Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Chapter 6 in The Jungle

In this chapter, the poor family finds out that they have to pay interest on the money that they have borrowed on top of the $12 a month that they already had thought they were paying. They were very upset but it was in the contract. It is difficult to understand coming from a world that does not understand interest. In our world of credit cards, we understand interest very well (hopefully). So anyway, the family has to have the oldest boy go and work to pay the extra interest on the house. He has to be some sort of lard can operator. He is going to make about $9 a month so that covers their interest on the house loan. Then Jurgis and Ona go back to planning their wedding. They know it will cost them at least $200 to throw their wedding even though they believe that they will get it back at the Lithuanian money dance. Weddings are expensive no matter who you are! I got married for about $5000. My brother is getting married and their budget is $7500 and that is a low budget! How much did your wedding cost and do you have any good tips on keeping costs down?

Have a good night and stay safe! Any thoughts on the story so far?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Chapter 5

It's hard to understand the awe that the family experienced when they realized that they had finally bought their own home when you live in my life. I'm not rich by American standards, by any means. My book obsession pretty much takes up the spending money we have out of $18,000 a year for four people, but my parents owned their own home when I was growing up and I fully expect to after I get out of law school. So to me, the idea of never even dreaming about what kind of house you are going to have or where you are going to live is so far outside my realm of possibility. What are your dreams for your house in the future?

Also, Jurgis has his first experience with the unions in this chapter. What is your experience with unions today? Obviously it was an invaluable tool in history to advocate for better rights for workers, but do you think they are outdated?

Finally, everyone is telling Jurgis how much they hate their jobs. What was the worst job you ever had?

Have a good night and stay safe. I'm sorry that it's been so long since I've written, but the kids and the holidays and school have kept me crazy.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Chapter 4 in The Jungle

Link to Chapter 4 is in the title! In this chapter Jurgis reports for his first day of work. He stands outside for over 2 hours just waiting for someone to tell him what to do. I can only imagine feeling like you did nothing wrong because no one told you to do something else. Have you ever felt so helpless in your whole life? The family went to buy a small house near the yards because they determined that it would be better for them than renting for the rest of their lives. As you can tell from the chapter, I think that the family was afraid to hope that they were doing something right for themselves. They were sure that they were being swindled and only because they had never had the opportunity to believe anything else. I think to myself, if in your life no one had ever treated you fairly because of the class or race of person that you were, what incentive would you have to believe that everyone was not going to do that to you again? Any thoughts on the chapter?

I look forward to any comments. Be safe and have a good night.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Vegetable-Industrial Complex - New York Times

The Vegetable-Industrial Complex - New York Times: "The Way We Live Now
The Vegetable-Industrial Complex

Please read this article. It really relates to the industrial food issues we are going to read about in The Jungle and it relates to today. If you have any ideas about what to do about the problems raised in the article, please post them. I love to hear from people. Be safe and have a good night.

Chapter 3 in The Jungle

Chapter 3 link is in the title! In the beginning of the chapter Jurgis finds work on his first day. He seems so happy to have found work as a gut shoveler. I find myself wondering how someone could be happy about that. However, looking at it from a penniless peasants point of view (not that I am rich but as of yet I have never had to shovel guts to pay the rent) I can see how I would be overjoyed to find a job to feed my family. The other men have a lead on some jobs and therefore the new family takes the rest of the day to explore their new surroundings. They take a tour of one of the packing plants, and I must tell you not to read it while eating because the description of the pigs squealing is enough to turn your stomach. I think by the end of the book, I may have to go back to my former life as a vegetarian. This description of the pigs is particularly visceral. "It was all so very businesslike that one watched it fascinated. It was porkmaking by machinery, porkmaking by applied mathematics. And yet somehow the most matter-of-fact person could not help thinking of the hogs; they were so innocent, they came so very trustingly; and they were so very human in their protests--and so perfectly within their rights! They had done nothing to deserve it; and it was adding insult to injury, as the thing was done here, swinging them up in this cold-blooded, impersonal way, without a pretense of apology, without the homage of a tear. Now and then a visitor wept, to be sure; but this slaughtering machine ran on, visitors or no visitors. It was like some horrible crime committed in a dungeon, all unseen and unheeded, buried out of sight and of memory." I can only imagine experiencing that first hand.

