Zhuangzi On Card-Playing

Brook Ziporyn, in his excellent translation of Zhuangzi (Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings with Selections from Traditional Commentaries, Hackett, 2009) points to an associated article, “Zhuangzi As Philosopher” on his publisher’s website. That article contains this:

Imagine that you find yourself in a card game, where cards are continually being dealt to you from a nonobvious source. You do not know how you got there, where the cards come from, or what the object of the game is—for example, whether you should be trying to collect high cards or low cards. You have no guidelines whatsoever. Every so often, in addition to the ordinary numbered cards, you get what might be called an “instruction card.” This is a card on which is printed some assertion about the goal of the game. One such card might say, “Collect high cards, discard low cards: whoever has the most high cards wins.” But then another instruction card might show up in your hand saying, “Collect low cards, discard high cards; whoever has the most low cards wins.” Perhaps a card will say, “There is no object to the game.” Another might say, “All goals are relative, so all cards are of equal value.” You might act in accordance with one of these cards, but it is still just another card, and can be contradicted by another. If you are committed to the “collect high cards” card, you might discard, ignore, or reject the “collect low cards” card when it arrives, since you already “know” the object of the game. But these two instruction cards are invested with equal validity; they are both just cards that appeared in your hand from an unknown source. Your commitment to follow the instructions of the first one is based on nothing more than its accidental temporal priority.

That’s as good a description of life as I’ve ever read. Makes me want to play Flux.

Free A Stuck Wheel On A BMW

This morning I changed a tire on my wife’s BMX X5 for the first time. A walk in the park, I thought — good spare, good jack, good lug-wrench, easy access. Jacked it up, spun off the bolts then … nothing. I kicked, hammered, wobbled, banged, cussed, kicked some more, checked Google, kicked, banged, then checked Google again. That second time I found this:

Popped it right off!

Apparently, the steel hubs and the aluminum wheels create great conditions for rust to bind things up (yes, I know that aluminum doesn’t rust, I’m just repeating what I read), and if you don’t change tires regularly, like every winter and spring, and you don’t use an anti-seize compound where they meet, it’s common for them to bind up. Not a problem for me anymore, though.

Oh, yeah. Leave one of the lug bolts threaded in slightly when you bang so you don’t have to chase your tire down the road after it busts loose.

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Looting The Students

Scott Lemieux at Lawyers Guns and Money points to NYU as a fine example of academic looting.

My short version (though the original isn’t long): “Students at NYU are taking on debt at a rate 40% above the national average to subsidize second homes for professors who teach elsewhere.”

And here’s the short version of the general principle at work: “Rich people take money from poor people because they can and use it to do whatever they want because the only people powerful enough to stop them are doing the same thing.

More On China and Values (Or Lack of Them)

An interesting post in The Diplomat today (12 May 2014). That’s not uncommon, btw. The title of the post resonates with something I’ve been thinking about: “Africa and China’s Values Deficit“.

The post is a loose review of a new book, China’s Second Continent (I haven’t read it) by Howard French which describes China’s recent investment activities in Africa and the adjustments they have made after some clumsy efforts in the early years of the century. According to the review, the book describes the “paternal, superior attitude of Chinese business people” at work on the continent and makes this telling observation:

Chinese entrepreneurs and diplomats in Africa can make a powerful case for how their investments and trade are lifting people from poverty and making a difference to people’s lives in some of the poorest places in the world. We have to appreciate and recognize the truth in this. But what sort of lifestyles and values will people have after economic development has made them wealthier? On this topic, the vision becomes blurred. Just like in China itself, the vision of the Chinese Party state of what constitutes a good life, beyond being immersed in material goods, is at best vague, at worst non-existent. This makes one suspect that there might be no real vision.

This gives me some more to think about, resonant with some earlier initial musings. I find it expected that the Chinese avoid the Western indulgence of “showing the way to a better life”, but it’s still a little unnerving.

China: “Norwegians Behave Badly”

Ever since the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2010 Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, compounding the grievous insult of the Dali Lama receiving the prize in 1989, China has kept Norway, both government representatives and private citizens, at arms length. China’s imports of Norwegian salmon, once constituting 90% of their salmon imports, fell to 30% almost immediately, and Norwegian citizens have a hard time getting visas to visit China (because they are “badly behaved”). [I’m working off of this blog post from The Diplomat and generally assuming the reporting is accurate.] The Norwegians are trying to do something about that, currently by avoiding all official acknowledgement of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Oslo. It’s too soon to know if there will be any results of Norway’s actions.

The debate, to the extent that there is one, centers around whether or not Norway’s response to China’s “punishments” are craven submission to an international bully or reasonable expressions of political good will, but I’m much more interested in China’s role than Norway’s.

China pursues its foreign interests unencumbered by ideology — they’ll make deals with anybody, even those we in the West would consider “the worst dictators” as long as: 1) China’s national interests are served; and 2) China is shown no disrespect. These are the same thing, of course, and what’s interesting to me is that China has better relations with despotic and poor North Korea than with democratic and rich Norway, and that this must represent a calculation of national interest. Given that China generally takes a very long view, respect, or lack of disrespect, may be the most important component of their trading partner’s status.