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Diane’s book

Diane just finished the index of her book — and this is the cover. Congratulations to her! It only took 18 years — incidentally the same length of time that Gabriel Garcia-Marguez used to write A Hundred Years of Solitude.

“China is pretty democratic,” say researchers

China, it turns out, is pretty democratic after all. This, at least, is the conclusion reached by researchers at SJTU, the university where I work. OK, I haven’t seen the final results, but I know how the methodology works.  Foreign students on campus are given a questionaire on which they are asked to rank various countries in terms of their degree of democracy, with “1” as the lowest and “10” as the highest. China is included and so is the US and various European countries.

How would you rank these countries in terms of level of democracy? Clearly China is not “10,” but neither is it “1.” After all, Chinese people have quite a lot of freedom of speech in their daily lives, and pretty straightforward criticism can be leveled against the government even in public — at least on topics like corruption or the environment. If some measure of the outcome of the political process is included, China is doing even better. If, for example, we take economic development as part of a definition of what democracy means, China might deserve a “4” or even a “5.”

The United States, on the other hand, is quite clearly not a “10.” This is acknowledged by many Americans themselves, and certainly by the kinds of left-leaning young Europeans who ends up as students in our university. Perhaps the United States is a “7” or even a “6.”

These are of course sensational research results. Ripping the print-outs off their printers, the Chinese researchers triumphantly report that “China is quite democratic after all, a bit behind the United States, but not by that much. We are 5 and the Americans are 6, and we are only a developing country.”

What’s wrong with this research? Pretty much everything is. In fact, you could use it as a perfect example of how not to do social science research. First of all, who got the idea that democracy can be measured through opinion surveys? And why should assorted Italian, French and German exchange students be asked? Clearly nothing is measured here except a foreigner’s reluctance to insult his/her host (and the readiness to be skeptical regarding the United States). If foreign exchange students in Germany in the 1930s had been asked the same question, they would have said the same thing.

The greatest flaw, however, is the notion that democracy is a variable. That you simply can scale up from 1 to 10 as a matter of degrees. Clearly this is not the case. Democracy/non-democracy is a dichotomy, and which side you end up on depends on whether there are regular and fair and publically contested elections. China does not have elections and for that reason it is not a democracy.

what are public moods?

Somehow the key to the whole book will be the idea of a “public mood.” There was a certain public mood in the decades leading up to 1914. The mood explains the fascination with warfare, the boredom and the ideas of degeneration and decay. The public mood also, if less directly, explain the outbreak of the war in 1914. The problem is only that no one has any idea of what a “public mood” migh be. There are no theories of public moods and no one makes references to them in a proper explanatory account.

“To pollute is glorious”

BEIJING (China Daily Show) — Leaded water, an absence of wildlife and thick, syrupy air are all healthy signs of a flourishing economy, China’s Minister of Environmental Protection told an open-air audience at the Renmin University Center for Conservation and Sustainability on Monday.

“Heavy fog is a sign of strength,” Wang announced from inside a Bosch hermetic eco-chamber, considered standard issue for top-level urban cadres. “To paraphrase our late Supreme Leader: to pollute is indeed glorious.

“It doesn’t matter if the air if black or white – as long as you can breathe it,” he added to laughter.

The World Bank has estimated that, annually, some three-quarters of a million Chinese die prematurely due to pollution, while birth defects and surging cancer rates are common.

OK, to be fair, this isn’t journalistic reporting, it is political satire — see “To Pollute Is Glorious” —  yet it’s darn difficult to keep reporting and satire apart in this country.

April 2 update: according to today’s New York Times, 1.2 million people die every year in China because of pollution. We better get out of here before we become a statistic!

Why copyright is a crime

I’m reading about Aaron Swartz and how he was hounded to death for advocating that information be free. Aaron’s fortune/misfortune was to live in two separate worlds — the world of copyright and the world freedom from copyright. One day when information truly is free, no one will remember why Aaron’s actions were considered as crimes. No one will remember since Aaron’s actions — together with the “illegal actions” of millions of others — will be responsible for having created that new world. Aaron will be a hero of that new world, and still remembered when the likes of JStor and the prosecutor of Massachusetts are long forgotten.

This is why copyright on academic work is a crime: I spend my entire days writing things. Unbelievably there are people out there who want to read what I write. It’s a perfect case for a free exchange. In this process various “publishing companies” intervene, restricting access, making it more difficult for me to be read and for people to find my stuff. They are profiting from restricting access to knowledge.!! That governments and universities put up with this system is particularly surprising — they are the ones who pay my salary after all. Needless to say, I get nothing from the “publishers”  themselves.

