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DECEMBER DIARY: Mexico Leads the Way; Totalitarian Dilemmas; Did I Cause Popocatépetl to Erupt?
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Mexico leads the way! AI you can love

As mentioned in Radio Derb, the Mrs. and I took a break in Cancún, Mexico the first week of December.

We had a thoroughly enjoyable time; nothing much out of the ordinary, just five days in a very nice hotel (this one) lounging on the beach and poolside, with side trips to Mayan ruins and an adventure park.

A striking thing about the hotel was that it was All Inclusive. That is to say, once you had booked in and paid for your room there were no fees for food and drink. You just helped yourself.

I had trouble believing this at first. Our room, for example, had the usual refrigerator stocked with bottled water and beer. On the wall above the refrigerator was a rack of what in Britain, where I was once a bartender, are called “optics“—upside-down bottles of liquor with a one-measure dispensing spigot. (I’ve never tended bar in the U.S.A. so I don’t know what they are called here.)

This seemed too good to be true, so I went down to the service desk to check. “Sure,” they said, “just help yourself!”

You’d think these All Inclusive places would be heaven on earth for alcoholics, and expect to find them full of staggering drunks. Not at all; the hotel guests were all pleasant, well-behaved middle-class Mexicans and Americans like ourselves—adults only, no guests under 18—with only a mildly rowdy party-and-dance scene around one of the pools in the late hours.

It’s an interesting business model. I’d like to know how they worked out the math—I mean, of scaling up room charges to cover unlimited food and drink. It wasn’t at all expensive, a mere tick or two above what motels cost in New York.

I’m told there are All Inclusive hotels in the U.S.A., but not many. Mexico leads the way!

Mexico, China; the “front” and the “back.”

Interesting to be in Mexico. Everyone we dealt with was friendly and helpful, and the organization of the tours was wonderfully efficient, mainly thanks to the advent of the smartphone. The hotel was well-run and spotlessly clean.

So much for mid-20th-century stereotypes. Nowadays there’s chilled beer in England, deodorants in France, litter in Germany, capitalism in Russia, and efficiency in Mexico.

For sure nobody we met was hungry. The WHO ranks Mexico as 17th fattest among the nations of the world by body mass index, a tad slimmer than the U.S.A. at number 12, but perhaps they didn’t include employees of the tourist industry. All the men we dealt with were seriously overweight.

I have no illusions that the Cancún hotel strip is representative of the nation. On the 120-mile drive from Cancún to Chichén Itzá we passed through villages that were seriously Third World—collections of broken-down shacks in jungle clearings decorated with heaps of garbage. Cancún itself is a theater of low-level warfare between rival narco gangs, with mutilated, bullet-riddled corpses turning up regularly in the streets; although most of this takes place in the city proper, not the Zona Hotelera.

Comparing the friendliness and efficiency we encountered with the news reports about crime and corruption brought China to mind. China’s facade is more impressive than Mexico’s as the modern Chinese have made a deeper commitment to heroic materialism and have enough high-IQ citizens to make it shine. The Chinese media are under tighter state control than Mexico’s, too. Still, there is the same rottenness and corruption behind the facade, the same indifference to justice or civic values, the same crude thuggery.

There is something here analogous to Erving Goffman’s famous distinction between the “front” and the “back” of our social performances. In a restaurant, for example, the “front” is murmuring, deferential waiters offering carefully-arranged dishes in an atmosphere of hushed, orderly, genteel cleanliness; the “back” is frayed tempers, shouting matches, panicked chefs, and broken crockery in an overheated kitchen with clogged grease traps.

A nation, like any other social unit, has a “front” and a “back.” We didn’t get more than a glimpse of Mexico’s violent, corrupt “back.” The tourist “front,” though, is pretty darn nice.

The 0th of Pop

Cancún is on the northeastern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, most of which belongs to Mexico. Yucatán was the heartland of the Mayan civilization, and their ruins are all over.

Although socially and technologically primitive—they worked metal only for ornamentation, not for tools or weapons—the Maya punched above their weight in math and had paper books. (The paper was made from bark.) Only three books survive, and you can of course now read them—well, you can look at them — on the internet).

The Maya were great calendrists, with several different day and month cycles overlaid on each other. The calendar in common use had eighteen 20-day months whose names look to have been lifted from a low-grade sci-fi novel: Pop, Uo, Zip, Zotz, Tzec, Xul, Yaxkin, Mol, Chen, Yax, Zac, Ceh, Mac, Kankin, Muan, Pax, Kayab, and Cumku.

I am now the proud owner of a T-shirt showing these months (with slightly different spellings) and their Mayan signs. My date of birth, officer? Zip 5th, Long Count 12.16.11.8.7.

Eighteen times 20 is only 360. The extra five days of the year were held to be of bad omen. Best stay home those five days. In case you want to start filling sandbags, the next 5-day hiatus is March 27-31, 2019; followed of course by Pop 0th.

Oh, I forgot to mention: the Mayans discovered zero, and started their day-numbering cycles with it, like the math professor in the old joke.

(Old joke: The math professor—it was George Pólya in the version I heard—is waiting on the railroad station platform with his wife, surrounded by their luggage. A porter comes along: “Shall I help you with your luggage? How many pieces do you have?” Math prof.: “Let me see: zero, one, two, …”)

A safe space in Mexico

That’s all neat, and a lot of fun for math geeks. If I had the time and leisure to do serious travelling in Yucatán, though, the first place I’d head for would be the little coastal town of Chicxulub Puerto, 200 miles west of Cancún.

That town marks the precise spot, as near as we can figure it, where an asteroid smacked into our planet 66 million years ago. The subsequent ructions and climatic disasters wiped out much of life on Earth, most notably the dinosaurs.

My desire to visit Chicxulub is not, I’ll admit, rational. There’s nothing to see there. A lot of natural landscaping goes on in 66 million years, and the crater—it’s 93 miles across—can now be seen clearly only with special scientific intruments. Half of it’s under the sea.

ORDER IT NOW

Still I’d like to stand there where that thing hit, just for the imaginative thrill. Plus, on the assumption that two asteroid hits at the same place are highly unlikely, being in Chicxulub there’s one less thing to worry about in the cosmic-catastrophe line.

(Reflecting on that when reading through: Given that the great worldwide die-off following the asteroid strike was from drowning, burning, freezing, suffocation, poisoning, or starvation, being at Ground Zero when the asteroid hit might actually have been optimal)

Fiction of the month

I was off the grid those five days, no computer or phone. I took a book to read while lounging on the beach.

Being off the grid, to my way of thinking, excludes all efforts at self-improvement, so I ruled out nonfiction and took a novel. Since we were to be in Mexico, I thought a novel about Mexico would be right. Besides, I’ve only ever read one novel about Mexico, and that was several decades ago. Time for another one.

On a friend’s recommendation I picked Malcolm Lowry’s 1947 bestseller Under the Volcano, which is sufficiently famous to have its own Wikipedia page.

I found it hard reading; but there’s nothing else to do on a beach, so I finished the thing. Checking the Amazon review-star listing back home, I wasn’t very surprised to see that it fell into a C-shape: many readers liked the book, many didn’t, not many were indifferent.

