Monday, September 30, 2013

"Go ahead, call me a Communist"

The Freshness and Fragrance of the Political Discourse Has Fallen Like a House of Cards

We have to find a new balance, otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.                                                                                                            -Pope Francis
I have perused your late mathematical Prize Question, proposed in lieu of one in Natural Philosophy, for the ensuing year...Permit me then humbly to propose one of that sort for your consideration, and through you, if you approve it, for the serious Enquiry of learned Physicians, Chemists, &c. of this enlightened Age. It is universally well known, that in digesting our common food, there is created or produced in the bowels of human creatures, a great quantity of wind. That the permitting this air to escape and mix with the atmosphere, is usually offensive to the company, from the fetid smell that accompanies it. That all well-bred people therefore, to avoid giving such offence, forcibly restrain the efforts of nature to discharge that wind.                             -Benjamin Franklin

All National Parks in MA closed. Patch File Photos
Well, it seems that the "freshness and fragrance" of this story is ripe for the telling: On a recent trip to Massachusetts, I shocked a firearms expert and period-costumed National Park Service employee at Minute Man National Park by recounting how Benj. Franklin had written a little-known treatise on farting (see epigraph, above). My mother would have been mortified that I related such a tale, but it is a masterful lesson on hot air of the kind that has enveloped our body politic. [Some of you may remember a colorful, if disjointed speech I gave at the NH Democratic Convention a few years ago citing this same article of flatulence. I was adorned in a T-shirt, just after Biden gaffe #986, that said, "Methane is a big fucking deal."]

This week, Deborah and I have started to watch "House of Cards." I am transfixed when Kevin Spacey deftly turns his head, like Magnum PI, and talks directly to me in the dulcet tones one imagines would belong to Machiavelli, had he been from the American South. Spacey's use of apostrophe is delicious; his hard-nosed, single-handed walking of Russo (no Jean-Jacques Rousseau or even Lloyd Bentsen) down the path to redemption makes me shudder. Can't you imagine Billary smoking cigarettes in the upstairs window? And don't you wake up wondering if Zoe Barnes is your greatest nightmare or wettest dream? House of cards, indeed! His bold, if predictably salacious, made-for-Netflix mini-series is probably the most interesting thing happening in politics right now, but, sadly, not the most important. Life imitates art, but still no binge TV show will ever be more important than the utterances of the real Congressmen as they unravel our national trust.

The absurdity of the public discourse has crescendo-ed to a new and tedious plateau.

In an increasingly shrill barrage of emails issuing from Democracy for America (Howard Dean's group), I have been asked to be furious that Bill O'Reilly would call Robert Reich, the old Clinton-era Secretary of the Labor Movement, a "Communist," but then be unwilling to debate him on a widely-watched national TV program called...yup, The O'Reilly Factor. These pleas for support for Mr. Reich are mostly manufactured by Reich himself, which makes me care even less for his plight. I am, unapologetically, not angry about this. I cannot marshal any indignation at these indignities. The epithet itself is empty to me since I live in the mind-boggling epicenter of capitalism (Beijing) touted as "communism with Chinese characteristics" and I really don't remember the Vietnam War. (Some of the miscreants who dictate our national conversation would probably label me a Pinko just for deigning to live in China for a few years or for criticizing my country from abroad. I say, let them eat smelly tofu.)

Photo by Steve Jurvetson
What does make me angry is that semi-respectable demi-men, like Reich, want to appear on that show to talk about serious issues facing our country. For thirty years, the Democrats have talked yearningly about the inimitable infrastructure of the Republicans with their vast network of academic institutes of crooked thinking and their popular, diabolical radio shows. Well, maybe, these gentleman should just walk away from the nonsense and have their own conversation. Have they enough sense and humility not to name their revolution the Fourth Reich?

People who like healthcare, National Parks, and other nice things that our government provides for us will join the new party and desert the prattling pranksters of The Wrong. I am for a new elitism that encourages Dean and his band of merry men to ignore the ignorant. Are these champions of the 99%--mostly from the ivory tower or collared in white--afraid that nobody will listen to them if they do not pander to the loony listeners of Limbaugh and odious oodles of O'Reilly oglers?  The nation would be better off if we sent the climate deniers and the panels of Darwin Award nominees (who are dictating Texas textbook tenets!) to continue their masturbatory exercises in an undisclosed location.

Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin (January 29, 1761 –
August 12, 1849) was a Swiss-American ethnologist,
linguist, politician, diplomat, congressman, and the
longest-serving United States Secretary of the Treasury.
Can you imagine Alexander Hamilton or Henry Knox squealing that William Duane, Albert Gallatin, John J. Beckley, Thomas Cooper, and Thomas Jefferson himself would not allow them to say their piece in the Democratic-Republican Party rags and pamphlets of that earlier time? It seems to me that there was a time when--pardon the implicit sexism and ageism in my phraseology--"men were men and boys were boys." There appears, now, to be a moldering sense of manhood in the political class. Mine eyes have seen it firsthand, which is probably why I like Spacey's project as much as I do.

