Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Students vs. Regents of University of California

The University of California's governing Regents' meeting this Monday was interrupted by protesting students against ever rising tuition and fees. 

The reported that 
Hundreds of students and faculty members chanted and shouted so loudly at a number of UC Board of Regents meetings Monday that the university officials had to move to different rooms to take up their business, including voting to ask the state for millions of dollars in new funding.

UC Berkeley social policy graduate student Megan Wachspress, 27, said the regents are part of the problem.
"We need to find a new way to pick regents," she said at the Mission Bay campus. "So many of them have conflicts of interest. They're on the boards of corporations. They belong to groups that oppose tax increases, and they keep raising the pay for top administrators."

Lawmakers have cut hundreds of millions of dollars from UC's state allocation over the past few years, including $650 million this year alone. Another $100 million could be cut this winter if state revenues fall short as expected.
At the same time, the regents have raised tuition and fees annually since 2006, when they totaled $8,323. Tuition and fees this year amount to $13,218.

UC President Mark Yudof said afterward in San Francisco that he sympathized with the protesters' plight.

"I wish they wouldn't interrupt a public meeting," he said, but added "the students have taken it on the chin for the past decade ... I definitely understand the students' position."

However, he and several regents said - reiterating what they have said before - students should direct their efforts to restore funding to higher education at state leadership in Sacramento rather than at UC's administrators.

It is understandable that UC's administrators were just as frustrated and upset as the student when the State has failed them repeatedly.

However, UC Regent's plea for the students to protest at the door step of the state legislators instead of their schools sounded rather like shrugging their collective shoulders.

The students live and study around their campuses and they should have the right to speak out and protest in their home turf.  It was the Regents who imposed the fee and tuition hikes, and they have the right to protest against the Regents.

In turn, if the Regents feel the urgency and the pain the students are suffering from, they ought to camping out in Sacramento themselves, and demand tax increase from the super rich, the rich and even the middle class to support our once great educational systems in California.  Our Regents ought to occupy Sacramento themselves.

Perhaps, Wachspress hit the nail on the head.  If our Regents could or would not fight to solve the problems, then they are part of the problems.  Then they ought to be replaced.

November 11, 2011 - Protest at Cal _ 7964

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Military Budget Cuts

President Obama makes a statement at the White
House afterthe congressional debt supercommittee
failed to reachan agreement. Photograph: Pablo
Martinez Monsivais/AP- via
Apparently, the ill-conceived "Super Committee" is to fail to reach budgetary compromise and that would automatically trigger a huge cut - read, cut only, no tax increases - including military cuts, the only incentive for the Republican to compromise in the whole "Super Committee" enterprise.

With the cuts looming, guess what, the Republicans are trying to take that cut out of the whole deal and President Obama has voiced his strong opposition.

If the Republicans are so concerned with the military budget cuts, they could have prevented it by compromise on tax increases in the "Super Committee".  Failing that, if they really want to prevent the military budget cut, they can try to negotiate with tax increases to offset all those agreed upon military budget cuts.

After all, our nation's huge military spending, is largely to protect the commercial interests of large corporations and the super-rich.  The Republicans love to lecture people that there is no free lunch.  Suck it up then!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Linda Katehi (UC Davis Chancellor) and Administrative Costs at Public Universities

The police's dosing of pepper spray over peaceful protesting students last week had called attention once again to the chancellor of University of California, Davis (UC Davis), Linda Katehi, with many calls for her resignation from students, faculty and staff and alumni and others.

According to UC Davis's web site, that Chancellor Katehi, was hired in 2009.
As chancellor of UC Davis, Katehi will receive an annual salary of $400,000. This is a 12.4 percent increase above her current salary of $356,000 at the University of Illinois. Vanderhoef currently earns $315,000 as UC Davis chancellor.

UC seeks to be competitive in the employment markets relevant to its faculty and staff hires, and the base salary of $400,000 is still substantially below the 2008 median of $628,000 among chancellors at UC’s comparison group of 14 public and private U.S. campuses with medical schools.
Her $400,000 annual salary, approved by the UC Board of Regents, equated to a 27 percent hike from her predecessor and a 12.4 percent increase from her previous position at the University of Illinois.  That happened during the time when the funding to the University from the state had been cut year after year, after staff and faculty were forced to take unpaid furloughs, and endless tuition hikes threatened the quality of the university system.  It was an obscene amount of money thrown at a civil servant, a public university administrator. 

Considering the protest on UC Davis, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, was a rallying cry against greedy individuals and their enablers, and the institutions behind them, asserting the rights to an affordable good education, and taking back our country, our state and our public university, it is very pertinent that Chancellor Katehi be replaced by a dedicated, highly qualified administrator, who would not demand such an exorbitant salary.  Claiming it is impossible to find such candidate is not good enough.

University of California's present and regents must act.

Police pepper spraying and arresting students at UC Davis

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Failure of American Universities - Thoughts on Penn State Riots and Novel "The Reluctant Fundamentalist"

Following up the disclosure of the horrendous sexual scandal and crime of the assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who preyed on young boys, and the covering up of such crime by the officials and football coach Joe Paterno, considered a legendary figure and hugely bankable figure, generated a more shocking scandal.   This time, the actors were the supposedly bright young men and women who were studying at Penn State University. reported that
Penn State students chant support for fired coach Hundreds of Penn State students have taken to the streets to chant their support for ousted football coach Joe Paterno.

The students flooded downtown State College on Wednesday night after Paterno and university President Graham Spanier were fired amid a growing furor linked to their handling of sex abuse allegations against a former assistant football coach.

The students gathered about two blocks from the campus, with some chanting "We want Joe! We want Joe!" Some shook a lamp post and others tipped over a news van, kicking out its windows.
The utterly disregard of the victims and human decency, and the mass hysteria of "hero" worshiping demonstrated in the YouTube videos below were truly disgusting and disturbing.  They were supposed to be the best of their generation and should have the soundest judgement and compassion.  But, it seems to me, that they had only their bloated egos and misplaced love.  What they lacked were just brown shirts to generate more shudders. 

Below is the detailed background story of the sex abuse allegations, reported by SFGate:
Penn State trustees fired football coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier amid the growing furor over how the school handled sex abuse allegations against an assistant coach.

The massive shakeup Wednesday night came hours after Paterno announced that he planned to retire at the end of his 46th season.

But the outcry following the arrest of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on molestation charges proved too much for the board to ignore.

One key question has been why Paterno and other top school officials didn't go to police in 2002 after being told a graduate assistant saw Sandusky assaulting a boy in a school shower.

Paterno says he should have done more. Spanier has said he was not told the details of the attack.

Sandusky has denied the charges. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will serve as interim coach while Rodney Erickson will serve as interim school president.
While searching for the YouTube videos above, I came across another riot of the very same Penn State University, this time, celebrating the killing of Osama Ben Ladin:

Image Source: Wikipedia
Well, it was understandable to feel relieved, vindicated and the sense that justice was done, the death of Ben Ladin, did not warrant such riotous celebration, the same kind appalling celebration after the attacked masterminded by Ben Ladin, in some hostile corners where humanity didn't shine.

The kind of celebration was described in the award winning novel "The Reluctant Fundamentalist", which my friends and I happened to discuss last night at our book club.

The book described "a bearded Pakistani man called Changez (the Urdu name for Genghis) tells a nervous American stranger about his love affair with an American woman, and his eventual abandonment of America." [Wikipedia]

The narrator (Changez) described that he, a Princeton graduate, smiled when he saw the image of airplane plunging into World Trade Center.  That smile was as damning to the lack of humanity in certain people, mirrored painfully in the riots occurred in Penn State University and other places, and to the failure of American educational system, particularly the universities and graduate schools.

In the past, universities trained scholars immersed in classical humanism, even if the major of the students were in science or engineering and it was no accident that the advanced degrees in those fields were called Doctors of Philosophy.

It is utterly different now.  Universities concentrate on churning our job seekers and the graduates were useful tools and parts in well-oiled economic machines.  Universities and especially graduate schools instilled little, if not none, of the humanism so prized before.

