Erenlai - Roy Berman
Roy Berman

Roy Berman

Roy Berman was born and raised in New Jersey, in the suburbs of New York City. He has studied in Kyoto, Japan and Taipei, Taiwan and visited a number of other countries. He is currently studying in an MA course at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Education, researching the history of colonial education in Taiwan and the Philippines.

He also runs a group blog mainly devoted to Japanese and East Asian politics and history which can be found at www.mutantfrog.com.

Tuesday, 01 February 2011 12:13

A Tsou tale: Homeyaya

As with the rest of Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples, the Tsou (鄒族) of Alishan have had difficulty maintaining their distinct culture and language under the Japanese and Chinese regimes of the 20th century. As with other tribes, most of the 7,000 Tsou are Christian, but they are more committed than most to the continued practice of pre-Christian religious ceremonies. The Tsou have a number of significant annual rituals, such as the Mayasvi (瑪雅士比) ‘Victory Ceremony,’ but it is the Homeyaya (小米收穫祭) or millet harvest festival is that calls all Tsou back to their home villages every summer.

Held sometime after the annual harvest, Homeyaya does not have a fixed date. Major festivals like Mayasvi or Homeyaya can only be held in the kuba, or ritual pavilion, of a village with a traditional chief—conditions which today are only met by the villages of Tapangu 達邦 (Dabang) and Tfuya (特富野). These larger communities known as ‘Hosa’ are the center of Tsou tradition, and many of the wealthier families have traditional bamboo rooms attached to their modern Taiwanese style houses. The private religious ceremony is held at night, finishing before dawn, which marks the beginning of the festival component, both more celebratory and more public. Guests visit the home of every friend and relative that has one of those traditional rooms, eating and drinking at long, low tables stocked with Taiwan Beer and rice wine (米酒) and local foods like wild boar, deer, or chicken. The Homeyaya concludes with a convocation of the village elders.

While Tsou settlements such as Laiji Village (來吉) were devastated by Typhoon Morakot in 1999, Tapangu survived.

 

 

 

Tsou3

 
 
 

The entrance to the Tapangu Hosa

Tsou4

 
 
 

The ceremonial rooms are constructed out of bamboo in the traditional style, and decorated with hunting tools and trophies

 
 
 

Tsou10

Locally raised and hunted meat is served along with soup in a bamboo pipe bowl.

 
 

Tsou6

 
 

A Tsou elder and his wife

tsou13

The kaba or ritual pavilion

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The kaba or ritual pavilion. The signs read ‘No admittance except for ritual personnel’ and ‘No women allowed’

Tsou8

Homeyaya ends with a council of Hosa elders

Tsou17

Cultivation of Alishan tea is a major industry for the village

 
 
 
 
 

For more information on the Tsou traditional ceremonies please browse the following links:
 
 
Thursday, 05 August 2010 00:00

George Psalmanazar, the famous fraud of Formosa

One of the more entertaining characters I’ve run across in my studies of Taiwan has been George Psalmanazar, one of the famous hoaxers of all time. Born around 1680, nothing factual is known about his early life, even his country place of birth, although he later claimed it to be somewhere in southern France, which was allegedly corroborated as likely by those who had heard his French dialect, while doubted by those who were familiar with his ability to impersonate such dialects.

Regardless of where he spent his early years, upon completion of his education Psalmanazar began traveling around Europe, attempting to scam his way to Rome by impersonating an Irish pilgrim. Upon realizing that Ireland was neither exotic enough to elicit much interest from potential marks nor far enough to be entirely unfamiliar, he began instead impersonating a rare pilgrim from the distant land of Japan, and later to the even more exotic and lesser-known island of Formosa, which we now usually call Taiwan.

His wild tales of alien customs and bizarre foreign lands were popular, and after a detour through Rotterdam he arrived in London in 1703, where he became a minor celebrity. Banking on his fame, in 1704  he published a book entitled An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, an Island subject to the Emperor of Japan. “Originally written in Latin by Psalmanazar, An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa was translated into English and quickly went through two editions. A French translation appeared in Amsterdam in 1705 and interest in the book was high enough a decade later to prompt a German version, which was published in Frankfort in 1716. By this time, however, Psalamanazar’s fraud had been revealed in England and he lapsed into relative obscurity.”