While reading this chapter, I was struck by the beauty of the description of the people working together in the slaughter houses. It was like Upton Sinclair really saw them as performing a dance together and for at least this moment in time, ignored the squalid conditions they had to live and work in. Also, the wonder and awe felt by the new family is bittersweet. You can understand their amazement at such an organization of food and slaughtering, but you also know that this is going to turn against them in the end. I found myself telling them in my mind not to be so entranced by this large machinery and telling them that the meatpacking industry cared as much about them as they did about the animals, probably less. But of course they did not listen. What do you expect from immigrants from far away that have never seen a factory, much less one of the size and magnitude of the old meatpacking firms. I encourage you to read my next post because I read this fabulous article on the industrial way we eat in America today in the New York Times on Sunday. It's fabulous and really kind of relates to the issues of meatpacking back in the day.

I look forward to any comments you have about the chapter. Be safe and have a good night.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chapter 2 in The Jungle

Sorry guys - I know I missed two days in a row, but....I got bogged down with homework and family stuff. Anyway, you can read Chapter 2 through the link in the title. In this chapter, Upton Sinclair spends the chapter describing the first day in Packingtown for the family that came from Lithuania and how it came to be that they got there. I have no idea how it would feel to step off of a train or a boat and not know the language or anything about the place and then make my life there. I am not sure I am brave enough to do that. I think from reading the introduction that I can see that Upton Sinclair cared about the workers far more than he did for what was happening at the slaughtering houses. What he failed to take into consideration is that people rarely care about things that do not affect them and are highly offended about things that affect them directly. I think this chapter also started to show the dry humor that Mr. Sinclair has about things.

"Beyond this dump there stood a great brickyard, with smoking chimneys. First they took out the soil to make bricks, and then they filled it up again with garbage, which seemed to Jurgis and Ona a felicitous arrangement, characteristic of an enterprising country like America. A little way beyond was another great hole, which they had emptied and not yet filled up. This held water, and all summer it stood there, with the near-by soil draining into it, festering and stewing in the sun; and then, when winter came, somebody cut the ice on it, and sold it to the people of the city. This, too, seemed to the newcomers an economical arrangement; for they did not read the newspapers, and their heads were not full of troublesome thoughts about "germs."

It may not seem funny to the people in the story but it is witty. Here are my thoughts:

Have you ever had an experience of feeling so lost and adrift like an immigrant coming to a new country without any language or city skills?

Obviously Upton Sinclair believes that the way that the stockyards are taking advantage of the immigrants is wrong, but in a free market some people get taken advantage of and some people don't. What sort of regulations or safety net do you think there should be?

Also, Jurgis and Ona seem truly in love. I love to hear people's love stories. Tell me any romantic stories you want to. I appreciate it. My husband and I have been together for 5 years now and it just keeps getting better. It constantly surprises me.

Well, I look forward to your comments and hope to hear from you. Have a good night and stay safe.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Small Picture Of Chicago

I am sure it didn't look like this in Upton Sinclair's day, but I wanted to see at least a little bit of the Windy City while we were reading a book set in it's stockyards. Be safe and have a good night.

Chapter 1 in The Jungle

Click on the title to read Chapter 1! The description of the wedding in this chapter is beautiful. You can almost smell the odor of alchohol and the braveness of the people celebrating in squalor. Everyone can imagine an Aunt like Marija! Upton Sinclair describes the musicians so well, I really want to hear them. My discussion questions for today are:

Do you have any strong connections to music? Do any songs bring back a particular memory for you, like the music at the wedding was reminding them of their homeland?

Are there any traditions handed down through your family or culture that are kind of withering in your current surroundings or time period? I have personally never been in that sort of transition period for a culture or people, but I can see that it would be so difficult to give that tradition up.

I thought that Upton Sinclair did a great job of describing every minute detail and making me feel like I was really at the wedding. What did you think about his descriptions?

