streets, which pit them against unlicensed vendors and vendors setting up shops in unauthorized areas.  Dirty work, getting all the blames with no flower, and the SIs are not rich by any means.  Unfortunately, those vendors are usually also poor people themselves who often can’t make a living without breaking certain rules in China.  So this kind of conflict is not going away any time soon.  People don’t like the SIs, but imagine what will happen without? 

The other reason is XJF’s own situation.  He was a poor guy working very hard to support his parents, wife, and a son who has a talent of drawing.  This relates to a lot of people in China.  He and his wife had had numerous fights with the SIs because of setting up shop at the wrong places.  On the fateful day in 2009, he and his wife were ordered off the street by the SIs again but refused as before.  A scuffle broke out, and XJF was taken to the SI office.  What happened there had no other witnesses, but XJF used his vendor knife to stab three SIs numerous times before fleeing.  It is a truly tragic event, with losses for at least three poor families.  XJF cited self defense in the SI office, but there was no evidence (video, eyewitness, testimony) supporting him.  While most of XJF’s supporters did not dispute the evidence, they nevertheless wished to spare his life, to no avail.  In fact, even what happened on the street is in dispute.  A few other people said that the SIs beat XJF, but XJF maintained they did not, only did so in the office.  XJF might have intended to show that his injuries was sustained later, but there is again no evidence of his injuries, certainly not the kind serious enough that justified killing two and injuring one.

What would have happened in the US, in a state with a death penalty?  It must say that the verdict is not an outrage in China; it largely leads to a sad, what-a-waste feeling.  But in the US, XJF would likely have been charged with three first-degree murders, and the chance is high he would be given death as well.  His only hope was to convince the jury that he killed those people as they were beating him in the office, for which there was no evidence.  It wouldn’t help if retaliating against the street beating.  There might be a chance of a plead bargain that could save him, but very slim.  I suspect XJF should have pushed harder for his injury report, but am not sure if it ever exists or is possible, because the injury could have resulted from his capture later that day.  In the US, if a similar fight breaks out in the street, a trigger-happy cop, who does or backs up SI work, could have shot and killed him right there and then got off easily.  Some Chinese claim this is a false analogy because regular Chinese can’t have guns.  But many do have knifes, so is it OK for a cop to just knife somebody then?

The third case is another simple criminal case.  (HL) was accused of hurling an almost 3-year-old baby to the ground, killing her, in a rage, and was convicted and sentenced to death in Beijing on 9/25/13.  On the night of 7/23/13, HL (not driving) and a friend tried to park their car close to a bus stop, and a woman named Li didn’t move and used her stroller to block their way.  HL and Li had a quarrel, then a scuffle.  HL was so mad that he took something out of the stroller and smashed to the ground. 

Much of what happened is clear, and there is video camera evidence for the entire episode.  HL’s defense was that he is near-sighted, had a number of drinks before, and mistook the stroller for a shopping cart, so didn’t think it was a girl.  However, the best defense is (was) perhaps that HL was in a state of madness at the moment that he didn’t realized what he did, as it took place in just 2-3 seconds.  In a recurring theme by now, the judge completely sided with the prosecution.  The judge may have also been influenced by the fact that HL had served a prison term for theft.

Most Chinese probably agree with the verdict.  But what would have happened in an American court?  If a lawyer can show that HL was temporally out of his mind, for just a few seconds, due to darkness, alcohol, and heated arguments, then he might be guilty of man slaughter only. 

The last one is the most complicated, of a gang rape charge.  It involves Li Tianyi, the son of a famous Chinese couple (singers of the military), and his 4 friends, and a woman, in one night in Jan 2013.  Li and three of the friends are underaged (<18).  Li had a previous, minor run-in with the law so has a bad reputation, although his family background leads to hatred in a few people’s online clones as well.  What happened is again she says he says, and we don’t even know right at this time what the woman does or did for a living.  According to her lawyer, she was a student, a white collar worker, who was a friend of some people in a bar or worked part time in the bar, and she was kidnapped by the gang of five and raped.  But what we know now is that she likely has a complex background.  Perhaps even a prostitute or a bar girl who enticed people to drink at the bar and whatever later.  The gang of five claimed that it was all a sex trade.  There is zero video evidence that she was kidnapped, but a lot of video evidence that she actively followed Li and others in multiple locations despite that they wanted to drop her.  She further had many chances to get away or ask for help but did not.  A bar manager who introduced her to the gang, a star witness for the prosecution, also lied about what happened the night.  And while some people’s DNA was found on her, Li’s DNA was not; Li claimed that he didn’t have sex with her.  After the night, some people from the bar called Li’s family for hush money.  And there are inconsistencies in her recounts of the events and her injury report. 

On 9/26/13 Li was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in Beijing, the longest among the four under-aged, because he maintains his innocence all along.  But this case is full of holes.   

To start off, all the evidence implicating Li is she says, her friend from the bar says, and Li’s co-defendants say during interrogation.  There is little physical evidence, with the only being her injury report, made 1-3 days after the night.  Even that is suspicious: how do you know it was not by someone else later?  The most problematic against Li is co-defendants’ words, but by themselves not necessarily damning, obtained during intense police interrogation, and there are suggestions for coercion at the time.  In fact, witnesses had recanted, and other, objective witnesses were favorable for Li and company, yet the judge simply chose to believe what they said under police interrogation but not in court or under cross-examination.  

Chinese laws are tilted towards women if they claim rape.  If she agreed to sex but changed her mind after the fact, the prosecution would take the case.  It is hard to contest it otherwise for a man because nobody else was there.  Even if the woman lied about herself and what happened, as long as she said she was forced.  Is this really justice when the other side basically has no chance?

There is another issue of underage drinking and sex here.  The bar actually invited those people, most <18, to drink and then hinted at sex, which was not disputed in this case.  How come this issue, potentially bigger than the whole rape case, is never taken up or even addressed by the police? 

I suspect Li would have fared much better in an American court.  Because undeniably the woman lied a lot, there is a fat chance that the DA would drop the case.  Because of the conflicting accounts but little, indisputable evidence, a jury might have just set Li free.  See the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal in NYC in 2010, also the Duke lacrosse case in 2006.  I think Li has a good chance in appeals, but still, the Chinese legal system being so biased for the prosecution does not encourage confidence.  Not to say that the American system is perfect, because in the end they all revere power, see “Justice is selective and blind: Manning's 35 years”.  But the Chinese system sorely lacks the appreciation of an adversarial defense and the concept of reasonable doubt.  And I have yet to see any Chinese judges or lawyers as the legal experts as some Americans are. 

Lastly, Chinese criminal laws leave a lot to be desired.  At the high end, penalties are too severe.  Death and life in prison are too common.  At the low end, too light.  Street fights leading to minor injuries often get a clap in the wrist (a small fine and a few days in detention).  Even when the intentions or actions could have led to serious injuries or death, avoided only when the victims ran away or other people intervened.   For some cases the US would have filed an attempted murder charge, but in China it is only a public disturbance.  The consequence is that many trouble makers are free on the streets, undeterred to do it again.  This may keep the prison population low in China, but not crimes.