Friends Of Liberty Everywhere Are Reassured That The United States Of America Stands With Them, Unequivocally And Fearlessly

Well, diplomacy be damned, because The One knows that when Liberty is mocked by scoundrels, there can be no mealy-mouthed mincing of words! The federal government of the USA, impregnable bastion of decency and democracy that it is, has issued a fire-breathingstatement denouncing the repression of democracy in Iran (which repression includes the police beating, murdering, wounding and abducting people) as “…vigorous debate and enthusiasm….” Hah! Take that, Iranian fanatics! (Now you have to believe Obama can talk really, really tough — you know, Chicago-style tough, tough enough to scare people so badly they throw up.)

Wow! And what about Hillary, what does the distaff element on the tough Obama team have to say? Why, she’s growling and slavering like a rabid Rottweiler. “We watched closely the enthusiasm and the very vigorous debate and dialogue that occurred in the lead-up to the Iranian elections….” Gosh, that language makes your blood run cold, eh? And how about this menacing utterance — “We are monitoring the situation as it unfolds in Iran.”

It makes a fellow proud to be a citizen of the world’s greatest defender of human rights and Liberty. Yeah. Sure it does. You bet.

And that goes double for those US citizens who happen to be overseas, because they can hold their heads high among all those foreigners who surround them. Everybody knows what the USA stands for, and all citizens of that nation are proud to carry the US passport.

One is reminded that the national anthem of the USA asks, “O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave/O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Well, now the world knows the answer.

Oops! This just in as the PenPo was about to be distributed. Obama now says that the Iranian government should “stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people.”

Look, Barry, don’t try to gull everybody. If you really believed it, you would have blurted it out right away, and in no uncertain terms. It would have been immediate, blunt, and powerful.

What you have given the world is tardy, preachy, and flaccid.

A Meditation On Ethnicity And Markets, Part II

The Chinese In Thailand And Papua New Guinea

Over the centuries, Thailand has undergone waves and steady trickles of immigration from China, and many Thais are partially or fully of Chinese extraction. The Chinese value that stresses the importance of buying and selling was greeted with some hostility by Thais early on, as the immigrants aggressively opened shops and tried to restrict competition. A Thai king who reigned from 1910 to 1925 is alleged to have written a pamphlet titled The Jews of the East that reviled the Chinese as parasites comparable to the hated Jews. The king, styled Rama VI, a homosexual who died without producing an heir to the throne, was born to parents who were brother and half-sister. The boy was educated at Sandhurst and Oxford, where he evidently absorbed upper-class British attitudes toward Jews.

Today some eighty percent of the companies listed on the Thai stock exchange are in the hands of ethnic Chinese, who comprise ten percent of the population (yes, those figures are approximate). All Thais are aware of the Chinese control of the economy, and prejudice is common, though the visitor to the country will probably not be aware of it. In an effort to force the Chinese to assimilate, the Thai government has placed strict controls and limits on Chinese schools, required all Chinese to adopt Thai names, and mandated the use of Thai in all legal transactions. The effort has been partially successful. Thais joke that the longer a man’s family name, the more likely it is that he is of Chinese descent, as the government provided the names. (Different families are not permitted to have the same last name.)

Most large businesses in Thailand are owned by Chinese families, and are managed according to traditions that predate the invention by the Dutch and British of the modern corporation. They are accordingly not as agile and adaptive as Western businesses, but Thai law keeps alien corporations at arm’s length, and direct competition between foreign and Thai businesses is accordingly rare. Usually the Chinese form partnerships with Western companies to carry out large projects such as the construction of the Skytrain (overhead rail line in Bangkok) and the later underground rail line. The foreigners sell to the Thais and provide the engineering, while the Thais build the project.

Most ethnic Chinese investment in Thailand goes into real estate development, construction, the provision of services in licensed (restricted) markets such as distilling and brewing and mobile phone networks, franchises, wholesaling, banking, and other domestic businesses that do not rely heavily on exports. Ownership of land is virtually prohibited to non-Thais, which limits the market for real estate severely. As a result of their preferences in spheres of activity and the legal system of the nation, the Chinese do not attract large amounts of hard currency to Thailand.