Facing the fact that American students are fleeing from science and engineering fields, and being replaced by waves after waves of foreign students who had little understanding of western tradition and philosophy, we are get a very bad bargain.  We train skilled technocrats who can remain totally alien or hostile to the foundation of our cultural foundation.

Look at those many despotic rulers in Mideast, Africa and Asia.  How many of them were western "trained"?  Trained, but hardly educated.

Failing to truly educate the cream of the new generation, US or foreign born, is the greatest failure of our educational system.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and Super Committee

There are many charges against the movement of "Occupy Wall Street" and one of the major one is that the movement lacks a clear and executable agenda.

Due to the democratic nature the movement, it is inevitable that there have been many ideas floating about without a central core but it is indeed high time for ideas and organizations to congeal and make a clear, reasonable and executable demand.

As this nation is in a crucial juncture, it is disheartening to see that President Obama once again, sits on his hands, and let the so called congressional super committee to come up of a scheme to cut the deficit and put it for a vote in the congress; and if the plan failed to pass, an automatic drastic budgetary cut would be enforced.  How brilliant this idea is.  Since the result of failing to pass any plan the "Super Committee" might put forth is a large budget cut, the Republicans - who have been calling to starve the beast (government) for decades - have all the incentives not to pass any plan.

Since the ill conceived and all powerful "Super Committee" is to dictate the direction of the nation for a long time to come, it is vital for the "Occupy Wall Street" to demand to scrap such "Super Committee".  I call it "ill conceived" because it didn't demand an automatic tax increase on certain group (along side with some large budgetary cuts), therefore creating a balanced incentives for both leading political parties to reach an agreement.

Without that threat of automatic tax increases, it is a good bet that the consequence of any plan from such "Super Committee", or the failure to pass such plan, would only exacerbate the bottom 90% or 99% of the population, meanwhile protecting those on top, sitting on piles of gold and refusing to lift a finger to help the underprivileged and the nation they claim that they love, and the nation has done so much for them - deregulation and tax cuts after tax cuts and still more to come.

To replace such an ill-conceived super committee, the movement of Occupy Wall Street ought to demand a new committee, seating people from all economic spectrum, in proportion to the demographics, so as to come up with a plan to reduce deficit and correct the income inequality, and then put the plan to a national referendum, instead of a congressional horse trading.

President Obama, it's high time for you to lead and please lend your support to Occupy Wall Street.

Domesticity / 家居 / Häuslichkeit

Domesticity © Matthew Felix Sun

Note: Below is National Public Radio (NPR)'s summary of the Super Committee:
How Super Is The Deficit-Cutting Committee? Twelve lawmakers. More than $1 trillion to shave off the deficit. One Thanksgiving deadline. Can they do it?

The debt-ceiling deal struck this summer created a panel of six Republicans and six Democrats — dubbed the "supercommittee" — to find ways to reduce the deficit. If they can't, "sequestration" — a slew of automatic spending cuts — kicks in. While there are high hopes in Washington for the committee's success, skeptics have trouble seeing how the chosen lawmakers will navigate around the main sticking points: Democrats seem set on protecting Medicare and Medicaid and see increasing revenues as essential.  Republicans would prefer to lower taxes if anything and want to make cuts to the big entitlement programs.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupying Wall Street and Tiananmen Square

The movement of "Occupying Wall Street" reminded me a lot of the Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989.

There were many similarities and differences.  Since I was in college then, and participated the sit-in for about 24 hours in late May that year, I have personal memory to abet my analysis below.

First, let's see the still developing and forming movement of the "Occupying Wall Street".  According to, the de facto online resource for the ongoing protests happening on Wall Street,
Occupy Wall Street is a horizontally organized resistance movement employing the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to restore democracy in America. We use a tool known as a "people's assembly" to facilitate collective decision making in an open, participatory and non-binding manner. We call ours the NYC General Assembly and we welcome people from all colors, genders and beliefs to attend our daily assemblies. 
It is fair to say, that the economic woes, amongst the young people in particular, were the immediate triggers behind the "Arab Spring" and "Occupying Wall Street" (OWS), either one blame this condition on ruthless despots in Mideast, or greedy bankers sucking blood on the nation and the middle class and the poor in the US, aided by political structures to maintain the status quo profitable for a handful few - perhaps not just the top 1%, as argued by economist Paul Krugman.

The current unemployment rate is really high and it is much higher amongst the young people.  The unemployed, in general, are not to be blamed for their conditions.  It was the greedy Wall Street bankers, recklessly drove the nation and the world to the brink of collapse, aided again and again by the political establishments from both parties and bailed out by the government who labeled them "too big to [allow] fail".

In 1989, when Chinese students hit the streets and occupied Tiananmen Square in Beijing, they were motivated by both a demand for better economic future for themselves, and an open, democratic system which would reverse the economic foe they were facing upon graduation.  Since late 1980s, the income amongst intellectuals in China was seriously behind labors and the resentments amongst college students were extremely high, since they were confronted with the reality that their salaries would be much lower than their allowances their parents gave them while in colleges.  Just like here, it was the political structure created such unstable and unacceptable situation for people, therefore the youths rebelled.

Thus the similarity.

There is a major difference.  In 1989, the student movement had a clear leadership circle, who made many concrete demands which could be implemented, amongst the general calls for democracy, while OWS seems somewhat headless and made no concrete demands.

The reason behind this major different is that China had a highly centralized government and major decisions were made by a handful of people; while the U.S. is a decentralized government with several branches and levels, and no domineering political forces which can dictate an immediate change.  Therefore, the tactics the OWS people has adopted, namely building a movement, not dissimilar to the Tea Party movement, is more appropriate.  It would grow, once more and more people hear their voices and realized that they were indeed also belong to that disenfranchised 99% (or 90%, argued by Krugman), and eventually, some sympathetic but timid, or opportunistic politicians.

This is not a class war declared on the wealthy or the act of jealous.  Just as in 1989, the Chinese students had no intention to overthrow the government, but to redress the wrongs in the hands of the lopsided policies and the political structures allowed no voices from them to be heard.

Rather, OWS people are pointing out the failure of the laissez-faire capitalism and the illusion of all people got rich with the wealth trickles down from the top.  In the pass, masked by the rising housing prices and the easy credits, majority of middle classes or even lower classes felt they had indeed drunk on the trickled down spring water.  After the economic crisis, some of them finally realized that they had not been drinking any vintage but bitter pomace juice.  What OWS people are trying to do, is to waken the rest up and see clearly the inequality and unfairness guaranteed by this failed and failing laissez-faire capitalism and its lackey - the main political parties, the politicians and the officials, up to current supreme court.

Some super rich people still jeer at the OWS protesters.  They claimed that what they demand is the failed socialism.  Well?  No system or ism is fault free and since the laissez-faire capitalism is ailing severely, people should not be deterred by labels from explore good ideas from other forms of government.

In the U.S., it is one dollar one vote now.  The middle class and the poor have ever diminishing voices.  The political apparatuses are closed to them.  Even President Obama was not willing or able to change the situation.  I'd say unwilling.

The disenfranchised people's anger is pointing at as much Wall Streets as its enablers.  When Obama claimed that those banking institution who brought the nation to its knees by their reckless gaming as "too big to [allow] fail", he instantaneously became their partner in crime.  His omitting the word "allow", disingenuously covered up the fact that it was the governmental decision to bail these institutions up at the expenses of the middle class and the poor, to pump blood into them to keep them alive and continue to exploit and to speculate, and hide the fact that the government could have demand more oversight of these speculators and more regulations to prevent the repeat.

People have no place to go but the street.  One only wonders what takes it so long and if the politician would heed their voices and try to correct the wrongs.

Occupy Wall Street protesters take part in a demonstration at Times Square in New York. Photograph: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Learning From China

The so called "war on terror" is entering a new stark chapter.