Gone are the days of Benjamin Franklin, who used his withering tongue to great effect, but also schemed ways to bury the hatchet and make a great peace. "He that has once done you a Kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged," counselled the Sage of Philly. Is Reich hoping O'Reilly will lend him a book? What is the end-game even if Reich can make O'Reilly eat his own lunch? Furthermore, we should wonder: does O'Reilly even read rare books?

Set is the sun on a day when Winston Churchill could, with a Cheshire Cat's grin and a puff on his Karshian cigar, rip his opponent to ribbons, yet dawning is an age of endless, unhappy, purposeless drivel out from which nothing comes. The acerbic tongue is not a newcomer to the political mire. For me, one of the most enjoyable books of recent years was "Infamous Scribblers" which indulged readers with all sorts of bombast traded between our nation's founding fathers and the burgeoning Fourth Estate of the nascent nation. Jonathan Swift was not even the first to delightfully skewer with satire while roasting the prigs of his era. Still, most of these people seemed to have had a purpose to their cutting remarks. Now, we are just left with Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert (my second favorite Catholic), and less central Bill Maher, for whom the fodder is an endless menu of Weiners and Spitzers and Edwardsian tails [sic]. While I laugh grimly with the rest of you, where is it getting us?

I left New Hampshire, partly in boredom and partly in frustration with the sort of meaningless nonsense that the Party Chairman there pedals to papers in the Granite State. He has trained a whole generation in his vapid tactics. Mountains are made of molehills. Men with unseemly weddings get national attention as the nipple-dragging charlatan generates his newest flash in the pan. It is masterful and empty. When the conversation should be about taxes, it is about sex. In fact, the only institutions more obsessed with sex than the Catholic Church seem to be the two dominant parties with their incessant focus on the hookers of Bookers, as well as overly broad pronouncements about the complicated and deeply personal issues of abortion and gay marriage.

I was too amused the other day when a friend, who will have to pardon me for recounting this, sent out a backhanded email for her At-Large City Council campaign. It said, and I quote, "Some of my opponents don’t share the same civic-minded principals that C--- resident’s value. If elected, my opponents will seek to radically change C-----, injecting ideology and politics into every corner of municipal government." (I will not focus on the genitive apostrophe appended to a single resident, nor the misspelling of principles, as I did in my glib, pithy back-and-forth with her.) No, look at the message itself! Caesar himself was no more adept at the use of rhetoric. She claims the non-ideological, unpolitical high ground for herself with a message that overtly transforms the municipal race into one charged with the sort of nastiness from which she seeks to distance herself.

I am praying for a change. I just hope nobody calls me the Anti-Christ. That is something up with which I should not put.

Alexander Lee teaches critical thinking, history, spelling, and punctuation in China.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

On hegemony

One of my new tasks at the new job is to write original mock-TOEFL academic reading scripts. Earlier today, I used the word hegemony in writing about the British empire in 1865 so I found it kind of creepy when the main headline in the collected news stories displayed on QQ International, a Chinese chat program that is ubiquitous here, used the same word:

China won't seek hegemony, FM tells UN

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasized China's development strategies and foreign policies on pressing international issues on Friday. UN's Syria resolution on point

Why creepy? Because when I visited, it blared an advert at me for the Kindle Paperwhite because it already knew for what I would be searching. Is China Daily reading my New Oriental TOEFL scripts before anybody else in my office...or was it just a coincidence? OK, I am kidding, but read the rest of the headlines and I am not that far off from the brave new world we have created.

The rest of the headlines impressed on me just how broken the current day hegemonic empire has become--you know, the land of the free and the home of the brave(s). The healthcare debacle, spying on our own people, Detroit's bailout and bankruptcy. Yikes!  

