Reading the world, one country at a time

JISHOU, HUNAN — Now here’s an idea I wish I had had: choose a book from each of the world’s nations (plus a few extra locations), read it, and write a short review. That’s what Ann Morgan of the UK just finished doing. Since she is literate only in English, French and German, Morgan asked help from readers of her blog to find English translations. One contributor even wrote a book for her blog, to fulfill the mission. I wish I had that kind of time, to just sit and read. Color me green with envy. The Atlantic has an interview with Morgan, and here is a Public Radio International report. I was curious to see which books she read from countries I’ve lived in, or have an interest in. So, here’s what I found. From China, she read Banished!, by Han Dong, rather than a work by Nobel Prizewinner Yan Mo. Han’s novel is about the Tao family, who are forced to leave Nanjing during the Cultural Revolution. As for Yan, I’d recommend Red Sorghum, his first novel, which was also turned into a film. But I have to confess, I have only seen the movie version as yet. ...

Bitcoin update: Trading Chinese renminbi just got harder 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — Bitcoin’s value against the dollar has dropped dramatically these last few days, bouncing between US$600 and $700. Meanwhile, China’s restriction on bank trading has cut off one of my channels to convert renminbi into bitcoins. I found this message from rmbtb.com today. Dear users, Due to recent requirements by the People’s Bank of China, AliPay can no longer be used as a deposit or withdrawal method. Users with existing CNY balances at the time of this announcement will be allowed to withdraw CNY using AliPay prior to 21 December 2013, when the AliPay function will be completely removed. Other users have had their AliPay withdrawal limit reduced to zero. We have also tightened the withdrawal limits on Tenpay to 3,000 CNY. Please bear this in mind when selling BTC. We are searcing for reliable new payment options, and will update in the future when these are available. Alipay is a PayPal-like service in China. I’ve used it mostly for online shopping at www.taobao.com, but as with PayPal, you can also use to send money to an email address. Alipay uses the Bank of China as the conduit, and the government forbade banks from dealing in bitcoin earlier ...

The Story of the Jade Rabbit (Yu Tu)

Long ago, three bodhisattvas decided to test the character of the animals. They chose the fox, the monkey and the rabbit for their first test. The bodhisattvas disguised themselves as starving beggars, and each asked the fox, the monkey and the rabbit for food. The fox immediately ran off, stole a farmer’s chicken, and presented it to the first beggar. The immortal refused it, saying it was stolen and a poor offering. The monkey scampered into the trees, and came back with two bunches of bananas. The second bodhisattva also refused the offering, because the monkey only did what the beggar himself could do. The poor rabbit, who only ate grass and leaves, knew he had nothing to offer. So, he asked the third immortal to make a cook fire. Once the fire was ready, he threw himself into the flames, saying the men could eat his flesh. But the rabbit was unharmed by the fire. The immortals were so impressed by the rabbit’s generosity, that they let him live forever in the Moon Palace. They honored him further by placing his likeness on the Moon for all the world to see. If you look carefully at the full moon, ...

Astonishingly bad teaching materials

JISHOU, HUNAN — Multiple-choice tests may be one of the easiest kinds of tests to take, but they are the hardest kind for a teacher to write. This may explain why some MC tests are so astonishingly bad, such as the ones highlighted at Jonny Scaramanga’s blog, Leaving Fundamentalism. Scaramanga’s blog includes MC questions from the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) series, which are widely used among homeschoolers and so-called “schools” run by fundamentalist churches. Most violate every known principle of designing useful MC questions. Let me explain. Most MC questions give three to five choices, from which the test-taker must choose the best. Good questions challenge the student’s knowledge and understanding by providing answers that seem plausible, but are not quite correct. Some choices are called “distractors,” because they are there to mislead an inattentive or ill-prepared student into choosing them. Some teachers (like me) throw in a few joke choices from time to time, just to lighten things up. At my former school, there is a teacher surnamed Miron, which made for a perfect joke answer for a question involving subatomic particles: proton, electron, meson, miron. But designing MC tests is a nightmare, especially if you want the test ...

