China Marc Rotating Header Image

Guns are Merely Illegal Aliens

I think few things better demonstrate the ridiculous nature of current gun laws and their subsequent enforcement than the recent episode involving a NC student who is facing expulsion and a felony charge for inadvertently leaving a (locked) shotgun in the trunk of his car. Of course, the only reason that anyone knows that there was a gun in his trunk was that a school administrator eavesdropping on his phone conversation heard him ask his mother to come retrieve the gun from his car. Privacy issues aside, it’s not as if he walked into the school with it slung over his shoulder.

Aside from the question of whether school officials should be listening on conversations between children and their parents, it should have been fairly obvious that the student was attempting to rectify the situation. One can’t help but notice the double standard here. If the student had been an illegal immigrant discussing his green card issues with his mother, he would have gotten a wink and a nod (and maybe some food stamps), and off to math class he would go. But he’s a white male (and Eagle Scout) with a gun, so of course there’s no room for “compassion” or “understanding”. You immediately throw the entire penal code at him and slap him with a felony charge, effectively ruining his life at 16.

This raises several issues. First, the fact that it’s a felony to have a gun locked in the trunk of your car while you attend class is absurd. The General Assembly is currently in the processing of amending this particular law (as it applies to colleges and universities), but the thinking behind such a law is bizarre. If safety is the primary concern behind such laws, they shouldn’t be banning the guns. They should be banning the cars the guns are locked in. But safety isn’t the concern here. If it were, the school wouldn’t react so violently to an incident in which no one was hurt and no one was in danger of being hurt. Indeed, the same school merely gave a slap on the wrist to a teacher who both managed to lose her gun on school property and allow it to come into the hands of her students, a situation significantly more dangerous than the current one.

The other issue of concern is the reaction of the school administrators. Aside from their blatantly hypocritical method of dealing with the situation, their response is clearly inappropriate. The student was in the process of solving the problem with as little disruption to the school as possible, but some do-gooder felt it necessary to go call the cops. Technically, these people were following “procedure,” but when does following procedure require you to give up the ability to think? There was clearly no danger and, if the school had kept its nose out of it, no one would have even known that it happened. Looked at another way, the gun was simply an illegal immigrant to the school and had been brought to the school without its knowledge or consent. Where is the compassion? Where is the love? All it wanted to do was go home. It didn’t even want amnesty. Maybe this student should have just invoked Obama’s DREAM amnesty, and maybe the school would have been a little more understanding. But this is the problem with gun laws today (and the law in general). Those laws that the enforcers like are enforced ruthlessly and without regard for mitigating circumstances. Those laws that the enforcers don’t like are ignored, circumvented, and forgotten.

Just Making Do

Today, the Federal Reserve announced that they would continue their open-ended bond-buying program (to the tune of $85 billion per month) in an effort to stimulate economic growth. Since we are well into the third iteration of “quantitative easing” (read: money printing), it’s worth taking a look at the track record so far. It’s not pretty. Today’s ADP Employment Report estimates that the private sector created a mere 119,000 jobs last month, which was below expectations of 150,000 jobs created (which would be only slightly less disappointing). Meanwhile, with GDP growth averaging less than 1.5% over the last two quarters and a real unemployment rate of 13.8%, the government is preparing to change the way it calculates GDP to boost its numbers (adding such things as the capital value of books and movies and counting Research and Development as a “service”). Last quarter, only 38% of S&P 500 companies topped revenue forecasts.

There have also been some interesting price movements of late. If you listen to ol’ Ben, you’ll hear that there’s currently very little in the way of inflation and that the FED is currently doing is best to stimulate some inflation (for reasons known only to Bernanke). However, if you look at the data, you get a slightly different story. If you look at prices from the beginning of the recession to the present, a very interesting pattern emerges. The CPI (minus food and energy prices, as measured by the government) is moving relatively consistently (ever upward, it should be noted), but food and energy are behaving a little differently. Gas prices are all over the map, but they do seem to have settled into a relatively stable pattern, with prices never rising and falling between 110-140% of their 2007 levels. For anyone with a car, that is a fairly significant price increase (at 10% or more), particularly if you’ve had your wages cut. Food prices are following a more consistent upward trajectory, with prices currently about 15% higher than their 2007 levels and rising a good deal faster than the overall CPI (which is about 10% higher than its 2007 level).