This book provided a detailed description of the island of Formosa, including its history, geography, flora and fauna, religious customs, language, and so on. And virtually every single word of it was completely fictional. Psalmanazar knew all of this, he claimed, because he was himself a native of Formosa. Having been named after the great Formosan “Prophet Psalmanaazaar, who delivered the Law to the Formosans” as well as their writing, Psalamanazar was bringing knowledge of his exotic homeland to the credulous and curious people’s of Europe. In fact, not only had he never been to Formosa, or Asia at all, he knew nothing about it.

Although there were a handful of Jesuits who had been to the real Formosa, their denial of Psalamanazar’s fantastic claims were largely ignored due to the anti-Catholicism prevalent in England at that time. While it might seem absurd to us today that people would have believed such outlandish tales, consider how unreliable information on foreign lands was in the days before the photograph, the telegraph, and even regular long-distance trade to many regions. We may find it unbelievable that the English believed that a man with Western European features similar to their own could have been a native of the East Asian land of Formosa, but how many Londoners would have ever seen an Asian face themselves?

He not only created fanciful, entirely invented, accounts of Formosa all the while portraying himself as a native of that exotic island, but also invented a Formosan language, in what must have been one of the very, very few pre-Tolkien attempts at such an endeavor. Psalmanazar’s creation of a fictional Formosa was actually very Tolkien-esque, not merely in the way that it included a fictional language, but in the way that the development of the language was linked to the invented history. Although the fantasy island was named after the real island of Formosa, and the title of the book claimed that it was “an Island subject to”  the very real island of Japan, the descriptions of the customs, geography, history, and language of these real places was very nearly as invented as that of Rivendell or Gondor.Psalmanazar describes the language of Formosa as follows:

The Language of Formosa is the same with that of Japan, but with this difference that the Japannese do not pronounce some Letters gutturally as the Formosans do: And they pronounce the Auxiliary Verbs without that elevation and depression of the Voice which is used in Formosa. Thus, for instance, the Formosans pronounce the present Tense without any elevation or falling of the Voice, as Jerh Chato, ego amo; and the preterperfect they pronounce by raising the Voice, and the future Tense by falling it; but the preterimperfect, theplusquam perfectum, and patio poft futurum, they pronounce by adding the auxiliary Verb: Thus the Verb Jerh Chato, ego amo, in the preterimperfect Tense is Jervieye chato, Ego eram amass, or according to the Letter, Ego eram amo; in the preterperfect Tense it is Jerh Chato, and the Voice is raised in the pronunciation of the first Syllable, but falls in pronouncing the other two; and in the plusquam perfectum the auxiliary Verb viey is added, and the same elevation and falling of the Voice is obsery’d as in the preterit. [...]

The Japan Language has three Genders; all sorts of Animals are either of the Masculine or Feminine Gender, and all inanimate Creatures are of the Neuter: But the Gender is only known by the Articles, e.g. oi hic, ey hoec, and ay hoc; but in the Plural number all the three Articles are alike. [...]

The Japannese wrote formerly in a sort of Characters most like those of the Chineses; but since they have held correspondence with theFormosans, they have generally made use of their way of writing, as more easy and more beautiful; insomuch that there are few now inJapan who understand the Chinese Characters.

 
Anyone with even the scantest knowledge of Japanese will instantly realize the absurdity of every word quoted above. In fact, the Formosan languages of his time (before it was extensively colonized by China) were the Austronesian languages still spoken by Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples today, which have no relationship with Japanese.

He also provided a more significant sample of his Formosan language, amusingly in the form of a translation of the Lord’s Prayer. Here are the first five lines.

Lord’s Prayer
Koriakia Vomera

OUR Father who in Heaven art, Hallowed be
Amy Pornio dan chin Ornio vicy, Gnayjorhe

thy Name, Come thy Kingdom, Be done thy Will
sai Lory, Eyfodere sai Bagalin, jorhe sai domion

as in Heaven, also in Earth so, Our bread
apo chin Ornio, kay chin Badi eyen, Amy khatsada

daily give us today, and forgive us
nadakchion toye ant nadayi, kay Radonaye ant

our trespasses, as we forgive our trespassers.
amy Sochin, apo ant radonern amy Sochiakhin.

