小北的不老歌

Monthly Archive: April 2008

Gun-jumping

I realized I may have jumped the gun by mentioning the closing of this blog yesterday. My graduation ceremony is this weekend, and I hope to close the blog shortly thereafter. My dear readers, please don’t all run away after yesterday’s post…

Ping has also jumped the gun on celebrating Anna’s 3rd birthday with her gang at the daycare a couple days early, but Anna didn’t seem to mind. She will have another birthday cake once she gets to Ann Arbor this weekend, and as far as I can tell it’s “the more the merrier” for her when it comes to cakes and birthday parties.

100_0199

Also in the news, I just found out today that the law school named me as the recipient of an award for having made the “greatest contribution” to the Law Review in the past two years. That made me pretty happy, despite all my worsening allergy symptoms.

Speaking of the law review, quite a few graduating editors of the journal recently mentioned to me how much they’ve enjoyed reading my book review criticizing all the China-bashing that’s been going on lately. I secretly thought that if my arguments could persuade and somehow influence them—America’s future appellate clerks, career diplomats, political leaders, policy makers—even if only marginally, so that they will think twice before jumping onto the China-bashing bandwagon because there was this Chinese classmate of theirs who presented a counter-argument they could relate to, then that will be the contribution that I take the most pride in.

“Senior Day,” as the graduation ceremony is called here at the law school, is this Saturday.

Concluding Thoughts

At 2:30 p.m. today, half an hour after the exam began, I handed in my scantron and was officially done with the exam (it was a pass/fail class). That also brought an end to the three-year hazing ritual that I began shortly after I started this blog. I still have the big exam at the end of July to look forward to, at the end of which I will hopefully be accepted into the fraternity, but for all intents and purposes I am done with attending classes, going to school, and collecting degrees.

In the coming months I will be moving to Chicago, then New York. I’ll be missing some old friends, catching up with other old friends, and hopefully making new ones. Looking back, law school fundamentally transformed me, as did my decade-long stay in the U.S. Looking forward, I hope that wherever I end up, both in terms of geography and career, I will continue to change for the better, and share the change with others as well.

I had always thought I would close this blog for good upon graduation from law school, because 1) it has served its purpose of recording my journey through the territory that once seemed terrifying and beyond reach, and 2) like the good judge Kozinski once said, “I could say a lot more, but it would probably compromise my chances for elevation.” I might still do that, especially given the crushing hours ahead of me once I start working. But despite the fact that I’ve said a lot over the years, I haven’t revealed the following to many of my readers, and thought it’s probably the best that I publicly acknowledge my gratitude and appreciation on this occasion.

I was able to come to the U.S. for an undergraduate education largely due to the generosity and kindness of two Americans: Dr. Almon and his wife. In addition to paying for all my undergraduate tuition and living expenses, they have guided me through various life challenges and difficulties, and showed me with their own example what it means to be righteous, kind, generous, and helpful to others—the kind that transcends national and ideological boundaries, the kind that does not seek anything in return, only with the hope that I would reciprocate with equal kindness to other people. I sent them the following message a few weeks ago, and I meant every word of it.

It would be an understatement to say that I have always looked up to you as my mentor and role model since when I first came to the U.S. and all the way through college and law school. This is not just because your generosity more than a decade ago made it possible for me to acquire an education that is otherwise entirely beyond my reach, but also because I benefited tremendously from your guidance, encouragement, and kindness over the years-something that I hope I will be able to pass on to others in the years to come. I will be greatly honored if you could attend my graduation ceremony.

The Night before D-Day

The night before D-Day was divided between reading my half-baked trade law outline and watching Boston Legal Season 3 Disks 3-4.  The daytime hours, to the extent I remember, were split between Benadryl-induced sleep and munching on my favorite Mexican food.  The night prior to that was spent on Boston Legal Season 3 Disks 1-2.

