Questions in motion

What's a blog worth? I hope that you agree, a blog's value is as much in its answers as in the questions it raises.

When a new communication medium comes up, especially a publicly subsidized one, not only ever hopeful scholars and politicians, but also business leaders hail it as a new means towards more democracy. The internet, in the US at least, made no exception.

Here's a question for you: How can one determine the degree of democratization brought about by the internet, and how much more democratic has the US become since the advent of the internet?

Earlier Americans, when defining themselves, kept up the British tradition of being different from the (continental) Europeans. Consequently, we still use the Imperial measurement system, despite the more rational metric system. I should add that the number of places not using the metric system is shrinking rapidly.

Here's the second question: Since we introduced 100 subdivisions for some main units, why not (OR when will we) go all the way with the metric system?

Chances are that you've read books with end notes. To the extent you find the idea of end-notes useful, do you ever stop checking them due to the annoyance of going back and forth through the book?

The third and last question for this round: Why not and how can we, the thorough readers, convince book publishers to do foot-notes instead of end-notes?

Human rights, yes!
please, define rights

No news-day is complete without a story about some US based company's foray in China. The analysis of the US-China relationship poses two interesting levels:
  • At country level, the US and China are neither enemies nor exactly friends--they need each other for debt-financing and know how transfer, respectively, while wary of each other military;
  • At company level, China is viewed in the US both as source of cheap labor and as (future) market.
It follows that, given the unique nature of the relationship, human-rights activists and some US political leaders are out of square with those US companies that help the Chinese officials maintain an autocratic grip on the society at the expense of individual freedom and even liberty. While the activists' and the political leaders' perspectives on China owe much to some evolved cold-war framework, today they don't have much leverage on the Chinese except for the intrinsic appeal and moral superiority of the individual-freedom principles. Indeed, one cannot think of a Chinese equivalent to the corrosive effects of pop-culture in the Soviet Bloc countries. Moreover, due to increased interdependency, whatever level of policy-based economic leverage one can still think of to sway China is fast dwindling.

What is one to think of information-economy type of companies, US based and conducting business in China, that stifle people's needs for individual freedom, or, worse, lead to people imprisonment? How far can the analysis be extended outside information-economy type of companies?

There are not easy answers since members of the US Congress invited some of these companies to Washington; the companies did not make it to Washington, but asked the Congress to push itself for whatever democratic outcome it desires from China. One may call this posturing, I just say this is the new nature of the beast. Thus, a new framework is necessary, yet its makers have not been called to action yet. However necessary this framework is, it won't emerge until a real crisis sets in. To define "real" is to guess anybody's threshold.

On the other hand, it is hard to ask the Chinese people to answer themselves to these questions. It is assumed that a different social contract is at work in China whereby the personal freedom takes a back seat to economic prosperity. And that may well be true, however, due to fear or cynicism, who will dare risk their freedom, for the sake of democracy in China, from inside an Yahoo or Google email account?

P.S. The irony of fate has it that the parents of Messrs. Yang and Brin (founders of Yahoo! and Google, respectively) might have come to the US on individual liberty grounds.

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