The system must and it will change. Aaron’s contribution will have helped make that possible. See further my “Liberate and Disseminate,” from Times Higher Education Supplement, from back in 2008.

Stopped again, and back up again

The stupid Chinese censors closed us down again. No international internet access as of late yesterday afternoon, and no access to my own web site. And this time it wasn’t enough to simply change the ssh port. After help from my server provider in the US, I changed IP address and that did it. I’m back online again — Google docs, Twitter, and everything.

What’s slightly worrying about this is that it seems that I’m being personally targeted. That is, my web site is on the blacklist together with New York Times and all those others. I have no illusion that I can actually win this battle. I can’t compete with Chinese math geeks. If they targeted my IP once, they can do it again.

Why they want to make it impossible to access the web sites I need for my work is beyond me. Why invite foreigners to come to China and not allow them to do their work?

5 most downloaded articles in IO

One of last year’s greatest surprises was getting an article into IO, International Organization, the leading American journal on international relations. Now, it turns out, my article was also one of the most downloaded. OK, OK, I realize “most downloaded” doesn’t mean “best,” but still.


Access 2012’s most popular research from International Organization

Dear Colleague,

To kick off 2013, Cambridge Journals has gathered together 2012’s top five most downloaded articles from International Organization. Now through March 1, 2013, download these articles free of charge.

2012’s Most Downloaded Articles

  • The Illusion of Democratic Credibility (vol. 66:3) Todd S. Secher
  • Historical Institutionalism in International Relations (vol. 65:2) Orfeo Fioretos
  • The End of an Era in International Financial Regulation? A Postcrisis Research Agenda (vol. 65:1)Eric Helleiner, Stefano Pagliari
  • Performing International System: Two East-Asian Alternatives to the Westphalian Order (vol. 66:1) Erik Ringmar
  • Contingent Credibility: The Impact of Investment Treaty Violations on Foreign Direct Investment (vol. 65:3) Todd Allee, Clint Peinhardt

Stay tuned for the release of volume 67:1 later this winter, and make sure to explore Cambridge’s full catalog of political science and international relations journals at

Happy New Year,

Michael Marvin, Cambridge Journals

Chinese edition?

I submitted Surviving Capitalism to the university press at Fudan University with the idea that the should bring out a Chinese translation. That is now 6 months ago and I haven’t heard a word back. I don’t think it’s going to happen. China is not surviving capitalism very well and the book explains why. Of course it’s critical of a regime that polices its downtrodden on behalf of global capitalism. Clearly statements like that can’t be translated and into print. Too bad really. I had a bunch of great students lined up to do the translation too.

Freedom of information 1 – Chinese authorities 0

I got the bastards in the end! Yes indeed, my international internet is up and running again.  Long live freedom of information on the internet!  Down with dictatorship and oppression!

This was the problem: I use a so called ssh tunnel to dig through the Great FIrewall to get to my server in the US. From there I can surf freely, including Youtube or whatever. However, I need access to the default port on the server (port 22) and that’s what the Chinese authorities now have started blocking. I never thought this would happen. After all, this is how big businesses keep their data secure. And yet, as of the past week the tunnel has been blocked and even the Chinese internet has been very erratic.

The Chinese authorities think that internet access only is about them. They think that if the Chinese people find out about their corruption and their crimes, the people will turn on them. In suspecting as much, they may no doubt be correct but access to the internet is about so much else. Everything I do these days requires internet access. For example: since I was cut off about a week ago I have not been able to …

  1. write letters of reference for a student at Beijing University who is applying to go to Columbia, Yale and NYU.
  2. continue writing a paper I’m collaborating on with my colleague in Belgium (the paper is on Google docs).
  3. finish downloading photos and movies at Picasa.
  4. get hold of a book I need by John Dewey which is available for free download at Internet Archive.

These are just a few of the things that happened to me in the last couple of days. Add years of non-access for me and then multiply that by millions and millions of people and the effects will be enormous. Mark my words: China will never be successful, never be developed, never be acceptable, as long as there is no internet access. Internet access is not all it takes to be sure — the country also need to get rid of its cleptomanical power elite — but without it, everything else will be in vain.

So this is the solution (for linux servers, nerdy):

Go back to your own computer

  • download a program called sshuttle. Get it via “sudo apt-get install sshuttle” or from the website.
  • configure it with the logon information for your website and add the new port for ssh connections. More here.
  • when sshuttle returns with a request for your login details, login as normal. 

I celebrated all afternoon by reposting old article from New York Times on the crimes of Wen Jiabao and by listening to BB King and friends on YouTube: