Thursday, November 22, 2007

The IQ war: Here we go again

William Saletan, a self-described "liberal Republican," wrote in Slate this past Sunday that there are indeed genetic differences in IQ. The racial brain ranking is (1) Asians (2) Whites (3) Africans.

If that is true, there is no "and therefore..." to that result. That is, governments are not going to revive anti-
miscegenation laws or the like. There is no public policy consequence to that finding, if it is true. There is also no "private policy" consequence. Individuals should not be presumed to share their groups racial average.
The reason why there is no "and therefore..." is that intelligence does not equal goodness, nor even wisdom,
and both of those traits are far more important to the human condition than intelligence and there are no genetic tests for them. This is Public Occurrences.

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This is Public Occurrences

This second-favorite of our holidays falls this year on a bad

date in our history, the memories of which some of us still


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stem Cell Breakthrough

Earlier today two teams of scientists announced that they had

resolved an ethical dilemma that had threatened the use of

stem cells to solve a host of medical conditions.

Published in Cell and Science, two of the most prestigious

journals in the world, the scientists reported that they had

been able to change common skin cells into embryonic stem

cells by adding four genes, thus avoiding the ethical dilemma

of having to destroy human embryos to harvest the stem cells.

Immediate reaction has been uniformly positive across the

political spectrum. "Everyone was waiting for this day to

come" was the reaction of Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk of the

National Catholic Bioethics Center, courtesy of the

Associated Press from The New York Times. "It really is

amazing," and "ethically uncomplicated" were the reactions

of two leading medical authorities at Harvard, according to

AP and NYT.

So, on this eve of Thanksgiving Eve, let us give thanks. This is

Public Occurrences.

Monday, November 12, 2007

This is Public Occurrences

Since posting the below at 11:22 this morning I have been

almost constantly at work on China so I was able to work as

hard today as I ever have.

Before going to bed, very early, last night I resolved to rise

early and go right into work. I wrote "work" on four business

cards. I put one in my cell phone so that when I opened it I

would see the note. I put one on top of the computer keyboard,

one in the bathroom sink, one in the doorjamb. I wanted to

give myself no room for getting into a non-work frame of mind.

I arose and didn't want to go into work. Not dread, just no fire.

But the alternative would be like yesterday, a lot of reading, not

the energy to write, then boredom and at five o'clock drink. I

didn't want that again.

When I turned on the computer I had an email from a person

in China who had sent me some useful information. It gave me

the fire and adderral-fired too, I worked on China for about

forty-five minutes. Then I got tired and had to rest. I read for

two hours, after taking another half of an adderral.

For twenty-two years I had a fire in me that allowed me to

work prodigiously. Then, after a trial, my recovery time was

longer than I was used to and I went to my G.P. and the result

was the Zodiac.

I have never been able to get the fire back continuously since

that trial. In my mind I had not been able to get it back because

of the treatment but the doctors told me repeatedly that it was

not the treatment. So then it was the onset of the Zodiac that I

blamed. The doctors said it couldn't be that either.

My girlfriend told me that she did not see the absence of the

fire except on those occasions when I would have to sleep all

day. Upon thinking about it she opined that the cause was my

dusky mutt brought home by my son. I completely discounted

that. Then relations with my son improved and he was happier

and I was happier and the dog went away. But I have still not

gotten the fire back completely. My girlfriend says I have but I

don't feel it.

It's probably age plus the drink plus the sleeping pills plus no

physical activity plus work plus China. I cut out drink for a

month but felt no increase in fire. A couple of weekends ago I

read all day both days and on Monday morning was too tired to

go to work. So I've tried to cut down on the reading and have

not written anything serious for awhile. Writing has always

been taxing, as taxing as work.

If I had my old fire I could work and read with no problem and

even write a little. A friend of mine is a scholar and I am

impressed and envious when I get an email that he's sent at

midnight or one a.m. I am Benjamin Harris

Sunday, November 04, 2007

China's Great Wall of Silence: Song Binbin Returns to the Scene of the Crime

September is back-to-school month and with that exciting and portentous time often comes school anniversary celebrations. Such was the case earlier this month at the Girls Middle School affiliated with Beijing University. The elite school was celebrating its ninetieth anniversary. The leafy campus and uniformed youngsters are pictured immediately above.

