January 2010 Archives

You Must Remember This......


The Ol' Bloviator realizes he's asking a lot simply to expect readers to figure out what he's trying to say while they struggle valiantly to make it to the blessed relief that awaits them at the end of one of his typically lengthy and lugubrious posts.  Now, he's daring to ask you either to try to recall his last post or worse yet, actually go back and refresh your memory.  The reason for this imposition is that he wants to complexify the whole story of the efforts of China and other economically laggard societies to utilize the innovations and strategies devised in more advanced societies to narrow the distance between them and those societies.

 The last post hereabouts touched on native Chinese who come to the U.S. for training in science and engineering, etc. and return to China to put what they have learned over here to use in helping their homeland play catch-up.  In recent years, however, by no means all of the individuals who are part of their nation's efforts to leap forward by using insights and techniques devised elsewhere have found it necessary to relocate for extensive periods of time, thanks to the worldwide web, which has been the biggest, simplest and least expensive boon to global efforts to pole vault from Third World to First.  Despite all the bandwidth devoured by porn, fetishism, and other less elevated perversions that one encounters out there in the timeless, border-less, and largely lawless expanses of cyberspace, there's still more than plenty allotted to the serious exchange of data and ideas, and a great deal of it is available at no cost whatsoever to anyone who can scrounge up a functional laptop and hunker down someplace where the Wi-Fi flows freely.  Not only is all of this amazing stuff out there for the pilfering, but there are a multitude of vehicles available to help you locate the specific goodies for which search and spit them out on your desktop in a matter of nanoseconds.  Google is where we're headed, of course.  In addition to the general search engine, for the pointy-heads obsessed with info of the intricate and arcane variety, there's "Google Scholar" and "Google Books," both of which make billions of words of wisdom instantly available to folks who've never even carried a library card.

 Here's the rub, though.  Google also brings in just about everything that's out there roaming the Interweb vastness. Not only are there videos of  really fat guys who specialize in seducing chickens, but there's also a bunch of nonsense about human rights, individual freedoms, civil liberties and the injustice of totalitarian rule.  The people who run places like China are gung-ho about grabbing all the practical and scientific data they can use to give their nation a developed economy, but they ain't the least bit interested in foolish notions about the rights and needs of the masses and other such stuff that comes out of places where they believe a developed economy ought to be the means to a developed society as well.  Herein lies the conundrum confronting China's leadership in its current tiff with Google, which is threatening to hit the "delete" button on its "Google.cn"operation in that country because of what it perceives as possible government complicity in massive hacker assaults aimed not only at cracking into supposedly secure corporate information at Google and other large companies, but  also at "accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists."  These would be the folks most likely to imbibe of the aforementioned radical notions circulating among cyber gabbers based elsewhere.  There's also the possibility that these sensitive, hand-wringing sorts might be spilling their guts about what's really going on behind the glittery but extraordinarily thin facade of progress in China.

 

            As usual, in cases where its controversial aberrant practices have come under fire, China is trying to use its huge internet search market as leverage with Google, but where that tactic has succeeded in cooling things off with other corporate entities, let's face it, the Googlers ain't exactly your typical bunch of bottom-liners to begin with (although their fourth quarter net income was up fivefold over last year's in any event) and if anybody is going to stand up to Beijing, they're as good a bet as any. One thing's for sure, the young, upwardly mobile Chinese demographic is anything but keen on the idea of giving up Google, both as a vital research tool for students and a source of information about life in societies far more open and seemingly eventful than theirs. Most folks are inclined to assume that social upheavals arise from the suffering of the masses, and God knows, there's an abundance of that in China. Yet, my quick take on the entirety of human history sez the catalytic figures in most successful revolutions have been drawn from at least the more middling economic strata who find their own paths of ascent blocked by the same government or political entity that oppresses the masses so egregiously. I'm not predicting that the onset of Google deprivation will lead directly to the overthrow of the world's most capitalistic communist regime, but stay turned to this one folks, it'll be interesting, I'm pretty sure.