US House votes to delay ObamacareUS spy agency mapped people's behavior -NYT
Shanghai Free Trade Zone begins operationMiss Philippines crowned Miss World 2013Home schooling popular with Chinese parentsXi to attend APEC summit in IndonesiaBankrupt Detroit gets $300 million in aidChinese student killed in USFM urges early resumption of six-party talks

We certainly need to get our act together before we are enslaved by the Tea Party. "No taxation even with representation" is not a way to run the country. Diminishing the Constitution has becoming a national pastime or, as Daniel Ellsberg put it in The Guardian a few months back:
Since 9/11, there has been, at first secretly but increasingly openly, a revocation of the bill of rights for which this country fought over 200 years ago. In particular, the fourth and fifth amendments of the US constitution, which safeguard citizens from unwarranted intrusion by the government into their private lives, have been virtually suspended.
Finally, let me say, I had the task of looking over some old SSAT prep materials last week. One of the articles, on gentrification's pluses and minuses, cited Detroit as a success and SoHo as a failure. I coached my colleagues that presenting students with such a reading is, at best, anachronistic, and more likely tasteless. It would be like having students read an article from 2007 about how great the building boom in Chengdu and the rest of Sichuan was or having students read an article about the wonderful policies of Bo Xilai as mayor of, first, Dalian and, then, Chongqing. Not wrong, just kind of eerie given the Sichuan earthquake and China's "trial of the decade."

As I watch Michael Bloomberg sing the praises of the rich and what they have done for New York's schools and safety, I am a bit apoplectic about his elitism; however, SoHo is the success story, despite the fact that the best minds of our generation are no longer dragging themselves through these negro streets looking for an angry fix (yes, I know Ginsberg was from San Francisco, which just lost out to Seattle as the most LGBT-friendly city in the nation, but you get my point). Detroit is the failure. Suburbs and nearby urbs are the new ghettoes in Detroit, but less so in metro-NYC.

I am genuinely worried that if people don't start paying attention to Howard Dean, who has unwisely tied his reputation to Robert Reich's over the last few weeks, we are going to be in for a whole lot more hurt. China may not seek hegemony, but its rising star may eclipse our own.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Grains of Wisdom about The Millet 3

Coming soon to the proletariat near you...

Coming soon to the proletariat near you...
The Gleaners, (1865) by John Vincent Millet
Generally, for reasons that we needn't explore in this post, I avoid wheat, barley, and rye--the trinity of grains said to have gluten. Alternatives exist. A Chinese novel turned me on to sorghum a few months ago, and now a technology product is reminding me of millet. The latter was something I first tasted while adventuring as a teenager in the Alaskan or Canadian bush. It is no wonder that a Chinese technology company found this name attractive, though its tastiness really has little to do with why the founders of XiaoMi (pinyin for millet) settled on that name for their smartphone startup company. Neither was it because millet is "particularly high in the minerals iron, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium" like, I would imagine, most of their product line is, as well.  In fact, according to its CEO, it was named for a "Chinese idiom that calls on fighters to have millet and a rifle on hand to be ready to fight." 

Well, I am ready to pick up my rifle and harvest my grain! That is to say, I want to put my hard-earned dollars in this revolutionary company. I anticipate getting the Mi3 next month when it debuts for the proletariat.

I had a chuckle the other day, because my father got late retribution for the only other time that I have sought to invest in a company. As Google prepared to issue its IPO in 2004, I said, "Invest!" In what is surely the most regrettable lapse in his post-professional career as an investment adviser, he counseled, "Twill be a flash in the pan, son." Could he ever have been more wrong!? We have laughed ourselves to the proverbial poorhouse in the intervening years.

Well, what goes around, comes around. This week with the hiring of a top Google hand by XiaoMi, I sent him an email saying, "Invest!" He wrote back, "They are not a public company!" I must be such an embarrassment to him...still in my pre-professional financial illiteracy years. (Prior to writing him, I had actually sought to find the listing or three-letter code, but had come up empty, ignorant of how to check.)

Part of my enthusiasm for XiaoMi now is the lovers' quarrel (or long-time employment discussion) that has landed Hugo Barra as the new head of global for the Chinese company. A bold hiring move, one hopes that he can execute a global roll-out that will not make my intended purchase of a phone that is now sold, marketed, and presumably serviced only in China, as infuriating for a repatriated American as attempting to fix an iPhone was for an expatriated one

It is not just the phone, but their customizable Android system on steroids that has caught my attention. I needn't detail its features. The companies own website does a good job in the King's English, which is to say they seem to have invested in avoiding a Chinglish website or marketing materials.

My greatest concerns stem from nasty, largely unsubstantiated rumors that it is like nearly every other large Chinese, North American, and Korean technology giant. In other words, some feel they have built their mystique and their company on the pilfered intellectual property of others. Somewhat enamored and starry-eyed, perhaps, and guilty of cognitive dissonance, I cry out in their defense, "Who cares!?" It is a dog-eat-dog, brave new world out there and if they can take a chunk out of the rotten apple, I will be sitting in the skybox watching as the Chinese company that pretends to be American gets shredded by an upstart from the real China.