(A longer excerpt of the chapter on language, including the full Lord’s Prayer, can be found online here.)

To get an idea of how famous Psalmanazar actually was in his time, consider that he was referenced very prominently in Jonathan Swift’s famous satirical essay A Modest Proposal, in which Swift uses him (albeit spelled a bit differently, perhaps due to imperfect memory and a lack of handy reference) as part of his case for the encouragement of cannibalism.

But in order to justify my friend, he confessed, that this expedient was put into his head by the famous Salmanaazor, a native of the island Formosa, who came from thence to London, above twenty years ago, and in conversation told my friend, that in his country, when any young person happened to be put to death, the executioner sold the carcass to persons of quality, as a prime dainty; and that, in his time, the body of a plump girl of fifteen, who was crucified for an attempt to poison the Emperor, was sold to his imperial majesty’s prime minister of state, and other great mandarins of the court in joints from the gibbet, at four hundred crowns. Neither indeed can I deny, that if the same use were made of several plump young girls in this town, who without one single groat to their fortunes, cannot stir abroad without a chair, and appear at a play-house and assemblies in foreign fineries which they never will pay for; the kingdom would not be the worse.

The fact that must be remembered here is that not only was George Psalmanazar a famous public figure in Swift’s time, but that by the year in which A Modest Proposal was published, 1729,  Psalmanazar’s account of Formosa was already been widely known as a fraud, the author having had confessed as much in 1707. While Swift’s essay is still widely read, virtually no modern readers will have any clue to what he is referring in this paragraph, and even fewer will realize that much of the basis for the humor in this section is due to the fact that the essayist is attempting to prove his case by referring to a a source that, at the time of publication, would have been recognized by Swift’s audience as not merely fraudulent, but famously and comically so.

While Jonathan Swift may be the most significant literary reference to Psalmanazar’s imaginary Formosa, it is not the only one. Many readers may be familiar with Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s wonderful comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (and hopefully not the abysmal film based on it), in which they spin a version of our world in which every fantastic story, character, and geography is integrated into a single tapestry. While the story proper is mainly told in the form of comic book panels, Volume Two  contains, in the form of  a lengthy appendix, a sort of gazetteer of this fantastic geography, which contains the following text.

We passed east of Zipang, or of Japan as it is these days called, and went south by way of Formosa, which possesses of its coast another smaller island of the same name, where the women and the men go naked save for plaques of gold and silver.
 
 
 

Zipang is in fact one spelling of the Shanghaiese reading of “Japan,” formerly used by some Europeans and thought to be the origin for the modern spelling. Moore here is obviously referencing Psalmanazar’s Formosa, as we can see from page 225 of the Description (first page of PDF Part II). By describing this Formosa as “another smaller island of the same name”, Moore is cleverly leaving room on the map for both the real and fantasy Formosa.

The great difference between the Japannese and Formosans, consists in this, that the Jappanese wear 2 or 3 Coats, which they tye about with a Girdle; but the Formosans have only one Coat, and use no Girlde. They walk with the Breast open, and cover their Privy parts with a Plate tied about them made of Brass, Gold, or Silver.

Incidentally, Moore’s reference to Formosa is located just above a large illustration of Laputa – which readers may remember from either theeponymous Miyazaki Hayao film, or its original source: Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift. When one considers that Swift was clearly a fan of Psalmanazar’s imaginary geography, it actually seems quite reasonable to wonder if perhaps the Description of Formosa was an influence on Gulliver’s Travels

Following the end of his career as a hoaxer, Psalmanazar used his celebrity to start a career as a legitimate writer, producing such works as The general history of printing: from its first invention in the city of Mentz, to its first progress and propagation thro’ the most celebrated cities in Europe. Particularly, its introduction, rise and progress here in England. The character of the most celebrated printers, from the first inventors of the art to the years 1520 and 1550: with an account of their works, and of the most considerable improvements which they made to it during that intervalpublished in 1732. As a now-respectable man of letters, he became friends with such luminaries as Samuel Johnson.