This is all very curious. From 2007 to the present, wages and compensation (non-farm) have basically been flat. During the same time period, prices have risen 10%, while food and gas prices have risen much faster. The movement in food and gas prices is particularly significant since such expenses (along with things like housing) are non-optional in the typical family’s budget. So, if gas and food prices (in addition to the prices captured by the CPI) rise faster than wages, the average person is going to see his discretionary income drop every year. This means he has less money for things like vacations, or a new car, or gifts for his friends/family, etc. This all calls into the question the wisdom of the FED’s current policy of relatively significant price increases and its intended policy of really significant price increases. It would explain why GDP growth has been so muted. Essentially, once people are finished paying for groceries, rent, and gas to get to work, they don’t have much money left over for anything else. So, they and the broader economy just amble along.

Mark Sanford’s Congressional Affair

Things are going well for would-be-ex-former-Congressman Mark Sanford. Despite his campaign having one of the most predictable collapses in the history of American politics, the former governor still trudges on. Fresh off his debate with Nancy Pelosi (whose responses were as enlightened as ever), Sanford finally managed to debate his actual opponent last night. In between discussions of Sanford’s decision to abandon his gubernatorial duties to run off to another country with his mistress, his subsequent divorce, and his more recent trespassing charge (filed by the same ex-wife who was dropped in favor of “foreign relations”), the candidates managed to discuss issues of real importance. Such things as whether Mr. Sanford flip-flopped on his support for a harbor dredging project in Charleston 20 years ago and what Ms. Colbert-Busch hoped to accomplish by writing a check for Sanford’s gubernatorial campaign are of prime importance to the voters and really serve to demonstrate how the two candidates would represent the district on such matters as immigration reform, taxes,  and ObamaCare.

But never fear! Sanford nearly has the election clinched. Only half of the district’s voters hate him and, he’s only down by nine points, in a district that gave former Rep. Tim Scott 62.4% of the vote. Luckily, Sanford has the situation completely under control. He’s even managed to drum up some support from local businesses that have started buying billboards for him, like this one:

 

Have an affair, and you, too, can be a congressman.

Have an affair, and you, too, can be a congressman.

With such impressive polling numbers and unmatched local support, the local GOP establishment has really picked a winner this time. It’s clear now what the GOP’s path forward should be. The base should just sit down, shut up, and let the party elites pick the winning candidates.

Stupid is as Stupid Does

Given the beating the GOP took in the last election, you’d think the party would have learned a few things, namely that running damaged candidates for Congress doesn’t usually work out so well (looking at you, Todd Aiken). However, the lesson doesn’t appear to have sunk in and, South Carolina Republicans appear ready to nominate someone (to fill Tim Scott’s old seat) with so much baggage that he gets nailed with those excess luggage fees every time he hops on a plane down to Argentina. I am, of course, referring to disgraced former governor, Mark Sanford, whose most distinguishing act in office was inspiring a state-wide game of Where’s Waldo for a week while he engaged in some foreign relations in Argentina. The only redeeming feature of a Sanford candidacy is that he’s already on-board with the GOP’s new Hispanic outreach plan, that is if the GOP’s idea of outreach is abandoning your wife and children to go have a sexual romp on the other side of the world. forrest-gump_40570

However, despite Sanford’s questionable moral and ethical choices, he appears ready to coast to an easy primary victory. For reference, in November 2012, Tim Scott won his election with 62% of the vote. Recent polling suggests that Sanford will defeat Curtis Bostic in the April 2 primary 53-40. However, in a hypothetical match-up, Sanford is currently losing to the Democrat’s nominee, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch (yes, that Colbert) 47-45, while Bostic ties Colbert 43-43. Meanwhile 58% of the district’s voters have an unfavorable view of Sanford. So, in much the same way that the GOP nominated perhaps the only candidate who could lose to Barack Obama (i.e. Romney), they appear ready to nominate the only candidate who could quite possibly lose a solidly red district in solidly red South Carolina. Why? Because the same base voters (Evangelicals and other Social Conservatives) who are currently fueling Bostic’s campaign will simply stay home on Election Day if Sanford wins, the same factor (if you’ll recall) that cost ol’ Mittens the election. Their options will be between a typical, toe-the-line Democrat and a (possibly insane) scandal-plagued former governor who cheated on his wife. So, they’ll just opt to sit this one out. And you can hardly blame them.

