Saturday, August 30, 2008

Gains from Trade

I don't normally post anything about the economy (a topic I have little interest in), but this has proved to be a most fascinating read. James Fallows on who benefits most from China's manufacturing boom:

Has the move to China been good for American companies? The answer would seemingly have to be yes—otherwise, why would they go there? It is conceivable that bad partnerships, stolen intellectual property, dilution of brand name, logistics nightmares, or other difficulties have given many companies a sour view of outsourcing; I have heard examples in each category from foreign executives. But the more interesting theme I have heard from them, which explains why they are willing to surmount the inconveniences, involves something called the “smiley curve.”

The curve is named for the U-shaped arc of the 1970s-era smiley-face icon, and it runs from the beginning to the end of a product’s creation and sale. At the beginning is the company’s brand: HP, Siemens, Dell, Nokia, Apple. Next comes the idea for the product: an iPod, a new computer, a camera phone. After that is high-level industrial design—the conceiving of how the product will look and work. Then the detailed engineering design for how it will be made. Then the necessary components. Then the actual manufacture and assembly. Then the shipping and distribution. Then retail sales. And, finally, service contracts and sales of parts and accessories.

The significance is that China’s activity is in the middle stages—manufacturing, plus some component supply and engineering design—but America’s is at the two ends, and those are where the money is. The smiley curve, which shows the profitability or value added at each stage, starts high for branding and product concept, swoops down for manufacturing, and rises again in the retail and servicing stages. The simple way to put this—that the real money is in brand name, plus retail—may sound obvious, but its implications are illuminating.

At each factory I visited, I asked managers to estimate how much of a product’s sales price ended up in whose hands. The strength of the brand name was the most important variable. If a product is unusual enough and its brand name attractive enough, it could command so high a price that the retailer might keep half the revenue. (Think: an Armani suit, a Starbucks latte.) Most electronics products are now subject to much fiercer price competition, since it is so easy for shoppers to find bargains on the Internet. Therefore the generic Windows-style laptops I saw in one modern factory might go for around $1,000 in the United States, with the retailer keeping less than $50.

Where does the rest of the money go? The manager of that factory guessed that Intel and Microsoft together would collect about $300, and that the makers of the display screen, the disk-storage devices, and other electronic components [in Malaysia, Korea, and elsewhere outside China] might get $150 or so apiece. The keyboard makers would get $15 or $20; FedEx or UPS would get slightly less. When all other costs were accounted for, perhaps $30 to $40—3 to 4 percent of the total—would stay in China with the factory owners and the young women on the assembly lines.

Other examples: A carrying case for an audio device from a big-name Western company retails for just under $30. That company pays the Chinese supplier $6 per case, of which about half goes for materials. The other $24 stays with the big-name company. An earphone-like accessory for another U.S.-brand audio device also retails for about $30. Of this, I was told, $3 stayed in China. I saw a set of high-end Ethernet connecting cables. The cables are sold, with identical specifications but in three different kinds of packaging, in three forms in the United States: as a specialty product, as a house brand in a nationwide office-supply store, and with no brand over eBay. The retail prices are $29.95 for the specialty brand, $19.95 in the chain store, and $15.95 on eBay. The Shenzhen-area company that makes them gets $2 apiece.

In case the point isn’t clear: Chinese workers making $1,000 a year have been helping American designers, marketers, engineers, and retailers making $1,000 a week (and up) earn even more. Plus, they have helped shareholders of U.S.-based companies.

- China Makes, The World Takes, The Atlantic, July/August 2007

There's just one problem with this. The low-income class in America who aren't benefiting from this form the largest voter section, and I doubt they enjoy the fact that their richer peers are making more while they get nothing out this.

Just one of many reasons why democracy is something the majority can easily abuse.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Quake Rocks Tibet

BEIJING (AFP) - A 6.3-magnitude earthquake rocked Tibet in southwestern China late Monday, the US Geological Survey said but there were no immediate reports of major damage or casualties.

The quake struck at 9:22 pm (1322 GMT), 225 kilometres (140 miles) northeast of Jumla, Nepal, at a depth of 35 kilometres, the USGS said.

- Yahoo!Xtra News, August 26, 2008, 5:03 am

A friend remarked, "Any karma theories this time?"

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

"We Can Still Be Friends"

A friend's advice regarding a phrase that continues to haunt me, three weeks after it was said.