Thai law does not permit the export of money, but it is an open secret that those with connections can send their profits to the Cayman Islands or any other location. The former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra moved billions of baht offshore, and when the accounts were revealed, no one howled. I conclude that when a wealthy Thai family wants to deposit money in a Swiss bank account, the illegal transfer is a matter of course.

Business in Thailand goes hand in hand with politics. No project of any consequence escapes the corruption that pervades every aspect of Thai society, from charities and religious institutions to all levels of education, to the jurisprudential system, and to all economic activity. The Thai Chinese move skillfully through a maze of unwritten rules, dealing with what are euphemistically called “influential figures” to see that their profits are maximized. While not directly responsible for the concept of corruption, and not more culpable than any other group, the Chinese are at home in an environment that knows very little honest competition and few, if any, free markets.

In Thailand, the Chinese have assimilated to a degree that some observers consider remarkable. They are visible, but they are an integral part of the larger system. One cannot say simply that they are parasites, or that they have corrupted honest people; they have adapted, and the Thais have managed to get them to moderate their apartness to some degree. It should surprise no one that South East Asia has a significant Chinese component, and to damn the Chinese as somehow malignant is futile bigotry. They are players in a complex game that ethnic Thais can join. The fact that many do not is not the fault of the ethnic Chinese.

The situation is both infinitely smaller and much more distressing in Papua New Guinea (PNG). I have never been there, and my source of information is just one issue of the newsletter cited in PenPo Number 91, so what follows must be taken with a grain of salt.

Relevant quotes from PNG Attitude:

Recent anti-Chinese riots in PNG were forecast last year by academic James Chin who said he expected there would be increasing physical attacks against mainland Chinese, in particular petty traders and kai bar operators. And, in a startling prediction, he said “it is almost certain that Chinese triads will establish a presence in PNG”.

In a journal article last year in which he examined the contemporary Chinese community in PNG, Chin pointed out that the new Chinese were the biggest beneficiary of the sell-off by European business after the dramatic fall in the value of the kina in the late 1990s. They are now the biggest investors in PNG outside the oil and gas sectors, with the mainland Chinese and Malaysian Chinese being predominant. In 2008 the population of “old Chinese” in PNG was estimated to be about 1,000. The “new Chinese” number around 20,000 with 300 a week arriving without proper documentation, most of them from mainland China.

Chin says that most mainland Chinese invest in “reserved” activities such as kai bars, bakeries, low end restaurants and clothing stores that often bring them into conflict with local residents and authorities. “This conflict increases corruption,” he writes, “as many operators pay off police and immigration authorities when they come to check on illegal businesses.”

The other Chinese groups (including PNG Chinese) do not like the mainland Chinese and see them as crooks and conmen. Chin says the weight of mainland Chinese numbers and their important economic role mean they will soon dominate sections of PNG’s economy. While there are growing calls for the government to act against mainland Chinese traders, the bureaucracy (including the police) is so inefficient and corrupt that any actions it takes against these illegal operators are likely to be useless.

New arrivals, not at all above bribing their way into the nation and into business, have set up shop and are intent on making a good living. Under some circumstances, such people would be ignored or even welcomed, but not in PNG. Here’s why….

The recent riot in PNG against Asian businesses is cited by the media to be a symptom of a nation in crisis. … The riots may be uncalled for, yet are overdue. They result from a build-up of many issues: acute poverty, lack of development, HIV/AIDS, law and order, workers’ pay, the great divide between rich and poor, landowner issues. The Government knows about these issues, yet ignores them, and this is the cause of the recent rioting.

The riots were the work of opportunists, mainly from squatter settlements where the poorest live. Dig deeper and you’ll find these are people from remote areas neglected by Government for too long. Or people who moved to towns and cities in search of government services. Or primary and secondary school dropouts who became “street boys” and ended up in criminal activities. The education system must be blamed as it has contributed to a large number of dropouts over the years.

The delivery mechanisms of Government need to be blamed, as these riots evidence the need to provide services. Business regulators must be blamed for not checking to see if foreign owned business and owners abide by PNG law. This issue also paints a bad picture of the way we manage border security. And at the centre are corrupt leaders and Government ignorance. As we probe deeper we realise our problems are complex.