According to San Francisco Chronicle's report,
President Barack Obama steered the nation's war machine into uncharted territory Friday when a U.S. drone attacked a convoy in Yemen and killed two American citizens who had become central figures in al-Qaida.

It was believed to be the first instance in which a U.S. citizen was tracked and executed based on secret intelligence and the president's say-so. And it raised major questions about the limitations of presidential power.

Anwar al-Awlaki, the target of the U.S. drone attack, was one of the best-known al-Qaida figures after Osama bin Laden. American intelligence officials had linked him to two nearly catastrophic attacks on U.S.-bound planes, an airliner on Christmas 2009 and cargo planes last year. The second American killed in the drone attack, Samir Kahn, was the editor of Inspire, a slick online magazine aimed at al-Qaida sympathizers in the West.


"Anwar al-Awlaki is acting as a regional commander for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters in August 2010.

What if the U.S. was wrong, Gibbs was asked, what recourse does a citizen have to save himself? The CIA had misidentified and imprisoned the wrong person before. Gibbs sidestepped the question.

The U.S. has been inconsistent in how it describes al-Awlaki. The Treasury Department called him a leader of al-Qaida in Yemen. FBI Director Robert Mueller called him the leader. On Friday, Obama called him "the leader of external operations," the first time he has been described that way.

When word leaked out that al-Awlaki's name was on the list, his family rushed to court to try to stop the government from killing him, saying he had to be afforded the constitutional right to due process.

The idea of killing an American citizen provided critics with fodder for all sorts of comparisons showing the peculiarities of national security law and policy. The government could not listen to al-Awlaki's phone calls without a judge's approval, for instance, but could kill him on the president's say-so. The Obama administration opposed imprisoning terrorist suspects without due process but supported killing them without due process.

"If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the president does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state," ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner said Friday.

Indeed, one of the duty of the president is to protect and ensure due process for US citizens.  If according to his own judgement, he could have a US citizen killed, without explicit legal authorization, he is on shaky ground.

In order to be more responsible, the US would do better by learning from China.

After the international outcry against Chinese's secrete detention of high profile artist Ai Weiwei and the like, China now is proposing to overhaul the criminal penal codes, to legalize the secrete arrest and detention and disappearnces.

US and China have more similarities than most people think and we can be more like China, only if we keep pace with them.

Pink and Gray Landscape
Pink and Gray Landscape © Matthew Felix Sun

Monday, September 19, 2011

Class Warfare, You Betcha!

When President Obama called on the super rich to share the economic pain our nation and the people are suffering from, he is duly accused by his Republican opponents as staging a class warfare. President Obama sparred back against such charge and claimed that what he proposed, upper-income tax hike, was simply not a class warfare. Obama threw his darts rather aimlessly, saying:
You’re already hearing the moans and groans from the other side about how we are engaging in class warfare and we’re being too populist and this and that and the other — all the usual scripts. I mean, it’s predictable, the news releases that come out from the other side. But the truth of the matter is, is that if we don’t succeed, then I think that this country is going to go down a very perilous path. And it’s not going to be good for those of us who have done incredibly well in this society and it’s certainly not going to be good for the single mom who’s working two shifts right now trying to support her family. It’s not going to be good for anybody.
I agree with Obama's goal and means, but again, I don't think he fought back with enough strength.

Why afraid of the word "class warfare"?  Why deny it?

Not class warfare?  I would say, it is indeed class warfare, a warfare has been waging for decades by the rich against the poor.  What Obama is trying to do, is simply to reverse the trend, to protect the feeble.  Why would he shy away from using the word?  He really should have staged a counter charge, head on.

Whatever the Republicans want to do, is the tried and tired means of more corporate tax cuts, and more deregulation - they are perhaps good for profit, for the balance sheets, but again and again, they have been proven bad for the people and the country.

Let's call spade spade.  Whatever the Republicans plan to do, is to rob the poor even further, to squeeze the middle further, so as to have a even bigger share of the national wealth.  The low and middle-class have suffered long enough under the yoke of the corporations, and their political henchmen, and we should not allow ourselves to sacrifice more in order to ensure the continued growth of the corporations, which have completely severed themselves from the quality of ordinary people's life.  We want to have a fair share of the wealth.

We don't want to stage a class warfare.  However, it is it brought to our door step, we'll fight back.

This is what Obama should have said.  Would he ever be our true champion?

Thorned Flowers
Thorned Flowers © Matthew Felix Sun

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Remaking Mitt Romney, à la John McCain

Republican presidential candidate, former Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, has been remaking himself ever since he entered the race in last cycle when he lost to John McCain, who was nominated and lost big in the general election.

Incredibly, Mitt Romney has stuck to his tried and failed scripts, with some borrowed pages from now disgraced John McCain.

Mitt Romney is remaking himself in John McCain's mode in all earnest and that will prove his undoing and make him as a tragic figure as McCain.

Like John McCain, Romney chooses to present himself as somebody else, meanwhile studiously disown his sizable political achievement, McCain as senator with independent streak, and Romney, a governor who helped to usher in universal health care in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  The day they disowned their own achievement and characters, they became nobody and completely phony.  Lacking authenticity was one of the major defects Romney has and his silly posturing only exacerbates it.

John McCain, during his pandering to the far right, who always disliked him, lost his friend in the middle and the left, together with his integrity and human dignity.

Mitt Romney, a respected politician, instead of running on the record of his political achievement, determined to run as a business leader, in the climate that big business prospers while middle class and labors suffer.  It has never been so clear that business interests are independent and often not correlated to the main street.  Therefore, Romney might just runs over the precipice - even if he prevails in the primary, his selling out of his integrity will catch up with him and he will regret, as bitterly as John McCain, on the election day.

Governing is an art; it's not business.  I would not hesitate to choose a career politician over a business person, who only sees profit and balance sheet, while oblivious to the people who might be affected by their profit-driven decisions.  Business leaders do not have in their minds the average American's interests.

Let's not delude ourselves.

Colony / 屬地 / Kolonie
Colony © Matthew Felix Sun

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Wasted Opportunity - on San Francisco Opera's New Commission "Heart of A Soldier"

Wasted opportunity?  No, I'm not talking about Obama's lackluster presidency which failed to solve so many pressing problems our nation faces, though it surely warrants such description.  No, I'm talking about San Francisco Opera's new commission, "Heart of a Soldier", an opera with libretto by Donna di Novelli and music by Christopher Theofanidis, and was based on James Stewart's book of the true story of Rick Rescorla.  The opera is scheduled to be premiered on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, New York City, in 2001.  It is to be staged by Francesca Zambello, who just triumphantly staged Wagner's Ring Cycle for SFOpera, the instigator of this whole project, when she read the book, she immediately saw it as opera material.

Ten years after the attack on World Trade Center, it is high time for remembrance, reflection and some deep thinking.  It is also a high time for an operative treatment of a story regarding the September 11 attack.  I was hoping for an opera in somber tone, with ample respect for the deceased and the bereaved, with collective reflection on the events lead to the fatal day and the aftermath, with a clear-eyed hope for a better future.  We need a 9/11 opera.

However, the creative team of the opera steadfastly denied that it would be a 9/11 opera, instead, they emphasized that it would be an opera about love - the camaraderie love between protagonist Rick Rescorla, whose military experience prepared him to save thousands people's life in his company, and his life-long friend Dan Hill, and a late-found love between Rick and his wife Susan.  The love between Rick and Susan, as poignant as it was, did nothing to propel the story line - their love contributed nothing to the final denouement and it is puzzling to see that this love becomes the focus of this opera.

What this opera's about?  It seems to me about a hero's path.  The opera included many flashing points, such as Rick met American soldiers in his British hometown as a boy, his killing a lion to prove his bravado, his stunt in Vietnam in order to fight the Communists and his career as security chief for financial firm in New York City.

The real drama lies in his early design to kill communists and the doubt later crept in while in Vietnam.  The synopsis mentioned the motive for Rescorla and Hill to go to Vietnam is their desire to seek a just war.  Had they found it?  Was the war just?  How shaken were they by their doubts?  In the same vein, did people ask why the Jihadists attacked our civilians?  Did they see it as just?  What about other Muslim people who might bear grudge but would not pick up weapons to kill randomly?