Have a good night and stay safe. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

China Arrests Human Rights Lawyer Who Criticized State

I think that this NY Times article really relates to the issues wwe were examining in our last book, WIld Grass. The inner workings of the Chinese justice system can confuse anyone, especially us Westerners, because we regard the rule of law as supreme. Let me know what you think about the article! Click on the title to read the article.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Introduction to "The Jungle"

I got to read the foreword and the introduction to The Jungle today for the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition that I have. The foreword was written by Eric Schlosser who wrote Fast Food Nation along with some other sort of expose books. The introduction is by Ronald Gottesman who is a professional editor and has taught literature at a college level. I really enjoy reading introductions to books especially novels that were written almost 100 years ago because I feel like it gives you some perspective on the book from a modern person. I think what most fascinated me was discovering that Upton Sinclair wrote this novel when he was almost 26. While he went on to write many more books, the only other books that matched the commercial success of The Jungle were the Lanny Budd novels that he wrote late in life. It also interestingly pointed out the paradox that the people that need the injustices in their life most pointed out (workers in unsafe conditions, immigrants etc.) are the least able to document their own struggles. Here are my thoughts for today:

Can you imagine reaching the pinnacle of your professional life at 26? Forst of all, I think that is depressing for all of us that are past 26 and have hopefully not reached the pinnacle of our professional lives. If you realized that you had done the best work that you could ever do at 26, I think that would provide a sincere lack of motivation for the rest of our life. Where would you go from there?

Do you think that people who are not actually a part of a group can accurately portray a group's struggles? I think that it can be done but it provides great challenges. The easiest thing in the world is to write what you know. What do you think you could write?

Do you think that the Food Acts that were passed partially as a result of this book need to be revised? If so, how? Do you think the FDA adequately protects you and the food and drugs that you and your children eat or do you think that they have been overly influenced by pharmaceutical companies and large food producers?

Let me know what you think. Be safe and have a good night! I am off to watch Numbers on On Demand.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

End of the book =( Wild Grass

Well, this is the last 20 pages in this book. The author is examining why the town where Ms Chen was from (Weifang) is the center for the deaths of people held in custody for adherence to Falun Gong. "Anecdotal information suggested that criminals were being released to make room for Falun Gong adherents, while laogai - reform-through-labor camps - which are not supposed to house people detained without charge, were serving exactly this function." Why do you think that it was so important across the country to completely crush Falun Gong? Well, the reason that the brutality was bad is that the Chinese government told all the governors of the provinces that they would be held responsible for the actions of the people inside that situation. The governor of the province that Weifang is located in happened to be an extremely powerful man. He was being blamed within the party for how many protesters were coming from his province. Well, the accounting principle does teach us, "You get what you measure". In this case, the result of this pressure was not appropriate because we asked him to reduce the amount of protesters coming from his area and gave no guidelines about how to accomplish this. Therefore, they used whatever means necessary (obviously including death).

I liked this book quite a lot. I think that the writing style was clear and precise. Let me know what you think about it. Have a good night and stay safe.

Through Page 273 in Wild Grass

The author is speaking to Brother Li in this section and he says, "I think he saw in me a possible convert." While I felt like he meant this in a fond way, it made me think to myself, don't very strong believers in most religions look at people this way? It's like they are unable to get over the fact that I don't believe the same thing as them. Wait, I take that back. This is really only my experience with people that believe in a religion that excludes other people from heaven if you do not believe the same thing as them. Do other people have insights or comments on this phenomenon? Please tell me if I am wrong. "It was a complete cosmology, with a creation story, and a promise of salvation and heaven-and of hell to those who did not believe and follow. Of course, he'd want me to know about such a gift, and I accepted his solicitousness as it was meant: a token of friendship and genuine concern." I think that this line alone gave me a lot more insight into the mind of proselytizing.

"A decade earlier a sustained series of protests (such as the Falun Gong movement) in the face of a government crackdown would have been inconceivable. Now they were so common that the foreign media soon tired of them and at times only the duty-bound foreign wire services sent reporters." Do you think this symbolizes something important in the population of China or do you think this is just a piece of circumstantial evidence that the author uses to support his claim that China is building a civil society?