            Speaking of interesting, now that you've stretched those prodigious memory muscles of yours, let's do some real power lifting by recalling the numerous times that your humble bloviator warned President Obama against trying to take on health care until the economy was in better shape and people were less worried about losing their jobs, homes, and cars than about getting sick. But would he listen? Hell, no! Mr. Smooth-Confident-Cool-and-Deliberate waded right on in there, stuck that cherry bomb in the pile of cow plop and lit the fuse. Well, let's just say after Tuesday's explosion of red voting in the nation's bluest state, the green stuff on Oby's chin probably ain't pesto.  By his ill-timed excursion into the health-care minefield, the prez practically begged his enemies to attack him where he is most vulnerable, and they were only too happy to oblige.  Here was the socialist emerging from the closet, trying to foist yet another expensive "big government" program on the overburdened tax payers who were already dodging layoffs, foreclosures, and the repo man. As I have argued here more than once, most Americans would rather have the health care they've got than take a chance on anything they might be promised, and the notion that they might now be asked to pay for theirs and somebody else's as well was just more than a lot of them could handle. The hodgepodge plan that the Dems put together came across, rightly or not, as the consummate federal bureaucratic boondoggle and made the remarkably conservative Oby (by Democratic standards thus far) look like an old-fashioned taxer-and-spender extraordinaire. Had he eschewed this either arrogant or na├»ve (and possibly equal parts both) course and stuck with trying to put people back to work and protect the jobs that we still have, the "big government" charge would likely have seemed too risky to politicians fearful of seeming indifferent to economic suffering and distress among people who were not especially accustomed to it. As a matter of fact, when it comes to helping these folks get back on their feet, government can't get too expansive or expensive. It's only when it stoops to help those who have spent most of their lives on their knees that it starts to get too "big" or intrusive.

There's no good spin that the denizens of Obamaland can put on the loss of Teddy Kennedy's seat to a Republican--albeit one not particularly eager to advertise the fact--who once posed au naturel for the cougars over at Cosmo. (Content Advisory:  "Don't look, Ethel!".)

 

Scott-Brown-new3.jpgOn the other hand, for all the damage Oby has done to his approval ratings in the health-care fiasco, I can't find any poll anywhere suggesting that disappointment with him is making the Republicans seem any more appealing.  I can, however, find polls  showing that nearly 80 percent of the voters in last Tuesday's election cited  "electing a candidate who will strengthen the economy and create more good jobs" as their first priority, and that 56 percent of those who complained about a bad economy voted for Brown.

 I rest my case, whatever it was.

No Brain, No Gain!


I normally don't pay much nevermind to what happens way up there in the Ivy League, particularly during football season, but I was intrigued by this New York Times piece about Professor Shi Yigonga, a Johns Hopkins-trained Chinese molecular biologist at Princeton who is heading back to his old stomping grounds after eighteen years in this country, during which he won much acclaim, brought in a ton of grant money, and established himself as the head pointy-head in a big bucks research lab at Princeton. Not only is Professor Shi, a naturalized American citizen, resigning his prestigious post at Princeton, but like ol' Sarah Palin and the "Bridge to Nowhere," he is saying, "Thanks, but no thanks" to a hard-to-come-by $10-million research grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He's chucking all this, it seems, to become the dean of life services at his undergraduate alma mater, Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Shi's departure left Princeton administrators shocked and dismayed, but the boys in Beijing apparently made him more promises than Alabama offered Nick Saban, and they no doubt expect a comparable bang for their buck--or yuan, actually. This successful seduction of Shi, the Times writer observes, reflects the determination of Chinese leaders to "reverse the drain of top talent that accompanied its opening to the outside world over the past three decades." This appraisal is no doubt correct for the long haul, but for now, I'd say China is simply harvesting the fruits of having its best and brightest trained and supported in their ongoing professional development by the nation that Chinese leaders have undertaken to overtake. A Georgia Tech study, (for whatever that might be worth,) now predicts that in a decade or so China's rapidly increasing investment in research and development will vault it ahead of the United States in its capacity to turn R & D into marketable products.