.:Раде Брдар:. says:
well when girls tell you that

.:Раде Брдар:. says:
they try to be nice, even though they have chosen the other guy, then they are hoping that u never call them again or try to talk to them, but when that other guy @#$% them over they fly to you

.:Раде Брдар:. says:
thats when u tell her to @#$% off

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Do You Guys Have Any Short-Term Memory?"

The Daily Show's Jon Stewart takes on the American response to the 2008 South Ossetia war:

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Friday, August 22, 2008


George Orwell, best-known for his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, mused in his 1946 essay, "...language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words or constructions".

Those words came to mind late last night during a conversation with a Roman Catholic. Let's call him G for the sake of writing. G had used the word 'trad' several times this year (rather freely too, I might add), when referring to a plethora of church events, activities and people - from masses to priests to books. Time after time, however, I found myself raising eyebrows at the event/person/practice he gave that appellation to - and always due to stunned shock, disbelief or sheer disappointment. Needless to say, I began to suspect what he actually meant when he used that term.

Now, the common understanding of a 'trad' (i.e. traditionalist) is (almost always) a Roman Catholic who advocates a return to Tradition, namely the Tridentine mass, doctrinal orthodoxy etc. Also, a trad tends to oppose rather stubbornly against modernism and various innovations (such as communion in the hand).

I have been asked this before, but I don't think Orthodox traditionalists exist. Quite simply, how do traditionalists exist in a Church whose traditions have remained, for the most part, largely unchanged? The gulf between say, Old Calendarists (or even Old Believers for that matter) and mainstream Orthodox is not as wide and vicious as the one that exists between the Roman Catholic trads and mainstream Catholics, but I digress.

There are various degrees of Roman Catholic traditionalism, and to say that all traditionalists are one and the same would be nothing but sheer ignorance. Edward, longtime contributor to now defunct blog, The Cassock and Cotta, distinguished 3 categories of traditionalists (where 'X' indicates the New Mass, i.e. Novus Ordo, and 'Y' represents the Tridentine mass):

1) Those who believe the X is equally valid, if perhaps sometimes rather problematic. These people prefer Y over X for historical, cultural and various reasons, but do not see X as heretical.

2) Moderates. These believe X is seriously problematic and has heretical tendecies - Y is the solution to these modern heresies. These believe that while X is not invalid or graceless, they prefer to wall themseleves off, keeping Y and the true uncompromised faith, forming a sort of resistance, hoping for better times.

3) Extremists. These believe X is heretical and invalid and graceless. Those who adopt X have become heretics, outside the True Church, and that grace leaves that jurisdiction. Those who use X may only be saved if they renounce X and join Y, the only place where true believers may be found.

'Traditional' practices would refer to Catholic practice which began after the Council of Trent and largely died out since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 60s.

Now that we are clear, one who would use the 'traditionalist' to describe something would refer to either one of the aforementioned categories. The terms are hardly, if ever, used to describe an event/practice or even person for that matter, if it is anything less. For example, A Novus Ordo mass celebrated in Latin is not 'traditional', and although traditionalists may attend or even form the bulk of the congregation, it does not change the fact that such masses did not exist before the Second Vatican Council. One would not use the word 'traditional' to describe it. I think the word Edward would use is 'pointless'.

G has applied the term to such masses. And to Stations of the Cross. And rosary. And confession. At which point, I'd stop and seriously question his definition - which I did last night:

Constantine: You seem to be applying it everywhere
G: ok definition of traditional would be to follow what the catholic church has always taught till today
G: and that is how the catholic church defines Tradition

30 minutes of attempting to clarify later, the discussion (if you may call it as such) came to this:

G: strictly speaking....the catholic church is traditional
Constantine: No, no... not 'traditional', traditionalist.
Constantine: 'Traditionalist', as in an advocate of the Tridentine mass and various other Roman Catholic practices that have since fallen out of use
G: this is not an official ecclesial terminology right
Constantine: Never has been
G: anyway i am 'traditionalist' therefore but i also subsribe to the normative rite
G: as all catholics are oliged to...with the exception of sspx...(hence they are in an irregular position)

Another half hour of attempts later:

Constantine: When most of us use the word 'trad'/'traditionalist', we follow popular usage
Constantine: Else we wouldn't use it otherwise
G: when u say most...i guess u mean traddys right
G: cos many people i speak to are also non traddys
G: and they also use the 'traditional' term
G: but it wouldn't mean any of the above u named
G: but none of these people are 'traditionalists' per se
G: they are novus ordo catholics
G: who follow the tradition of the church

OK, never mind the fact that he probably didn't understand me, but this revealed why he was misusing the term: he has obviously confused 'tradtionalists' with Sacred Tradition. This is not unlike confusing Democrats with democracy...