The intellectual property wars will not resolve any time soon, but what must happen in this sector is an end to the disgusting planned proliferation strategy of King Apple and its competitors. That scourge of a company has marketed-to-death and bludgeoned a willing public into getting an iThis and an iThat of every shape and description when most of us regular folks--the proletariat, the opiated masses who stare blindly into their screens on the subway--would be best served owning just one product. The price point and professed business model of XiaoMi makes me think that planned proliferation is not their ultimate goal. The landfills (and I) will be grateful if that is true.

A wide range of glowing articles and reviews are encouraging me to go down this road. I just hope I get a chance to invest. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Beijing Bike Program

Much ink has been spilled over the new New York City Bike Share program, but Beijing has had a program since June of 2012. This weekend--ever the earnest environmentalist--I decided to "register."

First, we called the phone number and were told that for foreign nationals to participate, we needed to bring my Temporary Residency Permit and Passport along with a Beijing Municipal Administration & Communication card (subway card) to one of the five registration offices to activate said card.

I proceeded to the window at Dongzhimen Station and talked to the smiley attendant behind the prison-barred window, whose slats were so close together only the most petite hand could properly execute a signature through them. She told us that the program requires a down payment of 200 RMB usually, but foreigners without the proper paperwork must pay 400 RMB (or the cost of a pretty decent "cheap" bicycle). We asked what the paperwork was and she said that she did not know. "No foreigner has ever had the right paperwork." I could have had a prolonged, Kafkaesque exchange about how she could know this if she did not know what paperwork was required, but I was feeling flush so I laid out the additional $32.69 (200RMB) and filled out a lengthy form that required my Passport Number and an address for the passport even though passports don't have addresses, they only have an issuing state or province. There was a separate slot for my Beijing address.

I emerged some while later with a bit of a queue formed behind me and crossed the street to one of the 120 drop-off points. It took me a while with the Chinese-language only machine, but I managed to free a bicycle whose kickstand was, to the bemusement of a helpful-ish older gentleman watching my struggle, beyond my ken. After he helped me "get it up," I mounted the bike and was ready to pedal off to Church, but this, the first of only two bicycles in the dispensary, was broken.

In my frustration, I returned to the window and asked for a refund, which they could not give even though the bicycle had been properly re-inserted and was locked back into the dispensary, because my subway card showed that it was still checked out. I re-crossed the street and some new people were removing the bike and discovering that it did not work. I put my card on the kiosk and magically, it appeared to be checked-in. I returned to the window and got my refund. This was a whole lot of wasted effort.

At dinner, my girlfriend, who was very helpful though not very patient throughout this whole episode, said to me, "It is like educating a f&#king son." My jaw dropped, but I suppose that I was a bit foolish.

Allergic to exercise, she had told me that she would not bother with the program and expected that I would intuit that such a program was likely to be fraught with problems. Wide-eyed and naive since my Middlebury College days when we tried to get a bike share program started there, I was bent on participating. Maybe I will yet, but for now I am taking my $65 and buying a cheap, new bike.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Where were you...when the lights went out?

I am not politically correct when it comes to 911. In China, it is always the day after Teacher's Day, the major September 10 holiday that every schoolchild observes. People are aware of the American day of horror here in some part because the date matches our emergency services dialing digits, but it is no more memorialized here than May 12, 2008 or The Mukden Incident is in the West.

September Eleventh is, for sure, a day that changed everything for everybody everywhere, but outside of the extraordinarily beautiful new building that is arising in downtown New York, I am not really on board with its glorification as Patriot Day (we already have a Patriots' Day in Massachusetts on April 19, which honors another guerrilla action whose actual events were clouded with smoke from muskets, albeit not powdered buildings and airborne secured transactions or financial instruments of destruction). Nobody knows who fired the "shot heard round the world" just like nobody knows who dropped those buildings or quite how. Reasonable people--the type who think theories of evolution and anthropogenic climate change are highly likely--probably can agree that freedom-hating psychopaths--nineteen pathetic men, some of whom were likely prone to un-Islamic behavior*--played an instrumental role.

I have friends who were personally affected by the tragedies of 2001. The brother-in-law of one old friend was among those for whom the bells toll. Last month, I was still deeply moved, as anybody else would be, by the pieces of fire engine door that I saw on display at a one-engine fire hall in Manhattan. Still, I refuse to join the noise around this macabre "holiday"...except with this ornery post.

September Eleventh is really the day that America joined the rest of the world in realizing that organized acts of sedition and terror can happen anywhere, that you can never be safe from bat-shit crazy mofos or fundamentalists. If the stock exchange was in Oklahoma City, we might have collectively awoken to this reality at least a few years sooner.

It was eerie in 1999 to emerge on a beautiful day from a Parisian subway station to see gendarmes with serious firepower protecting the citizenry from who knows what, but this had already been a reality in much of Europe for decades. We were lucky to be late to the party. It was sad to see the same display of force outside (and inside) Penn Station on August 29, 2013. Twas just downright unnerving to ask a paramilitary policewoman with a semi-automatic rifle how to find the little boys' room.