Brother Li used a quote, "The great hermit lives in the city" to illustrate that it is harder to give up all of your worldly temptations in the midst of all the options of the city. I found that this also preached the idea that suffering somehow makes us more moral. Do you think this is true? If you don't, think about things that you might have celebrated or said that in essence impart the same idea. I.e. Lent, feeling better about ourselves than others who have indulged in another glass of wine, an extra piece of cake or a new watch. I think that our whole country operates on the principle that to deny our desires somehow makes us a stronger person. Do you think this is true? Why or why not?

The story continued that Ms. Zhang was still trying to get her mother's death certificate to prove that her mother was killed by the authorities. She was not getting any where and would probably have been jailed if not for the international media attention that was focused on this case. She went all the way to the Public Security Bureau's office in Beijing to appeal for help. Ms. Zhang is worried about the effect that these actions are going to have on her son. She did actually get a letter from the Beijing office ordering her local police to respond to her request in writing, but the police decided that the best option was to ignore it. She accepted that she would never get the death certificate, but says that the experience changed her. She went to jail for 3 years and when she got out she became active in the Falun Gong movement. "She has come to realize what all people who want to change China eventually learn: the current system is at a dead end, but its death is not in sight." What do you think this last quote from the book means (the second part is very cryptic)? Do you think that this might be an overstatement for the author to state that all Chinese who want to change the system learn this in the end?

I look forward to your thoughts. Have a good night and stay safe.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Pg 233-253 in Wild Grass

The author goes to find out more information about Falun Gong from a Buddhist practitioner, Mr. Chen at the Temple of Universal Succor (I wish our churches had cool names like that - First Baptist Church is so boring). A quote about Mr. Chen says, "He typified China's religious associations: a legitimate believer who realized he was making compromises but felt he had no choice." I thought it was interesting that the author pointed out that shamanism has a long history in China. I normally think of shamanism as something that the Native Americans practiced. Mr. Chen is a highly regarded Buddhist hermit and had determined that "Falun Gong was a heretical offshoot of Buddhism that tried to legitimize itself by misappropriating traditional religious terms such as Dharma Wheel." "Master Li's works call for a reevalutaion of Buddhism" and are based on the 3 principles of being truthful, benevolent and tolerant. I think those are valuable principles no matter what religion you practice. Although the being truthful part is sometimes unnecessary. (IMHO) Mr. Chen wrote a book about how he viewed Falun Gong but could not get any publishers to publish the book because the government had instructed everyone to operate under a policy not to piss off the Falun Gong adherents. Professor He is an atheist and is influential in the Communist Party and the government adopted him as their spokesperson against Falun Gong after a massive demonstration of Falun Gong adherents in Beijing. In my reading of both sides of this story, I think that they use single instances of unstable people to prove that their side is correct. I am more than willing to concede that meditation helps circulation and digestion, but so is every scientist that reads major scientific publications. I personally belive it to trace back to the stress relief that you find in meditation, but that's just me. In my mind, there was no need to crack down so heavily on Falun Gong, but I admit that I can see the government's point of view. Here was a massively organized movement (religion) that they had not sanctioned and did not have any control over and it was threatening the everyday persons view of the government in China. "And while China certainly did not have any wars going on and by many measures was stable, here was something that didn't fit: 10,000 people who had somehow been organized without the governments knowledge."

What do you think about censorship? I think that censorship of religious debate or political debate is wrong, but do you think that all censorship is wrong? What about pornography? Near schools?

Do you think that followers of all religions are inherently unstable or do you think that we just need a spiritual center to come back to?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Have a good night and be safe.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Through Page 233 in story #3

