Thursday, September 27, 2012

A foreigner's view of China

Too busy to write stuff lately, but I came across a good article in Prospect that would like to share here.

You’ll never be Chinese

by Mark Kitto

You’ll never be Chinese

by Mark Kitto

Why I’m leaving the country I loved.

Mark Kitto and family; Photo: Eric Leleu

Death and taxes. You know how the saying goes. I’d like to add a third certainty: you’ll never become Chinese, no matter how hard you try, or want to, or think you ought to. I wanted to be Chinese, once. I don’t mean I wanted to wear a silk jacket and cotton slippers, or a Mao suit and cap and dye my hair black and proclaim that blowing your nose in a handkerchief is disgusting. I wanted China to be the place where I made a career and lived my life. For the past 16 years it has been precisely that. But now I will be leaving.

I won’t be rushing back either. I have fallen out of love, woken from my China Dream. “But China is an economic miracle: record number of people lifted out of poverty in record time… year on year ten per cent growth… exports… imports… infrastructure… investment…saved the world during the 2008 financial crisis…” The superlatives roll on. We all know them, roughly.

Don’t you think, with all the growth and infrastructure, the material wealth, let alone saving the world like some kind of financial whizz James Bond, that China would be a happier and healthier country? At least better than the country emerging from decades of stultifying state control that I met and fell in love with in 1986 when I first came here as a student? I don’t think it is.

When I arrived in Beijing for the second year of my Chinese degree course, from London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), China was communist. Compared to the west, it was backward. There were few cars on the streets, thousands of bicycles, scant streetlights, and countless donkey carts that moved at the ideal speed for students to clamber on board for a ride back to our dormitories. My “responsible teacher” (a cross between a housemistress and a parole officer) was a fearsome former Red Guard nicknamed Dragon Hou. The basic necessities of daily life: food, drink, clothes and a bicycle, cost peanuts. We lived like kings—or we would have if there had been anything regal to spend our money on. But there wasn’t. One shop, the downtown Friendship Store, sold coffee in tins.

We had the time of our lives, as students do, but it isn’t the pranks and adventures I remember most fondly, not from my current viewpoint, the top of a mountain called Moganshan, 100 miles west of Shanghai, where I have lived for the past seven years.

If I had to choose one word to describe China in the mid-1980s it would be optimistic. A free market of sorts was in its early stages. With it came the first inflation China had experienced in 35 years. People were actually excited by that. It was a sign of progress, and a promise of more to come. Underscoring the optimism was a sense of social obligation for which communism was at least in part responsible, generating either the fantasy that one really could be a selfless socialist, or unity in the face of the reality that there was no such thing.

In 1949 Mao had declared from the top of Tiananmen gate in Beijing: “The Chinese people have stood up.” In the mid-1980s, at long last, they were learning to walk and talk.

One night in January 1987 I watched them, chanting and singing as they marched along snow-covered streets from the university quarter towards Tiananmen Square. It was the first of many student demonstrations that would lead to the infamous “incident” in June 1989.

One man was largely responsible for the optimism of those heady days: Deng Xiaoping, rightly known as the architect of modern China. Deng made China what it is today. He also ordered the tanks into Beijing in 1989, of course, and there left a legacy that will haunt the Chinese Communist Party to its dying day. That “incident,” as the Chinese call it—when they have to, which is seldom since the Party has done such a thorough job of deleting it from public memory—coincided with my final exams. My classmates and I wondered if we had spent four years of our lives learning a language for nothing.

It did not take long for Deng to put his country back on the road he had chosen. He persuaded the world that it would be beneficial to forgive him for the Tiananmen “incident” and engage with China, rather than treating her like a pariah. He also came up with a plan to ensure nothing similar happened again, at least on his watch. The world obliged and the Chinese people took what he offered. Both have benefited financially.

When I returned to China in 1996, to begin the life and career I had long dreamed about, I found the familiar air of optimism, but there was a subtle difference: a distinct whiff of commerce in place of community. The excitement was more like the  eager anticipation I felt once I had signed a deal (I began my China career as a metals trader), sure that I was going to bank a profit, rather than the thrill that something truly big was about to happen.

A deal had been struck. Deng had promised the Chinese people material wealth they hadn’t known for centuries on the condition that they never again asked for political change. The Party said: “Trust us and everything will be all right.”

Twenty years later, everything is not all right.

I must stress that this indictment has nothing to do with the trajectory of my own China career, which went from metal trading to building a multi-million dollar magazine publishing business that was seized by the government in 2004, followed by retreat to this mountain hideaway of Moganshan where my Chinese wife and I have built a small business centred on a coffee shop and three guesthouses, which in turn has given me enough anecdotes and gossip to fill half a page of Prospect every month for several years. That our current business could suffer the same fate as my magazines if the local government decides not to renew our short-term leases (for which we have to beg every three years) does, however, contribute to my decision not to remain in China.

During the course of my magazine business, my state-owned competitor (enemy is more accurate) told me in private that they studied every issue I produced so they could learn from me. They appreciated my contribution to Chinese media. They proceeded to do everything in their power to destroy me. In Moganshan our local government masters send messages of private thanks for my contribution to the resurrection of the village as a tourist destination, but also clearly state that I am an exception to their unwritten rule that foreigners (who originally built the village in the early 1900s) are not welcome back to live in it, and are only allowed to stay for weekends.