Whenever complexity lies behind conflict, people tend to focus on linchpin issues — they seek out and try to solve the few problems that seem to cause a cascade effect. Note what PNG residents have to say….

PNG Attitude asked Papua New Guinea residents who are close observers of national affairs to analyse the anti-Chinese riots that began in Port Moresby last month then spread rapidly and seismically across mainland PNG. Communal violence has been rare in PNG, but when thousands of people spontaneously attack and ransack Chinese-owned stores, it is clear the pressure has been building for some time.

(Rioters were asked why they were violent.) “Who is allowing these Asians to come into our country and own small businesses which should be owned by Papua New Guineans?” they asked. “They are ripping us off and investing their money in their country.”

Businessman, former politician and PNG citizen Graham Pople sees it like this: “The current unrest against Asians is caused because the Departments of Labour, Immigration and other Departments have not been doing their proper duties as required by the laws of PNG. Many of these people come into our country and engage in activities that are forbidden to them by law.”

Journalist Ilya Gridneff: “PNG’s Chinese community began with immigration in the late 19th century, but local resentment has grown as an influx of ‘new Chinese’ has slowly taken over small businesses like trade stores and food shops in the past 15 years. Many in PNG feel squeezed out and complain about working for ruthless Chinese bosses who impose tough conditions.”

Observers of PNG politics say allegations of a rise in Chinese organised crime and corruption involving PNG officials has generated a seething grassroots community anger that boiled over in the recent anti-Chinese riots in some of PNG’s largest cities. “Resentment builds up through the spoken word and is not being publicised,” says long-time resident and PNG citizen, Graham Pople. “Asians seem to have no respect for our laws and way of life. They seem to think they can do whatever they like and, if they get into trouble, can buy their way out by bribery.

PNG nationals are sick and tired of these people coming here and doing this when, historically, it has seldom been done by waitskins who, instead of doing the job to the detriment of the nationals, normally concentrated on training them to do their job. The Asians do not do this. They seem to want to keep the jobs for themselves.

They have moved into reserved occupations such as kai bars which are reserved for PNG nationals but, when advised they are in the wrong, normally bribe PNG Government officials to turn a blind eye.”

Journalist Ilya Gridneff sees it this way: “There is significant resentment amongst the grassroots and the easiest most visible target are Chinese shop owners who have come in and over the last 10 to 15 years and pulled the carpet from underneath grassroots Papua New Guineans. No one is angry at Australian businesses nor about old Cantonese.”

Graham Pople also draws a sharp distinction between the Asians who arrived in PNG many years ago and the more recent immigrants. “They settled here, made themselves part of the community, have been a very important part in the development of this nation and we should acknowledge that they are completely different from the present influx from Asia that has occurred since independence.

Those earlier immigrants have helped this country to grow, are marvellous people and call themselves PNG citizens. Please do not classify them as Asians, but rather as Papua New Guineans.”

Ilya Gridneff says resentment is also tied to serious allegations of top level corruption amongst public servants, police and politicians allowing illegal business practices and turning a blind eye to organised crime.

Graham Pople feels the same way. “The most recent influx have a complete contempt for the laws of PNG and have faith in their ability, if they do get into trouble, to buy their way out,” he says.

These edited quotes provide a quick view of the situation, because the newsletter from which they come has done an admirable job of reporting. But can we really understand why the rioting has taken place?

Ultimately, perhaps not. All we can say is that given a bad situation to begin with, a few changes produced violence. Blaming the Chinese — even those who entered PNG illegally, bribe their way through the laws, and mistreat their employees — is much too simple. Clearly, PNG’s government needs to be cleaned up.

Whether it’s a good idea to have “reserved” jobs — work open only to PNG nationals or ethnic PNG people — should be questioned. Free markets, open to all newcomers, usually work best, but only if they are kept free and open. Experience shows that the Chinese community will attempt to close them.

In the concluding part of this series, I shall offer some additional ideas about what might be done to cope with problems such as those faced by Tahiti, Thailand and PNG. In the next segment, I’ll cover the East Indians in their adventures in Belize, which I visited, and Fiji, which I did not. I hope you find it interesting.

