Is Stansberry’s “End of America” Video Right?

Right at the beginning of this year, there was a video going around that stirred a bit of controversy.  A financial analyst named Porter Stansberry made an hour long lecture-style video called “The End of America,” by which he meant that we would lose our financial dominance and quality of life, not that the country would cease to exist. 

Many people pointed out that Stansberry has been investigated and sued before, and that the video is ultimately an ad for his products.  But neither of those things proves that he’s wrong.  In fact, I already knew most of the information in his video, but I did learn quite a bit.  What most impressed me is the way he collated the facts and used them to present his case–the logical order of the argument’s arrangement is very well done. 

It’s a long video, and slow paced, but if you’re interested in the economy, it’s worth it.  Still, here’s a spoiler: ultimately, Stansberry’s specific prediction is that Continue reading

Reviewed: James Clavell’s Noble House

"The Epic Novel of Modern Hong Kong"

James Clavell’s Noble House is a novel about one week in the life of a Hong Kong business executive in 1963.  And it’s 1370 pages long.

No, wait, don’t stop reading!  That wouldn’t have enticed me, either, but it’s actually one of the most fascinating and exciting things I’ve ever read.  It’s full of espionage, drug gangs, political plots, natural disasters, kidnapping, hostile takeovers, seduction, ancient oaths being called into fulfillment…and, yes, quite a few business negotiations.

A story this large and detailed could be approached from many angles (I’d love to discuss its use of Chinese words and phrases–this book is packed with Chinese culture and treats it with unreserved reverence), but the biggest surprise for me was just how political Noble House is.

I guess I should have expected it.  The book is dedicated “as a tribute to Her Britannic Majesty, Elizabeth II, to the people of Her Crown Colony of Hong Kong—and perdition to their enemies.”  So the author’s perspective is pretty clear from the get go.

Noble House is a cold war novel—communist spies and leftist traitors abound.  Continue reading

Reviewed: Pimsleur’s Mandarin Chinese I

I’ve kicked my goal of learning Chinese back into high gear this summer, and this excellent set of audio CDs has been my main tool.  I’ve just checked it out of the library a couple of times until I finished it, but it’s also available for purchase

The set consists of nine CDs, including ones for a user’s guide and a lecture on Chinese history and culture at the end.  The other seven CDs are the language lessons themselves, each disc having two 30-minute lessons on it.  The narrator and example speakers are perfectly clear, making it as easy as possible to understand what level tone should be used in pronouncing each word. 

(However, I also found that I got the most out of these lessons when I started using the glossary of a textbook while I listened, so I could look up new words as I went.  That’s how I found that I had accidentally been pronouncing the word for “thing”–dongxi–as tongxi.  So I wish the lessons would also spell out the vocabulary in pinyin, the Romanized system of spelling Chinese invented to help Westerners.  It would have helped a lot.  A companion glossary showing the characters for the words would also have been nice–I want to learn how to read and write, also.  As it is, I had to look those up in my own textbook, too.)

The lessons must have been put together by experts, because they have just the right amount of repetition, practice, and drilling to really get you to soak all this new material in.  Words and phrases from old lessons sometimes pop up in new ones, and the dialogues build on each other in a very natural sequence.  Not too fast, not too slow, easy to review if needed (I listened to some of these two or three times).  This set of lessons is head and shoulders above some of the one or two disc “quick, traveller’s” sets I’ve picked up, which just run through a few pat phrases without any decent practice or understanding.  This one is highly recommended. 

One other thing, though: besides things we’d naturally expect in a beginner’s course, like introducing yourself, asking directions, ordering in a restaurant, etc., there were a couple of lessons in the middle of the course whose major sentences to be practiced were all things like this:

Ni xiang gen wo (yi chi ?) he yi diar dongxi ma?  Would you like to get something to drink with me?

Wo xiang yao liang be pijiu.  I’d like to order two beers.

Ni xiang chi wo nar ma?  Would you like to go to my place?

Hmm.  Don’t know how often those’ll come in handy.  Yes, the good people behind this excellent course of study thought that one of the basic needs of the new student is to become proficient in picking up local girls.  I guess it could have been worse.  They could have followed those up with a phrase they didn’t use until the shopping lesson:

Duoshao qian?  How much does it cost?

Tianenmen Square, 20 Years Later

I was eleven years old in the summer of 1989, and though the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle three years before and the fall of the Berlin Wall a few months later were also watershed landmarks from my childhood, the massacre at Tianenmen Square and throughout the suburbs of Beijing on June 4, 1989 was the most formative to me. 

Amidst all the eager optimism surrounding those years when communism fell and the Cold War ended, this event was a stunning reminder to my young self that the world was not and probably never would be full of nothing but rainbows and candy.  (I suppose that’s the lesson young people today may have picked up from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.)  I watched those tanks on TV and was grateful for freedom, and resolved to never forget that–as I read later on–the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. 

Today, as China grows in importance and as my own interest in China and the Chinese language continue strong, my enthusiasm for them, like for so many other things, must carry the stain of this shameful tragedy, made all the worse by China’s refusal to even acknowledge much less deal with it. 

Two years ago, my family hosted an exchange student from China.  Even though I had a picture of the famous “tank man” (below) in my classroom and I know he saw it, the subject never came up.  I don’t know if I should have told him about it or not.  I don’t know if he already knew anything about it or not. 

But I do know that we must always be serious about preserving our freedoms to assemble and speak out, especially if it offends the established order, and we must be ready to help our friends in China learn the truth about their recent past when we can.  China can’t regulate and block their Internet access forever


Recommended Viewing: Two Chinese Movies

Last month the local library district hosted a film festival on three consecutive Thursday nights, showing some Chinese movies that I hadn’t seen.  I was interested, but my schedule doesn’t allow me to just up and saunter over to the theater on a weeknight, so I found two of the movies at the library and watched them when I did have some time.

20193320The Road Home was a fine movie, most especially as the screen debut of young Zhang Ziyi, who would go on to be the “invincible sword goddess” in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  Here, she is a rural farm girl infatuated with a city slicker school teacher.  Her charmingly unselfconscious devotion is a breath of fresh air. 

In what was the movie’s most entertaining scene, she runs through the woods trying to catch up to the teacher as he’s being taken by a carriage back to the big city.  She rushes over and down wooded hills to cut off the carriage and give her crush the meal in a bowl that she’s lovingly prepared for him.  The camera tracks long shots of her running through the forest in thick snow pants, the only sound a deep corduroy zhoop-zhoop-zhoop.  Its simple romance–for emotion and for nature–is elemental. 

My 9-year-old son was watching this one with me, and around this point he even said, “I wish I lived near a forest.  It would be so calm and peaceful to be able to just sit around and listen to the birds.”  So it runs in the family. 

Continue reading