The parallel between the desire to kill communists and modern day Jihadism is also a very interesting topic.  Did we fail or refuse to see other groups, defined by different forms of government, different religions, or different ideology, as human beings, just as the modern day Jihadists do?   Grown up in communism China, when I read the line of "fight the Communists", I inevitably thinking about my father, who was a career civil servant and joined the Party in high school, or my mother, an expert doctor, who struggled entire career to be admitted into the Party to prove her worth, or my sister, who had to join the Party in order to be promoted into a managerial position in a newspaper.  Are these career soldiers the people only happy to kill?   What about the aftermath?  How we handled the suspects we rounded up in Afghanistan and Iraq?   Perhaps it was not touched upon by the libretto because it is too close for comfort.

All these moral dilemmas and arguments would have made a compelling and thought-provoking opera.  But all these were seriously under-developed or consciously avoided.  Since the libretto shied away from all these aspects, all the possible depths and nuances are lost due to this avoidance.  Apparently, the creative team didn't want to create another controversial opera like John Adam's The Death of Klinghoffer

One genuinely interesting part included in the opera was Dan Hill's conversion to Muslim and his moving to Afghanistan, but that thread did not go further either.  Therefore, the opera becomes episodic, meandering and skin deep.  It is heart-tugging in a tear-jerking way.

As for the music, the argument from San Francisco Opera's general director David Gockley yields no comfort.  Opera News magazine quoted that he wanted a legitimate composer, one with "a big emotional sweep, who's not afraid to write a popular melody but still can deal with a big arc and complexity and breadth."

Rehearsal photo from San Francisco Opera

Instead of an opera with fitting gravitas à la Stravinsky's Oedipus rex, we will get a technicolor Lawrence of Arabia.   Very sweeping.

Moving beyond an opera commission.  Let's see if we have learned much.  How have we grown up?  Have we used the pivotal moment in history the tragedy brought to the world to heal the wounds of humanity?

Unfortunately, not much.

We have not done enough to deal with social and economical injustice in the world; we have employed cruel methods against our opponents, or just suspects, in order to protect our freedom, mostly the "god-given right" to consume as cheaply as we can, at other people's expenses.

However, there is glimmer of hope.  What the Western power had done to support Libyan people's cause, while allowing them to own their own revolution, struck the right balance.

However, we know better than trusting too much on hope.  We live in a complex, confusing and perilous world.  Let's hope that there will not be a double dip - a reign by maniacal, egocentric and intolerant Republican reign, particularly of Texan brand.

Related articles:
--> Not Enough Drama, Love to Rescue - on San Francisco Opera's Commissions "Heart of A Soldier"
--> World Premiere Opera "Heart of A Soldier" and What Is a Tragedy
--> San Francisco Opera's New Commission - Heart of a Soldier

Thursday, September 1, 2011

There's A Great Future in Banking

For the new graduates, particularly those born with silver spoons in their mouths, the valuable advice from the Republican leaders would be: "There's a great future in banking!"

Yes, in banking.  Nothing else, not even plastics.  After all, plastics are related to production, commerce and based on science, which has completed its evolution (see, Republicans have no aversion to using the word "evolution") when Archimedes shouted "Eureka!"  Afterwards, what ever the "scientists" had put forth were just theories.  Once we can tell the difference of gold from silver, what more do we need to know?

Our great nation was founded by principled people who would not stomach other people's tolerance of other religions or customs, and became the very people not tolerated; therefore, we are to carry on our great tradition of intolerance into 21st century, be it other science, knowledge or common sense, as long as it does not conform to my world view.

Yes, banking.  Not politics.  We can buy politicians.

Yes, banking.  Not science.  Scientists we ridicule.

Yes, banking.  Not manufacture.  Labors we exploit.

Yes, banking, even if you have doubt about your abilities or affinities.  Sage from China said that "Dragons beget dragons; phoenix beget phoenix; while mice can dig holes since their births", therefore, as long as you are from families of rich, you'll succeed as bankers, who will rule.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pope, Economy and Spirituality

Pope Benedict made a very important speech during his recent visit to Spain. Yahoo via Associated Press reported that:
As he arrived, Benedict reached out to all young people, saying he understood the desperation many felt because of today's economic uncertainties.

"The economy doesn't function with market self-regulation, but needs an ethical rationale to work for mankind," he told reporters traveling aboard the papal plane. "Man must be at the center of the economy, and the economy cannot be measured only by maximization of profit but rather according to the common good."

As manifested in the recent bulletin train crash in China, development for development's sake is a dead end.  In the end, we must recognize that all the development and economic growth should geared at improving the living standard of people collectively, while protect the environment and other species who are increasingly at our mercy. 

The increasing profits of corporations and the very few venture capitalists and fund managers, etc., if completely dissociated from the common good of the society, then something is definitely wrong.

This, unfortunately is happening right here, in the United States of America.

Growing up in the completely secular China, I have few appreciations of religion and even spirituality.

However, I start to appreciate some elements in these activities and thinking.

A completely secular society, such as China, can easily fall into the trap of materialism and the only god they should acknowledge, unfortunately is wealth.  People there strive to enrich themselves but in materials only, and the betterment of themselves in spirit, intellect, character, in not scorned upon, at least are ignored. 

US is a religious country.  However, the brand of Christianity here is quite self-centered and not very charitable.  It actually provides the rational for human kinds to exploit our environment recklessly for the profits of very few.

Instead of being a good steward of the earth, a member of community, we are morphing into a nation of cutthroats. 

How I long for the time people truly valued the learning and knowledge and strove to be good, as embodied by the music by Bach, paintings by Botticelli, or sculptures by Michelangelo.

I do concede that I viewed those period through the lens of distance with glossed over the unpleasantness of those era, which could be just as corrupt as ours; however, it was a time people do believe in the importance of the betterment of their souls.  We might not believe in souls, but we should try to improve ourselves, not just our accounting books.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Granting Voting and Other Human Rights to Corporations

People tend to criticize Republicans for not being compassionate.  How wrong they are!  The Republican are expanding their compassion much further than average human being could have imagined - they are making overture to grant human rights to corporations, including voting right for sure.

In January 2010, by citing First Amendment and granting free-speech right traditionally associated to human beings to the corporation, Supreme Court rejected limits on corporate spending on political campaigns [Washington Post]:
A divided Supreme Court on Thursday swept aside decades of legislative restrictions on the role of corporations in political campaigns, ruling that companies can dip into their treasuries to spend as much as they want to support or oppose individual candidates.

In a 5 to 4 decision, the majority cast its ruling as a spirited defense of the First Amendment, concluding that corporations have the same rights as individuals when it comes to political speech. Corporations had been banned since 1947 from using their profits to endorse or oppose political candidates, a restriction that the justices ruled unconstitutional.
And now, the compassion from the Republic Party just keeps growing.  Republican's presidential candidate, former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney made news by publicly, unequivocally claiming that corporations are people.  Bravo, Mitt!

Below is the New York Times story on Mitt Romney's assertion during his Iowa campaign:
“We have to make sure that the promises we make in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are promises we can keep, and there are various ways of doing that,” Mr. Romney said. “One is, we can raise taxes on people.”

“Corporations!” the protesters shouted, suggesting that Mr. Romney, as president, should raise taxes on large businesses.

“Corporations are people, my friend,” Mr. Romney responded, as the hecklers shouted back, “No, they’re not!”

“Of course they are,” Mr. Romney said, chuckling slightly. “Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?”

It was a telling, unscripted moment for Mr. Romney likely to be replayed on YouTube. In an instant, he seemed to humanize himself by pointedly squabbling with the group of hecklers, showing flashes of anger and defying his reputation as a sometimes stilted, unfeeling candidate.

But at the same time, he seemed to reinforce another image of himself: as an out-of-touch businessman who sees the world from the executive suite.
Well, though I surely don't know where the money corporations take in go, I do think Romeny's compassion should not be brushed aside easily.  After all, America is a born-again evangelical Christian nation, isn't it?

Therefore, I heartily endorse Romney's assertion, and demand on granting all human rights to corporations, and most important, the voting rights.

However, it is a bit tricky, logistically, to have corporations to vote and to stand in as candidates.  But, we are a resourceful bunch; if we cannot agree on the details, we can always go back to the intentions of our Founding Fathers (not Mothers for sure). 

Since our Founding Fathers' intentions were granting voting rights to property owners only, therefore, it makes absolute sense to grant the most monied entities - corporations - voting rights.   For the unenlightened, there is a term called Originalism, or, Original Intent: Originalists think that the best way to interpret the Constitution is to determine how the Framers intended the Constitution to be interpreted. They look to several sources to determine this intent, including the contemporary writings of the framers, newspaper articles, the Federalist Papers, and the notes from the Constitutional Convention itself. []

I found some background information on regarding the original intent of our founding fathers:
Typically, white, male property owners twenty-one or older could vote. Some colonists not only accepted these restrictions but also opposed broadening the franchise. Duke University professor Alexander Keyssar wrote in The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States:
At its birth, the United States was not a democratic nation—far from it. The very word "democracy" had pejorative overtones, summoning up images of disorder, government by the unfit, even mob rule. In practice, moreover, relatively few of the nation's inhabitants were able to participate in elections: among the excluded were most African Americans, Native Americans, women, men who had not attained their majority, and white males who did not own land.

John Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence and later president, wrote in 1776 that no good could come from enfranchising more Americans:

Depend upon it, Sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters; there will be no end to it. New claims will arise; women will demand the vote; lads from 12 to 21 will think their rights not enough attended to; and every man who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other, in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks to one common level.

Property requirements were widespread. Some colonies required a voter to own a certain amount of land or land of a specified value. Others required personal property of a certain value, or payment of a certain amount of taxes. Examples from 1763 show the variety of these requirements. Delaware expected voters to own fifty acres of land or property worth £40. Rhode Island set the limit at land valued at £40 or worth an annual rent of £2. Connecticut required land worth an annual rent of £2 or livestock worth £40.
Now, I believe that I just proved why it is so rightful and important to voting rights to the wealthiest entities, corporations.  But why stop there?  All the human rights!

All the entitlements a human being enjoys should be extended to our dear corporation brothers and sisters, such as AIG, Lehmann Brothers, HP, Shell, Chevron, Ford, Apple, Google, Yahoo!

They ought to be able to collect social securities - if they are old enough, such as Coca Cola, etc.  But do they have to retire, aka stop being actively churning out sugared cold drink?  Maybe not.  Many social security collectors continue to earn money on the side.  Medicare and Medicaid too, if they need them.

But, naturally, they have to pay social security and medicare taxes.  Well, so be it.  We want to fair, don't we?

I would also propose that when a corporation breaks laws, causes deaths and engages in other mischeives, we ought to jail it - forbidding the corporation to practice in the term, and even impose death penalty upon it when its crime warrants such ultimate punishment - forbidding the corporate to engage in any business transactions for ever.

Also, we ought to regulate marriages of corporations, in case the corporates want to get married to each other are of same sex.  Too bad too that we can no longer legally to deny the voting rights, or any other human rights, to the poor, the colored, or the homosexuals (excluding their marriage rights to the persons they love naturally) - therefore, we have to compromise a bit on our Founding Fathers' Intentions.   This actually proves that we are not as rigid as our opponents charge us to be.  We do compromise, only on our own terms.

All these endeavors can be done.  Our country have the most resourceful lawyers if nothing else.  And all the troubles are not wasted.  How wonderful it would be if the governors in our countries are not the likes of Mr. Jerry Brown, or Mr. Mitt Romney, but Mr. Google or Mr. Fidelity!  And why stop at governors' mansions.  Corporations can occupy the White House and the chambers of Congress as well. 

Our corporations deserve every dignity and entitlement a human being enjoys. Welcome, my corporation brothers and sisters.

Tomorrow, we are to vote together. I have several tens of thousands dollars and that's how many votes I shall have; while you, you ought to have millions upon millions, and billions upon billions votes.

Hurray! We are in a truly enlightened and democratic era. The sun rises, perhaps from the west?

Sisyphus / 西西弗斯 / Sisyphus
Sisyphus © Matthew Felix Sun

Friday, August 5, 2011

Herakles, not Hamlet

The first term of the historic Obama presidency has passed its mid-point and now he is gearing up for his re-election.  In those pass year, he has proved extremely ineffective as he was extremely eloquence in his campaign trips.  In last few years, he surrendered again and again before many major battles and then came out declaring victories in the face of humiliating (to himself) and devastating (to us) defeats and squandered hand-own political edges.

He came to the presidency as the personification of great hope.  Yet, now, it looks more like the greatest hype.

I have no doubt of his great intelligence, his noble intentions and his admirable even temper.

Yet, for all those virtues, if he cannot get his agendas, no, our agendas, accomplished, how good this president is he?  Not much.

He has retreated again and again, arguing that all those defeats would be perfect debating points during his re-election campaign and he would deal his opponents a crushing defeat.  That line of argument is not even hopeful; it's delusional.

Let us admit it, that Obama's presidency would not achieve what we deem good for the nation.  He has served the historical purpose by smashing one racial ceiling; for that, we congratulate him and his voters, and thank them all.

Now, it's time for President Obama to accept the bitter reality.  He is not up to the demands of the tough job, facing the opponents with utter contempt for average American people, America and him.

Perhaps, he can still prevail in the general election.  But what's the purpose of that, if his second term is just as ineffective and disastrous as this one?

We need to have someone in the White House who can accomplish what we demand the president to accomplish.  Let's find a warrior who would fight tooth and nail.

We need Herakles; not Hamlet.

Matthew Felix Sun's Live Drawing_1373
Life Drawing © Matthew Felix Sun

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Open War on American People by the Rich and Powerful

During the economic downturn, the Republicans demanded and get a hug spending cut which could only aggravate the economic situation and making the growth even less likely.

There is no question that the US has been spending beyond the means and should be rein in.  However, it should not be done in through shock treatment and be done entirely on the back of the middle- and lower-class.  Unfortunately, that was what the result of the political blackmail over the debt ceiling.

Therefore, the financial imbalance accumulated over the years with mandate spending increase, and the irresponsible tax cuts for the rich during two wars.  The perilous situation we are in are self-inflicted wound, if we view the country as a whole entity.  But the country has been divided and the riches and powerful, if not themselves, at least their surrogates in the congress, had mounted a front, full-out assault on the average American people and the democratic values as well.

Not to see this ugly reality is self-delusional, such as President Obama has demonstrated again and again.

In order to combat this nihilistic assault on our union, we must find someone who not only share the values with average working American, but who has political will and acumen to carry it through.

Time for change indeed.  Democratic Party must choose an alternative.  President Obama has failed miserably.  He ought to make room for real change.


Devils' Dance / 魔鬼的舞蹈 / Teufels Tanz
Devils' Dance
Oil on Canvas
30" x 48"
Completed in 2004
© Matthew Felix Sun

Monday, July 25, 2011

Nihilistic Republicans - The New Stalinists and Maoists?

The debating regarding raising the national debt ceiling to avoid a default of our nation and the downgrading of our federal bonds is heading towards a mutual destructive clash.

Ignoring President Obama's self-mutilating offerings tot he negotiation table, Republican House Speaker John Boehner continued to demand that balancing the national budget must be on the back of the poor and middle class, so as to give the rich even bigger share of national wealth.  The Republican's insistence not to increase revenue and their refusal of the deal were purely not only unsustainable but insane.  One has to wonder if the Republican leadership has lost their mental soundness.

They have chosen to employ a scorch earth policy.  Being principled is to be respected but being nihilistic ideologue only labels themselves as unfit to govern.