To relieve some readers of unnecessary concern over my recent post, I must confess that I am not so much attracted to conservatism as I am pushed away by liberalism.  If that means I am a communist so be it.  I still get a huge kick out of Boston Legal–likely one of the most flamboyantly left-wing TV series out there–if that’s any consolation.  But Alan Shore doesn’t exist in real life (or would have been fired in the first five minutes of Season 1, Disk 1, Episode 1), and the world really isn’t as simple or glorious as the good versus evil that TV shows make it out to be.  Those who make it seem like simple and glorious, be them politicians, media, or college students, tend to care more about nurturing their own identity, feeling good about themselves for being on the “right” side of things, making a statement to others, and taking a stand on things; rather than actually caring about and making an effort to understand the nuances of the underlying issue. 

I suspect that the same kind of sentiments is behind all the China-bashing lately (well, which started long ago and never really stopped).  Westerners don’t hate China, or at least they don’t hate-hate China; they don’t like us because they’ve fallen in love with themselves, in a self-congratulatory way, for all their achievements and enlightenments.  They have just fallen victim to a disease called “Orientalism” that was first diagnosed in the 1800s.  It is often said that the essence about Orientalism is not so much intentional bias against the orientals as it is for a Westerner to feel good about himself through a comparison between the enlightened and the brainwashed, the advanced and backward, the law and the lawless.  See generally, Teemu Ruskola, Legal Orientalism, 101 MICH. L. REV. 179 (2002).  Each time they yell “Free Tibet” without even knowing where Tibet is on the map, they are not so much about the plight of the Tibetans or the nuances of the Tibet issue as they are about making the statement that they believe in freedom, they believe they have it, and they think they enjoy it—a statement that makes them feel good about themselves.  See, e.g., Patrick French, He May Be a God, but He’s No Politician, N.Y. TIMES, Mar. 22, 2008 (“In fact, the [Congressional Gold Medal] award was a symbolic gesture, arranged mostly to make American lawmakers feel good.”). That’s all good by me, but it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and the Chinese–the brainwashed, the backward, the lawless, the “them”–got hurt.  

Liberalism, conservatism, communism, orientialism…enough “ism”s in this post already.  To conclude my pre-D-Day rambling, here’s a quote I came across a few weeks ago.  Since then it has grown on me.  It is in relation to the Duke girl, but has touched me in an unexpected way.  The original posting was deleted by the author on mitbbs for whatever reason so I don’t have a link, but here’s a copy that I saved.

i just do not want to see [the Duke girl] anywhere close to a political leadership role in China. China does not need a person with very high ambition in politics, it needs leaders who care more about the people than their own legacy; and that will be the best legacy.

Food for thought.

乞术

突然发现好像美国的乞丐最近变得有些赶时髦,倒不是穿着打扮有什么改进,而是在乞讨的技巧上有跟风之嫌,而且是跨地域的。

在芝加哥火车站等车的时候不少次有人上来搭讪,黑白胖瘦各不相同,从一副嬉皮模样浑身满是窟窿戴满耳鼻喉环的,到文质彬彬一副职业打扮说话还颇有文采的都有,却都是一套词:我的钱包丢了(或者被偷了,或者忘带钱了),需要钱坐公共汽车(或者地铁——还有一次说要打车)回家,能不能借两块钱(也有要一块三毛五的并给我看手上已经有六毛五了,或者说需要十六块但已经筹到十四块的)以后一定还给你。第一回将信将疑第给了两块,后来发现怎么众口一词而且拿了钱还在火车站晃悠和别人去搭讪讨钱,就知道怎么回事了,以后就笑笑,偶尔有一块给一块,没一块就给些钢蹦,算是给一点表演费。

