December 6, 2013

  • Pinyin and Simplified Characters: Raison d’etre?

    One of the primary motivations for promulgating the adoption of simplified characters was the high rates of illiteracy in pre-modern China. Learning complex stroke order and forms for the 1-2000 characters used in common language was very challenging and time consuming. Passive and active command of ideograms is no mean feat, and requires much repetition in order to gain mastery of the common characters – never mind the other 104000 listed in the 2004 yitizi zidian (異體字字典).

    Several prior simplifications have occurred, and indeed, this is a theme in the evolution of a languages. Typically, while the actual numbers of words increases, the syntax and grammar simplify over time. The debate surrounding simplification of Mandarin during the latter portions of the Qing raged as one might typically expect – simplification in a language like chinese, with the meaning and art of a character at risk, is an emotional subject for many. The goal however, is wider spread adoption of the language of discourse and access to writing.

    The communist regime actually considered complete elimination of the Han script and adoption of Pinyin as a the sole language, thus implementing what had already happened with Vietnamese, and, to a certain extent with Japanese/Korean with their syllabaries. However, given the intense tonality of the language, and the number of homonyms, reading pinyin only Chinese was rife with unclear meanings.

    Another problem with the pinyin only model was that the sound for a character differed regionally. Definitely with regional patois such as Cantonese/Shanghainese/Minan etc… but also with regards to local pronunciations of words as well. Thus, a pinyin system would remove the very unusual feature of chinese writing that allowed people that are vocally incomprehensible to be understood through writing alone.

    So, Pinyin currently exists as a pronunciation system for standard Mandarin only.

    Fast forward 60 years, skipping over early chinese typewriters, we come to the problem of how to take keystroke inputs and translating them into images. The major input methods are pinyin based and Changjie based. The latter utilizes the form of the character, using the keystrokes to tell the computer what character it is by pieces of it’s form. Pinyin based utilizes the mandarin pronunciation, using familiar roman keys.

    The situation is now completely different. With input systems becoming the norm, writing is used less and less. Input via either pinyin or Changjie doesn’t actually require precise knowledge of a character’s stroke order or form – it requires a rough knowledge in both cases. Both systems will bring up characters that match the inputted keys, and give an array of options, thus rendering “writing” a near passive-knowledge experience.

    If you can recognize the character, it’s enough…

    So to me, the development of Chinese input methods has essentially obviated the need for simplified characters. With a pinyin/recognition system, you’re not writing each stroke anyway, right? Changjie as well…

    So, with smartphones in ever increasing numbers of hands… and more word processing, why not bring back the more beautiful traditional script paired with modern input methods?

  • Winter Again

    The snow alights upon dark branches,
    The trees proffer their limbs in whispering supplication
    To the winter sun scattering light in the paper sky

    The air is fresher,
    The sounds somehow clearer
    And the colours so much starker

May 2, 2013

  • Link:

    China’s Future

    Last article for the day:
    The Economist typically is very dismissive of the Chinese perception that it was slighted and mistreated in the 19th century. If there is one lesson that is clear from that period, a strong GDP doesn’t make for safety. It is estimated that China made up roughly 1/3rd of the World GDP at that time, and all that industry didn’t matter in the face of colonialist forces intent on sacking Chinese wealth and markets.

    Rightly or wrongly, it is no surprise that in the intelligentsia, very cognizant of the forces that brought China low in the past, are very loathe to repeat the mistakes that occurred in the past. It is always fascinating to see the irony.

    In the decline of Rome, the de-emphasis of the military was a major factor in its fall to the Goths (as a group). Chinese dynastic decline was often accompanied by centuries of infighting and fragmented military control. From Babylonians to Incas, military strength is a huge indicator… that said, chickens or eggs? Economics/demography/culture/military? Causal relationships are difficult to truly know.