This begs the questions: has he misunderstood my use (and very possibly, others') of the terms throughout the past year? Was he not confused himself? He reads the New Liturgical Movement; shouldn't he know?

This obviously doesn't make any sense, but G hasn't made sense for quite some time now. The conversation then moved to the recent World Youth Day in Sydney, and several negative comments (mostly centered around Stations of the Cross) from yours truly later:

G: on the positive side (of World Youth Day) about a 200 000 people went for confession
Constantine: Uh, that's a "good" thing how?
G: so well many souls were restored to grace...u wouldn't find this even in the vatican
Constantine: It's a given that a good Catholic go to confession regularly
G: it is not a given nowadays
Constantine: Please, don't lower your standards....
G: thats why the church needs to 'encourage' young people to go
G: through such means
Constantine: That's not the answer, you realise
Constantine: You might as well give out free beer with every confession

I think I'm beginning to see how he could have used the term so loosely. He has lowered his standards and expectations to the point that even something vaguely Latin would appear 'traditional'. I could very well blame the Second Vatican Council for the decline in faith, as some 'traditionalists' are wont to do, but I won't. Perhaps for G, his language truly is a reflection of his social condition - the climate of political correctness must have rendered him reluctant to offend anybody, while relativism blinds him to objective standards and so blurred the meaning of the term.

Standards are important. In morals, in faith, and also in language. Language is important. It turns a mass into something solemn and powerful - or into a farce. It can bring people to raise their minds and spirits to God - or it can get them to join their minds and spirits to each other, and forget all about God.

Let us not make the same error G has made, and stick to clear, concise meaning when we use words!

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Elena Isinbaeva's New World Record


She continues to amaze; not only has she taken yet another Olympic gold, but she has also broken yet another world record.

Nothing seems to stop Elena Isinbaeva from breaking records. Not even the supposedly 'polluted' air over Beijing; she broke yet another record yesterday - her own, no less - clearing an unbelievable 5.05 metres at the women's pole vault finals.

I first saw her in action (and consequently became a fan) during the 2004 Athens Olympics. What caught my eye initially was her extremely long (relatively speaking), braided hair then as well as the small, gold St Olga cross around her neck (ah, athletes from Orthodox countries!).

Almost all the competitors I grew to admire at the last Olympics have since retired from their respective sports. Elena however, continues to reign supreme.

Strong and resolute, she is an inspiration to us all!

"The sky is my only limit," she said. "Life would be boring without records to break so I want to continue on forever."

Isinbaeva murmured before each attempt, she decoded the murmuring, "Do it, do it, just do it. Just be confident, I'm OK."

-, 2008-08-19 03:16:43 GMT

And for those who have not yet seen, or wish to watch that exciting moment again:

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The 2008 South Ossetia War: A Guide

A disabled Georgian tank lies in Tskhinvali after a failed assault


There are two basic facts to keep in mind about the smokin' little war in Ossetia:

1. The Georgians started it.

2. They lost.


They were doing something they learned from Bush and Cheney: sticking to best-case scenarios, positive thinking. The Georgian plan was classic shock’n’awe with no hard, grown-up thinking about the long term. Their shiny new army would go in, zap the South Ossetians while they were on a peace hangover (the worst kind), and then…uh, they’d be welcomed as liberators? Sure, just like we were in Iraq. Man, you pay a price for believing in Bush.

The War Nerd
South Ossetia, The War of My Dreams, 11th August 2008


Up until now, this war was framed as a simple tale of Good Helpless Democratic Guy Georgia versus Bad Savage Fascist Guy Russia. In fact, it is far more complex than this, morally and historically.


At the root of this conflict is a clash of two twentieth-century guiding principles in international relations. Georgia, backed by the West, is claiming its right as a sovereign nation to control the territory within its borders, a guiding principle since World War II. The Ossetians are claiming their right to self-determination, a guiding principle since World War I.

These two guiding concepts for international relations–national sovereignty and the right to self-determination–are locked in a zero-sum battle in Georgia. Sometimes, the West takes the side of national sovereignty, as it is in the current war; other times, it sides with self-determination and redrawing of national borders, such as with Kosovo.

In that 1999 war, the United States led a nearly three-month bombing campaign of Serbia in order to rescue a beleaguered minority, the Albanians, and carve out a new nation. Self-determination trumped national sovereignty, over the objections of Russia, China and numerous other countries.