But this article is not personal. I want to give you my opinion of the state of China, based on my time living here, in the three biggest cities and one tiny rural community, and explain why I am leaving it.
* * *

Modern day mainland Chinese society is focused on one object: money and the acquisition thereof. The politically correct term in China is “economic benefit.” The country and its people, on average, are far wealthier than they were 25 years ago. Traditional family culture, thanks to 60 years of self-serving socialism followed by another 30 of the “one child policy,” has become a “me” culture. Except where there is economic benefit to be had, communities do not act together, and when they do it is only to ensure equal financial compensation for the pollution, or the government-sponsored illegal land grab, or the poisoned children. Social status, so important in Chinese culture and more so thanks to those 60 years of communism, is defined by the display of wealth. Cars, apartments, personal jewellery, clothing, pets: all must be new and shiny, and carry a famous foreign brand name. In the small rural village where we live I am not asked about my health or that of my family, I am asked how much money our small business is making, how much our car cost, our dog.

The trouble with money of course, and showing off how much you have, is that you upset the people who have very little. Hence the Party’s campaign to promote a “harmonious society,” its vast spending on urban and rural beautification projects, and reliance on the sale of “land rights” more than personal taxes.
Once you’ve purchased the necessary baubles, you’ll want to invest the rest somewhere safe, preferably with a decent return—all the more important because one day you will have to pay your own medical bills and pension, besides overseas school and college fees. But there is nowhere to put it except into property or under the mattress. The stock markets are rigged, the banks operate in a way that is non-commercial, and the yuan is still strictly non-convertible. While the privileged, powerful and well-connected transfer their wealth overseas via legally questionable channels, the remainder can only buy yet more apartments or thicker mattresses. The result is the biggest property bubble in history, which when it pops will sound like a thousand firework accidents.

In brief, Chinese property prices have rocketed; owning a home has become unaffordable for the young urban workers; and vast residential developments continue to be built across the country whose units are primarily sold as investments, not homes. If you own a property you are more than likely to own at least three. Many of our friends do. If you don’t own a property, you are stuck.

When the bubble pops, or in the remote chance that it deflates gradually, the wealth the Party gave the people will deflate too. The promise will have been broken. And there’ll still be the medical bills, pensions and school fees. The people will want their money back, or a say in their future, which amounts to a political voice. If they are denied, they will cease to be harmonious.

Meanwhile, what of the ethnic minorities and the factory workers, the people on whom it is more convenient for the government to dispense overwhelming force rather than largesse? If an outburst of ethnic or labour discontent coincides with the collapse of the property market, and you throw in a scandal like the melamine tainted milk of 2008, or a fatal train crash that shows up massive, high level corruption, as in Wenzhou in 2011, and suddenly the harmonious society is likely to become a chorus of discontent.

How will the Party deal with that? How will it lead?

Unfortunately it has forgotten. The government is so scared of the people it prefers not to lead them.
In rural China, village level decisions that require higher authorisation are passed up the chain of command, sometimes all the way to Beijing, and returned with the note attached: “You decide.” The Party only steps to the fore where its power or personal wealth is under direct threat. The country is ruled from behind closed doors, a building without an address or a telephone number. The people in that building do not allow the leaders they appoint to actually lead. Witness Grandpa Wen, the nickname for the current, soon to be outgoing, prime minister. He is either a puppet and a clever bluff, or a man who genuinely wants to do the right thing. His proposals for reform (aired in a 2010 interview on CNN, censored within China) are good, but he will never be able to enact them, and he knows it.

To rise to the top you must be grey, with no strong views or ideas. Leadership contenders might think, and here I hypothesise, that once they are in position they can show their “true colours.” Too late they realise that will never be possible. As a publisher I used to deal with officials who listened to the people in one of the wings of that building. They always spoke as if there was a monster in the next room, one that cannot be named. It was “them” or “our leaders.” Once or twice they called it the “China Publishing Group.” No such thing exists. I searched hard for it. It is a chimera.

In that building are the people who, according to pundits, will be in charge of what they call the Chinese Century. “China is the next superpower,” we’re told. “Accept it. Deal with it.” How do you deal with a faceless leader, who when called upon to adjudicate in an international dispute sends the message: “You decide”?

It is often argued that China led the world once before, so we have nothing to fear. As the Chinese like to say, they only want to “regain their rightful position.” While there is no dispute that China was once the major world superpower, there are two fundamental problems with the idea that it should therefore regain that “rightful position.”

A key reason China achieved primacy was its size. As it is today, China was, and always will be, big. (China loves “big.” “Big” is good. If a Chinese person ever asks you what you think of China, just say “It’s big,” and they will be delighted.) If you are the biggest, and physical size matters as it did in the days before microchips, you tend to dominate. Once in charge the Chinese sat back and accepted tribute from their suzerain and vassal states, such as Tibet. If trouble was brewing beyond its borders that might threaten the security or interests of China itself, the troublemakers were set against each other or paid off.

The second reason the rightful position idea is misguided is that the world in which China was the superpower did not include the Americas, an enlightened Europe or a modern Africa. The world does not want to live in a Chinese century, just as much of it doesn’t like living in an American one. China, politically, culturally and as a society, is inward looking. It does not welcome intruders—unless they happen to be militarily superior and invade from the north, as did two imperial dynasties, the Yuan (1271-1368) and the Qing (1644-1911), who became more Chinese than the Chinese themselves. Moreover, the fates of the Mongols, who became the Yuan, and Manchu, who became the Qing, provide the ultimate deterrent: “Invade us and be consumed from the inside,” rather like the movie Alien. All non-Chinese are, to the Chinese, aliens, in a mildly derogatory sense. The polite word is “Outsider.” The Chinese are on “The Inside.” Like anyone who does not like what is going on outside—the weather, a loud argument, a natural disaster—the Chinese can shut the door on it. Maybe they’ll stick up a note: “Knock when you’ve decided how to deal with it.”

