China has an amazing non-firework fireworks display.

Fireworks originated in China so it’s easy to see why they’d be a big deal there, but back at the beginning they were reserved for rich people to enjoy. What do you do when you live in a poor rural part of the country, but still want to ring in the Chinese New Year? Well, you get the local blacksmith to put on a show by hurling molten metal on the city’s wall:

This is amazing both for its beauty and its absurdity. My favorite part of it is the fact that the blacksmith holds no illusions about how stupidly dangerous this is and makes no grandiose claims that it’s the most beautiful form of fireworks. Just that, hey, we’ve been doing this for 500 years so why not?

Automotive execs fly in on private jets to beg for money.

You’d think a guy would have to be pretty smart to get a job running any of the Big Three automotive companies. You’d think they’d realize how awkward it would look to fly down to Washington D.C. in a private jet at a cost of $20,000 paid for by the company they head and then try and claim that their companies are flat out broke and need a government bail out. You’d think that, but you’d be wrong:

All three CEOs – Rick Wagoner of GM, Alan Mulally of Ford, and Robert Nardelli of Chrysler – exercised their perks Tuesday by flying in corporate jets to DC. Wagoner flew in GM’s $36 million luxury aircraft to tell members of Congress that the company is burning through cash, asking for $10-12 billion for GM alone.

“We want to continue the vital role we’ve played for Americans for the past 100 years, but we can’t do it alone,” Wagoner told the Senate Banking Committee.

While Wagoner testified, his G4 private jet was parked at Dulles airport. It is just one of a fleet of luxury jets owned by GM that continues to ferry executives around the world despite the company’s dire financial straits.

“This is a slap in the face of taxpayers,” said Tom Schatz, President of Citizens Against Government Waste. “To come to Washington on a corporate jet, and asking for a hand out is outrageous.”

Wagoner’s private jet trip to Washington cost his ailing company an estimated $20,000 roundtrip. In comparison, seats on Northwest Airlines flight 2364 from Detroit to Washington were going online for $288 coach and $837 first class.

After the hearing, Wagoner declined to answer questions about his travel.

I’m seriously torn over this whole situation. There’s a part of me that would love nothing more than to see these clueless pricks crash and burn in a major way. The Big Three created this mess and they should feel the impact of it. The other part of me also realizes that letting these companies crash and burn is going to hurt a lot of people everywhere, but especially here in Michigan. Being a life-long Michigan resident you’ll forgive me if I’m a little concerned about the damage a failure of that magnitude will have on my state. We’ve already suffered through the worst economy of the past eight years even while the rest of the country was doing pretty well, at least until recently. Of course you could argue that it’s our own fault for relying on the automotive industry as a major part of our economy for too long and that’s a valid argument. So I go back and forth between hoping a bailout happens and hoping it doesn’t.

One interesting story I cam across that could throw an interesting twist into how this all unfolds is word that China might buy out one or more of the Big Three:

Chinese carmakers SAIC and Dongfeng have plans to acquire GM and Chrysler, China’s 21st Century Business Herald reports today. [A National Enquirer the paper is not. It is one of China’s leading business newspapers, with a daily readership over three million.] The paper cites a senior official of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology– the state regulator of China’s auto industry– who dropped the hint that “the auto manufacturing giants in China, such as Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) and Dongfeng Motor Corporation, have the capability and intention to buy some assets of the two crisis-plagued American automakers.” These hints are very often followed with quick action in the Middle Kingdom. The hints were dropped just a few days after the same Chinese government gave its auto makers the go-ahead to invest abroad. And why would they do that?

A take-over of a large overseas auto maker would fit perfectly into China’s plans. As reported before, China has realized that its export chances are slim without unfettered access to foreign technology. The brand cachet of Chinese cars abroad is, shall we say, challenged. The Chinese could easily export Made-in-China VWs, Toyotas, Buicks. If their joint venture partner would let them. The solution: Buy the joint venture partner. Especially, when he’s in deep trouble…

Word has it that China has over $2 trillion in cash reserves that could be used for just such a purchase. It’ll be interesting to see how the Free Market Conservatives react if Chinese companies make a big to buy either Chrysler or GM, or both. Could they handle losing two major automotive companies to a foreign power? What happens if Ford goes belly up after such a sale? I’d bet you’d see a quick change of opinion if China starts waving some cash around.

Chinese people react to Fortune Cookies.

Those fortune cookies you get from the local Chinese take-out? Yeah, they’re not really a Chinese invention. So what happens when you give some to real honest-to-goodness Chinese people? The folks at the NYT food blog find out:

Are fortune cookies Chinese?