Color me indifferent. There were some good things in there, but Under the Volcano is absurdly over-written. Consider this sentence, for example, from Chapter Two—and yes, it is a single sentence.

She took in the zócalo with a long final look—the untenanted ambulance that might not have moved since she’d last been here, outside the Servicio de Ambulancia within Cortez Palace, the huge paper poster strung between two trees which said Hotel Bella Vista Gran Baile Noviembre 1938 a Beneficio de la Cruz Roja. Los Mejores Artistas del radio en acción. No falte Vd.**, beneath which some of the guests were returning home, pallid and exhausted as the music that struck up at this moment and reminded her the ball was still proceeding—then entered the bar silently, blinking, myopic in the swift leathery perfumed alcoholic dusk, the sea that morning going in with her, rough and pure, the long dawn rollers advancing, rising, and crashing down to glide, sinking in colorless ellipses over the sand, while early pelicans hunting turned and dived, dived and turned and dived again into the spume, moving with the precision of planets, the spent breakers racing back to their calm; flotsam was scattered all along the beach: she had heard, from the small boats tossing in the Spanish Main, the boys, like young Tritons, already beginning to blow on their mournful conch shells …

A writer who just wanted to move his narrative along would have dumped the pelicans, Tritons, colorless ellipses, and Spanish-language posters and collapsed those two hundred words into just four: “She entered the bar.” But then the novel’s 389 pages would, pro rata, be reduced to less than eight, and it would be a short story—a short short story.

I’m not totally immune to literary adventurings of this sort. Neal Stephenson can make it work for me, at least some of the time. Lowry just doesn’t tickle my fancy that way.

All right: There’s no accounting for literary taste. Some people like Finnegan’s Wake. Anthony Burgess liked it so much he wrote a book about how much he liked it. Fictionwise, I’m mostly a meat-and-potatoes guy.

———————————————————
** “Hotel Bella Vista grand ball November 1938 to benefit the Red Cross. The best radio artists in action. Don’t miss it!”

The power of fancy over reason

The philosoper Imlac in Dr Johnson’s Rasselas makes friends with an astronomer. The friendship advances to a point where the astronomer confides his innermost secret to Imlac. That innermost secret is, that the astronomer does not merely observe the movements of the heavens, he causes them.

I have possessed for five years the regulation of the weather and the distribution of the seasons. The sun has listened to my dictates, and passed from tropic to tropic by my direction; the clouds at my call have poured their waters, and the Nile has overflowed at my command.

Johnson uses this fable to illustrate one of his favorite themes and most persistent fears: the “power of fancy over reason.” Of that astronomer, he has Imlac say:

Perhaps if we speak with rigorous exactness, no human mind is in its right state. There is no man whose imagination does not sometimes predominate over his reason, who can regulate his attention wholly by his will, and whose ideas will come and go at his command. No man will be found in whose mind airy notions do not sometimes tyrannise, and force him to hope or fear beyond the limits of sober probability.

Earlier this month I got a glimpse of what he meant. For a moment—just a moment, until reason reasserted itself—I was that astronomer.

Thus …

The Astronomer Moment

Back home in the second week of December, I thought I’d round off my encounter with Under the Volcano by watching the movie made from it in 1984. I rented the DVD from Netflix for our Saturday evening entertainment.

Not bad. Albert Finney does a great drunk. (The main character in the book is staggering drunk all the way through, giving Lowry an excuse for some of his weirder literary effects.) Jacqueline Bisset (right) is an exceptionallybeautiful woman.

The movie narrative follows the book closely, though of course a lot of the “interior” stuff—those pelicans and Tritons—can’t be done on-screen. To follow the plot, especially at the end, it also helps to have some acquaintance with 1930s Mexican politics and the Spanish Civil War.

Here came my Astronomer Moment, though. The volcano in the book’s title is Popocatépetl in south-central Mexico. The book’s action takes place nearby—hence the title.

Catching up on the internet Sunday morning, December 16th, I learned that Popocatépetl had erupted spectacularly just as we were sitting down to watch the movie.

https://www.youtube.com/watch/?=CH31LTRm1O0

That was my Astronomer Moment. I swear the thought gripped my mind: Did WE make that happen?

Reason quickly asserted itself of course; but for an instant there I was insane. Recovered, I thanked the Fates yet again, for the several hundredth time, for granting me an early infatuation with the Sage of Bolt Court. Truly

There is no man whose imagination does not sometimes predominate over his reason.

Postscript: Popocatépetl seems to have been erupting once or twice a year recently, so the December 15th event was not a sensation.

The Proust Questionnaire

A friend asked me to do the Proust Questionnaire, which he described to me as: “a parlor game popularized (though not devised) by Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist, who believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature.”

Hey, I’m up for it.

  1. What is your idea of perfect happiness? To lie in a warm bed with my wife in my arms.
  2. What is your greatest fear? Death of a child.
  3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Sloth.
  4. What is the trait you most deplore in others? Disloyalty.
  5. Which living person do you most admire? Wang Bingzhang.
  6. What is your greatest extravagance? An occasional Napoleon.
  7. What is your current state of mind? Wary contentment.
  8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Faith.
  9. On what occasion do you lie? When asked by small children about Santa Claus.
  10. What do you most dislike about your appearance? Shoulders not broad.
  11. Which living person do you most despise? That’s a mighty crowded field. If you asked me on another day I’d probably give you a different answer, but right now I’ll go with Tim Wise. Hey look—it even rhymes with “despise”!
  12. What is the quality you most like in a man? Manliness.
  13. What is the quality you most like in a woman? Femininity.
  14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “However,” “[al]though,” “but,” “yet,” “still,” “none the less,” “feugh!”
  15. What or who is the greatest love of your life? My wife.
  16. When and where were you happiest? See 1.
  17. Which talent would you most like to have? To be able to swim.
  18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? My age.
  19. What do you consider your greatest achievement? Fire from the Sun—available soon as an audiobook!
  20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? A really good mathematician … who could swim.
  21. Where would you most like to live? Huntington, Long Island.
  22. What is your most treasured possession? My maternal grandfather’s letter home from the Western Front in WW1.
  23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Chemotherapy.
  24. What is your favorite occupation? Working on very large jigsaw puzzles.
  25. What is your most marked characteristic? Orneriness (I hope).
  26. What do you most value in your friends? Humor.
  27. Who are your favorite writers? Prose: Johnson, Austen, Carroll, Twain, Wells, Kipling, Maugham, Orwell, Nabokov, Wolfe (Tom, not Thomas). Verse: Donne, Pope, Longfellow, Poe, Tennyson, Housman, Kipling, Yeats, Larkin.
  28. Who is your hero of fiction? The little child in Andersen’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes.
  29. Which historical figure do you most identify with? Giordano Bruno.
  30. Who are your heroes in real life? Dissidents: See 5.
  31. What are your favorite names? Rosie, Eleanor, Daniel.
  32. What is it that you most dislike? Dung and corpses.
  33. What is your greatest regret? (Not for publication.)
  34. How would you like to die? Instantaneously.
  35. What is your motto? Don’t get blotto eating risotto in a grotto.

Diary follow-up

In my October Diary coverage of quantum-mechanical humor I omitted a Schrödinger’s-cat item: a cartoon that appeared in New Yorker a year or two ago.