The NATO bombing of Serbia

Why, Russians and Ossetians (not to mention separatist Abkhazians in Georgia’s western region) ask, should the same principle not be applied to them?

The answer is clear: because we say so. That sort of logic, in an era of colossal American decline and simultaneous Russian resurgence, no longer works on the field.

Mark Ames, The eXile
South Ossetia: The War We Don’t Know, 15th August 2008


Georgian forces in Tbilisi

What is troubling is the U.S. media's willingness to similarly toe the party line, but in the absence of any of the coercive measures, such as the state censorship, that the Russian press endures. There have been no William Dunbars on CNN, despite the fact that every report I've seen on the channel yesterday had been framed as 'Russian invasion,' with endless clips of Saakashvili alleging Russian crimes, etc., in a loop of totally pro-Georgian coverage. Georgia is a key U.S. ally, the 3rd largest troop contingent in Iraq, and occupies a strategic, oil rich zone. The self-policing in the U.S. media, which has basically been uncritically promoting government talking points, is very disturbing.


To the uninformed viewer, it was Russia, not Georgia, which used the cover of the Olympic games to invade; in reality, they both did. In addition, there have been several mentions of Georgia as a fledgling democracy, but no mention of Saakashvili’s recent crackdown on the media and civil society. The US media has been guilty of a procrustean tendency to distill a messy conflict between two flawed states into a Manichean struggle between good and evil.

Foreign Policy Association
The CNN Effect: A Tale of Two Wars, 13th August 2008

To sum it all up, the War Nerd concludes:

The bottom line will be simple: the Georgians overplayed their hand and got slapped, and we caught a little of the follow-through, which is what happens when you waste your best troops - and Georgia’s, for that matter - on a dumb war in the wrong place. We detatched Kosovo from a Russian ally; they detached South Ossetia from an American ally. It’s a pawn exchange, if that. If it signals anything bigger, it’s the fact that the US is weaker than it was ten years ago and Russia is much, much stronger than it was in Yeltsin’s time. But anybody with sense knew all that already.

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Преобразился еси на горе, Христе Боже...

For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
2 Peter 1:17

You were transfigured on the Mount, Christ God revealing Your glory to Your disciples, insofar as they could comprehend. Illuminate us sinners also with Your everlasting light, through the intercessions of the Theotokos. Giver of light, glory to You.

Apolytikion (Grave Tone)

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

War in the Caucasus

Russian forces en route to South Ossetia
Photo: Dimitriy Kostyukov, AFP

Little Bezhenka from South Ossetia rests on a bed in Vladikavkaz, Russia, 4th August
Photo: Kazbek Basaev, AFP

Georgian rocket artillery bombardment of South Ossetia, 8th August
Photo: Bano Shlamov, Getty Images

A Russian battalion passes through the Caucasus as President Saakashvili declares martial law, 9th August
Photo: Dimitriy Kostyukov, AFP

Georgian soldiers in Gori, 9th August
Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff, AFP

A doctor tends to the wounded in the cellar of a destroyed hospital in Tskhinvali, 10th August
Photo: Dimitriy Kostyukov, AFP

People hold candles in protest of the war outside the Georgian embassy in Moscow
Photo: Sergey Karpukhin, Reuters

via Trinixy

Mighty Lord, preserve us from jeopardy.
Take Thee now our faith and loud crying in penitence.
Grant victory o'er our treacherous and cruel enemies
And to our land bring peace.

O mighty Lord hear our lowly prayer,
And by Thy shining holy light.
Grant us, O Lord, peace again.
O mighty Lord hear our prayer
and save our people
Forever, forever!

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Face of 20th Century Russia

Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn
(1918 - 2008)'s Stefano Caprio offers his obituary:

Religion is a primary element in the message of Solzhenitsyn, a man of faith but hardly sectarian, and a great admirer of the simplicity of the people and of moral rigor, just like Tolstoj, and deeply involved in the turbulent experience of everyone's life, like Dostoevskij. His prophetic, solitary figure allowed him to avoid both excommunication and marriage, leaving room for everyone to participate in his own journey of conversion, beginning from the rediscovery of the dignity of man and culminating in consent to Christian revelation in its historical expression. For him, a follower of the 19th century Slavophiles, this religion was nonetheless Orthodox and national, without any concession to ecumenical rhetoric and the Western banalization of Christianity, of which he was an implacable and uncompromising critic.

Вечная память!

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