Clearly not. They are arguably more American (by way of Japan), judging by the way that people in China react to fortune cookies — with a mixture of confusion and amusement. As part of research for my book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, I went around China handing out fortune cookies to random people (my bellhop, people on the street, vendors) and recorded their reactions.

Often times, they would put the cookies in their mouth, and then be surprised when they found a piece of paper either in their mouth or in a cookie.

Best line from the short article: “Americans are so strange, why are they putting pieces of paper in their cookies?”

If we didn’t then what would we add the words “in bed” to the end of so we can laugh ourselves silly?

Chinese Toy Makers Motives Suddenly Become Clear… Maybe

Nobody is too surprised to hear that there is another recall on Chinese products, toys or otherwise. However, there’s a new twist in the latest one reported by CNN, and it’s not lead:

Millions of toys recalled; contain ‘date rape’ drug
Two U.S. children went into comas after who swallowing Chinese-made Aqua Dots found to contain a chemical that converts into ‘date rape’ drug when ingested.
November 7 2007: 9:04 PM EST

WASHINGTON (AP)—Millions of Chinese-made toys have been pulled from shelves in North America and Australia after scientists found they contain a chemical that converts into a powerful date rape drug when ingested. Two children in the U.S. and three in Australia were hospitalized after swallowing the beads.

Yikes.  I guess this is even more reason for me to be glad I don’t have children.

Full CNN Story here

SEB Mailbag: Chinese lead conspiracy theories.

I got an email from a reader commenting on my rant about lead-tainted Chinese products. They quoted where I wrote “Is it too much to ask, however, that our own government have the balls necessary to tell China to either make their shit safe or don’t bother bringing it to America?” Then supplied me with the following theory:

A far off synopsis… what if China has been implanting lead in the brains of children in America for years… on purpose… to damage the brains of the children… future adults… a conspiracy to become the ruling country… the country with the intelligence…

just a thought!

I call Occam’s Razor. Sure it’s possible that China’s problem with lead tainted products could be a very clever conspiracy on their part to dumb down the rest of the world, but it’s also possible that it’s simply a case of greed and lax standards. The latter theory has a precedent very close to home. America, in fact. The Boston Globe had a very good article a couple weeks back titled A Nation of Outlaws:

As with China and Harry Potter, America was a hotbed of literary piracy; like China’s poisonous pet-food makers, American factories turned out adulterated foods and willfully mislabeled products. Indeed, to see China today is to glimpse, in a distant mirror, the 19th-century American economy in all its corner-cutting, fraudulent glory.

China may be a very different country, but in many ways it is a younger version of us. The sooner we understand this, the sooner we can realize that China’s fast and loose brand of commerce is not an expression of national character, much less a conspiracy to poison us and our pets, but a phase in the country’s development. Call it adolescent capitalism, if you will: bursting with energy, exuberant, dynamic. Like any teenager, China’s behavior is also maddening, irresponsible, and dangerous. But it is a phase, and understanding it that way gives us some much-needed perspective, as well as some tools for handling the problem. Indeed, if we want to understand how to deal with China, we could do worse than look to our own history as a guide.

A bit of empathy might even be in order. One hundred and fifty years ago, even America’s closest trade partners were despairing about our cheating ways. Charles Dickens, who visited in 1842, was, like many Britons, stunned by the economic ambition of our nation’s inhabitants, and appalled by what they would do for the sake of profit. When he first stepped off the boat in Boston, he found the city’s bookstores rife with pirated copies of his novels, along with those of his countrymen. Dickens would later deliver lectures decrying the practice, and wrote home in outrage: “my blood so boiled as I thought of the monstrous injustice.”

In the United States of the early 19th century, capitalism as we know it today was still very much in its infancy. Most people still lived on small farms, and despite the persistent myth that America was the land of laissez-faire, there were plenty of laws on the books aimed at keeping tight reins on the market economy. But as commerce became more complex, and stretched over greater distances, this patchwork system of local and state-level regulations was gradually overwhelmed by a new generation of wheeler-dealer entrepreneurs.

Taking a page from the British, who had pioneered many ingenious methods of adulteration a generation or two earlier, American manufacturers, distributors, and vendors of food began tampering with their products en masse—bulking out supplies with cheap filler, using dangerous additives to mask spoilage or to give foodstuffs a more appealing color.

It’s a good article and I recommend you go read the whole thing as it’s about four pages long. It sheds light on what the problem in China most likely is: growing pains.

This does put the whole lead paint thing in perspective…


Click to embiggen.

Lifted from The People’s Republic of Seabrook.