    Hong Kong was taken by the British because the Chinese fought against the forced import of opium into the mainland. They fought, lost and were forced to cede Hong Kong. These sorts of actions teach that the west defines right by force of arms. Yes, Hong Kong was lost in a fight with drug dealer, effectively. Granted, as you read the annals of the British Empire, it’s quite clear that the complexity, heterogeneity, and chaos of ruling the empire made cogent and consistent decision making impossible (cf. The Ghosts of Empire, Kwarteng, PublicAffairs Press). So to blame the British as a whole makes no sense, but certainly the policy of the leadership.

    This perception of victimhood and need for security is important to understand. Is it an overreaction? Possibly. But would such a people believe the soothing words of those that had invaded before?

    The memories of the conquerors is oft short.

    The memories of the oppressed oft far less forgiving, vis a vis the variance of China’s perception of policy and history with Vietnam, vs. the perceptions/memories of the Vietnamese [recall the slogan, `1000 years of Chinese Rule', frequently noted in Vietnam, but rarely mentioned in Chinese articulation;]

    These are lessons that relative new-comer, the US, ought to remember, as GDPs are not simply equal to power or stability.


April 23, 2013

  • Vows

    I’ve thought often about what kind of vows I consider taking should I ever have the privilege of marrying someone.  

    Without going to far into my own thoughts on what I would say, I offer these as a good set of vows.  They are clearly Christian, and they are deeply rooted in the text and context in which we understand Ephesians 5.  Before anyone takes offense about misogyny or chauvinism, I submit to you that having a husband who leads by sacrificing isn’t 重男轻女。。。The challenge to any couple making vows like those below is realizing that they are both unattainable as broken humans, but that they can remain a sign post or a pole with which to organize one’s marriage and responses to the stress and challenges that are implicit in the journey of marriage.

    Mull.  I’ll respond to these more personally in a later post by this weekend.

    Yes, it’s been a long time.

    Thanks CY and TC, EN and MN!




    I vow to you before friends, family, and God these things, which apart from the grace of God, I cannot fulfill because of my present weaknesses and continued sinfulness.


    As the church loves Christ sacrificially

    so I vow to give up all things to love you apart from Christ

    As the church loves Christ supremely above all else

    so I vow to always delight only in you apart from Christ

    As the church loves Christ eternally

    so I vow to love you until my dying day

    As the church cherishes Christ

    so I vow to regard you as my greatest treasure next to Christ

    As the church submits to Christ

    so I vow to submit to you

    As the church represents Christ

    so I vow to represent you with all dignity and honor

    As the church obeys Christ

    so I vow to respectfully obey you

    As the church serves Christ

    so I vow to serve you with all humility and patience

    And just as the church

    Will forever remain the bride of Christ


    So I vow to never depart from or abandon you,

    For richer or for poorer

    In sickness and in health

    For better or for worse

    Until death do us part


    By my love, I hope to prepare you

    For the Lord Jesus Christ, whose love

    I can only hope to faintly imitate.




    I vow to you before friends, family, and God these things, which apart from the grace of God, I cannot fulfill because of my present weaknesses and continued sinfulness.


    As Christ loves His church sacrificially

    so I vow to sacrifice all for your sake apart from Christ

    As Christ loves His church supremely

    so I vow to forever delight in only you apart from Christ

    As Christ loves His church eternally

    so I vow to love you until my dying day

    As Christ provides for His church

    so I vow to provide for you

    As Christ sanctifies His church

    so I vow to lead you in holiness

    As Christ cherishes His church

    so I vow to make you my greatest treasure next to Christ

    As Christ leads His church

    so I vow to lead you in accordance to the holy commandments

    of our God and King

    As Christ serves His church

    so I vow to serve you with all humility and patience

    And just as Christ has promised

    Never to leave or forsake His church


    So I vow to never depart from or abandon you,

    For richer or for poorer

    In sickness and in health

    For better or for worse

    Until death do us part


    By my love, I hope to prepare you

    For the One whose love

    I can only but hope to faintly imitate.

December 11, 2012

  • Taxing the Rich

    It’s very interesting to me that the debate in congress and with the Oval Office centers on taxing the rich.  For disclosure, I will have my taxes increase under the proposed changes, so read this with a grain of salt.