Leadership requires empathy, an ability to put yourself in your subordinate’s shoes. It also requires decisiveness and a willingness to accept responsibility. Believing themselves to be unique, the Chinese find it almost impossible to empathise. Controlled by people with conflicting interests, China’s government struggles to be decisive in domestic issues, let alone foreign ones. Witness the postponement of the leadership handover thanks to the Bo Xilai scandal. And the system is designed to make avoidance of responsibility a prerequisite before any major decision is taken. (I know that sounds crazy. It is meant to. It is true.)

A leader must also offer something more than supremacy. The current “world leader” offers the world the chance to be American and democratic, usually if they want to be, sometimes by force. The British empire offered freedom from slavery and a legal system, amongst other things. The Romans took grain from Egypt and redistributed it across Europe.

A China that leads the world will not offer the chance to be Chinese, because it is impossible to become Chinese. Nor is the Chinese Communist Party entirely averse to condoning slavery. It has encouraged its own people to work like slaves to produce goods for western companies, to earn the foreign currency that has fed its economic boom. (How ironic that the Party manifesto promised to kick the slave-driving foreigners out of China.) And the Party wouldn’t know a legal system if you swung the scales of justice under its metaphorical nose. (I was once a plaintiff in the Beijing High Court. I was told, off the record, that I had won my case. While my lawyer was on his way to collect the decision the judge received a telephone call. The decision was reversed.) As for resources extracted from Africa, they go to China.

There is one final reason why the world does not want to be led by China in the 21st century. The Communist Party of China has, from its very inception, encouraged strong anti-foreign sentiment. Fevered nationalism is one of its cornerstones. The Party’s propaganda arm created the term “one hundred years of humiliation” to define the period from the Opium Wars to the Liberation, when foreign powers did indeed abuse and coerce a weak imperial Qing government. The second world war is called the War of Resistance Against Japan. To speak ill of China in public, to award a Nobel prize to a Chinese intellectual, or for a public figure to have tea with the Dalai Lama, is to “interfere in China’s internal affairs” and “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.” The Chinese are told on a regular basis to feel aggrieved at what foreigners have done to them, and the Party vows to exact vengeance on their behalf.
The alternative scenario to a world dominated by an aggrieved China is hardly less bleak and illustrates how China already dominates the world and its economy. That is the increasing likelihood that there will be upheaval in China within the next few years, sparked by that property crash. When it happens it will be sudden, like all such events. Sun Yat Sen’s 1911 revolution began when someone set off a bomb by accident. Some commentators say it will lead to revolution, or a collapse of the state. There are good grounds. Everything the Party does to fix things in the short term only makes matters worse in the long term by setting off property prices again. Take the recent cut in interest rates, which was done to boost domestic consumption, which won’t boost itself until the Party sorts out the healthcare system, which it hasn’t the money for because it has been invested in American debt, which it can’t sell without hurting the dollar, which would raise the value of the yuan and harm exports, which will shut factories and put people out of work and threaten social stability.

I hope the upheaval, when it comes, is peaceful, that the Party does not try to distract people by launching an attack on Taiwan or the Philippines. Whatever form it takes, it will bring to an end China’s record-breaking run of economic growth that has supposedly driven the world’s economy and today is seen as our only hope of salvation from recession.
* * *

Fear of violent revolution or domestic upheaval, with a significant proportion of that violence sure to be directed at foreigners, is not the main reason I am leaving China, though I shan’t deny it is one of them.
Apart from what I hope is a justifiable human desire to be part of a community and no longer be treated as an outsider, to run my own business in a regulated environment and not live in fear of it being taken away from me, and not to concern myself unduly that the air my family breathes and the food we eat is doing us physical harm, there is one overriding reason I must leave China. I want to give my children a decent education.

The domestic Chinese lower education system does not educate. It is a test centre. The curriculum is designed to teach children how to pass them. In rural China, where we have lived for seven years, it is also an elevation system. Success in exams offers a passport to a better life in the big city. Schools do not produce well-rounded, sociable, self-reliant young people with inquiring minds. They produce winners and losers. Winners go on to college or university to take “business studies.” Losers go back to the farm or the local factory their parents were hoping they could escape.

There is little if any sport or extracurricular activity. Sporty children are extracted and sent to special schools to learn how to win Olympic gold medals. Musically gifted children are rammed into the conservatories and have all enthusiasm and joy in their talent drilled out of them. (My wife was one of the latter.)

And then there is the propaganda. Our daughter’s very first day at school was spent watching a movie called, roughly, “How the Chinese people, under the firm and correct leadership of the Party and with the help of the heroic People’s Liberation Army, successfully defeated the Beichuan Earthquake.” Moral guidance is provided by mythical heroes from communist China’s recent past, such as Lei Feng, the selfless soldier who achieved more in his short lifetime than humanly possible, and managed to write it all down in a diary that was miraculously “discovered” on his death.

The pressure makes children sick. I speak from personal experience. To score under 95 per cent is considered failure. Bad performance is punished. Homework, which consists mostly of practice test papers, takes up at least one day of every weekend. Many children go to school to do it in the classroom. I have seen them trooping in at 6am on Sundays. In the holidays they attend special schools for extra tuition, and must do their own school’s homework for at least a couple of hours every day to complete it before term starts again. Many of my local friends abhor the system as much as I do, but they have no choice. I do. I am lucky.