Although he revealed his fraud as early as 1707, details were not revealed until the year after his death. Naturally, this was in the form of a book, which is wonderfully entitled: MEMOIRS OF ****. Commonly known by the Name of George Psalmanazar; A Reputed Native of Formosa. Written by himself, In order to be published after his Death: Containing An Account of his Education, Travels, Adventures, Connections, Literary Productions, and pretended Conversion from Heathenism to Christianity; which last proved the Occasion of his being brought over into this Kingdom, and passing for a Proselyte, and a member of the Church of England.

The one thing that he never revealed, even in his posthumous memoir, was his real name. As far as I know, no details of his early life have ever been verified.

(Images: Wikimedia Commons)

The table of contents, as well as some all too brief excerpts of Psalmanazar’s first book, An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, can be found here, but until earlier this year it was very difficult to get one’s hands on a copy of the English version of the book, at least outside of certain libraries. Although it was published in Taiwan a couple of years ago, that was a Chinese translation, which even if I could read well would hardly be as entertaining. Original copies are very expensive, with the English first edition going for US$1426 on a rare book site, and the French version selling at an even less accessible $1900! Copies of his memoirgo for a technically more affordable, yet still entirely unaffordable $600 or so. Luckily, not only has an affordable reprint edition of both his Description of Formosaand his Memoirsare available for purchase online. However, even better, just the other day I managed to locate a scanned electronic edition of both books, freely available in an archive of the British Library. As the online version only seems to be accessible from licensed institutions, such as libraries and universities, I am providing both of them for download as PDFs. Since their PDFcreator can only generate files up to 250 pages in length, both of them have been split into two files. Scans of 300 year old books, these files are as public domain as they get. Feel free to spread them far and wide.

George Psalmanazar: Description of Formosa: Part I

George Psalmanazar: Description of Formosa: Part II

George Psalmanazar: Memoirs of ****: Part I

George Psalmanazar: Memoirs of ****: Part II

Thursday, 18 March 2010 18:52

Remnants of the Japanese colonial period in Taiwan's education system

Roy Berman, scholar in history of education in Asia and specialist in Japanese colonial period textbooks, talks about the legacy that Japan left in Taiwan's education system.

The first democratically elected president of the Republic of China, Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), received his Bachelors degree from Kyoto University, Japan. Tsai Pei-huo (蔡培火), who flourished as a scholar under the Japanese, tried three times to create a writing system for the Taiwanese language using Zhuyin (bopomofo), Romanisation and Japanese. Furthermore the first universities in Taiwan were established by the Japanese and according to Roy, the buildings and campuses a lot more traditional than most in Japan.

 

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Thursday, 18 March 2010 18:31

Foreign students in Asia: Japan

Here, Roy Berman, who is familiar with top level academia in both the US and Japan, talks about his experiences at Kyoto University and more generally the Japanese higher education system.

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Wednesday, 17 March 2010 12:47

The Japanese textbook controversy

Roy Berman, scholar in history of education in Asia and specialist in Japanese colonial period textbooks, shares his thoughts on the great textbook controversy in which Japan is still embroiled. (Image: Cover of the history book published by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform)


Monday, 22 February 2010 00:00

Pills for old men or young women?

The US healthcare reform bill that recently passed the House only did so after a controversial amendment was inserted banning any insurance plan which pays for abortion from accepting any federal subsidies, a clause that will probably eliminate abortion from most or all health plans if it goes into law. One reader at TPM had the following thought experiment:

"What would happen if a few female members of the House put in (or merely proposed) an amendment to the health care bill which stated that men would be barred BY LAW from purchasing health insurance which covered Viagra, all hair-growth medications or procedures or transplants, etc.? "


This thought experiment reminded me of the well known case of the birth control in Japan. Actually, I say well known, but when I checked to confirm the dates, the details were rather more complex than the simplistic version of the story that I had thought I knew, in which the pill was simply never legalized in Japan until a decade ago.
 
The first birth control pill was approved for that use by the United States FDA in 1960, but was rarely used in Japan until recently. The pill was not approved at all in Japan until 1972, but this was the high-dose formulation that was already being replaced in other countries with a low-dose version of the drug due to safety reasons. Because the safer, low-dose pill was never approved in Japan, oral contraceptives remained little used. Even after the original high-dose formulation was removed from the market in the US in 1988, the low-dose pill remained off the market in Japan.