    The discussion on taxing the rich is actually quite a sad misdirection in that the concept that made so many upset with Romney was his effective tax rate in the teens.  The present changes do nothing to affect his tax rate, nor most of the 0.1% and up, because the majority of their wealth is from capital gains rather than in wages.  Small business owners are in this category as well – their business earnings will be taxed as personal income tax at the highest rate should they exceed 200K/250K depending on marital status.

    Net effect?

    Working professionals are taxed more, truly wealthy are largely unaffected.  This has 0 effect on a trust fund kid or an heiress, as they have no wages.  Many Congressmen and Senators become wealthy from investment as well, taxed at capital gains rates… and many finance firms earn their money from capital gains rates as well – although some of these Bush era changes are going to expire as well.  If the top tax bracket tax does go up, it just widens the gap between the truly wealthy and the rest of us.  

    If the government really wanted to narrow the GINI, this isn’t the way to do it – the towering piles of capital exist in the leadership of both liberals and conservatives – I find it humourous that these tax changes will not disproportionately affect them.

October 7, 2012

  • Growth at all Costs…

    One of the things I think is very interesting about economic perspectives on current growth rates.  There seems to be an assumption that growth should occur indefinitely and at high rates.  A recent article in the economist talks about why Canada should increase consumption to boost economic growth. 

    I’m not sure GDP growth should be looked at as some sort of arbitrary target.  Borrowing to drive growth cannot be a long term solution; repayment of the debts used to drive growth eventually curtail growth… you borrow now, but will pay later…  this isn’t rocket science.  The pursuit of stable growth rates isn’t a science – and macroeconomic, regional and global forces affect it.  To believe that one nation can control its growth rate indefinitely is poppy-cock.

    The sooner our economies adjust to the reality of debt and overspending, the better.  Better pain now than later – because the uncertainty of colossal debt (yes, we could default – but that results in economic upheaval – vis a vis Argentina or even pre-Reich Germany.  Government/societal default does not normally presage good times.


August 9, 2012

  • Thunder and Lightning

    Boldly streaking across the sky

    Electric flashes


    Thunder resounds



    Rain lashes against the stone and brick



    Water, sweet water, drenches the earth

    Slaking its parched thirst

    Gifting itself


    With abandon

June 7, 2012

  • Elections – Obama and Romney 2012

    Well, the choice ends up being Romney vs. Obama, round 2.  

    Last election, it had been interesting up until McCain picked Palin.  While Palin has evolved into a formidable (though largely unelectable) political force/pundit, her appearance and behavior on the ticket made McCain an impossibility in my mind.  What had been his key quality – his indomitable independent way of doing things – became subsumed in a consensus platform of views that highlighted his worst qualities and eclipsed his strengths.  Obama had a walkover, running on the promise of better government, more government, and a new way of government.

    One cycle later, after a particularly grueling series of primary battles, Romney is the de facto Republican candidate.  

    An unlikely candidate at that…  Despite the noisy far right parts of the Republican caucus, the typically dominant voices in protestant churches, and the groups that focus on abortions, gay marriage and the like, Romney was the last one standing.

    As a rather conservative person religiously, libertarian governmentally, and a believer in a federalist, republican form of government, I find myself strongly in support of Romney, especially given the options.  I’m going to address this topic from 2 perspectives – one from faith, and the other from economics.

    For the easy one.  As a person who believes in the inspired nature of the Bible, and a person who’s credo agrees with the Apostle’s Creed, and is Calvinist theologically, I don’t hold much truck with LDS church’s Christology and understanding of Deity.  On the other hand, the general life-choices that the LDS church encourages are objectively in agreement with what I agree with (despite hypocrisy on my or others’ part).  I agree strongly with the Separation of Church and State.  Government exists to create a framework within which private citizens interact – not to control their behavior, in either a liberal or conservative fashion, but more on that later.

    Insomuch as we elect officers for such a government, our key obligation as an electorate is not to find persons that parrot our conceptions, but rather rule fairly and reasonably.  I am strongly of the opinion that morality cannot be legislated – so attempts to do so by either conservatives or liberals are to be opposed.  Acts may be illegal and immoral, or illegal and moral or legal yet immoral.  Laws, at best, create a framework that approximates a moral system, but do not provide for the inner, philosophical workings that lead to consistent thinking and action that really breathes life into a population.  