唯一的例外是上个月一次,在芝加哥开车,下得高速等红灯的时候一个女孩激动地跑过来说求求你救救我一家,我的车子抛锚在高速路上了(手指着高架桥)我一家四口包括孩子都在车里面等着呢,你能不能借我点钱我们就可以坐公共汽车回家。看我没什么反应,她说着说着就好像要哭了,说已经在路边站了一个多小时也没遇到一个好心人,如果我愿意帮助的话一定日后把钱还给我还要写给我她的电话和家庭住址,不可怜她也要可怜她两岁的孩子,已经没奶没尿布了。在三十秒钟之内把我说得同情心蹭的一下就上来了尤其是说到孩子那段,想起小南小时候出门在外缺奶断尿布的话可是绝对的天下大乱,于是打开皮夹抽出一张五块的就递出去。没想到人家一把把钱攥在手上非但没有感谢反而说,这样每个人才摊到一块两毛五,你有十块么?于是我明白又碰上要钱的了,看准绿灯一脚油门踩下去开溜,有点懊恼,但自嘲这个表演还是比较倾注感情的,这个表演费高一些也罢了。

说起这事是因为今天又碰上两拨乞丐。书店门口有两三个二十出头的坐在地上,打个牌子出来,明说要讨钱以供旅游,如果施舍食物或者香烟也行,我看了没好气(年纪轻轻四肢完好,不去打工挣旅费,居然来大街上讨)于是不予理睬。正感叹这年头,别说装个残疾可怜,就连撒谎说钱包丢了要“借”钱坐车都懒的表演,就能大大咧咧坐地等人给钱,真是世风日下。才走回Union门口,又听见一句经典台词的全新演绎:“对不起,我是新来安娜堡的学生,钱包丢了,能不能借我两块钱坐公共汽车回家?”

又是个二十出头的小伙,还穿着一身密歇根的衣服,戴个眼镜,手里拿着一沓小册子象是从学校里拿的介绍资料。从标准台词上知道有可能又遇见乞丐了,但不忍心万一真是新来本校参观的学生落难,可别让人家觉得这里学生不帮助别人。打开钱包看看只有一张一块的,于是拿出来给他,说对不起,剩下只有十块和二十块面额的了。他千恩万谢收下钱走开,一会儿又折返回来说,Union里面有快餐店能不能麻烦你去店里换些零钞,只要再有一块我就可以坐公共汽车了,我是新来的还没有学生证所以没法坐免费公交……唉,那就帮到底吧。带着他去店里换了钱,又给了一块。再次千恩万谢。

回到四合院里遇见一个同学聊了会天,发现身边走过个人好像面熟,仔细一看的居然又是刚才那个人,好像已经不认识我了,正穿过法学院,向公共汽车站相反的方向走过去。顿时不知是那些坐在地上直接要钱的更令人厌烦呢,还是游动各处编出故事来表演的更加恶劣。

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又记:上面这些还都只能算讨钱的,三年前的这个人就算是骗钱的了,不过编故事还数这个人编得离奇

周六流水帐

起床吃了两粒过敏药就犯困于是在药物作用下昏睡到午后,要不是隔壁那个三年级的老兄的闹钟又一次长时间发作恐怕还得睡下去。从被窝里跳出来去隔壁咣咣咣地敲门心想难道还有把闹钟定在下午两点起床的人不成,闹钟顿时停了下来弄得我纳闷怎么这位仁兄就是闹钟从来就闹不醒而敲门倒每次都听得见。二次起床自觉对花粉草籽抵抗能力有所增加,戴上墨镜拖床毯子出门铺在四合院里和几个朋友晒一下午太阳,期间不慎告诉一个民主党铁杆党棍这三年法学院是如何把我从一个左倾分子转化成右派的于是进行一场化友为敌的讨论。讨论无疾而终后敌化为友又和另几个朋友汇合,六个人挤上一辆车去餐馆吃晚饭。打着饱嗝回到宿舍里想想白天浪费了那么多口舌和脑细胞不妨放松一下于是看了一晚的电视连续剧,名叫”weeds,” 想来想去翻译成《毒草》是再适合不过了。昨天开始第一季第一集,今天已经到了第二季中间了。