I started the story back up and a gentleman named Brother Li gave the author a detailed account (written by someone else) of a woman's death at the hands of the Chinese government. It turns out to be the account of the death of Ms. Chen. Brother Li is a strong supporter of Falun Gong also and lost his job in order to not have to renounce his belief. Both the author and Brother Li believed that their phones were tapped so had to meet secretly and only call from pay phones. I would think that the organization would keep this account of Ms. Chen's death in their possession and use them later when it would be helpful, but they have actually decided to send them to the government with a complaint letter about how Ms. Chen was killed. I think this is a symptom of the thread that started in the other stories where these people believe in their hearts that if they could only get their complaint to the highest level of government, all their problems would be resolved. I think that is a delusion that a lot of people in many governments hold to since it makes them feel better about their lives. It was heartbreaking to read the account of the daughter feeling guilty over her reaction to her mother getting arrested again for protesting against Falun Gong. "If she'd been more understanding, she kept telling herself, her mother might still be alive." I think everyone who loses a parent after some harsh words with each other wrestles with the guilt that comes from that for the rest of their lives. Ms. Zhang did beg her mother to stay home because of the danger to her. When Ms. Zhang went to this "re-education" center to go see her mother after being arrested, she was not allowed to see her mother and was told that her mother was not being beaten. After Ms. Chen's passing, her children were easily able to see that their mother had been beaten. It is painful for a child to see that in any culture, but imagine that in one of the Asian cultures that puts so much stock and wisdom in their elders. In reality, the central government had told the local governments that "no measures were too excessive to wipe out Falun Gong." The government pushed this crackdown on Falun Gong as a crackdown on a cult, but in reality what scared them was the actual organization of the movement and the potential for it to easily turn into a political movement. The government sent out propoganda about Falun Gong beliefs everywhere. They claimed that Falun Gong had caused some people to commit suicide and other ludicrous things. "I also thought that many people lost sight of the fact that after Falun Gong was banned, believers had been forced from their jobs and forced underground. If they lived cut off from society, it was the government's doing, not Falun Gong's teachings."

I welcome any comments whether you are reading along in the book or not. Let me know what you think about the book or answer any or all of my questions. Have a good night and stay safe.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Through Page 213 in Story #3

Well we are into the second part of the last story and the daughter of Ms. Chen is obliged to go to Beijing and bail out her mother after Ms. Chen was arrested for protesting against the crackdown of Falun Gong in Beijing. Ms. Zhang (the daughter) is admitting that Falun Gong had seemed to hep her mother since she started the exercises, but the daughter is unable to understand why her mother just won't give up the practice now that the government has banned it as an "evil cult". Ms. Zhang had to pay a month's wages to get her mother out of holding in Beiing and then pay another month's wages for her mother's room and board while she was held in jail for two weeks in their local town. The problem for Ms. Chen is that Falun Gong taught her that it is wrong to not proclaim the beliefs that you hold dear. Do you think that it is wrong to protect yourself by lying about what your true beliefs are? I mean, in reality, it doesn't affect what you actually believe, but it does feel wrong inside. What do you think?

The book postulates that the fall of communism as a religion has started a religious revival in China. Do you think that people need religion? I admit that many people seem perfectly fine being agnostics and atheists, but the thing is that when religion is suppressed for many years and you would think that the younger generation had just moved on and did not even remember, as soon as they have the opportunity, many people are back to searching for a spiritual home. I think that people are just looking for a stability in something and spirituality is needed by everyone. Do you think there is a difference between religion and spirituality?

The communists (in both China and the Soviet Union) elevated science to a god-like status. Do you think that we do the same thing in the United States?

Have a good night and keep safe. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Through Page 193 in story #3

I started the third story today. It is a story about a 60 year old woman that was forced into early retirement and could not get any other job and felt depressed. She (like many other people in crisis) started looking for an answer. She found Falun Gong which is an exercise regimen and some guidelines for moral behaviour. She began practicing frequently and really felt connected in a way that she never had before. However, the government felt threatened by this upsurge in devotion to something other than them and declared that Falun Gong was a cult and it was now outlawed. The page that I got to just had Ms. Chen Zixiu (that's the 60 year old woman) deciding that she was going to Beijing to protest the governments crackdown on her "religion". Quote of the day is on Page 191: "For the first time in her life, Ms. Chen began to think hard about a government policy."

Here is what touched me the most today:

I think that this story is really about a person that had not been politically active but when some action of the government became personally meaningful to her, she was roused to action. I ask myself if everyone is like that, or do we need to do more to try and teach our children to be politically active? I think that all actions of the government actually have an effect on our lives, you just have to look deep enough into the consequences to see how it does affect you. What do you think?