    Governments do not create great citizens – but they can get out of the way so that people can grow up to be mature, contributing members of society.

    The main point:

    Our most pressing problem in this country is our debt and our economic productivity.  We could borrow more, and gamble that, by doubling down with the “house’s” money, we can get a blackjack and come out even – or even ahead.  It might work with more neo-Keynesian stimulus – borrowing more, and hoping that the liquidity allows entrepreneurs to grow more jobs and businesses.  To my mind, it is more likely good money after bad.  We borrow to fund an economic ecosystem that isn’t performing as well as it ought, and we’re more likely to simply end up in more debt.  Moreover, increased prices on equities doesn’t ultimately mean a better economy – the USD value of the economy might increase, but the excess liquidity also continues to fuel inflationary pressures.  Net effect may not be so efficacious for the private citizen.

    Yes, to my mind, we’re merely delaying the inevitable calling to account that happens when governments and societies borrow too much, and cannot change their lifestyles in keeping with fiscal realities.  Governments and societies take longer to “fail” but fail they will when mismanaged.

    Romney strikes me a man who believes in building stuff.  Yeah, people can call VCs vultures, but the reality is that the model is neither good nor evil – it’s just an approach.  Helping good business ideas become profitable is the way that capitalism evolves – and killing off bad models is good as well.  The best case scenario is when you have a whole ecosystem of businesses growing and replacing and killing off one another keeping growth and development reasonably smooth over an economy.  But having completely chaotic regulatory and tax environments is really a bad way to grow businesses.

    If Romney just wanted money, he should’ve stayed at Bain.  If he wants to be a big name, just become a pundit.  Getting into politics when you’re already influential and rich is either complete arrogance or … reflects a real zeal to help society.  He strikes me as someone who wants to help and build society.  Whether that’s misguided is a completely different question.

    To this end, one must ask, what does he bring to the table?  Doesn’t he have big business’ interest in mind?  Well, businesses provide the vast majority of jobs, and pay the majority of wages in the US.  And thus, the US tax base is essentially contingent on an economy of businesses.  Kill the businesses and everyone suffers.  A good business can take care of its employees – companies that did this are well regarded – though not always maximally profitable on a quarter to quarter basis.  Understanding the ecology in which businesses function is essential to encouraging growth and getting out of the way effectively (and intervening when necessary as well.)

    There’s no one better than a business veteran coming into try to fix the milieu – perhaps bringing in some unpleasantness, but also creating a pro-growth environment.  Companies do need regulation – but appropriately.  Regulation should be scalpel like- accurate, and effective, but not clumsy and heavy.  Regulation shouldn’t burden industries such that they do more paperwork than their actual work.  Taxes need to be structured with fewer loopholes and incentives.  It’s just possible that Romney can work towards this end.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he did, given the chance.

    Yep, I do think that if elected, he’ll be a very pleasant surprise.  Right now, we need a person with fewer cloudy dreams – and more grit.  Someone who will work hard to build an ecosystem favorable to businesses – and particularly businesses that have long term growth and, thus, have a long term interest in the welfare of their employees.

    I didn’t know whether to expect much from the Obama presidency, but I can say that I don’t think his policies have been very savvy.  Unless something drastic changes, I think I know who’s got my vote.

    Can’t vote for Ron Paul – but I do hope some of his ideas make it to the White House.  Quantitative Easing won’t work.  We need to stop QE, and start paring back government, government handouts, and structures that increase inefficiency.  Can we free up our citizens to take care of one another and work productive jobs?  

March 26, 2012

  • The Artist

    I just watched the Artist while on the plane back from Hong Kong.  It was, in a word, superb.   Craft.  There are some things that one can recognize as a wonderful example of craftsmanship and artistry upon contact. 

     The score emotes with a deft touch – lilting movements and playful strands of sound – at times waxing playful, pompous – at others threatening and violent.  The music is from a time long gone – when the sounds of the score needed to tell the other part of what the motion did not.  They worked together to complete the cycle of sight and sound.