As somebody whose foreign national girlfriend accidentally "smuggled" Cutter Sark Chardonnay onto a trans-continental flight, I am skeptical of how much TSA; the PATRIOT Act; and all the other expensive, freedom-robbing projects of our government have made the world a better place to live...or safer. My friend Roger snarked it best on Facebook today, "ABQ -> BWI -> MHT. Light-medium grope, no supervisor watching. I could have snuck a handgun through that screen at least three different ways. Feeling safer now?"

Selfishly, perhaps I just hate that five days after my birthday in the best weather month of the year has turned into our nation's new JFK assassination moment on steroids. (I also know where I was when I heard that Jerry Garcia died, man, and I bet I am not alone.)

Another rip in the azure canvas wins my nomination for a national day of remembrance. I prefer to focus on The Challenger explosion as the seminal event for my generation of Americans. Aside from most recently being from Concord, NH, which was home to Christa Macauliffe and now a primary school named in her honor, I see this 1986 disaster as equally symbolic of the fallibility of our military-industrial complex (and humans, generally), but also of some more powerful and positive aspects of our national demeanor that are in need of glorification: curiosity, pursuit of knowledge, and selfless service. Failure of the O-rings, while not universally accepted, is rather less disputable than why the buildings fell the way they did. With The Challenger event we avoid the falderal of whodunnit and how, which allows us to focus more precisely on the more important question: How do we make sure it does not happen again? Of course the answer is we cannot. My hyper-rational conclusion is that we cannot avoid tragic accidents or purposeful acts entirely so we ought to just love each other as best we know how and enjoy life.

I challenge you to join me on miserably cold January 28--"Challenger Day"--to honor the seven astronauts and remember the shattered dreams of millions of schoolchildren who watched that mesmerizing explosion again and again. If we need this kind of psychic holiday to memorialize tragedy that was, albeit, met by an "E. pluribus unum" coming together of fellow countrymen and women, this is the date I would set aside for a speech if I were the "Leader of the Free World." This is Obama's schedule today: President's Schedule. This was his schedule last January 28: President's Schedule. This is not a poor reflection on him or his schedulers, but on our warped national priorities and devolving national story. Let's take it back!

* A cottage industry has arisen around 911 myth busting (and rumor-mongering).

N.B. "Where Were You When the Lights Went Out" is a reference to the 1965 New York City blackout and was the name of a subsequent film starring Doris Day.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Chronicle of The Maiden America Tour

The trip that Deborah and I made to America was the best and longest vacation that I remember since grade school. We were repeatedly permitted to sleep-in by generous friends and family. Deborah commented more than once that she was amazed at her own ability to sleep in every manner of bed from the inflatable mattress to the futon with a mountain in the middle to the too-soft bed of fluff to the couch in the middle of a NYC 21st floor apartment's living room.

I took a few pictures on Deborah's camera, but I wanted to see what she noticed. Reviewing the more than 1,000 photos that she took, I found that she has a fetish for American trash cans and recycling bins. She also took a picture of each new brand of petrol that we saw so there are a huge number of gas stations in her collection. 

Finally, there are a lot of shots of plates loaded to the gills with food. I made sure she had a quarter-pounder at a drive-thru MacDonalds, a heaping plate of chicken at Cracker Barrel, a #4 Breakfast Special at Dunkin' Donuts, and a lot of healthier, traditional fare, such as soft-shell crabs in Baltimore and schrod with clam chowder and a side of baked beans as her first meal in Boston's Durgin Park. I woke up and made tomato sauce with Tom Cornell at the Peter Maurin Farm (A Catholic Worker community) and, outside of lobster, this huge pot of his famous concoction was the most-discussed and favorite culinary delight of the trip.

Tom's Tomato Sauce
Deborah and I helped harvest some early radishes at the Peter Maurin Farm. The dogs came with us for company.

We had lobsters and clams in Maine at a clambake (first for me, too), Red Lobster in Times Square (another first), and lobster salad with blueberry muffins in Cohasset. 

She loved our pineapple juice and seemed to enjoy her ham 'n cheese croissant, as well. She had Mexican with me at Dos Amigos (Concord, NH), Hermanos (Concord, NH), and Lauriol Plaza (DC). We had oysters from PEI and I had a Bloody Mary at Old Ebbitt Grille, Washington's oldest saloon. 

There were several other firsts for me, as well. For instance, we skipped Philadelphia, originally on the itinerary, and went instead to Washington Crossing, PA, en route to friends in Doylestown. It was exhilarating to see where a band of Marblehead fishermen helped sneak the Continental Army across the river on Christmas, to attack the arrogant, sleeping Hessians at Trenton. 