It's a warm, nostalgic time for the returning alumnae as they reminisce with old friends and relive their formative years, their experiences, their hi jinks, their memories of teachers and classes.

So it was for Song Binbin, class of 1966. Song's schoolmates put together a big poster for her with photographs from the different stages of Song's life since leaving the school (middle photo).

And Song has had an eventful life, one that indeed is worthy of documentation and remembrance. At top is a photograph of a delighted Song meeting the leader of her country, Chairman Mao Zedong. Meeting a head of state is the highpoint of most any one's life, more so when one is young, and Song was 19 at the time.

But the photo of Song with Mao is not just a photo of a young student meeting a head-of-state, momentous as that would be under any circumstance. As one can see from the context, the photo was taken at a big event. There's a huge crowd in the background. Song and Mao are also elevated above that huge crowd. In fact they are standing together on a reviewing platform. Imagine being a student up there with Martin Luther King, Jr. when he made his "Free at Last" speech to the multitude assembled beneath him on the lawn in front of the Washington Monument. That's what it must have been like for Song, the event of a lifetime.

Look more closely though. Song is not just standing there with Mao. She's doing something to him, she's touching him. She's pinning an armband onto Mao Zedong. She's a participant in an event.

The date was August 18, 1966. The occasion, the first rally of Red Guards in Tienanmen Square. That's part of the million-plus Red Guards and their supporters there in the background. And Song and Mao are indeed on a reviewing platform. They are on the balcony at the entrance to the Forbidden City, where China's emperors once stood to greet and address their subjects.

So much in Chinese culture is symbolic and it is the symbolism in that photograph that made it world famous. There had been "stuff" going on in Beijing throughout the spring and summer of that year: protests, some violence, confusion, disorder. It was not clear why this stuff was occurring; even the highest leaders of the country, men like President Liu Shaoqi and Premier Chou Enlai, were bewildered, and showed it even in public. Only Mao knew because it was Mao's idea. He was away from the capital for much of that summer, leaving the day-to-day affairs of state to President Liu. "Mao on the move was Mao on the attack," his personal physician has written and Mao was on the move. Very few even knew where he was but he was plotting a ruthless purge. Now this is normally small beer for dictators: there's a knock on the door in the middle of the night and the dictator's henchmen grab a real or imagined enemy of the dictator and if he's ever seen again it's with a bullet in his brain. It's the occupational hazard of the dictator's crony.

Mao's targets did in fact include those closest to him, like Liu Shaoqi. But if nothing else, Mao Zedong always thought big. It wasn't just some gray-hairs closest to him who he wanted to "disappear," Mao intended a purge of the entire Chinese Communist Party. There weren't enough henchmen for that. What Mao was brooding over that summer was how to carry out a purge on this massive scale and his strategy was as brilliant as it was murderous. He would use the Chinese people against their own leaders, and to insulate himself he made the movement's aim the removal of those who were insufficiently loyal to Mao and Maoism. Contrary to the most elemental teachings of Dictatorship 101, Mao's purge--to be called the "Cultural Revolution"--was to be a bottom-up movement. Lower level people in the society were to attack those immediately above them first. It was the littler fish eating the little fish who would then eat the medium size fish, until it reached the top.

And it is here that we come back to Song Yaowu. A few purges of intellectuals and apparatchiks aside, the Cultural Revolution began in the schools, and not the colleges and universities, but the bottom of the Chinese educational system, the middle (high) schools and elementary schools. Who were such neophytes to attack? Why, their teachers. Communism and Maoism in particular already had laid the philosophical groundwork: devotion to Mao and Maoism over devotion even of children to parents was made official C.C.P. policy in the 1950's.

Throughout Beijing that summer the schools gradually became unglued. Instruction ceased, teachers and administrators lost control, protests were everywhere, students seized control, and violence against teachers began.