还是没有看一页书。周二考试。

临近尾声

考完一门,还有一门。想说今天的是penultimate exam in law school但是好像只有法学院里的书呆子才会用penultimate这种滥词来指代“倒数第二”,一如“I give, devise and bequeath this orange to you”一样多此一举故作斯文于是作罢。周末傍晚的四合院里有三三两两的人搬出躺椅来,坐在草地上聊天,仔细一看原来都是三年级的同学。我流着鼻涕眼泪地打过招呼狼狈地逃进宿舍楼,很羡慕坐在草地上也不过敏的人。

没什么兴趣复习,上网看了一部介绍美国海军陆战队的纪录片。原来在大学的时候曾经心痒痒想去上ROTC的课,看看美国非军校出身的军官都是什么样的人,后来发现自己居然不够格,而且不仅是因为高度近视体重超重和引体向上不达标的原因,所以只好作罢,偶尔跑到半个小时以外的海军军官学校去羡慕一把。

小南的生日就要到了。三岁的小孩子,连出生那天一共四个生日,居然在四个不同的地方过的——在马里兰出生,一岁生日在南京,两岁生日在芝加哥,三岁生日会在安娜堡。再往后推算,四岁生日看来要在纽约过,五岁生日希望就在北京,上海或者香港了吧。想来这几年没少折腾挪地方,希望未来几年里能安顿下来就好。

未来的几天里要复习贸易法(得知一个同学被教授推荐,即将去WTO最高审判机构工作,很让我眼红了一把,怎么这种好事就落不到我头上呢……前年和去年满怀希望地递的两份简历到现在一点回音都没有,不知是不是应该屡败屡战……),还要把宿舍清空,还有毕业典礼等等一堆事情。

还有,无意中发现了个网络用语,叫“脑力激荡“,望文生义以为是brainteaser,查了一下居然是brainstorm的意思,不亦乐乎。

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又记: 突然算了一下,三年里好像带小南跑了不少风景名胜,她去玩过的州计有:

Alaska
Arizona
California
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Illinois
Indiana
Maryland
Michigan
New Jersey
New York
Pennsylvania
Virginia
Washington DC
West Virginia
Wisconsin

去佛罗里达时她还在肚子里所以最多只能算半个州,所以共计十六个半州,车船飞机的坐了不老少,至于她长大还能记得多少就不奢求了。争取今年夏天带她去麻省和缅因州玩。

The Last Train Ride

Today’s train ride from Chicago to Ann Arbor was very uneventful. The train was late again, as usual, and there weren’t that many people on the train. I watched the movie “Transformer” on my laptop to kill the first two hours and gazed at the flat Michigan land for the remaining four.

This is probably going to be my last Chicago-Ann Arbor train ride. Sometimes I wonder as the train passes by casinos, junkyards and blighted neighborhoods that dot the vast undeveloped landscape: is the Midwest a symbol that the U.S. is losing important ground in the fierce global competition after nearly a century of dominance, or is it indication that there is still much untapped potential that could one day prove to be the crucial reserve that European and Asian countries don’t have after thousands of years of intensive development?

The class that I appreciate the most this semester is, surprisingly, Chinese legal history. Not because it taught me so much about Chinese legal history proper (it did), but because putting things in a comparative context has shed some light yet raised many questions for me. If the Confucian orthodoxy is built on a system of duties and a network of respect, isn’t it intuitively more attractive and viable as a social construct than the “every man for himself” idea that underlies the Judeo-Christian natural rights theory? If everyone focuses on insisting that their God-given rights not be infringed rather than on carrying out their obligations (or denying that there is any obligation from the individual to the state at all), wouldn’t the society descend into chaotic interpersonal or inter-factional disputes as Confucius has famously predicted? It’s almost a miracle that a society built on natural rights has functioned well, and I don’t know how to reconcile Confucius’s worry with the Western reality.