Finished with lunch in Wellesley and not due for dinner in Lincoln, MA, until 6:15, we also went to the Minute Man National Park on our last full day in America. I had never been there and was shocked to learn that it was just a couple miles up Bedford Road from my uncle's house. 

Uncharacteristically, I made only a few driving mistakes, the biggest being that we crossed the George Washington Bridge instead of the Tappan Zee, because I lost heart at the turn-off for Route 80 East and so headed back to NYC instead of continuing on I-287.

I learned a lesson on the rental car. Let somebody insured rent it and then have you added as the second driver. Quoted a mere $555 for 17 days, it ended up after insurance and gas being about $100 a day! We wanted to pick it up on Monday morning instead of Sunday night, but that was going to raise the cost by a lot...which makes no sense to me. We wanted to turn it in at Logan Airport instead of Manchester, NH, but that was going to raise the cost by $600 so we took a $70 full-sized van with only four passengers in it to Logan from MHT. It was worth it environmentally and economically to rent their EZPass. We traveled in style, listening to Secretary John Kerry preach war on NPR, operating cruise control from buttons on the steering wheel, and incessantly forgetting the keys in our press-the-button-to-start Nissan.

We are incredibly grateful to all of the people who put us up, especially my parents, Arnie Arnesen & Marty Capodice, The Peter Maurin Farm, and Randi Cecchine/Michiele, who all took us for multiple nights. This was an incredible introduction to America for a Chinese woman who has never traveled outside of China and a great chance to see so many wonderful people for me. I think Deborah met so many people that you might be referred to hereinafter as "the person with the crazy dog" or "the one with the cute child." 

Deborah got to see many iconic things and to go half way up the Statue of Liberty. I took this picture of the pulpit at St. Patrick's Cathedral, which is undergoing a glorious renovation.

We saw the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln Memorial, as well as the National Museum of the American Indian in both New York and DC. Here is a sampling of the places we saw. The sun on the scaffolding surrounding the Washington Monument was dreamy. 

The irony of using the George Gustav Heye Customs Building
as a home for the National Museum of the American Indian
with its fancy dome featuring most of America's most
famous early European explorers strikes me every time.
We had a really touching experience when, with typical brashness, I asked a man emerging from a fire station if he was a fireman. He said that he was, disappeared back inside, and emerged again, asking whether we would like to see the inside. He opened the main door, but let us in through the side door. To the side of the single engine, was a display from the wreckage of September 11. They lost a man and the pieces you see in this picture are all that were salvaged.

Deborah Zhang & Alexander Lee’s
Maiden America Tour (
Made in China)

Thursday, August 15
Thu, Aug 15, 2013

Depart: 04:40 pm
Arrive: 09:10 pm
Beijing, China (PEK)
Tokyo, Japan (HND)
Japan Airlines, Flight 22
Economy   Class 

1 Stop - change planes in Tokyo, Terminal 1, (HND)
Connection Time: 9 hrs 45 mins 
Depart: 06:55 am
Arrive: 06:35 am
Tokyo, Japan (HND)
New York, NY (JFK)
American Airlines, Flight 134
Economy   Class 

1 Stop - change planes in New York, (JFK)
Connection Time: 1 hr 55 mins 
Depart: 08:30 am
Arrive: 09:50 am 

Next day
New York, NY (JFK)
Boston, MA (BOS)
American Airlines, Flight 1838
Economy   Class 
Total Travel Time: 29 hrs 10 mins

Hotel in Japan…

Friday, August 16
459 us towards Downtown Crossing via Central Square & Logan Airport (Express) from Terminal C-Departures
12 PM- Lunch at Faneuil Hall & Quincy Market area
1:30 PM- The New England Aquarium
4:00 PM- Get iPhone fixed at: Apple Store (Genius Bar), Boylston Street, 815 Boylston Street; (617) 385-9400.
6 PM- Meet George & Catherine Gregory at Rattlesnake Bar
Stay at Chris Hoag’s house in Chelsea, MA

Saturday, August 17
Chris drives us to New Hampshire!
10:30 AM- Breakfast with Christine Hamm
2:30 PM- Arrive at Arnie’s house
3:15 PM- Go pick up book at Gibson’s
4PM- Tea Party with Bruce, Liza, Eli, and Audrey
6PM- Dinner at Chenyangli ( in Bow, NH, with Bruce, Liza and children (reservation is for 20)
Stay at Deborah Arnie Arnesen & Marty Capodice’s