It’s the waiting area of a vet’s office. A young female veterinary nurse is addressing a scholarly-looking gent sitting in the wait area: “About your cat, Mr Schrödinger—I have good news and bad news.”

A feast of anniversaries

The year 2019 is unusually rich in anniversaries. There’s one for Mexico: March this year marks the 500th anniversary of Hernán Cortés’ landing in Mexico and commencing the conquest thereof.

I’m curious to see what attitude Mexicans take to that anniversary. The white Conquistador types who run the country have good cause to celebrate; the short, squat, dark-skinned hotel workers who looked after us so well in Cancún might have different ideas.

ORDER IT NOW

Other anniversaries, too. There’s Queen Victoria’s 200th birthday (May 24th), Leonardo da Vinci’s 500th deathday (May 2nd), the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War One (finalized June 28th), D-Day plus 75 (June 6th), and a slew of 50ths: Woodstock (August 15th), Chappaquiddick (July 18th), Monty Python (October 5th), … It’s a rich crop.

(Gandhi’s 150th birthday on October 2nd should really be in there too. Alas, Bapu’s become something of what Wall Street calls “a distressed security” recently as the waters of Political Correctness, rising ever higher, are now engulfing him. I don’t think we are yet at the point where the Thought Police will come breaking down my door for giving Gandhi a positive mention, but one can’t be too careful.)

A small related thing I’ve noticed, not really an anniversary: George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in 1949. The dates 1949, 1984, 2019 are in arithmetic progression; so 1984 is now exactly as far in our past as it was in Orwell’s future when the book came out.

But perhaps I should hold off on this one until next year. Orwell wrote the book in 1948—he flipped the last two digits to make 1984—so perhaps the more relevant arithmetic progression is 1948, 1984, 2020.

The big one, though, the one that outshines all the others by far, is July 20th (or 21st, depending on your time zone), fifty years on from when Neil Armstrong became the first human being to walk on another world.

If you want to read up that stupendous event preparatory to the anniversary, I re-recommend Mr. and Mrs. Charles Murray’s 1989 book Apollo: The Race to the Moon, which was Book of the Month in my April Diary. Charles tells us that an audiobook is in preparation and will be available well before the anniversary.

In which our diarist lapses briefly into self-promotion

Since I’m mentioning books in relation to anniversaries, I may as well promote a couple of my own.

It will be ten years in September since I brought out my paradigm-shifting book We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism. In anticipation of the event Travis LeBlanc at Counter-Currents invited me to do an interview; the result is on their website.

And the Spring of 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the student-led uprising in China, the Beijing Spring, and its crushing by the Chinese army. To get up to speed on that you could do worse than read my novel Fire from the Sun. There is no proper audiobook yet, but I’ve done a plain chapter-by-chapter reading on the Table of Contents page at my website.

Totalitarian dilemmas

The 1989 Beijing Spring was itself inspired in part by a great political and cultural turning-point: the May Fourth Movement of 1919.

On [May 4th, 1919] more than 3,000 students from 13 colleges in Beijing held a mass demonstration against the decision of the Versailles Peace Conference, which drew up the treaty officially ending World War I, to transfer the former German concessions in Shandong province to Japan. The Chinese government’s acquiescence to the decision so enraged the students that they burned the house of the minister of communications and assaulted China’s minister to Japan, both pro-Japanese officials. Over the following weeks, demonstrations occurred throughout the country; several students died or were wounded in these incidents, and more than 1,000 were arrested. In the big cities, strikes and boycotts against Japanese goods were begun by the students and lasted more than two months. For one week, beginning June 5, merchants and workers in Shanghai and other cities went on strike in support of the students. Faced with this growing tide of unfavourable public opinion, the government acquiesced; three pro-Japanese officials were dismissed, the cabinet resigned, and China refused to sign the peace treaty with Germany.

As if 1919 and 1989 weren’t enough for the ChiComs to worry about, in March comes the 60th anniversary of the uprising in occupied Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s flight to India.

I wouldn’t be looking for any relaxation of state control in China during 2019. To put it mildly.

Of course the ChiComs could just ban every kind of commemoration of any historical event … except that October 1st is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. They can hardly ignore that.

These are the dilemmas of total power.

Hairy soles and fighting frogs

Just one more on anniversaries.

August 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the great American sinologist, classicist, and philosopher Homer Dubs (1892-1969). Anything you read about China’s Han dynasties (Western Han, 206 BC to AD 9; Eastern Han AD 25 to 220) has Dubs’ name in the footnotes and bibliography.

I am currently reading, in translation from the Danish, Rudi Thomsen’s biography of Wang Mang, the bloke who presided over that interregnum between Western and Eastern Han; and yes, Homer Dubs’ name is all over.

The entry on Dubs in David Honey’s survey of Western sinologists reveals him to have been a striking example of the mid-20th-century academic eccentric. He devised his own impossibly complex system for the romanization of Chinese. The character 帝, for example, which means “emperor” and romanizes as di in the common pinyin system ( if you want a tone mark) is rendered as “ĎiÆí” in Dubs’ romanization. To his great frustration, the system never caught on.

And he sure was a punctilious scholar. Of his translation of a classic Chinese historical text, Honey tells us:

Dubs’ work is a model of accurate translation and thorough commentary. A notable feature of his annotations was his consultation with leading scientists of the natural world to answer questions outside the normal purview of sinologists: Dr Leonard Stejneger, head curator of biology, U.S. National Museum, addressed the question of fighting frogs; Dr T.D. Stewart, Assistant Curator, Division of Physical Anthropology, Smithsonian Institute, tackled the case of hairy soles and palms in the royal Liu lineage…

Hard to believe an oddity like Dubs would survive in the rigid, policed conformism of today’s Academy. Do our universities even have Departments of Physical Anthropology any more?

Math corner

I’ve done the best I can with my October brainteaser here. This was a pure-math version of Joe Shipman’s new casino game. See Joe promote the actual game on video clips here and here.

At the end of a year I used to invite Diary readers to come up with something interesting to say about the number of the forthcoming year. I retired that tradition at the end of 2016. The internet had made it too easy; too many people were posting properties of the number 2017.

Either interest in this kind of thing has flagged or else 2019 is a real snoozer. Nobody on the internet has anything much to say about it.

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It’s not prime. It has almost precisely the number of distinct prime factors Hardy and Ramanujan said you’d expect it to have. (Average-average, the number of distinct prime factors N has is log log N—natural logs of course—and log log 2019 is 2.029510 …, just a shade more than the number of distinct prime factors 2019 actually has, which is two).

It has no entry in David Wells’ Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers. Wells shows nothing between 1980 and 2025.

It barely makes a showing in the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences; its few appearances there have a strained quality to them. It’s the twentieth number you get by concatenating n with n − 1. Uh-huh. It’s the forty-second number with the form (n + 3)² − 6. Wow. It’s the forty-eighth number with the property that if you read its binary expansion from right to left, the run lengths strictly increase. Hoo-ee.

It’s not an amicable number, a Bell number, a Catalan number, a Dedekind number, an Eulerian number, a Fibonacci number, a Guiga number, a Harshad number, an irregular prime, a Jordan-Pólya number, a Kaprekar number, a Lucas-Carmichael number, a Mersenne number, … zzzzzz.