I think what’s really amusing about this whole situation is that the Democrats don’t really have to do anything to win elections anymore. They just have to wait for the Republicans to nominate the least inspiring candidates they can find, and otherwise unwinnable elections for the Democrats suddenly become wide-open. There are a lot of Republicans in South Carolina. Is Mark Sanford really the best person the party can put forward? Forget all this minority outreach baloney. The party needs its base to turnout in order to win elections. And the longer the GOP thumbs its nose at the base by nominating buffons like Mark Sanford for Congress, the faster it will slide into irrelevance.

Is Chinese Currency Manipulation a Bad Thing?

One of the most striking features of the last two Presidential Debates was the rather strident, bipartisan China-bashing. While it’s relatively easy (and quite popular) to bash the Yellow Man for his purported economic misdeeds, I think the topic requires thoughtful consideration and a little more attention than either candidate appears to be giving it.

Currency manipulation came up a lot in the debate. Apparently, the Chinese are deliberately under-valuing their currency (shocking, I know). First, I think it’s useful to gain a basic understanding of how the Chinese yuan operates. For the last 20 years or so (the exact date eludes me), the Chinese government has maintained what is known as a “peg” on the US Dollar. So, as the dollar appreciates in value (becomes “stronger”), so does the yuan. As the dollar depreciates (“weakens”), the yuan also depreciates. This ensures a fixed exchange rate between the yuan and the dollar and theoretically eliminates some of the currency risk between the US and China. So, if an American wants to invest in China (or a Chinese in America), he can be reasonably sure that the value of his currency holdings won’t change over time and, in theory, this makes it easier to conduct business in both countries. This is in contrast to something like the Euro, which maintains a floating exchange rate. So, the value of the Euro via the Dollar changes daily. The Chinese government sets the value of the peg (currently set at about 6.3 yuan to the Dollar) and actively trades in the currency markets to maintain that value. Every now and then the government may opt to change the spot of the peg (they are currently allowing for some appreciation), but this is the only time you see any real change in the value of the yuan. Pegs are nothing new and nothing unique to Communist governments. The US Dollar was pegged to gold until Nixon severed the peg in the 1970’s. So, that’s how the yuan works.

dc-and-china-040_0

The yuan is generally believed to be valued at about 20% less than what it would be were the government to allow the value to float. This is the heart of the currency manipulation concerns. So, what does this mean? All else being equal, something priced in yuan whould be cheaper than something priced in dollars. But of course, everything else isn’t equal. People like to claim that China’s economic competitiveness is due largely to its intervention in the currency markets. However, there are other domestic factors that make China a hot-bed for manufacturing and industrial growth. One of the largest is labor costs. A recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that when compared to the United States, labor costs in China are 97% lower. In other words, if an employer pays an American $10/hour to do a job (make iPhones or something), he can pay a Chinese worker $0.30/hour to do the same job. Clearly, the employer is going to produce his goods in China. With such extreme differences in labor costs, a little currency manipulation isn’t going to change the equation much. There are other factors that make China a desirable place for businesses to set up shop (i.e. its rather lax attitude towards regulation and enforcement among others), but I think labor costs are key. With such low labor costs, even if the yuan traded at a “fair” valuation, China would still be the cheaper place to do business.

This then raises the question, what is the effect of the manipulation of the yuan on the average consumer? The answer is that the consumer gets a discount every time he walks into Wal-Mart, courtesy of the People’s Republic. So, on the consumer side, he can buy more things (things made in China, that is) for less money. Not too much to complain about there. Labor, of course, will complain about Chinese price advantages driving jobs overseas, but the fact of the matter is that those jobs were probably headed overseas anyway. Technically, I suppose this is a form of government welfare, with the PRC indirectly subsidizing American purchases of Chinese products. Conservatives generally take issue with any form of government subsidy, but is it really my place to complain if a foreign government wants to give me a subsidy? Really, instead of getting all over China for undervaluing their currency, we should be thanking them.