Now don't get me wrong, here, I'm not about to go all Lou Dobbs on you, nor am I suggesting that Professor Shi did not more than earn his keep while at Princeton. What I am saying, however, is that anyone who has attended a graduate school commencement ceremony in the last twenty years has seen the globalization of American knowledge and expertise firsthand. Not that this is anything new. Those who can't believe that a place so "backward" as China in so many respects can actually be breathing down our necks should consider the case of the Russians who developed the atomic and hydrogen bombs and put men into space while their soldiers were still wearing coats sent to their predecessors under Lend-Lease in 1941 and the civilian population was struggling to survive on a steady diet of borscht, stale bread, and vodka. As he often did, Lewis Grizzard put the whole thing in a nutshell back in the 1990s when he demanded to know how a nation that could succeed in sending a man to the moon could fail so miserably at making toilet paper. The answer, of course, was priorities, and somehow more and better rump ribbon just didn't seem as important to the Kremliniskis  as becoming as militarily powerful and technologically advanced as the United States. ( Thank goodness I'm not just your typical juvenile  punster, or I might suggest here that the Russkie leaders were more interested in wiping us out than out-wiping us.)

What we're talking about here is nothing more or less than the same process by which, over the centuries, "follower" nations, not excluding ours at the outset, have managed to "short cut" the modernization process by taking advantage of the developments and discoveries achieved by more advanced, "leader" societies. If the descendants of  Barney Rubble and Fred Flintstone could see that  that there was no need for them to reinvent the wheel, after all,  then it's not exactly surprising that many centuries later the Russians would be copying everything we did or had, all the while claiming credit for inventing it themselves, of course.  

The ability to speed up the process of economic modernization   by learning from other societies' advances and embracing their innovations was a good thing in many ways, but not all. By the 1960s, for example, southern development leaders had begun to realize they could take advantage of the highly specialized nature of modern factory work, along with major advances in training techniques  to short-cut the protracted and expensive process of developing a generally better-educated workforce by offering custom-tailored, state-funded "start-up" training programs as enticements to incoming industries.   Now available in every southern state and many others as well, these programs can supply an up-to-speed labor force practically from the first day of operation.

 The promise of such a program doubtless helped to allay BMW's concerns about the educational deficiencies of South Carolina workers. Elsewhere, despite Alabama's consistent last or near-last standing in national educational rankings, only a threatened lawsuit by a teachers group prevented Governor Fob James from raiding the state's school fund in 1995 to pay off the remainder of its subsidy pledge to Mercedes, whose entire workforce had already been custom-trained at state expense . Meanwhile, over in that neighboring citadel of educational excellence, Mississippi, when the state promised $80 million to train 4,000 workers for a new Nissan production facility, the cost per worker was more than four times its annual per-pupil expenditures in grades K-12. Mississippi clung desperately to forty-eighth place in a respected national ranking of state school systems in 2006, but delighted at the dramatic savings in their start-up costs, Nissan and other international employers seemed no more concerned than their domestic counterparts about whether their workers have ever taken algebra, much less written an essay or read a sonnet.

In 2007, a ranking of states according to their capacity to participate in the new "Knowledge-Based" global economy showed South Carolina and Connecticut effectively sharing the distinction of having the nation's highest percentage of workers employed by foreign companies, with North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee also placing in the top thirteen in this category. In outright defiance of what had once been the  traditional wisdom, however, for all their success in attracting foreign direct investment, these four states were also among the ten southern states clustered in the bottom fourteen in rankings of the educational levels of their work forces.