Through Page 193 in story #3

I started the third story today. It is a story about a 60 year old woman that was forced into early retirement and could not get any other job and felt depressed. She (like many other people in crisis) started looking for an answer. She found Falun Gong which is an exercise regimen and some guidelines for moral behaviour. She began practicing frequently and really felt connected in a way that she never had before. However, the government felt threatened by this upsurge in devotion to something other than them and declared that Falun Gong was a cult and it was now outlawed. The page that I got to just had Ms. Chen Zixiu (that's the 60 year old woman) deciding that she was going to Beijing to protest the governments crackdown on her "religion". Quote of the day is on Page 191: "For the first time in her life, Ms. Chen began to think hard about a government policy."

Here is what touched me the most today:

I think that this story is really about a person that had not been politically active but when some action of the government became personally meaningful to her, she was roused to action. I ask myself if everyone is like that, or do we need to do more to try and teach our children to be politically active? I think that all actions of the government actually have an effect on our lives, you just have to look deep enough into the consequences to see how it does affect you. What do you think?

Friday, October 06, 2006

End of Story 2 in Wild Grass

Whew! I got through 80 pages to the end of story 2. Overall, I felt like it was a good story and a good addition to the book, but I did feel like the first story gave me a better and more visceral image of the peasants in China. In this story, I felt disconnected from the people, like it was all about the corruption in the government but did not connect me to the people's sorrow in their actions. This was odd too, since this story should have been the one to connect more since it was about people's homes instead of just taking their money. Anyway, let me know what you think. The end of the story did end sadly with Fang Ke going to MIT to study and Old Mr. Zhao's home was torn down. Also, Mr. Feng and Mr. Luo's lawsuit was thrown out the entire way through the justice system. I did notice that most of the story illustrated that how you frame the question is the most important factor in getting the answer that you want and when you ask people whether they want to get involved in politics, they generally say no. But what they mean is that they don't want to get involved in some sort of political movement that is going to get them into trouble. If you relate what people are voting on to what people care about, you actually get people that care alot. Here is what this story has me thinking:

The book points out that Chinese tradition did not have a tradition of scientific observation in the field. This brought me to thinking, the effects of the scientific method have been far-reaching and span across the globe. What effects do you think it has had and can you think of any bad ones?

The book illustrated that only houses from the Ming dynasty were considered important enough to save. I love the art and culture of the Ming dynasty as much as the next person, but what is your favorite period of Chinese culture? Plenty of other dynasties had great accomplishments and someone out there has to have a different favorite than the Ming.

The book says that there is no real market in Beijing because it is all government money. Do you think that there can be no real market, or just no real market in the Western way? And if you think that it is possible to have a market with all government money, can you please outline your ideas to me? I am very interested and I am formulating some ideas myself on how it could work, but until I have my ideas straight in my head, I probably shouldn't publish them on the web to be ripped to shreds by smarter sharks out there than me.

Fang Ke mentions his responsibility to society in the story of how he became an activist on this subject. Do you think everyone has a responsibility to society? If so, what responsibility do you think you have to society?

Be safe and have a good night!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Pg 101 - 121 - Wild Grass

I got to page 121 today in the book. The story in Beijing has developed with Fang Ke having written a book that outlines the destruction in Beijing and masks it underneath government respectability. Development of the story involves more background information on the buildings that were torn down and the people that were displaced. This story breaks my heart, because old buildings are my passion. I hope one day to use some of that massive money I am going to make as a lawyer (just kidding) to buy and restore old homes and buildings. The character involved in old buildings intrigues me and I think you can sometimes get a sense of the people that used to live there just from the feeling of a building, almost like it is speaking to you. The story also points out the conflict of interest when the development company is owned by the government and the government is the one that approves when the houses can be torn down. This portion of the story has me thinking.....

Do you have any stories in your area of conflict of interest in government and land-use approvals? I can't think of any in my area, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen, it just means I didn't read the paper that day.