It looks impressive until you realize she’s only holding about $150.

Let’s also not pass over the sheer hypocrisy of the China-bashers. When the Chairman of the Federal Reserve is promising to pump $85 billion per month into the money supply indefinitely (thereby devaluing the dollar), it’s a little brazen for the federal government to get its nose out of joint over China’s effectively doing the same thing. Indeed, while the yuan has appreciated about 24% against the dollar since 2005, the Federal Reserve has spent the last four years printing off as many dollars as they can. The peg will help mitigate some of the effect of this unprecedented currency-printing on trade between the US and China, but for other American trading partners (Europe, for instance), the FED is effectively slashing the value of the dollar.

So, Chinese manipulation of the yuan isn’t quite so bad as people make it out to be. In all likelihood, it works out to be a kind of economic “stimulus” (if I may dare to use the word). It makes Chinese products a little bit cheaper, which allows consumers and businesses to buy more goods for less money. While there are some legitimate concerns about job losses, such concerns are overblown in light of China’s sharply lower labor costs and the FED’s Quantitative Easing program (look up Competitive Devaluation). There are some areas of legitimate concern in Sino-American relations. Threatening China with a trade war over its currency manipulation is a little ridiculous.

Of Princes and Pawns

I have been fairly intrigued by the actions of the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan. As one of the “princes of the Church” and as the ostensible face of the Catholic Church in America (in his capacity as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), he possesses a certain level of moral gravitas. Indeed, one should hope that a man of his standing would have a rather thorough understanding of Catholic social teaching. This makes his concurrent decision to both sue the federal government for “a violation of personal civil rights” and his decisions to invite the aforementioned civil rights abuser to the Al Smith Dinner and to provide the closing benediction at the Democratic National Convention quite perplexing.

To deal with the dinner first, the Cardinal argues, in a response to critics, that the Al Smith Dinner is nothing more than an opportunity to engage in civilized dialogue. He quips, “If I only sat down with people who agreed with me, and I with them, or with those who were saints, I’d be taking all my meals alone.” I find this explanation less than fulfilling, and it indicates that Dolan misses the point that his critics are making. The Al Smith Dinner is not merely Tim and the Gang grabbing a couple beers after work with their IRS auditor. It’s a national event that will be broadcast to the entire country and is a very public Church function. What kind of message will it send when people see the man who has been crusading against the HHS mandate all summer yucking it up with the creator of that mandate? And what about the people who spent the better part of the summer fasting and praying for an end to that mandate because “[their] right to live out [their] faith is being threatened“? They will think that the Church isn’t serious. They will think it’s merely a bunch of blowhards running around scaring people, but at the end of the day, it’s no big deal. They will think their leaders are a bunch of hypocrites, invoking everyone to fast and pray, while they go out and party.

Now, there’s something to be said for engaging the opposition. But granting your opponent a very large microphone against the backdrop of your organization while you sue him for voiding your right to self-determination is a bridge too far. The good Cardinal is naive indeed, if he thinks that Obama won’t use that opportunity as a major PR stunt. Obama could say something along the lines of, “They were suing me, but look at this picture of us laughing together. We’re all good now. They were just kidding about the whole First Amendment thing.” If the Cardinal’s Fortnight for Freedom shtick was intended to unearth the dangers of the HHS mandate, the Al Smith Dinner will only serve to bury them.

A similar argument can be made for the Cardinal’s appearance at the DNC this week, except that the contradictions are much more glaringly obvious. The Cardinal will give the final benediction at something that will have spent nearly a week celebrating abortion and the sexual revolution. Considering that abortion is the one policy that the American Church has consistently and vigorously opposed, Dolan’s capstone performance for the DNC is quite odd indeed. Coupled with the Al Smith Dinner, if his goal is to completely eliminate any moral legitimacy that the Church still has in the eyes of the public, he is well on his way to doing so.