    The word is used again and again, and expresses the critical conflict in the film, the revolution in technology that would redefine Hollywood, and the difficulties that the disruptive technology would inflict on the starts and heroes of the silent picture world.

    Out with the old, in with the new. 

    The inexorable march of progress is unrelenting.  As of now, I stand at the forefront of my field – not ahead, no, I wouldn’t dare say that – no, just with the others that work with new technologies, trying to learn how best to treat my patients with ever evolving devices, some revolutionary, some merely improvements.  But already I can imagine the days where my ways are old, and outmoded.

    The female lead is Youth.  She is the female talky film star that represents the wave of change that ends his stardom and his way of life.  And in a way both bittersweet and beautiful, Youth is first aided by the Artist even as she deposes him. 

    At the beginning of the film, at the height of his fame, he helps make her – subtly yet importantly crafting a piece of her that would help define her stardom.  And, at the bottom of his descent, she finds him a new way forward by demanding that they work together for Kinograph films (Kino-move, graph-draw/picture/image).

    And then, the Artist must struggle with his Pride, for that hubris was the poison that barred him from riding the tide of Sound’s arrival.

     At a more general level, the Artist articulates something very profound about the male identity – even at age 24 I perceived something in my own heart – even then, I realized that the day would come when I wasn’t very useful anymore, when I had nothing left to offer the world, or those that I loved.  If one day, I had the pleasure of being married, would a younger, brilliant woman have any use for the outmoded, irrelevant man that I would one day become?

     And that is a part of what the Artist struggles with in dealing with living and being loved by Youth.  Grace and affection tendered by Youth to the Artist is a poignant, even devastating reminder of his own ineffectuality.  When he discovers that everything he had sold had indeed been purchased by Youth (an act of her love and devotion – and worship), he finds that he cannot accept it – going home to his own, burnt out hovel.

     One of the scenes that really amazed me was his nightmare, where objects in the movie made sounds as they moved.  It was such a clever portion – I almost wished they let the movie transition to a talky – but that wouldn’t be true to the films ethos.  

     Whereas movies like Dreamsville moved from black and white to colour (to visibly show the change), this movie did not use such a trick, for which it should be applauded.   In a sense, it kept true to the initial premise, only allowing sound and speech at the end, completing the Artist’s emergence into the age of Sound, and affirming the mutual affection that Youth and the Artist share for one another.

     As couple of final thoughts, I love the 20s – the dance, the fashion, the excess, the dizzying heights of capital and industrialization.  It is very much what the PRC is going through now, we have yet to see whether a bust will follow the rapid expansion of the middle class and the capital intensive infrastructure projects that parallel the like developments in the US 20s.

     We forget so quickly that Rockefeller and his peers sponsored art that celebrated industry and development – a time when the smokestack represented progress and rapid urban expansion desirable.   Statism may or may not be desirable, but it was not so long ago that N. America was, in effect, statist – and in that period, industry and government colluded – though at a personal level not in cross-ownership.

     Last thought –

     A different era without sound in movies – in capture – required actors and actresses to express nearly the whole of their persona through body language.  There’s so much richness to body language – something that we sometimes forget in the midst of advanced camera techniques, CGI, speech and mood music, that the center of human drama is human.  All the other dressing should enhance, not distract from the experience and sharing of humanity.

     I cannot give up Sound.  As much as I adore visual beauty, sound still strikes me more deeply.  I hope I never have to do without any of my senses – but sound is so beautiful to me.  The voice of loved ones, the sound of my mother’s singing – I miss it…

     The Sound of humanity. 

     It is a kind of grace to hear art.


March 24, 2012

  • Psalm 23

    Defining permanence
    In the waves of variance
    The art of stability
    is the eye of tranquility

    Vagaries and vortices
    Buffet and batter
    The circumstance and happenstance

    One cannot control
    One cannot rein
    The things outside in the hands of the Divine

    Peace within
    Acceptance without
    Grace in the grasp of His storms
    His rivers

    I want for nothing

    03.24.2012 Hong Kong