Let’s face it: 2019 is nondescript.

But that’s not possible. If the set of nondescript positive whole numbers were nonempty, it would have a least member … which would be the smallest nondescript positive whole number, making it interesting! Reductio ad absurdum, therefore the set must be empty. QED.

So there must be something out of the ordinary about 2019. If anyone knows what it is, please tell me.

https://vdare.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/2010-12-24dl1.jpgJohn Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him.) He is the authorof We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by VDARE.com com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.

For years he’s been podcasting at Radio Derb, now available at VDARE.com for no charge. His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.

(Republished from VDare by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy, Ideology • Tags: China, Mexico 
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  1. Your answers to the quiz are along the lines that I expected (that’s a compliment), although I was horrified that Wodehouse does not appear in ‘Prose’, and Byron does not appear in ‘Verse’. (I’ve said before that I cannot read “Epitaph to a Dog” without actually crying: I can barely even think of the title of that poem without getting watery eyes).

    Picking Tim Wise is punching down – it’s beneath the person exemplified by many of the other responses. I picked from a D12 (dirty dozen) of neocons using a d12 and got Tom Friedman – which is close to what I would have picked given five minutes to think about it.

  2. Giuseppe says:

    Mexico sounds like a nice country. Maybe we should build the wall at Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala and Belize.

  3. Mexico is listed as both number 2 and number 17 at that wikipedia page linked for obesity. Which is it?

    • Replies: @swamped
  4. swamped says:
    @Giuseppe

    …if Mexico is so nice, why are so many there trying to escape north, both Mexicans & migrants?? nice for rich gringos, maybe. Mexico has already built a partial ‘wall’ on its border with Guatemala and they paid for it. Now, it’s our turn.

    • Replies: @Toronto Russian
  5. swamped says:

    2019 is also the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam Moratorium, the largest anti-war event in U.S. history. Hope the president remembers. Pulling out of Syria & Afghanistan is good start.

    • Replies: @Rich
  6. swamped says:
    @blake121666

    when all the tiny Pacific atolls are excised, U.S. is tops in obesity, Mexico comes in at #29

    (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2228rank.html)

  7. llloyd says: • Website

    Mexico is a nice country as anyone who visits it insists. They have a wonderful knack for getting their bad hombres eliminated. They get shot in the drug wars, the really bad ones. The not quite such bad ones go to America and some turn really bad. On average, several thousand cross illegally over the border every day. Common sense would say there should be an affective barrier to bar them. For the casual observer, the Indian populations in the main centres are invisible uless for begging, ornamental and political purposes. There should be a statue to Cortes and all Mexicans except some waccy academics should celebrate him for liberating Mexico from the cannibalistic warfare Aztecs. However the Mexican nation appropiated a sentimental history of the Aztecs in their revolutionary war against Spain and the Church. Mexico is an Aztec word.

  8. You mention the anniversary of Chappaquiddick (50 years ago on July 18), which reminds me of one you didn’t list: on this coming August 25, Teddy Kennedy will have been sober for 10 years.

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  9. Derb,

    There are 4 not 3 Mayan “books” that have survived the Spanish Cardinal’s burn the books campaign that he instigated in order to make sure the “savages” embraced Catholicism just after Cortez landed. The 4th was discovered years after the other 3 were known.

    Also, Under the Volcano was directed by John Houston and it made no kinda sense at all (at least when I saw it shortly after its theatrical release). It must have been one of those films that you could not understand at all unless you had read the book (e.g., Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The World According to Garp, etc.).

    Nice scenery though as I remember. But then Houston lived in Puerto Vallerta for a number of years.

  10. JB says:

    I never understood the attraction to Under the Volcano either. Very treacly and saccharine. I’ll sum it up for everyone: All You Need Is Love! For some reason, it was a big deal when it was released back in the 40s. As I recall, it made the list of top 100 novels of the 20th century released by the Modern Library. For whatever that’s worth. However, it has not aged well.

    I don’t know if they are the best novels about Mexico but I greatly enjoyed Charles Portis in the two novels he has set in the Yucatán, The Dog of the South and Gringos. Both are hilarious.

  11. What is your motto?

    God is Fun and Fun is God.

    I mean, the guy/gal (whoever) must have had a great sense of fun because he set everything whirling and spinning.

    He was/is a hopeless optimist as well, given the gloomy heat death of the Universe scenario envisioned by the current crop of earthbound doomsayers.

    Or maybe he just said to himself, “Screw it. I don’t care if everything does ultimately wind down to nothing, I’m spinning the top anyway, just for the Hell of it.”

    If entropy ultimately triumphs, then even God was just along for the ride.

  12. @Giuseppe

    It would be, if not for the Mexican government and the narcos. (Or do I repeat myself?)

    • Replies: @Giuseppe
  13. haole says:

    Derb is Fred with an oriental wife. They see the same Mexico. I do too when I go there. I want a good retirement for $1, 500 a month on the banks of lago Chapala like fred. US health care sucks, you should see some of the better Mexican retirement homes, cost about 20 per cent of US full care facilities, and BETTER care. US retirement homes are staffed by Mexicans and Nigerians and cost 5 times as much. If you dont want lupita in the USA hire her in Mexico.

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  14. @haole

    You’re missing something, Mr. Haole, just as Mr. Reed does all the time. As I wrote in Down to the Banana Republics …, the expatriate lifestyle (along with tourism) can be a hell of a deal, as an American living off the U.S. dollar. It’s gonna be a different story once this currency heads down the toilet. Those small pension and SS checks won’t make you rich down there anymore, and you’ll see if you like living as a Mexican in Mexico.

    In the meantime, by all neans, enjoy it.

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  15. i have always wondered how many geniuses grow up to make a significant contribution…

  16. JMcG says:

    I’m glad you two enjoyed yourself a bit John. I was in Mexico climbing some of their volcanoes some years back. I liked it very much there. We still need an effective border though.
    Did you happen to see one of the showings of “They Shall Not Grow Old”? It is really very affecting.
    Happy New Year!

  17. Giuseppe says:
    @Fidelios Automata

    We need the CIA to get their assets down there to clean out the narcos. Oh, wait…

  18. “The Chinese media are under tighter state control than Mexico’s, too. Still, there is the same rottenness and corruption behind the facade, the same indifference to justice or civic values, the same crude thuggery.”

    Erm, Chinese media are the most trusted on earth, there is zero evidence of endemic corruption or a facade in Chinese politics, 95% of Chinese are pleased with their justice system (which costs one-fourth of ours, employs unarmed cops and empty jails), civic values shine in almost every Chinese civis and crude thuggery is notable for its absence.

  19. haole says:
    @Achmed E. Newman

    Even when the USD collapses, all paper currency does, the pesocito will collapse faster and further. I think that will be a wash.

    Yes, the poor live like shit in Mexico. Middle and upper class mexico do all right. Tell me a medicaid old folks home in the USA is better than a $1500 a month old folks home in Mexico, dare you to. Look in to moving your parents to el beanerstain. They will love you for that.