Do you have any stories about old buildings that you lived in? Any wierd ghost stories (hey, it is October) or just feelings that you got or even finding cool stuff in a long-unused attic or basement. I love old building stories, so let me know.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Beginning of Part 2 of Wild Grass

Sorry my loyal blog readers, but I only was able to read 20 pages to pg 101 today. I got through the beginning of the 2nd story though. It appears that this story involves a Mr. Feng and a Mr. Luo who filed a class-action lawsuit against the government on behalf of over 23,000 households in Beijing. Interesting correlation to the class action suit leveled against the government of China by Ma Wenlin in the first story. They filed because over 284,000 households had had their land seized by the government to be leveled for development and given little compensation for their property. They know that they cannot get their homes back because they are already gone, but they are suing for fair compensation. The part that I got to just outlined that the lower and intermediate courts had rejected their case. I think this is yet another illustration of the organizing going on in China that was outlined in the first story.

Here are my discussion questions:

Here in Oregon, we just passed a law by referendum that requires the government to pay compensation to owners that have property but are prevented from using it in any way that they wish by urban planning. The result has been in many cases that the government allows the person to use it in the way that they wish because they are not able to pay suitable compensation. In this story, suitable compensation for land given to developers is also a theme. What do you think about urban planning? What do you think about land-use laws? Do you think that it is a good consequence that people can use their land any way that they wish without following any sort of plan? I think that I understand what these people are saying (the ones in Oregon - not necessarily China) that they should be able to use their land in any way that they wish. They do own it after all. My concern is that in my Metro area, land-use laws have caused a lot of turmoil, but at least in my mind it has had generally good results. Comparative to other cities of the same size, we don't have a large suburban sprawl problem and our downtown area is vibrant and some of the most expensive property in the area. So I think it is a fine line between land-use laws and fair compensation. Obviously, there are some areas (environmentally sensitive areas, farmland outside the metro area) that need to be protected and I am not sure the government actually has enough money to pay for the needed compensation to the owners. On the other side, there is the fact that these people own their land and have some rights to use it as they wish. Where do you think the line falls?

Do you think this evidence of more organizing by the Chinese against the government actually represents a larger movement by people in China, or do you think that these are just actually isolated instances that some author or Western agenda wishes to see as evidence of internal strife, but really isn't?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Have a good night and stay safe.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Penny a day

Penny a day

I think this blog has a great idea! My husband and I save up our pennies all year and then cash them in at Christmas time and then send the money to local charities that are featured in our newspapers giving guide. Consider doing something manageable for you. Our favorite part of Christmas is deciding where we are going to send our penny money for the year. Never understimate the power of what you can do in the world.

Some pictures!

I know this isn't really related to reading or my books, but my sister and her boyfriend went camping a couple of weeks ago only a couple of hours away and I wanted to show you the beautiful place that I live in and get to enjoy every day.

First Story in Wild Grass - The Peasant Champion

Well, the first story in the book was about Ma Wenlin who sued the government of China on behalf of some 5000 peasants for overtaxation. The author really made me visualize the environment and the environmental decay in the area while reading this book. I thought he did a great job with that. The name that the peasants called Lawyer Ma was Nongmin Yingxion or the Peasant Champion. The story takes place in a back province of China that has virtually no private enterprise to speak of. The Public Security Bureau actually threatened the author while he was researching for this story (the Public Security Bureau is like the Chinese Secret Service - or at least that's what I got out of it)! They followed him around and made threats. The farmers have control but not ownership over their plots of land. The book made repeated references to previous peasant uprisings as if to compare this lawsuit to those historical situations. It really is a touching story. We got to meet Ma's wife after Ma went to jail for filing the lawsuit and see how much she misses him. Evidently Lawyer Ma got out of jail in 2003 and is still fighting the government to try and get them to admit that they were wrong in jailing him. He wants to write a novel illustrating the unjust way that he was treated.

My questions in regards to this story to you are:

I felt like there was a lot of allusion to taxation without representation in this story. As we know, that was one of the main reasons for the American Revolution. Do you think this taxation without representation is actually fomenting rebellion amongst the peasant classes in China?

The book also mentions as a side note that for the last 10 years, China's military budget has risen dramatically. I have read other books on this and I would like to know how you feel about the arming of China. Do you feel threatened by the rise of China? Do you think about it at all? How would you feel if in the next 50 years, China eclipsed the United States for global supremacy? I am not saying that it will, because the whole point of the book is kind of to point out the really shaky nature of China's current government, but how would you feel if it did happen?

