More Jingoist H1B Politics

USA Today, Fox News, and others are running blindly with the US government propaganda campaign, “Chinese Spying on the Rise!”  The message you are supposed to get is that “all Chinese high-tech workers in USA are spies”.  This is part of the ongoing battle of the politicians to kick out anyone with education and talent, and instead turn USA into a low-cost labor pool.

The so-called journalists should be ashamed.  These stories selectively pick out some anecdotes (from 1987, no less) and present a skewed and one-sided story.  Read the USA Today article, and replace every instance of “Chinese person spying” with “Black person mugging a white person”.  It is quite possible for a reporter to find statistics of several “black people mugging white people” and present them in sequential order to paint a picture of “black on white crime on the rise!”  But it would be unethical, immoral, and dishonest.  Such a reporter could claim that he was “just presenting the facts”, but he should be fired anyway.

To be balanced, the article should mention that the U.S. does this to China all the time.  It should also mention that other countries do this to the U.S. all the time.  And it should mention that the “bad apples” are a diminuitively small portion of the overall Chinese immigrant population (the article smears “Chinese high tech workers”, a clear reference to H1-B, when the actual culprits were all citizens).  What percentage of Chinese immigrants are criminals versus other immigrant groups?  The article gives us no insight into this, instead expecting us to believe that all Chinese high tech workers are spies.

No American journalist could write about other minority groups this way and keep his job.  Why China, and why now?

I think the answer lies in more than just H1-B politics.  George Bush has been trying to pick a fight with China since his first day in office.  The Democrats are no better — the “food/toothpaste quality” scare and the “global warming credits” are both ways to put economic pressure on China.  This is all a concerted anti-China propaganda effort, and it’s shameful that reporters are falling for it.  We had 200 years of virtually uninterrupted freedom of the press.  Let’s not give it up so easily.

Lies or Insights?

I’ve been reading close to one book a week for the past year, and have nearly achieved Buddha-hood.  I’ll be reviewing them all here eventually, now that I have a trusty C-Pen.

But today I am for the first time thinking of ditching a book on my self-assigned list.  I just started reading “Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience” by Yi-Fu Tuan.  He is apparently a brilliant thinker and is highly recommended.  And it started out well enough.  But by page 10, I ran into this insight:

“It is a common tendency to regard feeling and thought as opposed, the one registering subjective states, the other reporting on objective reality. In fact, they lie near the two ends of an experiential continuum, and both are ways of knowing.”

He’s correct that popular wisdom holds thought and feeling to be in opposition.  His response if very insightful.  It’s the “and both are ways of knowing” that I have a serious problem with.  The correct sentence would end “and both are ways of knowing or (deliberately) not knowing”.  Thus the whole ending could be left off entirely — leaving it there and one-sided as he does makes it seem as if all thought and feeling is a road to knowledge.  This is an error of the gravest magnitude.  Thought and feeling are far more often employed in concealing knowledge from oneself than in “knowing”.

Now, here is my problem.  Prior to this tainted insight, he eruditely proclaimed one or two uncommon insights per page — the rest of the book will no doubt be the same.  Normally this would be a bonanza, but now I can’t trust him.  It’s very likely that he will have some great insights, but if these are scattered among half-baked insights with dangerously jagged holes, I’ll have to be on guard to avoid getting seduced by something specious.  And so far, none of his insights have been fully baked.

Of course, every book of this sort is going to have things that you disagree strongly with, so disagreement alone shouldn’t be reason to jettison a book.  And I am not actually that worried that I would be duped by any half-baked ideas.  But it will take considerable effort to wade through this book with a critical mind and catalogue all of the places where the guardrails are missing or weak.

~

Tossed it.  The book is filled with indefensible nuggets.  For example, he explains that the word “experience” comes from the root of the word “perilous”, so experience implies overcoming adversity.  This is intellectual humbuggery.  Perhaps people once used the word that way, but not today, so it’s irrelevant.  He builds a whole palace of argument on that one point.  It’s the truck of charlatans to use numerology and linguistic tricks to redefine words in the listener’s mind.

Advice for Dealing with your Phone Company

 Sprint is now refusing service to customers who make too many support calls.  Verizon recently started shutting off people who use too much of the “unlimited” data plan. 

In both cases, the phone company unilaterally changed the service policy without informing customers.  I would love to be able to unilaterally change the amount of money I agree to pay, but apparently it doesn’t work that way.

I don’t use Verizon or Sprint, but since they seem so business-savvy, I am now considering plans with both.  Here is my advice when signing up for a new plan:

Above all, be patient and meticulous.  it is very important to get all of the details of your phone plan correct before you give your name, and activate your service.  Researching the plans can be a very time-consuming process.  For example, I had to call Verizon three times yesterday.  They are advertising a “5 cents plan” for long distance, which doesn’t really cost 5 cents.  I don’t mind that they lie about the cost, but I need to know how much it really costs.  It says 7 cents on the web page, but when you click the link for details, it says 11 cents.

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Since 11 cents is more than 100% more expensive than the advertised rate, it’s important to know these things.  You wont find this out without spending a lot of time interrogating the representatives on the phone, and a verbal commitment from a phone representative is essentially worthless anyway.  You need to obtain their commitment in writing before establishing a billing relationship.