Of course the burning question is “Why?” What could be motivating the Cardinal to act in such a manner? In my opinion, and this problem is by no means unique to churchmen, I think that proximity to power and influence can cause serious degradation in one’s moral fiber. When you spend a good portion of your day hanging out with Presidents, and congressmen, and Senators, you may encounter a lot of opposition to your views. You want to be liked. You don’t want people to think poorly of you. And you definitely don’t want to be called names. So, you capitulate. If Cardinal Dolan refused to invite Obama to the Al Smith Dinner, he, himself, would be inviting all kinds of partisan criticism. In the process, he would probably alienate himself from those in power. He would risk severing his very valuable connections with the White House and other agencies of the government. A drink from the chalice of power is very intoxicating, and once tasted, difficult to forgo. Of course, this sort of unholy alliance between the church and the government is hardly new (cf. Martin Luther), but it tends to have a corrupting influence on both entities (cf. most of Western history).

As a great man once said, “Our leaders today have decided it is more important to be popular, to say and do what is easy, and say yes rather than to say no, when no is what’s required.” Cardinal Dolan, it seems, would rather be popular.

Becoming the Most Hated Man in America

If one has any doubts that bipartisanship is dead in America, he need look no further than the controversy swirling around Rep. Todd Akin. Last week, an obscure Congressman few people outside of Missouri had ever heard of, he is now the most hated man in America, with both Democrats (with the notable exception of Sen. Claire McCaskill– his opponent in the Senate race) and Republicans in an apparent bidding war to demonstrate to the American people just how much they despise Rep. Akin. Never fear, bipartisanship is alive and well.

I will admit to finding the reaction among Republicans somewhat curious. While the good Congressman’s comments were rather stupid, the harshest reaction to them appears to be coming from within his own party. Such diverse members of the party as Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, and the usual party brass have all publicly announced that Akin should withdraw from the race. Indeed, one has trouble finding any Republican publicly supporting the embattled candidate. This, I think, is the problem. While Akin certainly did himself no favors with his little detour into biological insanity, the party hasn’t exactly helped things very much. One could argue that the GOP has, in effect, taken what should have been a bad case of the flu and turned it into Stage 4 Cancer. All of these public denunciations do nothing to advance the position of the party (or conservatism, or however you like to phrase it), but only serve to undermine an increasingly weak candidate. The Republican reflex that makes party leaders run for the nearest microphone or camera every time a scandal breaks out only hurts the cause. Conversations regarding a candidate’s withdrawal from a race ought to be held behind closed doors and out of the public eye, not on the front page of the New York Times. This way, if the candidate decides to remain in the race, the party doesn’t lose face and isn’t left in the awkward situation of having to concede a very winnable seat to the Democrats. It’s not as if the RNC can publicly disavow a candidate, withdraw all financial and logistical support, and then come back the next week and change its mind. To be honest, I’m not even sure what these people (from Romney on down) were trying to accomplish. Publicly abandoning the party’s nominee to the wolves is just as stupid as Akin’s decision to play scientist on TV.

In a related vein, what happened to all of the talk about party unity? For months, the GOP bigwigs have been chastising the base about the need to unify behind Romney, even if they (the base) really don’t like him. The message has been more or less, “Put up or shut up” and “At least he’s not Obama.” Where is this unassailable need for unity as it concerns Todd Akin? Where is all the talk about “winning the country back” and “saving America”? Where is the focus on the big picture?While Akin may have seriously damaged his prospects for the Missouri Senate seat, the party establishment has pretty much blown it. It would have been difficult for Akin to win the seat as it were, the party’s decision to play the role of Brutus has made it all but impossible. I smell a pretty awful double-standard here and, I think this episode raises a lot of questions about just how devoted the party is to winning. The GOP could have played this a lot better, but they panicked. Absent a major change of heart by someone, the mutually reinforcing thoughtlessness of both Rep. Akin and the party pretty much guarantees Sen. McCaskill’s re-election.

Chick-fil-a Is No Chicken

Excuse me if I find the recent Chick-fil-a controversy a little underwhelming. It’s not as if the company’s president, S. Truett Cathy, has suddenly come out as some sort of hard-core Christian businessman. Merely step inside your local chicken eatery, and you are hit with a deluge of corporate propaganda proclaiming the company’s rather strident stand for traditional family values. So, the fact that Mr. Cathy opposes same-sex marriage really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone (anyone who has actual eaten at a Chick-fil-a anyway). However, I do sense a rather glaring inconsistency on the part of the would-be protesters. If corporations aren’t people, how can they hold political opinions?