An option is to move back to a major Chinese city and send our children to an expensive international school—none of which offer boarding—but I would be worried about pollution, and have to get a proper job, most likely something to do with foreign business to China, which my conscience would find hard.
I pity the youth of China that cannot attend the international schools in the cities (which have to set limits on how many Chinese children they accept) and whose parents cannot afford to send them to school overseas, or do not have access to the special schools for the Party privileged. China does not nurture and educate its youth in a way that will allow them to become the leaders, inventors and innovators of tomorrow, but that is the intention. The Party does not want free thinkers who can solve its problems. It still believes it can solve them itself, if it ever admits it has a problem in the first place. The only one it openly acknowledges, ironically, is its corruption. To deny that would be impossible.
The Party does include millions of enlightened officials who understand that something must be done to avert a crisis. I have met some of them. If China is to avoid upheaval then it is up to them to change the Party from within, but they face a long uphill struggle, and time is short.

I have also encountered hundreds of well-rounded, wise Chinese people with a modern world view, people who could, and would willingly, help their motherland face the issues that are growing into state-shaking problems. It is unlikely they will be given the chance. I fear for some of them who might ask for it, just as my classmates and I feared for our Chinese friends while we took our final exams at SOAS in 1989.

I read about Ai Weiwei, Chen Guangchen and Liu Xiaobo on Weibo, the closely monitored Chinese equivalent of Twitter and Facebook, where a post only has to be up for a few minutes to go viral. My wife had never heard of them until she started using the site. The censors will never completely master it. (The day my wife began reading Weibo was also the day she told me she had overcome her concerns about leaving China for the UK.) There are tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of mainland Chinese who “follow” such people too, and there must be countless more like them in person, trying in their small way to make China a better place. One day they will prevail. That’ll be a good time to become Chinese. It might even be possible.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Few thoughts on riots in China in recent days

Too busy to put everything together in an organized way, so I'm gonna put my thoughts in bullet form.

  • Territory dispute between nations with complicated historical background that involves multi nations, change of regime, natural resources, and competition of national strength is always a mess for regular people to comprehend. I think it is always better for involving states to handle it behind closed door. If they can't solve it now, just put it in 'freezer' and let future leaders to handle. If a fire is ignited, I think it should be put off before it got out of hand, that's what I think both Japanese and Chinese governments should do now, don't let saving face become a "game of chicken".
  • Citizens are entitled to the right to express their emotion and opinion towards their government's actions. If people are getting emotional, it's better to have 'organized' way to let them pull out their guts. Otherwise, things can be easily get out of hand. Crowds are blind and issues can be hijacked. If the physical crash with authority is actually driven by organized force behind as mentioned by some media. It is like fighting fire with fire, highly dangerous and could eventually burn itself.
  • Chinese citizens' image in media is certainly once again tarnished with all the video clips and photos in the media in recent days. Don't blame the media or try to control them. It is useless in these day and age when everyone has a smartphone. Cuz, the rationale may not come out but what happened will be shown. Since peace protest is not a norm but a rarity in China, the standby by riot police is thus understood. However, as I said, people from outside wouldn't understand all the complicated issues behind. How they view a matter will easily be affected by what they see in the media. I would say that what they have seen so far is definitely not a good thing about Chinese. Viewers may not like what Japan does, but they would certainly view Chinese badly based on what they did.
  • There are tens if not hundred ways to express yourselves, why chose the ugliest, dumbest, and least effective way? When a nation's power is on the rise, it could strike both admiration as well as fear among its peers. Actions are always more convincing than words. The words of the regime is less convincing than what people are putting up on their signs. Some of them are really uncivilized, ridiculous, and strike second thoughts on viewers' mind. When those signs suggest the threat of violence and atrocity to the people of another nation, with the real damages done to its own fellow citizens, how could people from outside world would believe Chinese are peaceful on the rise. Together with the behavior of quick rag-to-rich tourists aboard, and the biased agenda of media and politicians, it would make it very hard for Chinese to make friends abroad these days or in coming future. Should we care about this? I think we should, cuz we are not living in islands. We are all connected these days. Perception is very important, from individuals to a nation.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

iPhone 5 vs. Galaxy S3 vs. Lumia 920 and my prelim thought on iPhone 5

I can't believe it is called iPhone 5!? It is the 6 generation iPhone and the first 4G iPhone, should it be called iPhone 6 or iPhone 4G? If not, at least follow iPad, just called it a the 'new iPhone'! So, I've no idea what Tim Cook and the rest were thinking, just because the media named it as iPhone 5, you don't have to follow them! 

Anyway, I'm still digesting the rest of the release. I think I may post further comment in coming days. For now, I think I'm fine with this new hardware, though there is no 'One More Thing' that 'wow' us. Since my 3GS is almost on its last leg as the battery is really aging - it drains more than half in one day in spite of occasional charges in between, and I don't do much except listening to podcast or play some simple graphing games and FB/Weibo. Also, the shell of my phone has cracks all over, so it is due to an upgrade. Even though Android is tempting, I just don't see it good enough to make me jump over. Furthermore, with my iPad and Apple TV, I'm too deep in the camp to jump this Apple ship. So, iPhone 5, no matter what, will be my next phone.

Anyway, among all the news articles that I saw so far, I think this one is good start for people to gaze this 'battle' among these 3 camps in the coming 12 months or so. Check this out:

iPhone 5 vs. Galaxy S3 vs. Lumia 920: By the numbers

The Apple iPhone 5 is finally real. While its specs are premium, the iPhone isn't the only worthwhile smartphone on the block. We compare it, spec to spec, to the top Android and Windows phones: the Samsung Galaxy S3, and Nokia Lumia 920.