Anyone to govern must have a deliberate and balanced mind while the Republican leaders are anything but.

According to Fox News, Boehner said that "I would prefer to have a bipartisan approach to solve this problem. If that's not possible, I and my Republican colleagues in the House are prepared to move on their own ... today."

He perhaps has forgotten that he only chairs half of one of the three branches of the governmental bodies of the Unites States of America.  Time for him to dictates has not arrived yet.

Given historical lessons, let's hope that would never happen.

Their chosen nihilistic approaches have many predecessors such as Lenin, Stalin or Mao, who insisted that he had the truth, scientific truth while dealing social-economic issues, and hell-bent to wreck havoc to achieve their ideological gain.  When they have become so maniacal, they really ought to be striped of power to govern.

There is place in society for nihilists to voice their protests but not to govern.  Their brand of so called governing is nothing but destruction.

Haven't Americans suffered enough?

Enough is enough.

Ravens / 烏鴉 / Raben
Ravens © Matthew Felix Sun

Friday, July 15, 2011

Republicans Goal - Taxing the Poor To Fatten the Rich

Our country on all levels - federal, state, county and city - is in such dire financial state and it is inconceivable that the Republican leaders, particularly those with Tea Party bend, would choose to refuse to close tax loops (amounting to tax increase for the rich, according to their argument), while demanding steep cut for the middle class and the poor.  By their argument, that deep cut would amount to taxing the middle class and the poor.

There we go again, let's tax the have-nots so the have can have more.

This is beyond sickening.  Republicans have proofed that they are not fit to govern.  Whoever voted them into offices must answer for their own conscious.  This is a moral issue.  What the Republicans and Tea Party members demand - to balance the budget by taxing the middle class and the poor alone - is immoral.

This insistence of taxing the poor to fatten the rich affects people on multiple levels.  Take two great public institutions in California for example.  California State University (CS) just passed a 12% increase of tuition while in the same meeting the trustees also approved a salary for the incoming president of CSU's San Diego campus that's about $100,000 higher than his predecessor. San Francisco Chronicle reported that:
Despite Gov. Jerry Brown's urging them not to: "I fear your approach to compensation is setting a pattern for public service that we cannot afford," Brown wrote to Carter. "The assumption is that you cannot find a qualified man or woman to lead the university unless paid twice that of the chief justice of the United States. I reject that notion."

Elliot Hirshman, the new San Diego campus president, will earn $400,000 compared with $299,435 earned by his predecessor, Stephen Weber.

In voting for the raise, Carter said it was pointless to oppose it because Hirshman was promised that salary and has already begun working at the campus. Carter also appointed a panel to study how CSU selects and compensates its presidents.  

Well, may we ask who had promised his such salary?

A few days later, University of California (UC) approved a 9.6% increase of fees and tuition.  According to San Francisco Chronicle,
University of California regents voted Thursday to raise tuition by 9.6 percent - on top of an 8 percent increase already approved for this fall - over the objections of students who said they'll drown in debt.

At the same meeting in San Francisco, the regents also gave large pay raises to three executives, including two who are paid from state funds.

This fall, undergraduate tuition for California residents will rise to $12,192, more than 18 percent higher than last year's $10,302 - a level that prompted violent student protests. With a mandatory campus fee that averages $1,026, a year at UC now costs $13,218 before room and board.

That's more than twice what it cost in 2005. 
Again, while the UC system is becoming less competitive, UC approved big salary increases for three high-ranking executives:
Marye Anne Fox, chancellor of UC San Diego, said rising fees for graduate students make UC less competitive.

"We're starting to lose students," she told the regents.

Other chancellors reported cutting academic programs, losing faculty and raising class size.
The regents also gave raises to three executives.

Patrick Lenz, a UC system vice president, will earn a base salary of $300,000 from taxpayer funds, a $27,500 increase.

Santiago Muñoz, an associate vice president, got a 24.1 percent raise, from $201,400 to $250,000. Taxpayers pay 40 percent of his salary.

Mark Laret, who runs the UCSF Medical Center, will get a base salary of $935,000, a $195,300 raise, and a retention bonus of $1 million over four years. It's paid from medical center revenue. 
Again and again, this scenarios play out from east coast to the west cost, from Alaska to Florida.  More and more, many of the Republicans demand, Democrats demur, and the masses accept this unsustainable and unholy thinking that we can and ought to balance our budget, pay off our debt by squeezing the middle class and the poor, ever more tightly.

Again, we must remind people, that if the Republicans insists on any revenue growth is a tax increase, then any service spending cut is also a tax increase, only not on the rich, but on the poor.

Those Republicans ought be ashamed of themselves.  They also have no business of governing.

However, this is a country knows no shame and shaming them would not produce anything worthy.

Swamp /  沼澤 / Sumpf
Swamp © Matthew Felix Sun

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The State of Minnesota

The State of Minnesota has closed its parks and museums due to the budget standoff between their political leaders of two major parties.

The closing of many offices also affects many people's life, particularly the poor.  The effect can be devastating to the affected and deserve our utmost sympathy.

However, one of the stories reported by CBS and Associated Press, supposed to earn our sympathy and support was a woman named Sonya Mills.  The story went:
In the absence of talks, the shutdown was rippling into the lives of people like Sonya Mills, a 39-year-old mother of eight facing the loss of about $3,600 a month in state child care subsidies. Until the government closure, Mills had been focused on recovering from a May 22 tornado that displaced her from a rented home in Minneapolis. Now she's adding a new problem to her list.
I am sure that she life has become very difficult to cope with and her children deserve our compassion.  However, the number of children she has raised my eyebrows.  Eight!

I can understand that responsible people with two, three or even four children, could be able to feed, cloth, house and educate them under normal circumstances and might fall to victim of economic downturn.  But for someone who collects $3,600/month governmental support with eight children, it is quite absurd.  It is doubtful that her needs of financial support was due to the economic downturn.  She could be use as an example to show what is not sustainable and should not be condoned.  Using her case as example to show how "regular" folks' life being affected by Minnesota's shutdown was an ill choice.

Parenthood is not a by-product of sex.  It should be a carefully planned and prepared responsibility.

Bring a child into the world is not a contribution to the society.  Considering the over-population issue, one can argue it is the opposite.  We should encourage responsible parenthood. 

Considering the resources average American consumes, we should be even more on guard for bringing more children into the world unprovided for.

It is highly ironic that we attack China for make great sacrifice to reduce the population, therefore the demand on the fragile earth.  It's time for a reality check.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ever Lowering Expectations

After eight years of George W. Bush's assault on not only civil liberty but English language as well, it was reasonably hopeful that we were entering a new era with vast improvement in both fronts.

Well, there were changes for sure and some improvement but not nearly enough.

Not only Guantánamo detention camp is still in full operation, but the assault on English language has changed from mangled words to ignoring the rules of grammar and deliberate twist meanings of phrases.

Obama's biggest offense to date is still his most infamous arm wrestling with the phrase "too... to..." and I wonder if the new generation would ever understand how to use this phrase correctly after his ghastly incorrect way to describe faulting banks in need of bailing out as "too big to fail".

New, a new offense, minor one, admittedly.

Associated Press reported that Obama says he would resign if he were Weiner. San Francisco Chronicle detailed his comments:
President Barack Obama, increasing pressure on Rep. Anthony Weiner to quit, said Monday that "I can tell you that if it was me, I would resign."
I was once again incredulous.  I asked a friend of mine, who graduated from the exalted University of California, Berkeley with English degree and was told that though grammatically speaking, President Obama was wrong.  He should have said "if it were me".  But, according to my friend, that the correct way has been seen as literal, mannered and bookish and colloquially, people usually say it the way President Obama did, the grammatically incorrect way.

I was flabbergasted.  I think there is a debate in the nation regarding the lowered expectation brew generations of lower achievers.

One would hope that a president would have set up a better example.  Is it his hope that by speaking folks' language, therefore, more people would choose him to have beer with?

It is quite disappointing and disconcerting.

