Saturday, November 29, 2008


- The Next Big Bailout? Keep your eyeballs on the impending credit
card market crash. Lenders are tightening up offered credit, raising
interest rates, and offering fewer incentives. Mail offers to new and
existing customers are on pace to drop below 8.4 billion pieces.

An interesting thought about the above is the effect on fuel
consumption and global warming: assume each mailing is 1 ounce (very
conservative assumption), the reduced number above would represent one
half billion pounds (250,000 tons) less mail to be transported, with
related less fuel used, fewer emissions, etc. I say: right on!"

- And the bailout of banks? Seems like the Treasury stratigery is to
give money (uh, purchase shares) to the bigger, more solid banks that
don't really need it, in an effort, it seems, to encourage them to
acquire their weaker competitors - ah, free market capitalism. The
criteria are a mystery. Some banks that have not asked for bailout
money have been approached by Treasury and asked to apply for it, and
who can resist free money? Umpqua Bank of Oregon was approached, and
will be getting a quarter of a billion dollars, even though they don't
really need it. And Bank of America has just increased their share of
one of the major banks in China (owned by the Chinese government) to
about 20% - some analysts think this is a bit tacky after B of A
accepted big money from the bailout fund.

- Consumerism Gone Wild. The death by trampling of a Walmart employee
by a Black Friday sale-crazed mob in New York is difficult to
comprehend. These uber-consumers gave up Thanksgiving to wait in line
for the store to open early in the morning, and then broke through the
doors before the opening because they couldn't wait any longer. This
tragedy is a sad commentary on the values of many of our fellow
citizens, and another sad reminder that consumerism as we know it is
an illness that must be cured.

- The Tragedy in Mumbai. How can one make any sense of terrorism other
than to conclude that these are evil acts perpetrated by evil people.
We have perhaps become so desensitized to this now common form of
brutality that the "every day" bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan kind
of roll off our minds as just another one of those incidents. But the
magnitude, brazeness and cold calculated brutality of the Mumbai
terrorists shocks us into a recognition of the ugliness of the real
world. I intend to write soon about the aspects of the human species
that often lead me to conclude that Mother Nature made a fatal error
in the evolution of Homo sapiens.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Silk Factory Number 1 has operated inside a non-descript building in a Suzhou neighborhood since the 1920's. Inside the entrance from the street, visitors can tour a small museum telling the history of the silk trade and the process of silk making. Live silkworms methodically eat mulberry leaves on an open tray, and real historic looms and other equipment are displayed in a museum setting. Visitors can then wander through the factory, peeking over the shoulders of workers - mostly women - and poking cameras at and around them as they sort cocoons, cook them in warm water to kill the pupae and loosen the strands, and deftly coax silk strands from cocoons in warm water as machines that look like they just leaped of the page of a history book about the industrial revolution spool the silk. After additional processing, the silk is woven into cloth on several old card looms. The final stop on the tour is the sales room, where purchases can be carried with or shipped to your home.

The remarkable thing about our visit to Silk Factory Number 1 was how unremarkable it seemed within the context of China. Now, at the end of a three week trip, I'm trying to sort out the complex threads of our experiences, like finding the one loose end of silk strand in a cocoon and carefully unraveling it to make whole cloth.

The People's Republic of China is at once fascinating and overwhelming, charming and intimidating, enigmatic and complex and yet simple. It has to be seen, felt, heard, smelled and tasted in order to have any chance of being understood. As visitors, we realized that understanding could only be gained by meeting and building friendships with people - certainly not a new concept, but an essential one.

The following China posts will not be written during our visit as I had planned. My trusty pocket PC was mostly useless as an internet reporter's device because I rarely found wifi access (2 Starbucks stores allowed brief interludes of connectivity - all praise globalization). The very modern American-owned hotels in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as the older Chinese hotel in Xian all had internet access, but only wired - doesn't work with a wireless device. A few hours before leaving China from Shanghai, Hotel Manager Kim explained that China is still catching up, and wifi would probably be very common within a year or so. China is, after all, a developing nation.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


November 5, 2008, in the early afternoon, my cell phone alerted me to a text message. It was from one of our sons: "Wow. Yes we DID!" It could only mean one thing - Barack Obama won!! Our exclamations and tears of joy and relief let our guide, Jessie, know that Obama had been elected President of the United States. She told our driver, Mr. Wu, the news in Chinese, and he nodded and smiled as he threaded the car through Beijing traffic towards the neighborhood where we hoped to find the French wine bar next to the Hutong Pizza place, where American journalists and others would be watching the election returns. We did get to the bar, just after Obama finished his acceptance speech, and we watched CNN with jubilation and awe as they ran a montage of scenes from the Obama acceptance. What pride for America we have. Look what the people have done! About an hour later, we looked at each other in amazement as we strolled the expansive Tien an Mein Square, looking at the monuments to the heroes of the birth of modern China, and Mao. How wonderfully strange to be here, on this day, celebrating within ourselves and with each other for a gentle revolution in our home country. This truly is a small world. I'll always remember November 5, 2008 as the day the people of the United States took back our country from those who would destroy it, and started out on a path to a new time for America and the world.