It is not always possible to get every service commitment documented in writing.  For example, “unlimited” usually doesn’t mean unlimited, it just means undocumented.  For Sprint, you will need to verify things such as “how many service calls per month can I make without having my service terminated?”  For these ambiguous service commitments, you will need patience and diligence.  Follow this procedure:

  1. Prepare a list of all ambiguous service terms (“unlimited”, service calls, roaming, etc.)
  2. Call the sales line, make it clear that you are eager to purchase an expensive plan so long as your final minor questions are answered
  3. Ask the representative’s name, and keep a record of this along with time and date, for your notes
  4. Enumerate the resources which you’ve already consulted, to show that you are prepared
  5. Ask for clarification on the ambiguous terms.  Make it clear that you will not make a service commitment without clear commitment on their side.
  6. If the clarifications are made, say thank you and ask for these policies to be provided in written form that you can keep for your records.
  7. If the representative cannot clarify any of these items, politely request to be transferred to a representative who can (this often results in disconnected calls)
  8. Write down everything that is said
  9. At this point, you probably have a verbal commitment on some items, which is relatively worthless.  If verbal commitment is all you can obtain, you will need to re-confirm this
  10. Wait a couple of days and repeat steps 2-8, repeat at least two more times, so that you have commitment from three different representatives recorded and documented

You should do this with all phone companies advertising ambiguous commitments.  When you are satisfied, you can go ahead and establish a billing relationship and activate your service.

Now, even after you have established service, we have seen that the phone companies can unilaterally change the service terms without notifying you.  For these high-risk areas, it is advisable to call once per month and repeat steps 2-8 above (just once) to make sure that nothing has changed.

Gore’s Cult of Reason

Al Gore’s latest book is called The Assault on Reason, and he makes the case that “Reason” alone is worthy of our praise and adulation, and furthermore is under assault by bad people who worship foreign Jewish gods.  Amazon sells it in a bundle with “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”.

This kind of moronic thinking is epidemic in society today.  Leaders proclaim that some conceptual label like “religion” or “reason” is innately good or bad, and attract large followings of militant people who are smug in their belief that they are “above” the ignorant superstitions of the past.  It’s exactly what Yeats meant when he said “the worst are full of passionate intensity”.

If you believe that reason is under assault by religion, do not read on.  Passionate intensity requires conviction that you are correcting a past of dark errors, not repeating the tired old mistakes of thousands of years.  A careful look at history may shake your faith in the god of reason.

The deification of “reason” is at least 2,000 years old.  Plutarch is one of the most famous essayists in western culture.  He was one of the first to advance the arguments that religion is a result of superstitious people trying to explain things that they can’t understand.  As incomplete and unimaginative as this is (I could likewise argue that “reason” was invented by people trying to rationalize things that they knew they shouldn’t be doing), it’s been taught to elementary schoolkids ever since. 

But at least Plutarch was more honest than today’s militant atheists.  For starters, he acknowledged several other factors in the formation of religion.  And most importantly, he didn’t argue that reason was somehow different from other things people believe in.  He was a high priest of Apollo, and Apollo was essentially intellect deified.  The ancient Greeks were smart enough to realize that *anything* you place faith in is a god.

At the end of the French revolution, when the French set out to “de-Christianize” France, they decided to worship “reason”.  Again, they set a standard of honesty that would put today’s atheists to shame.  They explicitly declared a “Cult of Reason“.  If you are going to run around saying that something is by it’s very nature good, deserving of your sacrifice and praise — at least have the honesty to admit you’re making a god of it.  Especially when you are going to elevate it above other gods, as the French did, don’t pretend it’s not a god.

Now, I am not saying that reason is a bad thing.  Reason can be used for both bad and good, just as religion can.  But elevating reason to the status of something infallible is pretty superstitious and ignorant even by ancient standards.  Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali made this case quite lucidly 1,000 years ago.  Reason is limited and fallible, just like religion is.

Proving that reason is not infallible doesn’t even require faith.  You can prove it with reason, as many throughout history have done.  Like Plutarch, Ghazali realized that life is full of uncertainty, and that the real enemy was “passionate intensity”.  Both Plutarch and Ghazali recognized the limitations of reason, and were happy to coexist with faith.  After Ghazali died, the “Cult of Reason” people in the Islamic world provoked an escalation that sounds a lot like Al Gore today:

“Soon the Islamic rationalists were hard at work exterminating all traces of revealed authority by making faith subordinate to reason, while the blind faithful attacked the very core of this new threat by attempting to exterminate reason.”

Today’s misguided cult of Apollo meditate on the supremecy of their god, “reason”, and fill themselves with a righteous indignation.  They set off with passionate intensity to rid the world of dangerous unbelievers.  Since such blind faith in reason is unreasonable, it’s no mistake that the passionate intensity is coming mostly from demagogues, actors, washed-up molecular biologists, and others with no credentials in either reason or faith.

It says something about our culture, that so many rush to the bookstores to read this superstition, yet nobody has time today to read Al-Ghazali, Plutarch, or Petrarch.  Wisdom is the true scorned artifact of the past; today we prefer passionate intensity!

Kijiji in USA

Rafat Ali reports that Kijiji has quietly launched in the USA, ostensibly a competitor to Craigslist. Kijiji is owned by eBay, which also owns a big chunk of Craigslist. Just last month, I was talking with an eBay employee who spent the previous year in Shanghai working on Kijiji, and she didn’t give any hints that this would happen. Wang Jianshuo has been with Kijiji from the start, and was one of the first bloggers at MSFT. He just had a baby boy (congratulations!), which may explain why he didn’t blog about the Kijiji expansion.

I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t think this is to compete with Craigslist as Rafat says, but maybe will be used as leverage in partnerships. I agree with Rafat that it doesn’t make sense to have a bunch of competing brands, and would speculate that eBay will eventually settle on one (and that will be Kijiji). But I could be wrong – I have no idea what lessons they learned from the disappointment of PayPal in China; and maybe they have decided that owning a lot of geographically-specific brands is better.