Although this attempt to circumvent rather than solve the South's educational problems has brought more and better jobs to some communities in the short run, we might take  a quick glance at the places where, a half-century or more ago, local leaders had decided to mortgage their town's social and institutional future by wooing footloose northern industries with promises cheap labor, construction subsidies, tax exemptions and guarantees of protection from  unions or higher wage competition.  These days, a great many-- probably most--such communities have long since bade goodbye to their one-time industrial benefactors who skipped town in a hurry once they heard about the even warmer hospitality awaiting them in places like Honduras or Bangladesh. In the wake of their departures, meanwhile, their former hosts are enjoying little success in bringing in new employers for relatively high-wage (by global standards) labor with only low-wage skills. Such are the fruits of trying to achieve a developed economy at the expense of a developed society.

The poster state for such a developmental approach is Dr. Shi's China, of course.  Shi explained that he returned to his homeland because "I felt I owed China something," and the Times notes that like Shi, other recently repatriated scientists are also " lured by their patriotism, their desire to serve as catalysts for change and their belief that the Chinese government will back them."   Given the aims of Chinese leaders, the latter belief is likely well-founded.  As to the kinds of "change" they manage to catalyze, however, it remains to be seen whether they will lighten or merely increase the suffering of the sorely neglected millions of Chinese people who have thus far borne the burden of their nation's efforts to take the shortcut to modernity.

No Brain, No Gain!


I normally don't pay much nevermind to what happens way up there in the Ivy League, particularly during football season, but I was intrigued by this New York Times piece about Professor Shi Yigonga, a Johns Hopkins-trained Chinese molecular biologist at Princeton who is heading back to his old stomping grounds after eighteen years in this country, during which he won much acclaim, brought in a ton of grant money, and established himself as the head pointy-head in a big bucks research lab at Princeton. Not only is Professor Shi, a naturalized American citizen, resigning his prestigious post at Princeton, but like ol' Sarah Palin and the "Bridge to Nowhere," he is saying, "Thanks, but no thanks" to a hard-to-come-by $10-million research grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He's chucking all this, it seems, to become the dean of life services at his undergraduate alma mater, Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Shi's departure left Princeton administrators shocked and dismayed, but the boys in Beijing apparently made him more promises than Alabama offered Nick Saban, and they no doubt expect a comparable bang for their buck--or yuan, actually. This successful seduction of Shi, the Times writer observes, reflects the determination of Chinese leaders to "reverse the drain of top talent that accompanied its opening to the outside world over the past three decades." This appraisal is no doubt correct for the long haul, but for now, I'd say China is simply harvesting the fruits of having its best and brightest trained and supported in their ongoing professional development by the nation that Chinese leaders have undertaken to overtake. A Georgia Tech study, (for whatever that might be worth,) now predicts that in a decade or so China's rapidly increasing investment in research and development will vault it ahead of the United States in its capacity to turn R & D into marketable products.

Now don't get me wrong, here, I'm not about to go all Lou Dobbs on you, nor am I suggesting that Professor Shi did not more than earn his keep while at Princeton. What I am saying, however, is that anyone who has attended a graduate school commencement ceremony in the last twenty years has seen the globalization of American knowledge and expertise firsthand. Not that this is anything new. Those who can't believe that a place so "backward" as China in so many respects can actually be breathing down our necks should consider the case of the Russians who developed the atomic and hydrogen bombs and put men into space while their soldiers were still wearing coats sent to their predecessors under Lend-Lease in 1941 and the civilian population was struggling to survive on a steady diet of borscht, stale bread, and vodka. As he often did, Lewis Grizzard put the whole thing in a nutshell back in the 1990s when he demanded to know how a nation that could succeed in sending a man to the moon could fail so miserably at making toilet paper. The answer, of course, was priorities, and somehow more and better rump ribbon just didn't seem as important to the Kremliniskis  as becoming as militarily powerful and technologically advanced as the United States. ( Thank goodness I'm not just your typical juvenile  punster, or I might suggest here that the Russkie leaders were more interested in wiping us out than out-wiping us.)