Keep in mind that since the Lumia 920 and iPhone 5 aren't yet available, we're limited to educated speculation, rather than to the side-by-side, in-the-flesh evaluation. We'll have to save that for later, when we have all three devices in-house. Until then, we offer up our winners so far for each major category. You don't have to agree with us, and we certainly reserve our right to change our minds when we see the phones in full, but going on the specs, here's how we feel.

Eyes on Apple's new iPhone 5 (pictures)

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Apple iPhone 5 Samsung Galaxy 3 Nokia Lumia 920
Operating system iOS 6 Android 4.0 Windows Phone 8
Display 4-inch IPS LCD; 1,136x640 pixels, 326 ppi 4.8-inch HD Super
AMOLED; 1,280x720 pixels, 306 ppi
4.5-inch AMOLED; 1,280x768 pixels, 332 ppi
Price $199.99, $299.99, $399.99 $199.99-$329.99, depending on carrier Unannounced
Carrier Sept 21: AT&T, Sprint, Verizon Now: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Unannounced
4G LTE Yes Yes Yes
Camera 8-megapixel, 720p front-facing 8-megapixel, 1.9-megapixel front-facing 8.7-megapixel, 1.2-megapixel front-facing
Processor Proprietary A6 CPU 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
Memory 16GB, 32GB, 64GB 16GB or 32GB; 2GB RAM 32GB; 1GB RAM
Expandable memory No Up to 64GB No
Battery Capacity TBA (Talk time up to 8 hours on 3G); embedded 2,100 mAh, removable 2,000 mAh, embedded
NFC No Yes Yes
Weight and thickness 3.95 ounces, 0.3 inches 4.7 ounces, 0.34 inches 6.5 ounces, 0.42 inches
Colors Black, white White, blue, red (AT&T); Also, globally: black, brown, grey Black, white, yellow, red, grey
Design and build
Apple's all-aluminum and glass iPhone 5 retains its super-industrial aesthetic, metal buttons and all. Its new, all-metal backing could look slightly less luxe than the iPhone 4S, but it will survive far more drops.
Then you have the Nokia Lumia 920, whose yellow, red, white, black, or grey polycarbonate body and rounded edges produce a punch of pop sensibility in an otherwise staid design world. It's a good look for the phone, and a smart one that really helps Nokia stand out; however, distinctiveness and the nevertheless plastic body aren't everyone's cup of tea.

We find the GS3's design appealing, but shiny, glossy plastic doesn't scream "quality." That isn't to say that the GS3 is more prone to breaking or shattering than the other two; in fact, plastic has the benefit of scuffing rather than shattering. However, we do really love the GS3's in-hand feel, which is comfortable despite its much larger size.

Our winner so far: Based on looks alone, we're digging the iPhone 5's familiarly crisp lines most, but we also love the Lumia 920's colorful unibody statement.
iPhone 5
The iPhone 5 back will be all-aluminum, with no breakable glass.
(Credit: Apple)
Screen size and clarity
The iPhone 5's 1136x640 pixels on its 4-inch screen still yields 326 pixels per inch and gives the phone a 16:9 aspect ratio, wider than the iPhone 4S. However, Apple boasts that its sRGB display delivers 44 percent more color saturation and cuts down on glare.

Samsung's Galaxy S3 has the largest screen of the three, an 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED, which yields a 1280x720-pixel resolution and a pixel density of 306 pixels per inch. Its size offers the most expansive real estate for watching videos, reading, and composing messages, but there are three minor drawbacks: the lowest pixel density of the trio, high reflection, and a dimmer maximum brightness than the iPhone 4S and the HTC One X.

Nokia's Lumia 920 has a 4.5-inch Nokia PureMotion HD+ display, which is a fancy name to describe its AMOLED screen technology. Its WXGA resolution (1,280x768 pixels) is a little higher than the standard HD (1,280x720 pixels). Combined with the screen size and the 332 pixels per inch, resolution could be tighter than on the GS3 and iPhone 5.

Nokia has also brought its ClearBlack Display filter to the Lumia 920; it definitely cut down glare on the Lumia 900, and Nokia claims that this version is even better.

Our winner so far: The GS3 offer the largest screen, but in terms of clarity, the Nokia Lumia 920 theoretically takes this round for its high pixel density and anti-glare properties.
The iPhone 5 camera promises to improve low-light performance for its 8-megapixel shooter.
(Credit: Apple)

Camera prowess
This is a tough call since all three phones bring their A-game here. The iPhone has set the benchmark in terms of camera phone performance for quite a while and the improvements to the iPhone 5's imaging system will no doubt cement its lead. These include improved low-light performance and a new panorama shooting mode that catches up to Android.

Of course Android devices in many cases surpass the iPhone. Samsung's Galaxy S3 has a sensor that offers the same 8-megapixel resolution as the iPhone 5, plus it features tons of fancy shooting modes like panorama and multi-shot burst mode.

The Nokia Lumia 920 is the real dark horse in the smartphone camera phone arms race. On paper, its 8.7-megapixel camera and PureView technology promise better performance than both the iPhone and Galaxy S3. It also will be able to run special apps within the camera application itself, allowing you to upgrade its functionality greatly over time--at least that's the theory.