 

This changed in 1999, after Viagra was fast-tracked for approval. Viagra first went on sale in the US in March 1998, and only a few months later was already being studied for approval in Japan, where it went on sale in March 1999 – only one year after the US. Feminists complained about a double standard that allowed a drug whose primary purpose is allowing recreational sex for old men to be approved almost immediately, while the safe low-dose birth control pill was still not approved after four decades. At the time, Yoshiaki Kumamoto, president of the Japan Foundation of Sexual Health Medicine, was quoted as saying that viagra was approved so quickly because old men in parliament “want to have that drug.”
 
The modern pill was finally approved in September of 1999, although women taking it are required to have pelvic exams four times a year, as opposed to once or twice in most countries, and there is still a widely held association with the dangerous side effects of the old formulation. According to a late 2006 study, only 1.8% of Japanese women were using the pill for their birth control needs. This compares with, according to UN figures for the year 2005, 7.5% of women worldwide, and 15.9% of women in developed countries.

 

 

 

 

 
Tuesday, 23 June 2009 20:27

The Shrine of Cutting Bonds

Shinto Shrines (Jinja:神社 or sometimes Jingu:神宮 in Japanese) tend to be full of wooden prayer tablets (ema:絵馬), which can generally be bought for a few hundred yen, allowing the patron to write a prayer to the kami (神god, spirit) of that particular shrine, hang it on the ema rack, and hope for the best. Although some shrines are known for having specialties, such as education (specifically, passing exams), romance, health, etc. most shrines tend to have a pretty repetitive mixture of prayers based on these commonplace themes. There are exceptions though, with the best I have run across being Kyoto’s Yasui Engiri Jinja (安井の縁切り神社, official name is Yasui Konpiragu:安井金比羅宮).

While you may find an occasional prayer for good grades or such by someone who doesn’t quite realize where they are, the majority of ema at Engiri Jinja, appropriately enough, contain prayers related to the theme of engiri, literally meaning “cutting of bonds”-which is commonly used today in reference to the ending of relationships, especially romantic ones. The first part of the word, en (縁) has a few different meanings, including “edge” or “porch-like area in old Japanese buildings”, but most importantly the Buddhist concept of pratyaya which I have not read up on but has something to do with causation, and by extension is taken in reference to such concepts as “fate”, “destiny”, “familial bond”, or “relationship”. The second part, giri or kiri (切り) simply means to cut or sever. This concept of severing “en” originally meant something more along the lines of cutting away the threads of negative destiny to relieve one’s bad luck, but today has come to refer primarily to the more conceptually simple act of severing personal relationships.

Roy_shrine2Every ema at Engiri Jinja is a story, with many variations on the general theme including people praying for their own bad relationship to end, people hoping for a friend or relative to break off a bad relationship, jealous people hoping for the object of their affection to break up with their current partner, and even a few people following the old-fashioned meaning of “cutting away” their general bad luck.

Amusingly, the shrine has attracted a cluster of love hotels, which seems to me somewhat counter-intuitive. Who is really going to be turned on by the idea of being brought to a hotel to have sex right next to a shrine devoted to the ending of relationships? Are these half-dozen or so hotels exclusively used by couples in self-acknowledged illicit relationships, stopping by Engiri Jinga to fill out a quick prayer card hoping for their official partner to let them go easily before going into the hotel for some passion?

(Photos by R. Berman)

Thursday, 21 May 2009 03:56

Brazilian community in the Homi Danchi, Toyota City

The Homi public housing development (“Danchi” in Japanese) in the Homigaoka area of Toyota City, in Aichi Prefecture, is now home to a large population of Brazilian immigrants. They mainly came to the area to work at Toyota and related manufacturing jobs, but are now often the first to lose those jobs due to the worsening recession. The Homi Danchi (population over 11,000) is decades old and was originally inhabited entirely (or almost entirely) by Japanese, but due to its affordable prices and location now has a majority of Brazilians, and the stores in the area reflect that ethnic shift.
 