The movement was accelerated at Song Yaowu's middle school because it was the most elite such school in Beijing, maybe in all of China. Only the best and the brightest attended. And those who were the daughters of the highest Party officials. "Classless" Maoist China was always elitist. Both Liu Shaoqi's and Deng Xiaoping's daughters were students at the school.

Song was not the progeny of such as that but her father was an important party official and so she got in too. She was a senior but had more clout than even age naturally would have given her. She became a leader. An early Red Guard member, she became one of the de facto heads of the school when authority collapsed.

At this cutting-edge school, Song (Binbin was her given name at the time) was the leading edge of the cutting-edge, and so on June 23 when one of the first acts of violence by students against teachers occurred it was at this school. Bian Zhongyun, the vice-principal of the Girls Middle School, was beaten. She survived and wrote a letter to Beijing officials describing what had been done to her and asking for help. She didn't understand that this Cultural Revolution had already begun and that the only real authority lay with her Red Guard students. As the violence spread and became more deadly throughout the schools in Beijing, Bian was beaten again on August 4. She told her husband that night that they were going to kill her.

The next day, August 5, Bian and other educators were paraded out into the schoolyard. They were spat upon, ink was thrown in their faces, and they were made to do strenuous physical labor under the summer sun. They were also mercilessly beaten and Bian was beaten to death. Later, after rigor mortis had begun to set in, her body was put into a cart and wheeled, like garbage to a dump, to the entrance to the hospital right across the street from the school. There they left the cart and Bian's body. It was the first murder of a teacher by students in the Cultural Revolution.

That night, Song Binbin,as the person in charge of the school, made the official notification of Bian's murder to the Beijing municipal authorities.

That was all on August 5. Meanwhile Mao Zedong had made a triumphal return from his plotting to the capital after a --symbolic--swim in the Yangtze river to demonstrate his vigor and ability to wield absolute power.

He ordered the removal of the groups that had been sent into the schools to manage the violence by the confused and tentative Liu Shaoqi. It was to be the beginning of the end for Liu. The violence escalated. Mao said it was "right to rebel" and the capital groaned day and night with the sounds of Red Guard marauding, plundering, beating, and murdering.

This was the context to that famous photo of Mao and Song. That moment was the official beginning of the Cultural Revolution, for when Mao Zedong allowed Song Binbin to pin that Red Guard armband onto him, he--symbolically--gave his personal approval to all that the Red Guards had done before, and all that they were to do after. Three million people would be murdered before it was over.

Overnight Song Binbin became the most famous Red Guard, and one of the most famous people, in all of China. The next day The Picture was on the front page of every newspaper in the country. For People's Daily, Song wrote an article about the moment, and how thrilled she was to be given the honor of being the one, the one, to pin a Red Guard armband onto The Great Helmsman, on that day of all days, the first Red Guard rally in hallowed Tienanmen Square. She giddily recounted their brief exchange. She told him her name. He asked if "binbin" did not mean "educated and gentle." She said yes. He said, "Better to be more martial!", and so Song Binbin changed her name and signed her People's Daily article with her new name, Song "Yaowu," Song "Be Militant." The leafy school that this month celebrated its seventieth anniversary was renamed the "Be Martial" school in her honor.

The Cultural Revolution lasted ten years, until Mao Zedong's death in 1976. Almost immediately his wife,Jiang Jing, and three others were arrested and officially held to blame for all. Eventually, the Chinese Communist Party issued an official condemnation of the Cultural Revolution, and that was it: case closed, you can't study the period in university, the Red Guards who committed even murder were never arrested, and their leaders went back to their lives of being bright young things.

Song Yaowu however was too famous to be forgotten. Her name still stirs hatred. She is still the--symbolic--face of that awful, awful period, and so she kept that face hidden after 1976. She immigrated to the United States and changed her name once more, to Yan Song. Always precocious and, as an elite, used to the best-of-the-best, Yan got her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, married, had a son, got a job working for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and settled into a comfortable, prosperous, suburban life in Lexington and Concord, the birthplaces of the American Revolution.