Our winner so far: Though we haven't seen the iPhone 5's camera in action, chances are high that it'll trump the Galaxy S3 since the iPhone 4S matches the GS3 now. Because Nokia's Lumia 920 is still unproven and the Lumia 900's camera wasn't awe-inspiring, we're tempering our hopes with doubts.
LTE and network promise
A this point, LTE on the iPhone 5 was an inevitability, and a feature that's been in the hopper for some time. Verizon has already sworn that all its new smartphones will have LTE, and AT&T and Sprint are expanding their respective networks.
Our winner so far: Samsung phones have long been LTE-capable and the Nokia Lumia 920 will be Espoo's second LTE phone. Apple is just now catching up.
Battery life
Nokia plans to equip its Lumia 920 with a 2,000 mAh battery, which should provide a good amount of run time especially considering Windows Phone has traditionally been a very economical operating system. Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy S3 comes with a slightly larger 2,100 mAh battery that lasted for well over 9 hours playing video. Apple is coy on the iPhone 5's capacity, but promises that its will offer 10 hours of video playback and 8 hours of Web surfing over LTE.

Of course, if you're constantly using battery-draining features like S-Voice on the Galaxy S3, or streaming video, no phone will last as long as you'd like.

Our winner so far: It's hard to say since we haven't put the Lumia 920 or iPhone 5 to the test, but the Galaxy S3 is a sure bet for most, plus it offers a removable battery.
Samsung Galaxy S III
S Beam on the Samsung Galaxy S3 makes terrific use of NFC.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Apple's iPhone 5 needed a few features to shore up some weak spots: a larger screen, LTE, and, to a lesser extent, NFC. It got the first two, but Apple didn't mention anything about NFC for the iPhone 5.
NFC, which makes it possible to share content across phones and pay for purchases, might not be a big deal to you, but it is an entire category of software capability that's closed on the iPhone 5.

Our winner so far: Samsung, which was the first to market with file-sharing over NFC, and has been aggressively marketing its S Beam feature.

Voice assistant
Siri in the iPhone 4S and Google's Voice Actions are evenly matched, but Samsung is standing behind its own S Voice assistant, which falls far behind.

Nokia phones stick with Microsoft's integrated, much more subtle voice command software, TellMe, but in Windows Phone 8, Microsoft will let third-party app-makers work in their own commands, so you can bark at individual apps like Audible, to read aloud, pause, or stop.

Our winner so far: Among these three phones, Siri takes the voice command cake.
Nokia Lumia 920
The Nokia Lumia 920 is a promising phone with some exciting, but unproven features.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Final verdict
If we had to recommend just one handset of the three based on these specs right now, we would (narrowly) choose the iPhone 5.

Here's why: Out of these three phones, the iPhone 5 is a reliable, intuitive package that earns top points for software and hardware reliability. Solid, strong design, LTE speed, and a proven camera that just gets better and better meets iTunes and app store robustness and the new iOS with turn-by-turn voice navigation.

The Samsung Galaxy S3 has a ton of really neat, innovative new features, but it also has far more trip-ups, which make for a less smooth experience overall. We still love the GS3, but the rich, highly customizable Android 4.0 interface is too much for some users, and many of Samsung's innovations, especially in content-sharing, are more complicated to use and not very universal.

We're also very excited to review the Lumia 920, which offers NFC, wireless charging, and promises of a gorgeous display. However, we're less enamored of Nokia maps, getting multimedia still isn't as robust as iOS or Android, and there's a question hanging over the camera, a major selling point for us.
The original Lumia 900 camera fell short of expectations, so until we see the Lumia 920's 8.7-megapixel PureView lens in action, we're much less certain about its real-life performance. Nokia's recent camera kerfuffle certainly doesn't instill unquestioning confidence.

This isn't by any means a blow-away verdict, and the results will be very much up for debate as the iPhone 5 and Lumia 920 come into our offices for scrutiny. One thing is clear, the iPhone faces its stiffest competition yet which makes blindly choosing Apple without examining the facts first a hasty choice -- so if you're at all on the fence about the iPhone 5, we recommend you wait for the full review.
Which phone do you back and why? Share with us in the comments.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Great Public Speech

Let's learn how to make a great speech:

Transcript of Bill Clinton's remarks

A transcript of former President Bill Clinton's remarks Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention, as provided by the Democratic Party:

We're here to nominate a president, and I've got one in mind.

I want to nominate a man whose own life has known its fair share of adversity and uncertainty. A man who ran for president to change the course of an already weak economy and then just six weeks before the election, saw it suffer the biggest collapse since the Great Depression. A man who stopped the slide into depression and put us on the long road to recovery, knowing all the while that no matter how many jobs were created and saved, there were still millions more waiting, trying to feed their children and keep their hopes alive.

I want to nominate a man cool on the outside but burning for America on the inside. A man who believes we can build a new American Dream economy driven by innovation and creativity, education and cooperation. A man who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama.

I want Barack Obama to be the next president of the United States and I proudly nominate him as the standard bearer of the Democratic Party.

In Tampa, we heard a lot of talk about how the president and the Democrats don't believe in free enterprise and individual initiative, how we want everyone to be dependent on the government, how bad we are for the economy.

The Republican narrative is that all of us who amount to anything are completely self-made. One of our greatest Democratic chairmen, Bob Strauss, used to say that every politician wants you to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself, but it ain't so.

We Democrats think the country works better with a strong middle class, real opportunities for poor people to work their way into it and a relentless focus on the future, with business and government working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. We think "we're all in this together" is a better philosophy than "you're on your own."

Who's right? Well, since 1961, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our economy produced 66 million private sector jobs. What's the jobs score? Republicans 24 million, Democrats 42 million.

It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics, because discrimination, poverty and ignorance restrict growth, while investments in education, infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase it, creating more good jobs and new wealth for all of us.