Sunday, August 18
10 AM- Catholic Mass at Sacred Heart
11:30 AM- Unscheduled time till 2 PM lunch
2 PM- Late lunch with Dr. Travis Harker, President, NH Medical Society (and my physcian) at Hermano’s Cucina
3:30- Meet Rebecca Foulkes at Audubon Center for a walk
Enterprise Rental Clusterf**k
6:30 PM- Drinks and Burgers on the deck with Meredith and Craig
Stay at Deborah Arnie Arnesen & Marty Capodice’s

Monday, August 19
7 AM or after- Pick up car at MHT Enterprise
10 AM- Breakfast at the Friendly Toast with Bud & Barbara James
12 PM- Day hike at Bradbury Mt. State Park with Bryan Wentzell
4 PM- Clambake in Boothbay with Gabrielle DiPerri, Martina M. and Roger Duncan at "The Manse"
Stay in Portland, Maine, with J. Bryan Wentzell and Anna Fincke

Tuesday, August 20
Drive to Blue Goose Lodge in time for lunch
Boat ride
Walked to main beach
Stay at Blue Goose Lodge

Wednesday, August 21
1:30 PM- Castle in the Clouds
Afternoon Swimming
7:30 PM- Mise en Place

Thursday, August 22
Stay at Blue Goose Lodge
10 AM- Wolfeboro Diner and The Art Place
1 PM- Wolfeboro Farmer’s Market, The Country Bookseller, and Dean and Lise Richardson’s
4:00- Visit Susie and Peter Walker
4:30 PM- Buckey’s for miniature golf and dinner
7:30 PM- See An Unexpected Guest at The Barnstormer’s Summer Theatre, Tamworth, NH

Friday, August 23
Noon- Depart for Middlebury, VT, via Concord, NH
11:50 AM- Secretary of State Office in Concord
1:30 PM- Lunch at The Lebanon Diner
3:15 PM- Tea in South Royalton with Christine Hamm, Yang Chenfang, and Jamie Thaxton
5 PM- Quick walk at Texas Falls in Hancock, VT
6 PM- Dinner at Mr. Ups with Heidi Willis and Seth Gibson, Randy & Polly Wilson
Stay with Heidi Willis

Saturday, August 24
9 AM- Rosie’s for breakfast with Wright Hartman and Charlie Lee
Before lunch- Shelburne Farms
1 PM- Lunch with Margaret Strouse and Christopher Middings at Leunig’s Bistro
5 PM- Arrive in Bristol
Stay with John & Rita Elder

Sunday, August 25
Depart for CW
Stay at Peter Maurin Farm

Monday, August 26
Work in the garden and eat great food
Cook dinner of di san qian for eight
Stay at Peter Maurin Farm

Tuesday, August 27
Drive to Theresa Maier’s in New Jersey and park car
Arrive Penn Station
Walk waterfront on Hudson down to Patty Heffley’s house and past Port Authority
Dinner at Red Lobster in Times Square after visiting Times Square Museum (free) and Rockefeller Center
Stay in NYC with Randi Cechinne at 365 West 25th Street in Chelsea

Wednesday, August 28
10 AM- Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park
1.     Brooklyn Bridge
2.     Chinatown & Little Italy
3.     Wall Street & The Bowery
Stay in NYC with Randi Cechinne

Thursday, August 29
1.     Empire State Building
2.     St. Patrick’s Cathedral (under renovation)
3.     New York Public Library
4 PM- Visit the Alan, Brooke, and Ben Phillips and Linda Zhang on Upper West Side
Stay in NYC with Randi Cechinne

Friday, August 30
3:15 PM- Thompson-Neely House
4 PM- Washington Crossing Visitors Center
Stay with Gary & Gayle Sutterlin in Doylestown, PA

Saturday, August 31
Stay in Arlington, VA, with Shari Lewis

Sunday, September 1
Lunch of soft-shell crab sandwich at Phillips in Baltimore
Stay with Jake Sargent

Monday, September 2
1:35- Red Sox vs. Tigers baseball game (special thanks to Tom Duca and Avery Meyer for making this possible), Section: G19; Row: 13; Seats: 9-10, go to Will Call window A or D around noon (Account # 5748290); goody bag for first timer at fan services desk
5:30 PM- Aunt Kathy & Uncle Ross for lobster salad and blueberry muffins
Stay with Aunt Kathy & Uncle Ross

Tuesday, September 3
10 AM- Marian Dioguardi
Lunch with Cousin Charlotte and Aunt Madeline
6:15 PM- Uncle Bob and Mary
Stay with Meredith Hatfield

Wednesday, September 4- Wave to “The Windy City”
8:30 AM- Bagel Works with Suzanne Harvey
10:15 AM- Secretary of State's Office
11:10 AM- Oath of office administered by Judge Macnamara at the Court House
11:50 AM- Enterprise at MHT

Wed, Sep 4, 2013

Depart: 03:50 pm
Arrive: 09:45 pm 

Next day
Boston, MA (BOS)
Beijing, China (PEK)
American Airlines, Flight 187
Economy   Class 
1 Stop - change planes in Chicago, IL (ORD) 
Total Travel Time: 17 hrs 55 mins

Thursday, September 5, 2013
10:15 PM- Arrive Beijing International Airport

Friday, September 6, 2013

Back in the P.R.C.