  20. Hail says: • Website
    @MEH 0910

    This puzzling, surreal pic is explained at his website:

    The wet T-shirt picture! Same trip, another day. We had fun at the Xplor adventure park just south of Playa del Carmen, 35 miles from Cancún on the road to Tulum. A lot of the park is in a natural cave system underground, so here we are among the stalactites.

    (The caves have water running through them with associated activities you can engage in — rafting, hammock splash, etc. Hence the wet T-shirt.)

  21. @Godfree Roberts

    Chinese media are the most trusted on earth, there is zero evidence of endemic corruption or a facade in Chinese politics, 95% of Chinese are pleased with their justice system (which costs one-fourth of ours, employs unarmed cops and empty jails), civic values shine in almost every Chinese civis and crude thuggery is notable for its absence.

    With very little editing, that paragraph could be deployed for any of the one-party states in human history.

    Saddam Hussein was regularly elected with 99% of the vote, and I bet that you get even higher levels of conformity in North Korean surveys of press trustworthiness and civic satisfaction with the justice system.

    Was there an implied set of <sarc> tags wrapped around your comment? If so, you were too subtle.

  22. @haole

    I understand what you mean by “a wash”, Haole, but I don’t think that helps any. Mexican pesos may take a dive, but Mexicans are used to their currency not meaning a whole lot. Prices may rise in Pesos too, sure, but Mexicans may work in whatever currency works, the Chinese Yuan, or whatever. The loss of confidence in the US dollar will make you not the equivalent of an upper- or middle-class Mexican anymore, IMO. That $1500 SS check may just be a piece of worthless paper.

    Be wary. I do understand the advantage we have for now (and have had for the better part of a century, with the Dollar being the world’s reserve currency). If you are down there, taking advantage of the good deals for your old folks, I’d just recommend storing your money in various other forms. Real estate may be too risky unless your Mexican connections are trusted family. They will take that from you, if things get heated.

    Good luck to you, anyway.

  23. @Godfree Roberts

    That sounds just too sarcastic, Mr. Godfree, for most readers under Mr. Derbyshire’s posts to realize that, YES, you are a Mao-sac-hanging Commie, and YES, you really do mean seriously what you just wrote.

  24. My sympathies are as irrelevant as my sincerity.

    The question is, am I right? Do you doubt my statements? Why?

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  25. @Kratoklastes

    China is ruled by an unelected oligarchy with a name, goals, a moral code, defined roles, a public face and a published membership whose ninety-million volunteers comprise the country’s elite.

    America is ruled by an unelected oligarchy lacking a name, defined roles, goals, membership process or acknowledged public face–though Congress regularly reveals its presence by totally ignoring voters’ wishes in order to sustain the status quo.

    America permits factions within the Capitalist Party while China does not permit factions but that is a distinction without difference: both are one party states.

    The distinguishing feature is that by mid-2021 every Chinese will have a home, a job, plenty of food, education, safe streets, health and old age care.  On that day there will be more drug addicts, suicides and executions, more homeless, poor, hungry and imprisoned people in America than in China. 450,000,000 urban Chinese will have more net worth and disposable income than the average American, their mothers and infants will be less likely to die in childbirth, their children will graduate from high school three years ahead of–and outlive–American kids.

    And btw, one billion Chinese have traveled abroad in the last ten years and they’re smarter than us.

    • Replies: @jim jones
    , @Roy
    , @Kratoklastes
  26. @Kratoklastes

    Saddam Hussein was regularly elected with 99% of the vote.

    The Chinese don’t vote for their leaders, they vote for policies–a far better use of democratic intervention in governance.

    They like their government policies a lot–as would you if your wages had doubled every decade for 50 years and your kids were getting a free university education and you owned your home free and clear like most Chinese and if your government had kept every promise it made for 60 years.

    It’s that simple. There’s no need to oppress people if you do what they want you to do, and China’s government does what its people want it to do.

    Ours does not, as you may have noticed.

  27. Truth says:

    Yo Frijole Fred, the Derb now officially cosigns on your choice of matrimonial partner, and your choice of idols.

    I ‘d take it as a compliment.

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  28. @Godfree Roberts

    I don’t doubt your statements, Mr. Godfree. That’s a bit mild. I think you are just completely full of shit. I’ve read your pro-Commie screeds elsewhere and realized this early on. Each time you compare America to China, you ignore the history of both places. America is indeed going down the tubes due in large part to Big Feral Government Socialism and control. In the meantime, China is doing very well economically, better than it has ever, but this is due to 40-year-ago reforms allowing for free-market capitalism.

    Yet, you continue to extol the butcher Mao and Communism in all of your writing that I’ve read. I have not seen such ignorance in all my years from anyone over the age of 10. I guess ignorance is just another aspect of the “Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media” advertised on the masthead above. Who knew?

    Just to demonstrate my respect for some of the capitalist aspects of the new China, from personal experience, Peak Stupidity discusses Chinese Free-Market Healthcare (see also Part 2, Part 3, and a quick postscript.)

    • Replies: @republic
  29. @Truth

    Speaking of spouses, where is Mrs. Hen with her opinions on spouses this evening? It is not like her to be so quiet like this. I hope she is doing alright.

    • Replies: @Truth
  30. The secret to 2019 might lie in the rotary phone.

    In the beginning, Ma Bell made the whirl. New York City got the lowest possible area code, 212. The code couldn’t begin or end with 1 or 0, and the central digit was limited to 0 or 1.

    You might think the District of Columbia’s 202 is lower, but that’s aces-low thinking. That 0 is the farthest from the hook. So calling New York would mean moving five spaces in total, while calling Washington would require 14.

    You can see who rated: Chicago (312), Los Angeles (213), Detroit (313), Philadelphia (215) St Louis (314), etc.

    https://www.bennetyee.org/ucsd-pages/area.html

    With 2019, you’re going up two clockwise, one counter, twice. Just keep going: 201908978675645342019…

    Speaking of dial phones, could a Reuleaux triangle work for one? Not with an “axle” in the center, but held in by the rim.

    The Wankel engine, though not perfectly Reuleauxian (Reuleauxesque? Reulellian? Reuleauxieme?), is referred to as “rotary”, too. So there’s precedent.

  31. @Kratoklastes

    Saddam Hussein was regularly elected with 99% of the vote

    That beats even Franklin Roosevelt in the palmetto republic.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1936_United_States_presidential_election_in_South_Carolina#Results_by_county

    Though Lancaster and Horry counties would look familiar to Saddam, as might Calhoun and Edgefield.

    Georgetown County, where Michelle Obama’s grandfather came from, struggled to reach 95%.

  32. jim jones says:
    @Godfree Roberts

    China is so corrupt that people cannot even trust children’s vaccines:

    https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3494823

    • Replies: @republic
    , @Godfree Roberts
  33. Roy says:
    @Godfree Roberts

    You are falling prey to party propaganda, reminiscent of Soviet enthusiasts in America back in the the 1960’s – “In 5 years the Soviets will have advanced beyond our technological capabilities! Beyond our economic performance! Blah, blah!”. In the end, enthusiasts always had to wait for the next 5 years. The same is happening in China – There is no way to centrally manage a nation of 1 billion people, read Ludwig Von Mises’s “Planned Chaos”. I mean, we can hardly manage Medicare for a nation of 330 millions. I wish the Chinese all the best, but I wouldn’t bet my money on the middle kingdom.