Though I often disagree with Republicans, I never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate President Obama and the Democrats. After all, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to my home state to integrate Little Rock Central High and built the interstate highway system. And as governor, I worked with President Reagan on welfare reform and with President George H.W. Bush on national education goals. I am grateful to President George W. Bush for PEPFAR, which is saving the lives of millions of people in poor countries and to both Presidents Bush for the work we've done together after the South Asia tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake.
Through my foundation, in America and around the world, I work with Democrats, Republicans and Independents who are focused on solving problems and seizing opportunities, not fighting each other.
When times are tough, constant conflict may be good politics but in the real world, cooperation works better. After all, nobody's right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day. All of us are destined to live our lives between those two extremes. Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn't see it that way. They think government is the enemy, and compromise is weakness.

One of the main reasons America should re-elect President Obama is that he is still committed to cooperation. He appointed Republican secretaries of defense, the army and transportation. He appointed a vice president who ran against him in 2008, and trusted him to oversee the successful end of the war in Iraq and the implementation of the recovery act. And Joe Biden did a great job with both. He appointed Cabinet members who supported Hillary in the primaries. Heck, he even appointed Hillary. I'm so proud of her and grateful to our entire national security team for all they've done to make us safer and stronger and to build a world with more partners and fewer enemies. I'm also grateful to the young men and women who serve our country in the military and to Michelle Obama and Jill Biden for supporting military families when their loved ones are overseas and for helping our veterans, when they come home bearing the wounds of war, or needing help with education, housing, and jobs.

President Obama's record on national security is a tribute to his strength, and judgment, and to his preference for inclusion and partnership over partisanship.

He also tried to work with congressional Republicans on health care, debt reduction, and jobs, but that didn't work out so well. Probably because, as the Senate Republican leader, in a remarkable moment of candor, said two years before the election, their No. 1 priority was not to put America back to work, but to put President Obama out of work.

Senator, I hate to break it to you, but we're going to keep President Obama on the job.

In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president's re-election was pretty simple: we left him a total mess, he hasn't cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.

In order to look like an acceptable alternative to President Obama, they couldn't say much about the ideas they have offered over the last two years. You see they want to go back to the same old policies that got us into trouble in the first place: to cut taxes for high income Americans even more than President Bush did; to get rid of those pesky financial regulations designed to prevent another crash and prohibit future bailouts; to increase defense spending $2 trillion more than the Pentagon has requested without saying what they'll spend the money on; to make enormous cuts in the rest of the budget, especially programs that help the middle class and poor kids. As another president once said- there they go again.

I like the argument for President Obama's re-election a lot better. He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long hard road to recovery, and laid the foundation for a modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for the innovators.

Are we where we want to be? No. Is the president satisfied? No. Are we better off than we were when he took office, with an economy in free fall, losing 750,000 jobs a month. The answer is yes.

I understand the challenge we face. I know many Americans are still angry and frustrated with the economy. Though employment is growing, banks are beginning to lend and even housing prices are picking up a bit, too many people don't feel it.

I experienced the same thing in 1994 and early 1995. Our policies were working and the economy was growing but most people didn't feel it yet. By 1996, the economy was roaring, halfway through the longest peacetime expansion in American history.

President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. No president- not me or any of my predecessors could have repaired all the damage in just four years. But conditions are improving and if you'll renew the President's contract you will feel it.
I believe that with all my heart.

President Obama's approach embodies the values, the ideas, and the direction America must take to build a 21st century version of the American Dream in a nation of shared opportunities, shared prosperity and shared responsibilities.

So back to the story. In 2010, as the president's recovery program kicked in, the job losses stopped and things began to turn around.

The Recovery Act saved and created millions of jobs and cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people. In the last 29 months the economy has produced about 4.5 million private sector jobs. But last year, the Republicans blocked the president's jobs plan costing the economy more than a million new jobs. So here's another jobs score: President Obama plus 4.5 million, congressional Republicans zero.
Over that same period, more than more than 500,000 manufacturing jobs have been created under President Obama- the first time manufacturing jobs have increased since the 1990s.

The auto industry restructuring worked. It saved more than a million jobs, not just at GM, Chrysler and their dealerships, but in auto parts manufacturing all over the country. That's why even auto-makers that weren't part of the deal supported it. They needed to save the suppliers too. Like I said, we're all in this together.

Now there are 250,000 more people working in the auto industry than the day the companies were restructured. Gov. Romney opposed the plan to save GM and Chrysler. So here's another jobs score: Obama 250,000, Romney, zero.

The agreement the administration made with management, labor and environmental groups to double car mileage over the next few years is another good deal: it will cut your gas bill in half, make us more energy independent, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and add another 500,000 good jobs.

President Obama's "all of the above" energy plan is helping too- the boom in oil and gas production combined with greater energy efficiency has driven oil imports to a near 20 year low and natural gas production to an all-time high. Renewable energy production has also doubled.

We do need more new jobs, lots of them, but there are already more than three million jobs open and unfilled in America today, mostly because the applicants don't have the required skills. We have to prepare more Americans for the new jobs that are being created in a world fueled by new technology. That's why investments in our people are more important than ever. The president has supported community colleges and employers in working together to train people for open jobs in their communities. And, after a decade in which exploding college costs have increased the drop-out rate so much that we've fallen to 16th in the world in the percentage of our young adults with college degrees, his student loan reform lowers the cost of federal student loans and even more important, gives students the right to repay the loans as a fixed percentage of their incomes for up to 20 years. That means no one will have to drop-out of college for fear they can't repay their debt, and no one will have to turn down a job, as a teacher, a police officer or a small town doctor because it doesn't pay enough to make the debt payments. This will change the future for young Americans.