The story of Chang’E (version 2)

Once upon a time, there were two immortals who lived in the palace of the Jade Emperor in heaven. Their names were HouYi, an expert archer, and Chang’E, his beautiful wife. One day, the ten sons of the Jade Emperor turned themselves into ten suns. The people of Earth cried to the gods to help them, because the suns were too hot and would scorch the Earth. Chang’E and HouYi took pity on the people of Earth. HouYi took his bow and arrow, and shot down nine of the ten suns, leaving only one to keep the Earth warm for the people there. The people of Earth were very happy, of course, but the Jade Emperor was not. HouYi had killed nine of his ten sons! As punishment, he banished HouYi and Chang’E to live as ordinary people on the Earth. Now an ordinary woman, Chang’E feared growing old and losing her great beauty. HouYi loved his wife very much, and looked far and wide for something to help her. Finally, HouYi found the Witch of the West, who made him a magic pill that would give anyone immortality. But she told him, “I have made one pill for you ...

The story of Chang’E (version 1) 2

The story of Chang'E (version 1)
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful little girl living in the palace of the Jade Emperor in Heaven. Her name was Chang’E 嫦娥. One day, she broke the Jade Emperor’s favorite porcelain jar. Angered, he banished her to live among the mortals on Earth. Now an ordinary human, and not a goddess, Chang’E became a simple farm girl in a well-to-do family. She grew up to be stunningly beautiful young woman. A farm boy, HouYi, fell in love with her, and they became friends. Then one day, a strange thing happened. Ten suns appeared in the sky, which would scorch the Earth and kill all the people. HouYi was an expert archer. He climbed to the top of the highest mountain, and shot down nine of the suns with his arrows. He became a hero, was made the king and of course, he married Chang’E. But fame and fortune made HouYi a little crazy. He was a cruel king, and greedy. He wanted to be immortal, like the gods. So, he spent a lot of money to get a magic pill to preserve his life. Being a little careless, King HouYi left the pill on his bedside table. ...

Chinese probe touches down on lunar surface, sends back photos 3

Chinese probe touches down on lunar surface, sends back photos
JISHOU, HUNAN — The Chang’E 3 lunar lander successfully touched down on the Moon earlier today, becoming another feather in China’s space exploration cap. After a short radio blackout, it sent back photos of its approach. Chang’E, named after the Chinese moon goddess 嫦娥, carries a six-wheeled rover, Jade Rabbit (yu tu 玉兔), also a figure in Chinese mythology. The rover, which resembles the NASA rovers exploring Mars, will deploy in a few hours to begin a three-month mission. China is only the third nation to soft-land a spacecraft on the Moon, following the former Soviet Union and the USA. The lunar project follows China’s successful low-earth orbit manned missions, and is a probable prelude to a manned mission to Earth’s nearest neighbor in the next few decades. The probe has landed far north of landing sites by the Soviet Luna 9 and 16 probes, landing in 1966 and 1970, respectively, and the Apollo 11 landing in 1969. India and Japan have also sent missions to the Moon, but have not had soft landings. The last soft landing was by the Soviet Luna 24 probe, in 1976. More details are available at Space.com.

Wherein I dip my toe into the bitcoin sea 3

Wherein I dip my toe into the bitcoin sea
JISHOU, HUNAN — Bitcoin may be the greatest thing since hard money, or the biggest flop since the 17th century tulip bulb bust, but I wanted to give it a try, just in case I could make some money. Bitcoin is a computer- and Internet-based currency, although some say it’s more a commodity than a kind of money. It’s decentralized, meaning there is no one authority (like a national bank system) controlling it, and it’s virtual, meaning it exists only in digital form. As I write this, 1 Bitcoin (BTC1.0) is worth about US$864, a considerable decline from the week before, when it crossed the $1,000 mark. How do you get bitcoins? There are four ways. Sell something for bitcoins. Trade something for bitcoins. “Mine” bitcoins on a computer. Buy bitcoins with regular, old-fashioned money. A fifth way, stealing bitcoins, is supposed to be nearly impossible, because bitcoin “wallets” and transactions are heavily encrypted. Hence the alternate name for bitcoin and its many cousins: crypto-currencies. Well, I wanted to get ahold of some bitcoins and another crypto-currency, peercoin. This was last week, when both were flying high relative to the dollar. I had nothing to sell or trade. My mid-range ...