"Oh, show me round your snow peaked mountains way down south
Take me to your daddy's farm
Let me hear your [sanhu's] ringing out
Come and keep your comrade warm"
The trip home to China was easy and we are back in the cooler, early autumn weather that New England is experiencing simultaneously. The air is still bad here, but the food is good. We glided into Beijing about half-an-hour late and took a bus to Dongzhimen for just 16 RMB, a reminder of how lucky we are to be back in a country where public transportation abounds.

I normally write and gently editorialize about China on this blog, but having spent the last nineteen days fairly disconnected from the Internet and back in the USA, I want to offer a few reflections on my awesome country. While the following remarks are critical, I am now more than ever aware of how lucky we are to be citizens of such a great nation.

First, the rudeness of Americans to each other struck me. There is nothing in this post-911 world more absurd and also frustrating than air travel, but the rudeness of people ahead of us in line and even of some of the TSA employees was appalling. I have long held the controversial view that usually a certain kind of sociopathic personality is attracted to policing, but it seems nowhere more prevalent than in the men and women who spend their days monotonously waving partially undressed people through long, slow lines. It is all an exercise in futility. The Chinese national who was with me had a 187 mL of Sutter Home Chardonnay that went entirely undetected. Hard to make a Molotov cocktail from white wine, but what is all this expensive equipment for?

The other place that I noticed rudeness was in the way that people speak to each other (and about others) in the presence of strangers. The American Airlines' stewardesses, while I awaited the lavatory, were having an all-out bitch-fest about one of their fellow employees in plain earshot of waiting customers. I also was exposed to dozens of people to-ing and fro-ing who were using colorful language on the phone about fellow employees.

Second, we really are fat and doing very little about it! I exposed Deborah to a couple of American traditions squarely out of my normal daily regimen when I was state-side: a MacDonald's drive-thru for a quarter-pounder and a stop by Dunkin Donuts' for the #4 breakfast special. We even went to a Texas Roadhouse, where we had enough food for $20 to feed a small army. Those who know me well, know that I have struggled with whether wheat causes me joint pain and weight gain and that I have concluded dairy is the culprit in gastric explosions of Hiroshima proportions shortly after ingestion. I was surprised and pleased to find that many menus are conducive and helpful to the "lactard" and "glutard" (my attorney-sister's endearing terms for her brother), but these foods are still the major part of most Americans' daily caloric intake.

The Wall Street Journal yesterday had a huge article about yogurt and how a third of the supermarket real estate is now taken up with the richer Greek variety. New Hampshire's own dairy magnate features prominently in the article, claiming that customers "show up behind dairy cases and say, 'Where is my Mocha Latte, Apricot Mango or Cappuccino?'"

Third, American's disconnectedness from reality is stupefying. The "rush to war" before Iraq has been well-documented and discussed, but we are now involved in a similar rush to unleash on Assad's regime some well-meaning strike that preserves the international regime and shows that "we mean it" about weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, and nuclear).

Vietnam veteran and current Secretary of State John Kerry's testimony was carried on NPR, where he declared with brash confidence that the Obama Administration would get "a limited strike" resolution passed in short order. “Iran is hoping you look the other way,” Kerry told the committee. “Hezbollah [a Lebanese Shiite militia] is hoping that isolationism will prevail. North Korea is hoping that ambivalence carries the day.”

Nicholas Kristoff is in the New York Times with his regular column adeptly using his well-deserved credence as a spokesperson for human rights to push us towards war-making, but neither he nor Secretary Hagel nor General Dempsey have shown how more violence will beget a safer world. It is not possible for a human being to turn the other way given what Assad has done to his own people with the air force (let alone chemical weapons); however, doesn't the American public want and deserve a specific, cogent explanation for how the limited use of our brutal force can change things? I heard one NPR story which was talking about a woman who goes to war operating drones from an office building in metro D.C. eight hours a day and then goes home to a peaceful life for the rest of the day (short, perhaps, of bad traffic, where our rudeness is on full display). This is how we plan to keep the peace of the world?

* I have invented an instrument with three strings, because the Beatles' used the Russian instrument called a balalaika in their original song. The Chinese have several two-string instruments, such as the jinghu and erhu, but I am not aware of any three-string instruments. Er means two; san, three.