 
 

Tensions between the Japanese and Brazilian residents of the Danchi over such issues as garbage disposal and communication difficulties have existed as long as Brazilians have been moving into the city residential complex, but have worsened as the Brazilians have become the majority. Japanese residents, who are now largely elderly and single residents or single-mother families, often complain that the non-Japanese speaking Brazilian newcomers have not assimilated as well as they had hoped, and do not follow the rules that had been set by the “Community Board” (自治会) long before their arrival. Although there are around 400 vacancies in the Homi Danchi, the Japanese Community Board and the city have an agreement to only allow 40 units to be newly rented out each year so that new residents have time to acclimate, but the Brazilians claim that this quote is a form of ethnic discrimination. This has become particularly contentious as newly out of work Brazilians in the area are in need of cheaper housing. On top of this, Brazilians who can no longer even afford the low rent of the Danchi are moving out and leaving behind huge amounts of trash, particularly bulk trash which clutters the hallways and public areas. To attempt to resolve these issues, and to negotiate with the Danchi Community Board and the Toyota City government, the Brazilians organized their own Japan-style Community Association (保見ヶ丘ブラジル人協会)in January of this year.

 
 
 
Some more information, in Japanese and slightly out of date, can be found here http://www.homigaoka.jp/

 

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Monday, 16 February 2009 20:41

Stimulus or investment? Japan vs. USA

Ever since the start of our current financial disaster various economists and pundits have been comparing first the US banking problems with Japan’s, and then more recently the infrastructure-heavy stimulus program with Japan’s construction state. NYT has a substantial article that easily marks the most high profile comparison yet. I’m certainly no economist and I’m not even taking the time to look at numbers right now, but my quick take on the issue is that the comparison is being significantly overblown, but it is still a very worthwhile comparison to make, so that Japan’s various successes and mistakes can be absorbed as lessons. See the following summation of Japan’s massive pork spending:

“Dr. Ihori of the University of Tokyo did a survey of public works in the 1990s, concluding that the spending created almost no additional economic growth. Instead of spreading beneficial ripple effects across the economy, he found that the spending actually led to declines in business investment by driving out private investors. He also said job creation was too narrowly focused in the construction industry in rural areas to give much benefit to the overall economy.

He agreed with other critics that the 1990s stimulus failed because too much of it went to roads and bridges, overbuilding this already heavily developed nation. Critics also said decisions on how to spend the money were made behind closed doors by bureaucrats, politicians and the construction industry, and often reflected political considerations more than economic. Dr. Ihori said the United States appeared to be striking a better balance by investing in new energy and information-technology infrastructure as well as replacing aging infrastructure.”

Japan’s huge boom in public works spending was less a national stimulus program than a gigantic rural welfare program of pork-barrel projects designed to prop up the ailing LDP in its long decline. The money was largely directed not to the areas where it would benefit the largest number of people, but the areas where it would benefit the largest number of politicians. This was not done entirely out purely cynical political motives but also due to a genuine desire to arrest the decline of the rural regions themselves, in the face of continuing urbanization and a decline in Japan’s traditional and lionized (if anachronistic) agricultural lifestyle. Regardless of intent, a huge proportion (I won’t use words like “most” without looking at actual numerical research) of the spending was “stimulus” but not “investment”.

I am very, very wary of the general principal of “economic stimulus.” I am not opposed to government spending, or even large amounts of government spending, as long as it is being spent on something that is actually necessary or build further value in the future, i.e. services or investment. I think this attitude should be obvious from the mass transit funding letter I wrote and posted in my blog.

In short, I worry that the discussions on spending currently ongoing in Washington may turn into a series of worthless boondoggle projects oriented at unpopulated rural areas, combined with random tax cuts and other expenditures poorly aimed at short-term (i.e. one election cycle) economic recovery, while continuing to ignore the trillions of dollars in outstanding repairs or upgrades as well as vital new investment that the country needs. I think it’s safe to say that politicians are going to spend this money. The question is, what will it buy us? Would we rather have a bunch of bridges to nowhere, vacant museums and amusement parks in virtually deserted rural towns, and paved-over mountain tops, or would we rather have a modern electrical grid, mass transit that at least meets late 20th century standards if not 21st century, a safe and reliable water system, bridges rated to not collapse, and maybe even an adequate system of public health care?

 



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