Also, Ma Wenlin appeared to me to be naively trusting in the government as a protector throughout the whole story and continued to believe that the central government at its highest levels had his best interests at heart. I feel like this often is expressed to me by other people about their governments. Do you think that your government has your best interests at heart? If you do, does this cause you to not be politically aware because you know that someone else is taking care of you? Do you think it is a good or bad thing to trust your government and if it is a good thing, to what extent?

I can't wait to hear your thoughts on the book or even any of my questions. Have a good night and stay safe.

FYI - Next Book We Are Going To Read

So - the next book I am going to read is The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I just wanted to let you know so if you want to read along, you have plenty of time to borrow or buy the book. The book blurb on the back says, "Upton Sinclair's dramatic and deeply moving story exposed the brutal conditions in the Chicago stockyards at the turn of the century and brought into sharp moral focus the appalling odds against which immigrants and other working people struggled for their share of the American Dream. Denounced by the conservative press as un-American libel on the meatpacking industry, the book was championed by more progressive thinkers, including then president Theodore Roosevelt, and was a major catalyst to the passing of the Pure Food and Meat Inspection Act, which has tremendous impact to this day." Sounds progressive and extremely interesting. It also sounds a little bit gory! Well, it has 30 chapters in it overall, so I think I might try to read 2 chapters a day when we get to that book. That way it should take me about 15 days to read it. I look forward to reading it with you.

Prologue of Wild Grass

Well, I started the book today. I think that maybe the back was a little misleading when it said this book was about villages. It is really about 3 individual stories. The story that is in part 1 is about a lawyer named Ma Wenlin that sues the government of China for overtaxation on behalf of some peasants. This book postulates a lot of things and then expects you to believe the. In the prologue there is mention that China's leaders are nervous about social unrest. Well, ok, but I haven't seen any major sign of it myself. Maybe I am not reading the right newspaper. There are analogies between the current social movement in China and the social movement that brought down the Communist governments in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Mr. Johnson also states that a true market economy is not possible without political reforms. I haven't investigated this myself or thought about it philosophically. However, I wanted to get your take on it. Do you think that it is possible for China to have a true market economy without political reforms? What do you think is necessary for a market economy to exist elsewhere? How do you define a true market economy? Ok, Susannah, calm down, we aren't testing anyone. Anyway, I think that I have to determine what they mean by market economy before I make my decision. Tell me what you think. Mr. Johnson says that these 3 individual stories really represent what he feels to be the overall picture of social unrest in China today. Here is a quote about what he thinks that the book is about. "This book is an attempt to portray this untenable condition and hint at the sort of more open, fairer country that Chinese people want." He kind of makes this a broad statement so I am really hoping he proves what he is saying in the rest of the book. I can understand that people do want justice, no matter where you are. Do you think everyone wants justice?

P.S. Do you like poptarts? I really love the frosted strawberry kind and I am eating them right now! I don't like any of the other kinds though.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

My pictures

First Day!

Well, this is my first day writing my blog and I really hope it is not going to turn out like those hundreds of failed tries when I was a child to start writing a journal. Well, we'll see, won't we? My idea for the blog is that I really felt like I was losing the joy that I had in reading since I read so many technical journals for work and boring business textbooks for school. So I decided that I was going to promise to myself that I would read at least one chapter of a "leisure" book per day. Then I thought to myself, it would be really awesome to join a book club since I love to discuss what is happening in the book with other people. Well, while that would be cool, I examined my schedule and discovered that the best time for me to attend a book club is at 2 am in the morning. Funnily enough, I couldn't find one that regularly met at that hour. So I decided I would start my own book club blog. Then I can read a chapter and tell you what I think about it and you can read the same chapter and tell me what you think about it. It should be fabulous! Well, the first book I am going to read is Wild Grass by Ian Johnson. It is about 3 different villages in China and how the current changes (economical and political) have affected each of them today. Looks like a great book and I have had it sitting on the shelf for 3 months waiting for me to read it and finally I will. Well, I will see you tomorrow with my take on the prologue and the first chapter. Have a great night and stay safe.