Links

Good news in US education that has not been widely reported is available for study here.

Do the folks at the NY Times read this sort of criticism of their paper (to which the PenPo linked in its last issue), and then publish things like this? What might that be called — “retroactive bias denial”? How about “day late, dollar short, working both sides of the street”?

This post does not say much for US journalism in the Age of Obama: “If you want thorough coverage of the IG scandal, you’ll have to get it from The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is the target of the probe that got Walpin fired) or from conservative watchdogs like those at The Washington Times (three stories, One and Two and Three) and Washington Examiner.” There are the links, Pilgrims — go to it. Don’t worry, The One can’t find out what you are up to.

Internet censorship — it’s not how clumsy the effort is, it’s that the Chinese want to make that effort. Remember this when talk of the UN grabbing ICANN comes up again; China remains a major player in that long-term attempt to crush free speech.

Carbon dioxide could not do it, Al Gore could not do it with all his hot air, Obama can’t do it with tons of rotting baloney — but incendiary prose just might. Global warming? Nothing that tame! More like a firestorm of proof directed at the nuts who cling to the phony science of the AGW cult. — By the way, if you want it all in one package, take a look at this. If you live in the congressional district represented bythat moron Waxman, you might buy a copy of the book and have it mailed to him, on the assumption that he can read; but if you just want the information, note that you can download the entire book free.

Cardiovascular Alert: “Progressives,” Do NOT read the linked post! — All right, that might discourage a lawsuit or two. Now if you are not in an ACORN Census Patrol, if your kids don’t sing in an Obama-Jugendchor, if you are not buying a Portuguese Water Dog, if you wonder why the USA is not pulling for the Good Guys in Iran, and if you can’t imagine depending on the NY Times for your news, then you can read this, and enjoy a good laugh.

Obamacare. It’s actually socialized medicine, and a lot of folks are all for it. Whatever your sentiments, click on this link. Read the text that comes up, click on each of the links found in it, and then read what you find there. Finally, having evaluated everything, do what you think best.

What in the world? This is strange. Where is this ship going, and what are the goofy Koreans up to?

From The Archive

On the fifth of February, 2004, in the days before The Terrapin Post was founded, a person who would eventually wind up on the staff of The Penguin Post circulated a message to a few correspondents. Here is part of it.

I want to tell you about my day today.

I left this morning to pay a bill for some furniture I’m buying. A ten minute walk to a taxi was followed by a short ride, and a bit of a chaotic scene in the store, but I managed to convince the folks to take my money, and then I decided to walk back rather than hail another taxi.

It’s getting warm here now, and the humidity is climbing. So I did not walk; I strolled. Breezes kept me from overheating, and there was lots of shade. It was a nice day. So let me take you with me….

At a slow pace, with no pressing need to be anywhere anytime soon, I notice the very ordinary street. It is all familiar; many of the streets here resemble each other, and I often ignore my surroundings. But today we’ll slow down and look and see.

As I pass the old wooden buildings, I wonder whether I might find words to describe what I am seeing. Wood grain weathered and roughened by decades of sun and rain, sagging doors and walls distorted by the weight of rusted metal roofs; lines that started out as parallels and have shifted into disjointed, segmented reminders of what the building was when it was true.

The houses are little more than shacks, yet they suggest not poverty and misery, but the tremendous importance of these structures to those who live in them. It is impossible for me to feel sorry for these people. They are simply too settled in, too obviously adapted, to be the objects of pity.

Crossing a small canal, I notice that the city has installed some equipment that seems to relate to flood control, or perhaps the water supply. Huge pipes, perhaps two meters in diameter, are festooned with black plastic hoses as big as my thigh. Somehow the technology looks bare, jarring, and out of place. As do those wires — are they telephone lines or power cables? They are so low that I think I could jump up and grab them. Oddly, they are tied together with rope. And here is some electrical equipment that is obviously part of the city’s utility network, set in concrete on the sidewalk and linked up to some other gizmos, junction boxes perhaps, via a flat metal conduit that for some reason has been installed just above the level of the sidewalk — what an odd setup, I have never seen the like — so I avoid the bare metal, convinced that tens of thousands of volts and hundreds of amps are simply waiting to fry me.