But here’s a try. I remember two things from ECON101. One, individuals are rational actors that seek to maximize their individual utility, and two, somehow there is this “invisible hand” behind the market that makes it efficient — a market consisting of people who, paradoxically, care only about the maximization of their own gains rather than social optimality. From these two premises flowed the laissez-faire economic principles, but then in ECON201 we were taught that laissez-faire economics doesn’t really work all that well, and that government intervention is often necessary to do what the invisible hand is incapable of. If rudimentary economics can have any application to my crude understanding of politics, it would be that societies that subscribe to the notion of sacred and inviolable individual natural rights must also depend on some kind of “invisible hand” principle to function, because the individual rights protection need to somehow translate into collective societal progress. But I wonder how far this analogy can be taken.

In any event, I have still have trouble accepting that people are born with natural rights, after this many years of hearing it. I find it easier to believe that rights are artificial creations of human beings or as social contracts among them, not some divine bestowment from above or encoded in our DNA. I also find it easier to accept that rights protection should be utilitarian in nature: it is a means to an end–the end being to encourage human flourishing and to prevent human suffering. When protection of rights become an end in itself, haven’t we lost sight of the failure of laissez faire economics and the rising dominance of the regulatory state, even in the U.S.?

If I can spend one day…

I was going through some old files looking for an old paper I wrote when I came across this school essay Ping and I came up with a few years ago when we were working on her school application. Now it reads a bit, um, tacky. But I liked it a lot back then.

Prompt: If you can spend one day as someone else, who would it be? Why?

It would be Mario, the main character in the 1985 Nintendo video game “Super Mario Brothers.”

Who wouldn’t want to be Mario for a day? In one day as him I would be able to travel extensively: through the grasslands, across the ocean and into the woods. It would be a day of fun activities: I can run, jump, swim, break bricks, catch gold coins and collect magic mushrooms. It would be an adventurous day: I would venture through treacherous roads in the Mushroom Kingdom, battle the fire-breathing dragons in the castles and rescue Princess Toadstool from the world of evil.

On the road of adventure I will be rewarded with magic-power plants and gold coins. In other words, as Mario I will collect exactly the two things many people spend a lifetime pursuing: power and wealth. Just like Mario, I will welcome power and wealth, and will attempt to maximize both along the way. I will realize that power and wealth in the Mushroom Kingdom, like those in the real world, often go hand-in-hand, and are sometimes hidden in roads less traveled.

I will also keep in mind that in Mario’s world, power and wealth are only two means to an end. Although the more magical plants and gold coins I collect, the better the position I will be in when facing obstacles, the game is never won by a simple accumulation of either power or wealth—my mission is to rid the world of evil and to save the princess. Coming from a world where “to save the world” is sneered at as a childishly idealistic wish and many regard the pursuit of power and wealth as an end in itself, I hope I can reinforce my beliefs and goals in the day that I spend as him.

Mario seldom achieves his goal on the first try. In all stages but the last, Mario defeats enemies along the way, slays the dragon in the castle, only to find that the lady he rescued is not the real princess. Yet he persists and immediately enters the next stage to embrace new challenges. Even when he makes a fatal mistake and is killed by an enemy, a new Mario picks up from where he left off, and continues the fight. To Mario, the game is never lost. It simply hasn’t been won. His remarkable resilience in pursuing his goal and dealing with disappoints and failures are qualities I hope to replicate, both in the day spent as him and in my pursuits in real life.

An unwavering goal, with the power and wealth to make it feasible, coupled with resilience after failure and a determination to succeed – now that makes one a formidable contender in the adventurous road of life.

Two Links

I am still sniffing and sneezing so no blogging today. But I’d like to pass along two interesting articles by Brendan O’Neill, a British commentator. Both are on topics highly relevant to the recent events and discussions.

Invasion of the Robotic Thugs. — The attacks on the ‘horrible, ominous, retarded’ Chinese men guarding the Olympic flame are historical prejudice repeated as farce.

Slitty eyes and buck teeth? It must be China — In its rush to denounce Chinese militarism and pollution, is the British Free Tibet Campaign disseminating dubious stereotypes of Chinese people?