    As to your assessment of the US – At the end of the day every society, besides perhaps very small ones, has a ruling class. Along the thinking of Cicero, the US constitution combines elements of Monarchy, Aristocracy and Democracy, so there are inherent elements of non-democracy in it and it’s fine by me. It is true that we have a case (as in the rest of the West) of a sprawling, unelected administrative state, but it is nothing by comparison to the Chinese system.

    • Replies: @Godfree Roberts
  34. republic says:
    @Godfree Roberts

    I have some knowledge of Mexican newspapers. I was recently in a Mexican border town and a big incident occurred regarding a drug related murder. Nothing in the local Media, lots of coverage in the US.

    The reason, drug lords made a simple deal with the local newspapers, don’t cover any drug related matters and you will receive payment. Many Mexican border editors were killed who did not play ball.

  35. republic says:
    @haole

    Upper class Mexicans live very well. For example to go between Mexican cities there is the equivalent of the US interstate highway system, but quite expensive due to tolls. Very little traffic since the rest of the country has to use free highways which are very, very bad.

    The largely white ruling class in Mexico exports it problems to the US.

    • Replies: @JMcG
  36. republic says:
    @Achmed E. Newman

    I have read that migrants to the big Chinese cities do not get officially registered so access to schools and health care is limited.

  37. republic says:
    @jim jones

    indeed, like to watch china uncensored for the real inside deal

  38. unit472 says:

    If you are in an apocalyptic/astronomic mood and want to design your own asteroid impact Purdue University has this hand dandy calculator entitled “Impact Earth”. It is available here.

    https://www.purdue.edu/impactearth/

    The bad news is its going to hurt even if you are right beneath a sizable space rock. The heat arrives before the impact so unless you drank a bottle of tequila and passed out on the beach you will see and feel the heat before you are squashed.

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  39. @republic

    I’ve heard of some of that. I don’t know though – if you came in to the hospital sick and had the money, I figure they’d be glad to treat you. However, I’m gonna ask someone about that. We were foreigners, of course, but with local people. Everyone does (or is supposed to) have a registration card issued by the local police.

    One thing I do like about China, as written here in Fireworks from China and earlier, in A China story and Chinese vs. American police states is that in some ways things are NOT as centralized as in the current US Police State. Local police will fight for local people AGAINST the central gov’t or other jurisdictions.

    Try telling a Virginia state trooper that the speeding ticket you got in Texas is none of his business. We have a big net of jurisdictions that will work together (mostly) against us.

  40. @unit472

    … you will see and feel the heat before you are squashed.

    I doubt it’d be long. How fast is the thing moving compared to the distance at which you’ll first feel some radiative heat transfer? I think Derbyshire’s got the right idea, though your tequila idea can only help.

    • Replies: @unit472
  41. @republic

    Back during the long 1-child (official) policy days, I know that you couldn’t register a 2nd child for school. Maybe it would have been the same about trying to get him some care at the hospital.

    Feel free to chime in, Mr. Derbyshire, as your wife may have good friends in the old country who still give her the scoop.

  42. JMcG says:
    @republic

    And then those problems send remittances home. Those billions help pay for the beautiful New Mexican infrastructure. It’s a win win win. Well, except for us of course. We get lousy highways and no wall. But wins for everybody else.

  43. ‘Civic Nationalism’ might have validity in the US if the US were exceptional in its Rule of Law, Property Rights, democracy, and Liberty. In late 19th century & early 20th century, the US could promote itself thus because liberty, democracy, & property rights were scarce. Only a few nations were democracies. Even Europe was mostly ruled by kings, noblemen, & super-bourgeoisie. So, the US seemed a rare if not unique place of freedom. US did seem special on the basis of freedom and rights alone.

    Today, however, it makes no sense to define the US ‘exceptionally’ on the basis of ideology because democracy, rule of law, property rights, and civil liberties are now dime-a-dozen around the world. All European nations are democracies. So are most nations in Latin America(except Cuba), Asia, and Africa. Mexican constitution is nearly identical to US constitution: Same rights and elections are guaranteed. So, if we define the US with ‘democracy, rule of law, and liberty’, so many nations around the world qualify as ‘American’ because they also have democratic institutions. Brazil, Mexico, Taiwan, Hungary, France, Greece, and Argentina all have elections. They have property rights and civil liberties. So, if the US is all about ‘values’, those nations are ‘American’ too because they share in the same political values.

    Imagine if there are 10 nations and each is very tribal and autocratic. Imagine an 11th nation which isn’t tribal & autocratic but defined by democracy and individuality. Because nation 11 is the ONLY SUCH ENTITY, it could usefully distinguish itself from the 10 nations simply on the basis of its political and legal systems. And in the 19th century, the US was one of the very few nations in the world with democracy, liberty, and etc. It was special on those grounds alone. Only UK and Netherlands were reliably democratic. France was on/off on matters of democracy, and most of the world never heard of democracy or human rights.

    Now, imagine if 10 tribal/autocratic nations also decide to become democracies, allow property rights, and guarantee individual liberties. Then, it would make no sense for the 11th nation to define itself on the basis of democracy, rights, and liberty since OTHER nations also have those guarantees. Being democratic and rule-bound would no longer make the 11th nation unique and distinct from other nations.
    When other nations were autocratic, individuals who wanted freedom would have immigrated to the 11th nation with the pledge that they shall uphold and practice democracy and liberty. In doing so in the 11th nation, they would indeed have been different from peoples of the autocratic 10 nations. But if the 10 nations also become democratic, what would be so special about the 11th nation? Nothing… except that maybe it has democracy but no deep identity. But is it good to be mere individuals than members of a history, and heritage? Is it better to be amnesiac than grounded in shared memory? Would Jews be better off if they forgot their history and just lived with ‘universal values’ in the NOW?

    If the US is to be defined only with democracy & liberty, then we might as well say Mexico, Taiwan, Poland, Nigeria, and India are ‘America’ too since they also have democracy and rule of law(at least on paper). People like Dennis Prager still pretend as if it’s still the 19th century and that democracy is something rare in the world.
    This is the 21st century when democracy and rule of law are virtually universal realities around the world. Even in non-democratic China, there is rule of law and lots of freedom.

    When Europeans came to the US in the 19th century, many were moving from a world of autocracy & privilege to a world of democracy & equality. But because most nations are now democratic and guarantee rights, people move to the US for one reason only: More Money. Hardly a noble sentiment or premise for National Identity. ‘Muh Money’.

  44. @Roy

    China is not centrally managed. It’s decentralized. In reality, says Cornell economist Yuen Yuen Ang[1], Beijing visible hand conducts the orchestra, “Central reformers direct and local state agents improvise and it is this paradoxical mixture of top-down direction and bottom-up improvisation that lays the foundation for the coevolutionary processes of radical change”.

    Central government intervenes, but mostly through goals, grants, praise and promotions, says Pierre Landry[2], “One would expect the PRC to be one of the most centralized countries. Instead, China’s observed level of decentralization is consistent with the behavior of a federal democracy. An IMF study found that, in 1972-2000, this figure averaged twenty-five percent for liberal democracies and eighteen percent for non-democracies. But, for China, the average figure was fifty-four percent for 1958-2002 and, by 2014, had risen to a staggering 85 percent”.