More houses, no two alike but all the same, somehow. Rust and unpainted surfaces and patches and each house with no front yard but simply opening onto the sidewalk, and all houses sharing walls, a row of individuals leaning against each other. Then flowers, in pots and bowls, huddled around doors and the corners of buildings. An empty lot, grassy and overgrown — is that sugar cane? — presided over by an old tree around which the faithful have discarded disused spirit houses. Next to the tree, a squatter’s shack and three men drinking beer and taking their ease.

The golden spires of a temple in the background can be seen past the houses, and then I pass the painted gate to the temple compound. I look, and sure enough, there are the modern, soulless lines of a school. Thais consider monks a valuable resource in the education of children, so the two are often found together.

Shops, then, each one narrow and topped by three more stories of concrete. The family lives above and sells below. The gray and smudged walls, smeared with mildew stain, soak up the sun’s heat during the day and dump it into the living spaces at night. Now the sidewalk is narrowed by the restaurants, little more than pushcarts, that are found almost everywhere. I twist sideways to avoid the bamboo skewers laden with pork, beef and sausages. The smoke from charcoal fires and the smell of the cooking meat tinge the breeze tantalizingly. Here are noodles, do you want fine, hair-like ones, or fat round spaghetti-like ones, or the wide flat ones? Sit at the little red tin table and ignore the traffic and have a snack.

Here is a wall that seems to surround some sort of compound. The gate is the ornate ironwork favored by well-to-do Thais, and the drive visible from the street tells me there is a gardener. I peek, but the house is only partially visible. No surprises there. The wall continues, and when I get to a wide driveway I see that there are more houses behind it and that they share the land with some sort of factory and warehouse. Who, I wonder, owns all this, and what is he up to? The houses look well-designed but a bit under-maintained, and the grass between them shows signs of wear, the probable doing of children.

Up ahead is a larger store, crammed with furniture. Then more shops and tiny restaurants, and a storefront that tells me that here I can learn English for international communication. I doubt it. Now I cross a street, remembering that motorcyclists always consider themselves above the traffic laws, and pass a machine shop of some sort, a murky, oil-soaked cave that seems to specialize in restoring antique equipment. Perhaps. Well, the watches and jewelry and shampoos for sale next door distract me, and then I am standing in the entrance of a kind of plaza, an alley that leads to a row of shops parallel to the street. A lady moves past me, her face set with the determination of those who decades ago stopped caring how they look. Like everyone else, she does not seem to notice me.

I move into the alley and discover an internet shop. Time to check the e-mail. I step in, and am waved to a vacant machine. While I poke about on the internet, the shop’s owner and his friend discuss the vagaries of life and video games in the stilted, lilting tones of overt homosexuals. After lingering over my messages, I rise and ask the fluttering proprietor how much I owe; he tells me he requires fifteen baht, which is about forty cents, I think. I give him twenty and wave off the need for change.

Outside a pair of workers passes me, some construction rods about twenty-five feet long suspended between them on their shoulders. I look again: the first worker is a woman. That reminds me that perhaps half of the construction work done here is carried out by the distaff portion of the population.

No, I think to myself as I begin the attempt to cross four lanes of traffic that never stops for pedestrians, I cannot describe in words what I have seen today, and what I see every day. It is impossible. No photograph can capture it, and no film could present it as it is. Reality here is unique, defiant, and mocks our efforts to portray it.

When I reach the other side of the street, I realize that as I have walked for the last half hour, I have seen this city through the eyes of someone who has never seen it before. It has been a rewarding experience.

Yes, but…there is something more to it.

Life here is ineffable. If it is like anything I have ever known before, I believe it is most like a dream experience. It is a world in which the unexpected and jarringly misplaced are routine, the norm is an excursion from the ordinary, and rhyme and reason often slip away.

Exactly. I am in a dream that I dreamt long ago, when in my childhood I visited places that do not exist and had experiences that never were. Now, as the end of my life comes near, vague but powerful emotions and cryptic scenes, all of them mysterious but very, very familiar, have returned to me.

Once, you dreamt, too. Do you still dream? What would life be for you if you lived within your dream?