What we're talking about here is nothing more or less than the same process by which, over the centuries, "follower" nations, not excluding ours at the outset, have managed to "short cut" the modernization process by taking advantage of the developments and discoveries achieved by more advanced, "leader" societies. If the descendants of  Barney Rubble and Fred Flintstone could see that  that there was no need for them to reinvent the wheel, after all,  then it's not exactly surprising that many centuries later the Russians would be copying everything we did or had, all the while claiming credit for inventing it themselves, of course.  

The ability to speed up the process of economic modernization   by learning from other societies' advances and embracing their innovations was a good thing in many ways, but not all. By the 1960s, for example, southern development leaders had begun to realize they could take advantage of the highly specialized nature of modern factory work, along with major advances in training techniques  to short-cut the protracted and expensive process of developing a generally better-educated workforce by offering custom-tailored, state-funded "start-up" training programs as enticements to incoming industries.   Now available in every southern state and many others as well, these programs can supply an up-to-speed labor force practically from the first day of operation.

 The promise of such a program doubtless helped to allay BMW's concerns about the educational deficiencies of South Carolina workers. Elsewhere, despite Alabama's consistent last or near-last standing in national educational rankings, only a threatened lawsuit by a teachers group prevented Governor Fob James from raiding the state's school fund in 1995 to pay off the remainder of its subsidy pledge to Mercedes, whose entire workforce had already been custom-trained at state expense . Meanwhile, over in that neighboring citadel of educational excellence, Mississippi, when the state promised $80 million to train 4,000 workers for a new Nissan production facility, the cost per worker was more than four times its annual per-pupil expenditures in grades K-12. Mississippi clung desperately to forty-eighth place in a respected national ranking of state school systems in 2006, but delighted at the dramatic savings in their start-up costs, Nissan and other international employers seemed no more concerned than their domestic counterparts about whether their workers have ever taken algebra, much less written an essay or read a sonnet.

In 2007, a ranking of states according to their capacity to participate in the new "Knowledge-Based" global economy showed South Carolina and Connecticut effectively sharing the distinction of having the nation's highest percentage of workers employed by foreign companies, with North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee also placing in the top thirteen in this category. In outright defiance of what had once been the  traditional wisdom, however, for all their success in attracting foreign direct investment, these four states were also among the ten southern states clustered in the bottom fourteen in rankings of the educational levels of their work forces.

Although this attempt to circumvent rather than solve the South's educational problems has brought more and better jobs to some communities in the short run, we might take  a quick glance at the places where, a half-century or more ago, local leaders had decided to mortgage their town's social and institutional future by wooing footloose northern industries with promises cheap labor, construction subsidies, tax exemptions and guarantees of protection from  unions or higher wage competition.  These days, a great many-- probably most--such communities have long since bade goodbye to their one-time industrial benefactors who skipped town in a hurry once they heard about the even warmer hospitality awaiting them in places like Honduras or Bangladesh. In the wake of their departures, meanwhile, their former hosts are enjoying little success in bringing in new employers for relatively high-wage (by global standards) labor with only low-wage skills. Such are the fruits of trying to achieve a developed economy at the expense of a developed society.

The poster state for such a developmental approach is Dr. Shi's China, of course.  Shi explained that he returned to his homeland because "I felt I owed China something," and the Times notes that like Shi, other recently repatriated scientists are also " lured by their patriotism, their desire to serve as catalysts for change and their belief that the Chinese government will back them."   Given the aims of Chinese leaders, the latter belief is likely well-founded.  As to the kinds of "change" they manage to catalyze, however, it remains to be seen whether they will lighten or merely increase the suffering of the sorely neglected millions of Chinese people who have thus far borne the burden of their nation's efforts to take the shortcut to modernity.

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