I know we're better off because President Obama made these decisions.

That brings me to health care.

The Republicans call it Obamacare and say it's a government takeover of health care that they'll repeal. Are they right? Let's look at what's happened so far. Individuals and businesses have secured more than a billion dollars in refunds from their insurance premiums because the new law requires 80 percent to 85 pecent of your premiums to be spent on health care, not profits or promotion. Other insurance companies have lowered their rates to meet the requirement. More than 3 million young people between 19 and 25 are insured for the first time because their parents can now carry them on family policies. Millions of seniors are receiving preventive care including breast cancer screenings and tests for heart problems. Soon the insurance companies, not the government, will have millions of new customers many of them middle class people with pre-existing conditions. And for the last two years, health care
spending has grown under 4 pecent, for the first time in 50 years.

So are we all better off because President Obama fought for it and passed it? You bet we are.
There were two other attacks on the president in Tampa that deserve an answer. Both Gov. Romney and congressman Ryan attacked the president for allegedly robbing Medicare of $716 billion. Here's what really happened. There were no cuts to benefits. None. What the president did was save money by cutting unwarranted subsidies to providers and insurance companies that weren't making people any healthier. He used the saving to close the donut hole in the Medicare drug program, and to add eight years to the life of the Medicare Trust Fund. It's now solvent until 2024. So President Obama and the Democrats didn't weaken Medicare, they strengthened it.

When congressman Ryan looked into the TV camera and attacked President Obama's "biggest coldest power play" in raiding Medicare, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. You see, that $716 billion is exactly the same amount of Medicare savings congressman Ryan had in his own budget.

At least on this one, Gov. Romney's been consistent. He wants to repeal the savings and give the money back to the insurance companies, re-open the donut hole and force seniors to pay more for drugs, and reduce the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by eight years. So now if he's elected and does what he promised Medicare will go broke by 2016. If that happens, you won't have to wait until their voucher program to begins in 2023 to see the end Medicare as we know it.

But it gets worse. They also want to block grant Medicaid and cut it by a third over the coming decade. Of course, that will hurt poor kids, but that's not all. Almost two-thirds of Medicaid is spent on nursing home care for seniors and on people with disabilities, including kids from middle class families, with special needs like, Down syndrome or autism. I don't know how those families are going to deal with it.

We can't let it happen

Now let's look at the Republican charge that President Obama wants to weaken the work requirements in the welfare reform bill I signed that moved millions of people from welfare to work.

Here's what happened. When some Republican governors asked to try new ways to put people on welfare back to work, the Obama administration said they would only do it if they had a credible plan to increase employment by 20 percent. You hear that? More work. So the claim that President Obama weakened welfare reform's work requirement is just not true. But they keep running ads on it. As their campaign pollster said "we're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers." Now that is true. I couldn't have said it better myself- I just hope you remember that every time you see the ad.

Let's talk about the debt. We have to deal with it or it will deal with us. President Obama has offered a plan with $4 trillion in debt reduction over a decade, with $2 of spending reductions for every $1 of revenue increases, and tight controls on future spending. It's the kind of balanced approach proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission.

I think the president's plan is better than the Romney plan, because the Romney plan fails the first test of fiscal responsibility: The numbers don't add up.

It's supposed to be a debt reduction plan but it begins with $5 trillion in tax cuts over a 10-year period. That makes the debt hole bigger before they even start to dig out. They say they'll make it up by eliminating loopholes in the tax code. When you ask "which loopholes and how much?" they say, "See me after the election on that."

People ask me all the time how we delivered four surplus budgets. What new ideas did we bring? I always give a one-word answer: arithmetic. If they stay with a $5 trillion tax cut in a debt reduction plan- the- arithmetic tells us that one of three things will happen:

1) they'll have to eliminate so many deductions like the ones for home mortgages and charitable giving that middle class families will see their tax bill go up $2,000 year while people making over $3 million a year get will still get a 250,000 dollar tax cut; or

2) they'll have to cut so much spending that they'll obliterate the budget for our national parks, for ensuring clean air, clean water, safe food, safe air travel; or they'll cut way back on Pell Grants, college loans, early childhood education and other programs that help middle class families and poor children, not to mention cutting investments in roads, bridges, science, technology and medical research; or

3) they'll do what they've been doing for thirty plus years now- cut taxes more than they cut spending, explode the debt, and weaken the economy. Remember, Republican economic policies quadrupled the debt before I took office and doubled it after I left. We simply can't afford to double-down on trickle-down.

President Obama's plan cuts the debt, honors our values, and brightens the future for our children, our families and our nation.

My fellow Americans, you have to decide what kind of country you want to live in. If you want a you're on your own, winner take all society you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities- a "we're all in it together" society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. If you want every American to vote and you think it's wrong to change voting procedures just to reduce the turnout of younger, poorer, minority and disabled voters, you should support Barack Obama. If you think the president was right to open the doors of American opportunity to young immigrants brought here as children who want to go to college or serve in the military, you should vote for Barack Obama. If you want a future of shared prosperity, where the middle class is growing and poverty is declining, where the American Dream is alive and well, and where the United States remains the leading force for peace and prosperity in a highly competitive world, you should vote for Barack Obama.

I love our country- and I know we're coming back. For more than 200 years, through every crisis, we've always come out stronger than we went in. And we will again as long as we do it together. We champion the cause for which our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor- to form a more perfect union.

If that's what you believe, if that's what you want, we have to re-elect President Barack Obama.

God bless you - God bless America.