Many, many, many people made attempts to interview her over the years. She was after all a participant in history. Even finding her was difficult. Not many knew her American name and she refused--for obvious reasons--to be interviewed about her life as Song Yaowu.

Then, in 2003, after "several years" of persuading, Song Yaowu found the right forum and agreed to speak. The forum was Morning Sun, a film on the Cultural Revolution being made by Carma Hinton, who is now at Carnegie-Mellon University. Ms. Hinton is an American, but grew up in China, the issue of William Hinton, an old unreconstructed Maoist.

Ms. Hinton was an elite just like Song. She was a communist sympathizer and Cultural Revolution apologist like her father. Song could feel safe in the hands of a Carma Hinton "interview." Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the usual suspect list of foundations, and narrated by PBS' Margot Adler, Morning Sun is a glossy look at the Cultural Revolution through the eyes of Carma Hinton's friends, the Red Guard student elites who were all broke out with radicalism back then but who now, with paunches and receding hairlines bespeaking the moderation of age, acknowledge that "mistakes were made." The film was widely praised by American critics.

Chinese (or at least Chinese living in free countries) however had a different reaction. Almost universally, the segment that stirred the deepest emotions, and overloaded Chinese message boards with angry posts, was Song Yaowu's. First, she "appears" in the film with her face obscured in the manner of a Mafia informer testifying against the Godfather. Still you can see that she sports a stylish coif and is dressed in a fashionable turtleneck. She has done well for herself.

Then she speaks. She is not asked any questions, she just talks, and is allowed to say whatever she wishes without fear of follow-up questions. On The Picture: You know how in Forrest Gump, Forrest is walking around Washington in uniform having just gotten a Medal of Honor from LBJ, and he insouciantly falls in line with a bunch of young people and they happen to be anti-war protesters going to a rally and they mistake him for a Vietnam Veteran Against the War, and they bring him up on the speaking platform to make a speech for them? It was sort of like that with The Picture, according to Song. She was Song Gumpgump.

She says, as a Red Guard, she was in the crowd that morning. She says that in the chaos of Mao's dramatic dawn appearance at the rally she and a group of other Red Guards ended up near the ground level entrance to the reviewing stand. She says that they were just invited on up. She says that the Red Guards began pinning armbands on governmental officials like Chou Enlai and Lin Biao and that some of her friends said "Somebody should pin Mao! Somebody should pin Mao!" "Binbin, pin Mao! Binbin, go pin Mao!" She says that she was pushed forward by her mischievous, timorous schoolmates and then...You know how in Forrest Gump the mic goes out just as he's about to speak? The mic didn't go out for poor Song, and neither did the cameras stop recording. Her Dentyne-ad smile threatens to crack her entire face and afterwards she is seen so giddily jumping up and down that she looks as a child not able to hold her water much longer.

For Song Yaowu is truly proud of that moment and her role in history and of The Picture, which is why her closest friends included it on the poster they made for her on the anniversary of the founding of their school, as well as those showing her bending over a microscope at work in grad school, receiving her diploma from M.I.T., and at work in her job with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The only photograph of her from the Cultural Revolution era is The Picture.

Cocooned with her elite friends Song Yaowu can be herself, the famous and proud Red Guard who had the honor of pinning Mao Zedong. That's who she is now, living out her retirement in Beijing.
Cocooned by Carma Hinton for American and western consumption, Song Yaowu can say that it had all been an accident of fate that she has had to suffer from ever since, that cruel fate had unfairly tied a tin can to her tail and through the pages of history it has rattled and banged.
The right can was tied to the proper tail and through the pages of this site it shall rattle and bang. This is Public Occurrences.

Anyone with information on the identities of those involved in the beating of Bian Zhongyun on June 23, 1966, August 4,1966 or August 5, 1966 please email Benjamin Harris, J.D. at

Friday, November 02, 2007

This is Public Occurrences

"I now know thee, thou clear spirit, and I now know

that thy right worship is defiance."

Herman Melville, Moby Dick.