The assault on civil liberty and English language has continued.

By the way, happy Flag Day.  Or is it Flagellation Day?


Friday, June 10, 2011

Circumcision, Female genital mutilation and Abortion

This is getting weirder.  The progressive San Francisco residents are to vote on a measure to make it a misdemeanor to perform circumcision on a male under the age of 18 within the city. Anyone who ignored the ban would face a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.

CBS News reported that:
Circumcision should be outlawed because "it's excruciatingly painful and permanently damaging surgery that's forced on men when they're at their weakest and most vulnerable," a leading proponent of the ban, 59-year-old Lloyd Schofeld, told Reuters.

Since circumcision is a ritual practice for Jews and Muslims, some legal experts say such a ban might prove an unconstitutional infringement of religious freedom, Time reported. But others say religions don't get a "free pass."
People argue against male circumcision like to link it to the female genital mutilation which is more universally condemned in the US.

However, I cannot see male circumcision as on the same level as female genital mutilation, because there are some benefits, however small, of male circumcision in preventing STD and HIV infection, while female genital mutilation does not offer any such benefits and the purpose of female genital mutilation was male control, rather than a covenants between men and creators.

According to World Health Organization (WHO),

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. Increasingly, however, FGM is being performed by health care providers.

FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

CBS continued that
The American Academy of Pediatricians says the procedure cuts both ways. In its official policy statement on circumcision - issued in 1999 and reaffirmed in 2005 - the academy said the procedure has potential health benefits, including reduced risk bladder infections and transmission of HIV/AIDs and other sexually transmitted diseases.

But the academy said there were potential downsides to the procedure, pointing to anecdotal reports that circumcision can reduce men's sexual sensation and clear evidence that it can be painful and lead to complications like bleeding and infections - and in rare instances, to partial or complete amputation of the penis.

Given the pros and cons, the academy says "the procedure is not essential to the child's current well-being" and that "parents should determine what is in the best interest of the child." reported that "Jewish groups are objecting to the fact that ritual circumcision of men under the age of 18 would be made illegal, despite the fact that it is, in the words of these San Francisco-area Jewish organizations, "of fundamental importance in the Jewish tradition." Male circumcision is also an important practice in Islam, although it is not compulsory."

Because of the inconclusiveness regarding the benefits of male circumcision and because of the cultural and religious tradition which doesn't involve the repression of a group people, it is hard to argue that government needs to step in the decide for caring parents.

In fact, the arguments the proponents of the male circumcision ban employed were very similar to those abortion opponents.

It is hard to believe that the very progressive San Franciscans would approve government to tell women that they should not have abortion, yet, many of them are poised to enforce a similar ban in the very spirit.

CBS News Image

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Notre Dame University's Quixotic Fight

San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that Notre Dame alone among schools on China goods ban:
Notre Dame's campus bookstore sells "Fighting Irish" lettermen jackets, "ND" license plate frames and stadium cups picturing the school's leprechaun mascot. Not for sale: anything made in China. 

Ten years after adopting the policy, Notre Dame remains the only major U.S. university that forbids license holders such as Adidas to put the school logo on any product from China, according to groups that track college merchandising.

Notre Dame prohibits the goods because China, the top source of U.S. imports, doesn't permit independent labor unions, according to a college policy document. The ban is attracting fresh attention from Washington lawmakers who say China has begun a renewed crackdown on dissidents.

"What Notre Dame is doing is very, very important," Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. and chairman of the Appropriations Committee panel that oversees trade, said in an interview. "China is a particularly bad place to do outsourcing, and the American people are totally opposed to it."

While laudable, Notre Dame's policy may not do much to change a country's practices, according to Susan Aaronson, a professor of international trade at George Washington University in Washington. By staking out its own approach, Notre Dame loses the impact of many universities putting collective pressure on suppliers, she said.

"You have to have enough demanders of good labor protections," Aaronson, who writes about China and labor rights, said in an interview. Notre Dame's ban, she said, "is not a mistake, but it is likely to have little impact on behavior in China."

Sadly, I had agree that Notre Dame's ban itself, might not do much alone.  However, it should be an example for people to follow.  Anyone who uses an iPhone or an iPad ought to know the miserable working conditions the assembling line workers in Foxconn in China.

US and Americans are proud of our idealism and it will be up to every single one of us to demand our profit seeking companies to ensure the humane working conditions in factories working for our benefits.

Eternity - Four Seasons / 永恆 - 四季 / Ewigkeit - vier Jahreszeiten
Eternity - Four Seasons © Matthew Felix Sun

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Not Armageddon But One Crisis After Another" - David Alan Stockman

The economic situation in the US is still precarious and the debt ceiling debate did not generate the debate we truly need at this crucial juncture.  True, we need to rein in spending, but not (only) the entitlement programs, and spending on military, on big business subsidies and tax giving away to the rich.

Interestingly, an insider of Regan's administration, generally viewed as conservative and anti-tax wing, provided some insightful and pertinent solutions.  If only half of his proposal got seriously debated, this country would have a chance to correct its course.  But that is not going to happen soon.

San Francisco Chronicle reported that David Alan Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Reagan administration, sat down to discuss the federal debt and the economy.  The summary of his analyses is:
I think we have an economy today that's on the edge of insolvency. We'll be dealing with an age of sacrifice, austerity and an age of pain. You have to stop pretending that we're in a normal business cycle.
The Republicans are just focusing on tax cuts while Democrats are defending their spending and they aren't willing to compromise. You're going to need to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire and, on top of that, find some new revenue sources. The Republican Party is being reckless in historic proportions, reckless to the extreme.
Obama's got to stop talking about taxing only the top 2 percent. Tax increases are going to have to include the middle class.

The politicians have had their head in the sand for so long about this issue that I really don't think they can compute reality anymore.
We need a drastic downsizing of our war machine, especially after they got Osama bin Laden. We should be rethinking whether we need an $800 billion defense budget. That's a vital part of the equation.

In a pure world, I think you could cut a lot of spending. There would be a way of getting back to a government where we do a social safety net on a means-tested basis, but that is never going to happen in this world.

Revenue is absolutely necessary, both as a practical matter and a matter of numbers. We should put a variable levy on imported oil at $100 (a barrel); whatever the price is coming in, you pay a levy to bring it to $100. We increase the power of the economy, both supply-side and demand-side, if we give investors a certainty of the price.

If we have a Tobin tax - a small tax on every transaction in this casino we used to call the stock market - we can easily generate $100 billion in revenue. We have a massive high-frequency churning in these markets today, and they're not accomplishing anything that's productive for the rejuvenation of the private economy.

We don't have entrepreneurial capitalism anymore, we have crony capitalism. We've had a tremendous reverse Robin Hood redistribution of income to the top. I don't think it's Armageddon. I think it's just one crisis after another.
Though I cannot say I agree with him point to point, most of his analyses are right on target and would lead to a fairer, more sustainable society.

He doesn't have nice things to say about the Democrats but he reserved most severe criticism on the Republicans.  Would they listen?  I'm not optimistic.  This country is heading towards precipice and it would be a miracle to stop the suicidal madness.

At Home / 安逸 / Bequem
At Home © Matthew Felix Sun

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ever Lowering Higher Education

Graduation time.   It is easy to be carried away by the exciting events and the glowing faces of those young men and women who had just earned their degrees and diplomas.

Yet, behind this cheerful and happy veneer, something deeply disturbing is lurking.

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa published in New York Times a somber article, Your So-Called Education, which was enough to make people sleepless, if they care about the future of this once great country.  Below are some paragraphs from the article:

We would be happy to join in the celebrations if it weren’t for our recent research, which raises doubts about the quality of undergraduate learning in the United States. Over four years, we followed the progress of several thousand students in more than two dozen diverse four-year colleges and universities. We found that large numbers of the students were making their way through college with minimal exposure to rigorous coursework, only a modest investment of effort and little or no meaningful improvement in skills like writing and reasoning.