    The result? By 2021, every Chinese will have a home, a job, plenty of food, education, safe streets, health and old age care.  On that day there will be more drug addicts, suicides and executions, more homeless, poor, hungry and imprisoned people in America than in China. 450,000,000 urban Chinese will have more net worth and disposable income than the average American, their mothers and infants will be less likely to die in childbirth, their children will graduate from high school three years ahead of–and outlive–American kids.


    [1] “How China Escaped the Poverty Trap”. Yuen Yuen ng. Cornell Studies in Political Economy.
    [2] Decentralized Authoritarianism in China. Pierre F Landry. Cambridge University Press.

  45. @jim jones

    Compare China’s handling of a public safety scandals to America’s handling of Vioxx, Merck’s “blockbuster” drug that killed up to 500,000 innocent victims.

    This exposé is thanks to Ron Unz, which you can read here (http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/chinese-melamine-and-american-vioxx-a-comparison/ and http://www.unz.com/runz/american-pravda-mass-deaths-and-morning-newspapers/). Only 3,400 deaths were admitted to, an $8.4 billion fine was assessed, half of which went to the class action lawyers (can you believe that?) and likely doled out over decades; Merck’s leaders never apologized and continued to make personal fortunes on their stock options and golden parachutes. Nobody spent a day in jail.

    This, while a handful of children drank tainted milk and died in China, a couple of thousand more got sick and corporate heads literally rolled on the execution floor, with decades of hard time behind bars for the other culprits.

    It’s not like Vioxx was the first medical scandal to hit the headlines. They are ongoing and global (http://www.topmastersinpublichealth.com/10-biggest-medical-scandals-in-history/). I can still remember a friend in grade school in the early 1960s, who had a sibling with no arms, thanks to thalidomide.

    And speaking of health, by 2021 Chinese mothers and infants will be less likely to die in childbirth, their children will graduate from high school three years ahead of–and outlive–our kids.

  46. Mr. Anon says:

    I had trouble believing this at first. Our room, for example, had the usual refrigerator stocked with bottled water and beer. On the wall above the refrigerator was a rack of what in Britain, where I was once a bartender, are called “optics“—upside-down bottles of liquor with a one-measure dispensing spigot. (I’ve never tended bar in the U.S.A. so I don’t know what they are called here.)

    …………………

    It’s an interesting business model. I’d like to know how they worked out the math—I mean, of scaling up room charges to cover unlimited food and drink. It wasn’t at all expensive, a mere tick or two above what motels cost in New York.

    The business model? Wood alcohol.

    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/abbey-conner-family-sues-mexican-resort-daughter-died-drinking-possibly-tainted-alcohol-iberostar-hotel/

  47. Rich says:
    @swamped

    It’s also the 51st anniversary of the great American victory over the bloodsucking Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Reds during their Tet offensive. Unfortunate that so many were tricked into turning against our brave soldiers a year later when total victory was in sight.

  48. Truth says:
    @Achmed E. Newman

    LOL, she made a triumphant comeback on Derb’s new post with some guy named Travis LeBlanc.

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  49. unit472 says:
    @Achmed E. Newman

    The ‘impact calculator ‘ allows you to select the final speed of your asteroid ( relative to the earth). Noting that shuttle Columbia burned and broke up at around 50 miles altitude a large asteroid a mile or more in size moving at a fast 5 miles per second would take 10 seconds to reach the surface. Plenty of time for those below to feel the thermal effects.

  50. @Godfree Roberts

    I’m fully aware of the differences between the US and Chinese political and economic systems, and of the stellar recent performance of the Chinese economy relative to the ‘developed’ West; however it’s best to have a clear-eyed view of the (relative) ease of improving economic conditions in subsistence-agriculture economies – when the vast majority if a population is undertaking subsistence agriculture, there is a lot more ‘low hanging fruit’ in terms of the range of possibilities for productivity enhancement.

    There’s something to be said for any system that lifts the vast majority of its demos out of subsistence – which is why every Chinaman should sing the praises of Deng Xiaoping, whose liberalising reforms in the late 1970s are the sine qua non for recent Chinese economic performance. ‘Open doors’ was explicitly about Deng’s understanding of comparative advantage (and taking advantage of the US’s stupid mercantilist/sector-favouritism/agribusiness-enriching approach to subsidies for agriculture… so nowadays China imports US soybeans).

    While Deng’s reforms were primarily internal, they were such a resounding success that they affected the mindset of the Party – and especially their views on trade and capital-deepening. It also helped that Deng’s increased political influence enabled him to make some key appointments to senior positions.

    China benefited enormously from both capital-deepening (a dramatic increase in the capital/labour ratio) and trade liberalisation: there is no ‘miracle’ involved, nor does it point to the Chinese Party having anything other than normal levels of political custodianship.

    Chinese output per capita shows (roughly) the same sort of improvement as Japan’s did from 1960 to 1990, when the same thing happened there – which was in turn the same thing that happened in the West in the hundred or so years after the Industrial Revolution… namely, the movement of labour from low-productivity, small-scale, labour-intensive (near-)subsistence rural agriculture, to capital-intensive industrial manufacture.

    China is not a case study in how Socialism works: it is a case study in how economic pluralism is probably more important than political pluralism – i.e., that it’s easier for a demos to be happier if they’re permitted to get richer, than if you permit them to decide who wields the whip over them.

    (What did Deng say? “Wealth is glorious” – actually that’s apocryphal.)

    China’s recent performance is what happens when you liberalise the economy; there is an obvious secular change in output per capita – it went from (roughly) linear (and almost flat) from 1962-1980, to log-linear from 1982 to current. Impressive, but less so when you consider that per-capita income (at purchasing-power parity) is still only 28% of US levels.

    You also seem to think that the Chinese ruling class is less corrupt than Western elites; j’en doute.

    It is always the case that ruling elites are corrupt (because of the psychotypes of people who are attracted to political power).

    The primary constraint on the extent of corruption is the amount of supernumerary production (production above absolute subsistence).

    At low levels of supernumerary production, only the very top of the political food-chain gets to live in palaces (i.e., a ‘feudal’ model: very few, very rich lords).

    Once supernumerary production approaches 1960s-Western levels, there is enough to fund extravagances for a vast horde of senior bureaucrats (and consultants, defence contractors, and other hangers-on).

    China has only very recently moved to a situation where supernumerary production has grown to a level that enables that latter level of systemic exploitation; it should be expected that the level of political corruption in China now, would be in line with the (relatively-low) levels of systemic corruption in the West in the 1960s and 70s.

    Give China another decade, and its politics – already dirty enough – will be much of a muchness with ours.

    I mentioned an apocryphal Deng quote above: going back to him… he actually did say “Let some people get rich first“: the rise in the Gini Coefficient for China indicates the hierarchy took him seriously.

    China’s Gini Coefficient was 0.16 in 1978; 0.3 by 1980; and a staggering 0.55 by 2002; in other words, such progress as there was, initially favoured a very narrow, very urban, very politically-connected subset of the population. Material progress is always Paretian; (roughly) 80% of value-added always accrues to 20% of the population. The difference is that under ‘pure’ capitalism, that 20% is the most productive 20% of the demos; in both China and under Western crony-capitalism, it accrues to the most rent-seeking 20% of the polis.