A Quaker answers Christian objections to contraception coverage

JISHOU, HUNAN — Members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) have a long history of conscientious objection and non-violent resistance to laws they feel contradict divine law. Notable examples have included slavery from the early 1700s to 1865 in the USA, war since the 17th century. and conscription in the 20th. Since the passing of the Affordable Care Act, some conservative Christian employers have objected to the ACA’s mandate that company health care plans should cover contraception and abortions for those employees needing them. Hobby Lobby’s owners, in particular, have taken their objections to the US Supreme Court, saying they should be allowed to essentially be “conscientious objectors” and refuse such coverage. Seems reasonable, right? Well, not quite. As blogger Annalee Flower Horne explains, a CO should not expect life to be so easy. As a Quaker, I believe in Conscience Protection. I believe people should have the right to refuse work that violates their principles. If a draft were called tomorrow, I would wholeheartedly support people’s right not to serve. But if someone serving in the military came to me and said they wanted me to defend their right to refuse military service, but that they also wanted ...

They have no shame: Calif. GOP makes fake healthcare website

JISHOU, HUNAN — Taking a page from the Kim Jong-Il Manual of Public and Media Manipulation, Republican members of the California Assembly created pamphlets and an entire website to mislead people about the Affordable Care Act and health insurance. As reported at Crooks and Liars, the assembly members sent “helpful” mailings to their constituents offering advice about signing up for health insurance, with just one little problem. ..[T]hey don’t direct those people to CoveredCA.com to sign up. Instead, they send them to their own astroturf version at the URL CoveringHealthCareCA.com. Visitors to the fake website are then misled about their options under the ACA (also known as Obamacare), told only about the penalties in not signing up and not about the benefits — basically, a pack of lies. What is it about these Republicans? They are sore losers who never had a decent hand and are now trying to stack the deck — and they’re not even dealing the cards! Congress passed the ACA, President Barack Obama signed, and it became law. The insurance exchanges are in operation in many states (except in those states controlled by Republicans dead set on destroying the system from the inside) and hundreds of ...

Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving 2013
JISHOU, HUNAN — First, I am going to pimp my mention in NPR’s Protojournalist blog. They invited expats around the world to contribute short reports on how we were celebrating the holiday. None of my photos on Instagram got used, but you can see a few of them here. Thursday is a work day for me this term. I have morning Oral English classes till just before noon. The only Western holiday we foreign teachers have off is Christmas, and only a day at that, so all other holidays are working days for me. It’s just something you have to accept as expat. On the bright side, Chinese universities typically take four to six weeks off for winter holiday and six weeks off for the summer, plus there are other shorter holidays scattered throughout the year. After classes, I met Laura Liu for lunch. I have mentioned her in an earlier post about my students. Laura and I are close friends, but she had other plans for dinner, so we met for lunch at a place downtown that serve noodles Yunnan style. It’s one of my favorite places to eat in Jishou, and I hadn’t been there for months. The ...

Ohio science/religion teacher Freshwater loses yet again

JISHOU, HUNAN — So, here’s the short version. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled, 4-3, last week that the Mount Vernon School District was well within its rights to fire teacher John Freshwater for insubordination, given that he repeatedly ignored orders to remove religious material from his classroom and from his teaching. The court’s ruling, however, sidestepped the thornier underlying question of how much discussion of creationism and Intelligent Design may be permissible in a science classroom. That question in fact was a large part of Freshwater’s appeal of a lower court’s decision. And the court’s failure to address the issue drew sharp words from the three dissenting judges. Writing for the dissent, Justice Paul E. Pfeifer writes: {¶ 105} What next? With the insubordination claim gutted, the lead opinion should have moved on to consider the constitutional issues remaining in the case. Instead, the majority walks away from the opportunity to provide helpful guidance to every school board in Ohio and to the thousands of great teachers who could benefit from knowing more about the extent of and limits on their academic freedom. Justice O’Donnell’s well-reasoned dissent addresses the issue, but goes unrebutted. In short, the majority shrinks from the ...
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