In a typical semester, for instance, 32 percent of the students did not take a single course with more than 40 pages of reading per week, and 50 percent did not take any course requiring more than 20 pages of writing over the semester. The average student spent only about 12 to 13 hours per week studying — about half the time a full-time college student in 1960 spent studying, according to the labor economists Philip S. Babcock and Mindy S. Marks.

Not surprisingly, a large number of the students showed no significant progress on tests of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing that were administered when they began college and then again at the ends of their sophomore and senior years. If the test that we used were scaled on a traditional 0-to-100 point range, 45 percent of the students would not have demonstrated gains of even one point over the first two years of college, and 36 percent would not have shown such gains over four years of college.

While some colleges are starved for resources, for many others it’s not for lack of money. Even at those colleges where for the past several decades tuition has far outpaced the rate of inflation, students are taught by fewer full-time tenured faculty members while being looked after by a greatly expanded number of counselors who serve an array of social and personal needs. At the same time, many schools are investing in deluxe dormitory rooms, elaborate student centers and expensive gyms. Simply put: academic investments are a lower priority.

The situation reflects a larger cultural change in the relationship between students and colleges. The authority of educators has diminished, and students are increasingly thought of, by themselves and their colleges, as “clients” or “consumers.” When 18-year-olds are emboldened to see themselves in this manner, many look for ways to attain an educational credential effortlessly and comfortably. And they are catered to accordingly. The customer is always right.

Others involved in education can help, too. College trustees, instead of worrying primarily about institutional rankings and fiscal concerns, could hold administrators accountable for assessing and improving learning. Alumni as well as parents and students on college tours could ignore institutional facades and focus on educational substance. And the Department of Education could make available nationally representative longitudinal data on undergraduate learning outcomes for research purposes, as it has been doing for decades for primary and secondary education.
The decline of the education is the U.S. is obvious to most and it will go lower, considering in this country, people only have eyes and ears for celebrities or virtual television shows, plus the daily intellect bashing from certain political sectors, the trend will continue in long stride.

Yet, people are less concerned and worried than they ought to be.

Read another article on New York Times, Major Delusions, by Tali Sharot:
THIS month American college seniors will don caps and gowns. As they await receipt of their diplomas, they will absorb lessons handed to them by the accomplished men and women who deliver commencement speeches. More often than not the speakers will be outliers: rare individuals who made it against all odds. More often than not their message will be "dreams come true ... take chances ... if you try hard enough you will succeed."
"Don't know that you can't fly, and you will soar like an eagle," Earl E. Bakken, founder of the medical technology company Medtronic, told the University of Hawaii's class of 2004. "You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future," Steven P. Jobs told Stanford's 2005 graduates.

For many years, scientists were puzzled by the existence of this unshakable optimism. It did not make sense. How is it that people remain optimistic even though information challenging those predictions is abundantly available? It turns out it is not commencement speeches or self-help books that make us hopeful. Recently, with the development of non-invasive brain imaging techniques, we have gathered evidence that suggests our brains are hard-wired to be unrealistically optimistic. When we learn what the future may hold, our neurons efficiently encode unexpectedly good information, but fail to incorporate information that is unexpectedly bad.

That's why when we listen to Oprah Winfrey’s rags-to-riches story our brain takes note and concludes that we too may become immensely rich and powerful one day; but when told the likelihood of being unemployed is almost 1 in 10 or of suffering from cancer is over 1 in 3 we take no notice.

In some cases relatively minor biases can even lead to global disaster. Take the financial crisis of 2008. Each investor, homeowner, banker or economic regulator expected slightly better profits than were realistically warranted. On its own, each bias would not have created huge losses. Yet when combined in one market they produced a giant financial bubble that did just that.

As the Duke economists Manju Puri and David T. Robinson suggest, optimism is like red wine: a glass a day is good for you, but a bottle a day can be hazardous. The optimal solution then? Believe you will live a long healthy life, but go for frequent medical screenings. Aspire to write the next "Harry Potter" series, but have a safety net in place too.

At a time when the economic crisis is deepened by revolutions and tsunamis, cautious optimism may be the most useful message to communicate to graduates — believe you can fly, with a parachute attached, and you will soar like an eagle.
I got it.  We cannot let despair to bog us down.  But the relentless cheerfulness so perversely prevailing in the American culture was the engine to push or pull this country ahead.  However, it did not act alone.  It was coupled with solid public educational system in past decades.

With the demise of those superb public school in the nation, cheerfulness can only take you few steps, but never far.

Matthew Felix Sun's Drawing_7231

Monday, May 16, 2011

When Means Become Ends

Taxing cutting oriented political and business leaders insisted on that it is necessary to cut taxes when the economy is doing well, because of the "need to return the money to the people", and cut taxes even more then economy is rocky, in order to "spur the growth".

They, somehow, deliberately or not, ignored the disconnection between economic growth and the real living standards of average Joes and Janes.

The mantra that development and growth is paramount, most ardently propagandized by authoritarian Chinese government has a huge market here, it seems.  However, we must ask what is the purpose of all those glittering growth?

Growth and development are the means to improve people's life, spiritually and materially.  Failing that, what are the points of those growth and development?

When means becomes ends, we know that something is not right and must be corrected.

But we won't hear that from the Republican leaders, and the Democrat leaders are too cowardly to speak on this issue.

Dare we hope?  Nein.

Domesticity / 家居 / Häuslichkeit
Domesticity by Matthew Felix Sun

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mankind Must Triumph Over Nature?

San Francisco Chronicle reported in Delta plan blasted over omissions by U.S. panel reported that
A widely watched plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that purports to both revive collapsing fish species and ensure stable water supplies instead reads as a crude justification for a controversial 40-mile pipeline around the estuary, a panel of pre-eminent scientists convened by the Obama administration said Thursday.

What's more, after four years and $150 million, the draft plan has failed to define basic goals or analyze the potential impacts on the sensitive and failing ecosystem at the core of California's water system, according to the National Research Council, the research arm of the influential National Academy of Sciences.

The so-called Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the result of a collaboration of state, federal and local water agencies, is supposed to be a blueprint for the future of the delta, and its recommendations on building a peripheral canal or other water conveyance system are expected to be adopted by the state.

On Thursday, however, an esteemed group of biologists, engineers, hydrologists and legal scholars scolded the collaborators for their lack of scientific rigor and accused them of steering the outcome toward a contentious canal. California voters rejected a similar proposal in 1982, calling it a blatant water grab of Northern California's waters by Southern California interests.
In regardless if this is a blatant water grab or not, this project reeks the stench of Maoist slogan - Mankind Must Triumph Over Nature.

Engineers love to design and contractors love to build.  That's what they are trained to and that's how they make living and get rich.

However, try to build a canal or pipeline which would affect a great area and might jeopardize vulnerable fish and plant life is something we should not proceed unless we are sure of the impact.  But the study seemed like the rubber stamp People's Congress in China, which approved even more ambitious water projects - the finished Three Gorge Dam and the on-going South–North Water Transfer Project, which would be even more disruptive and more damaging than the Three Gorge Dam.  The only people who would benefit from such enormous endeavors are contractors and corrupt officials.

The Three Gorge Dam was approved in the assumption that water level would remain the same upstream and downstream, even in flooding season, therefore artificially reduced the number of people needed to be relocated.  Last year, after multiple attempts, they finally brought the water level behind the dam to the designed 175 meter and recently they had to reduced it to 162 meter, so as to "ensure the safety the the navigation downstream". 

The South–North Water Transfer Project would be just irresponsible and insane.

The spirit of "Mankind Must Triumph Over Nature" reached its zenith in 1950s during Great Leap Forward campaign, when science was make whore of politics.  Now, our country is eager to learn from China, our great creditor and competitor.  Mao makes a comeback in China and with the increasing influence of China, he will lead us move forward just as mightily.  If we cannot win in manufacture, science, and education, at least we can catch up with them in our determination to triumph over nature. 

During Great Leap Forward period (1958-61), Chinese people in the countryside working at night to produce steel.