    More recently, China’s Gini Coefficient has been massaged down to 0.474 (2012), which is still significantly worse than the US.

    Worse still, any numerate economist understands that China’s income inequality is almost-certainly significantly worse, with the Gini number falling due to deliberate attempts at ‘perception management’.

    I’ve been ‘bullish China’ since the late 90s, when the first results of the Deng reforms became widely known; by late 2000 I was publicly advocating China as both an investment opportunity, and an emerging counterweight to the stupid idea that the US was a ‘sole hyperpower’. Neither of those ideas was common, and neither was popular… which is why both of them were correct: in general, when every opinion is on the same side of the boat, you’re in the Ship of Fools… and the ‘Wisdom of the Crowd‘ has always been bullshit anyhow.

    Needless to say: I now think China is set up to disappoint over the next 2 decades – it has resorted to the same idiotic (monetary-slack) policy framework as the US did during the 2000-CurrentYear – the era during which US political-economic policy stupidity spelt the end of the US as an international power.

    For the record, US political mismanagement leading to a loss of power-projection capability was another thing I forecast in 2000/01 (well before Blowback Day – 20010911).

    It’s also my central thesis that the US will dissolve into 3 or 4 smaller nation-states… my 2000/01 guess was that this was likely to happen before 2025. That timing now looks pretty unlikely, but won’t be out by more than a decade.

    • Replies: @Godfree Roberts
  51. @Kratoklastes

    the stellar recent performance of the Chinese economy relative to the ‘developed’ West;“?? Starting with an industrial base smaller than that of Belgium’s in the 50s, the China that for so long was ridiculed as “the sick man of Asia” emerged at the end of the Mao period as one of the six largest industrial producers in the world.

    National income grew five-fold over the 25-year period 1952-78, increasing from 60 billion to over 300 billion yuan, with industry accounting for most of the growth. On a per capita basis, the index of national income (at constant prices) increased from 100 in 1949 (and 160 in 1952) to 217 in 1957 and 440 in 1978.

    Over the last two decades of the Maoist era, from 1957 to 1975, China’s national income increased by 63 percent on a per capita basis during this period of rapid population growth, more than doubling overall and the basic foundations for modern industrialism were laid and outpacing every other development takeoff in history.

    In Germany the rate of economic growth 1880-1914 was 33 percent per decade. In Japan from 1874-1929 the rate was 43 percent. The Soviet Union over the period 1928-58 the rate was 54 percent. In China over the years 1952-72 the decadal rate was 64 percent. Deng’s decision resulted in embargoes being lifted and for China to join the WTO which allowed further, marginal improvement in China’s economy but at great cost to national morale and morality.

    China’s Gini Coefficient was 0.16 in 1978; 0.3 by 1980; and a staggering 0.55 by 2002“. Much of China’s GINI (inequality) gap is structural: their inland, rural populations have always been poorer than their urban, coastal cousins and, because the country couldn’t afford to build homes or cities fast enough, inlanders were held in place by residential hukous. Recently, however, economists[1] found that this aspect of inequality has been exaggerated because the cost of living in wealthy areas like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen is much greater since urban land prices–not housing quality–are vastly higher. If we include the full range of goods and services whose price differ across areas (in rural areas basic foods cost half of Beijinbg’s prices), incomes from most rural areas should be multiplied by fifty percent to make them comparable.

    If we adjust for where people actually live the difference shrinks even further. Until recently, demographers counted people’s hukous–where they were registered to live rather than where they actually lived–but, migrant workers’ numbers rose to three hundred million in 2018, distorting the comparisons. In real life, the coastal provinces have millions more residents than their registered population and the reverse holds for migrant-sending inland provinces, so measures of inequality rose as each person moved from China’s interior to the coast because the migrant contributed to income in the coastal destination but was still counted as living in the origin, interior, area. Once this counting error is corrected, regional inequality in China is found to have declined at an average trend rate of 1.1 percent per year from 1978 to 2016. By 2002, fourteen Guizhou workers earned as much as an average[2] Shanghainese and by 2019 it took five. Nor was the structural gap as painful as it sounds: as far as everyone could see, everyone got richer every year. Villagers buying their first pickup truck found Shanghai lifestyles uninteresting because even at the bottom, things improved steadily.


    [1] Chao Li & John Gibson, 2014. “Spatial Price Differences and Inequality in the People’s Republic of China: Housing Market Evidence,” Asian Development Review, MIT Press, vol. 31(1), pages 92-120, March.
    [2] China’s Got a $46,000 Wealth Gap Problem
    Bloomberg News
    May 21, 2018
    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-20/china-s-wealth-gap-teslas-for-the-rich-footpaths-for-the-poor

  52. @unit472

    Let me do this quickly: 1 mile at 50 miles (and closing fast, I know) is about 1 degree in diameter, so about 4 X the apparent area as the sun. Radiation heat transfer goes as (along with other factors, but most importantly) the difference between absolute T’s to the 4th power. I need to know the temperature your asteroid has obtained – not even close to the T of the surface of the sun, I can assure you. At 50 miles (and closer) it will have just about as much atmosphere in the way to absorb some of the thermal radiation, but when it gets to 3-4 miles that’ll be cut by half – you’ll be sh__ting in your pants before than anyway.

    The shape factors that are a mainstay of radiation heat transfer, and what make it complex for everyday things, are very easy here, as your body will “see” the radiant heat transfer as a function of that 1-degree-of-arc sector divided by all other directions – the rest of the inside of a sphere. (However, we don’t need this, as we can compare the heat transfer to that of the sun, just knowing surface temp of this roid of yours.) I don’t the emissivities are needed, though the sun’s emissivity is hard for me to understand since there is no real “surface” per se.

    Yeah, Unit-472, you’re gonna have to give me the surface temperature as a function of position (height above impact point) before I can agree with you. Right now, I’m leaning toward my original statement. You may feel it pretty well outta 10,000 ft. There is a 250 knot speed limit below that altitude, as mandated by the FAA, so there’s that … the roid will be only 2 seconds away then, but it’ll seem like longer, as your whole miserable life flashes in front of you…

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  53. @Truth

    Just glad she’s OK … half of the white nationalist world was worried about her. No calls, no texts, what are we supposed to think?

  54. @unit472

    Hey, you wanted to play hardball, buddy – now the ball’s in your court. (… a metaphorical two-fer there)

    ;-}

  55. @Achmed E. Newman

    No, this wasn’t clear enough, and I don’t want Reg Caesar all over my ass. I meant (the absolute T of the hotter surface to the 4th power) minus (the absolute T of the cooler body to the 4th power).

  56. @swamped

    Mexico has already built a partial ‘wall’ on its border with Guatemala

    Here’s a video by a couple of Russian hitchhikers, first minutes are on the border between Guatemala and Mexico. Border checkpoints are impressive, but while people with stamps in their passports cross the fenced bridge, illegals walk in the shallow river just a few hundred metres from them in plain sight. Lol! And there is a big improvement in quality of life even in deep provincial Mexico in comparison with Guatemala, roads instantly become good etc.

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