What is concerning is the reaction (however belated) from the increasingly radicalized homosexual agenda pushers. The mayors of both Chicago and Boston have both proclaimed their intent to use the power of government to prevent Chick-fil-a from setting up shop within their cities, because apparently, the company’s values aren’t the cities’ values. Ignoring the rather obvious negative economic consequences of such narrow-minded thinking, consider the political consequences of such a statement. Let’s assume for a moment that such government coercion of private businesses (or individuals) is permissible. Let’s assume that if a government’s “values” conflict with a businesses values, that government can prohibit the business from operating within its jurisdiction. Does that mean that a mayor of town or city could prohibit a couple of Muslims from setting up shop simply because their religious beliefs conflict with the mayor’s arbitrary definition of the town’s values? I should think not. Such bullying from the government would clearly run afoul of the First Amendment’s free exercise provisions (and arguably, the establishment clause, if one were to view these city “values” as some sort of secular religion). So, what excuses such actions when they are directed against people who happen to support traditional family models?

But such blatant disregard for the First Amendment is hardly surprising. Indeed, on this Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day, the Department of Health and Human Services’ rape of religious freedom took effect. There appears to be a concerted movement afoot to lock (almost exclusively) Christian religious expression within the confines of the church, such that your religious freedoms begin and end on the steps of the local chapel. It is an attempt to change freedom of expression into freedom of worship, an attempt to take religion from the public sphere and confine it to the much smaller individual sphere. It is a rather disturbing trend, as it seems to indicate that only the loudest and most aggressive people will be allowed to enter the public square. Debate ceases to be a battle of ideas and instead becomes a battle of tactics.

In the meantime, the controversy appears to be good for business. Chick-fil-a restaurants around the country were packed with swarms of hungry customers, some waiting in lines that stretched out of the stores and around the buildings. It’s rather encouraging to know that some people refuse to be bullied and intimated by thuggish activists. And kudos to Chick-fil-a for refusing to cede their ground. While it is a kind of sad commentary on the state of American politics that the decision to buy a chicken sandwich is now a political choice, such bravery in America’s corporate citizens is a rare sight indeed.

Hoplophobia

Those who imagine themselves the cultural elites frequently resort to diagnosing their opponents with a variety disorders in order to explain the reasons for their disagreement. After all, when you’re a smart, Ivy League-educated egg-head, the only reason someone would disagree with you is if there is something wrong with him that affects his ability to think rationally. So, those who argue for traditional marriage are homophobic. Those who support enforcement of federal immigration laws are xenophobic. And so it goes. Yet, there is one area where these self-proclaimed shrinks fail to recognize a phobia of their own: Guns.

Hoplophobia, according to Wikipedia, is the “fear of weapons” or the “fear of armed citizens.” There is no better term to define the media’s (and much of the political establishment’s) reaction to the events in Denver this weekend. It didn’t take long before members of Congress, the media, and scores of other people began calling for new gun control laws. The country was simply ablaze with the story. While truly tragic, a car crash in Texas that same weekend, which actually managed to kill more people than the shooter in Colorado, generated almost no publicity (even as a report came out indicating that traffic deaths have increased 13.5% this year). Yet, no one is talking about banning cars (or illegal immigration for that matter). So, what gives?

I think the reaction largely has to do with people’s fear of guns. Some people are simply scared to death of them and would prefer not to have anything to do with them. This would explain why such things as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (which effectively outlawed “scary” guns) remain popular in some circles. However, these hoplophobes ignore some rather crucial bits of information. First, the movie theater in Aurora was already a gun-free zone. Indeed, many of the places where these mass shootings occur are “gun-free” zones. Virginia Tech, Columbine, and most of the other high-profile shootings of the last 20 years were all gun-free zones. It turns out that these places were gun-free zones for everyone except the guy with the gun. Additionally, the hoplophobes also ignore many of the incidents where an armed citizen saved the day. Naturally, these incidents aren’t reported by the media, because… well, nothing happened. All anyone hears about guns is how much harm they cause. No one ever hears about the number of lives they save.

Hoplophobes ought to work to overcome their fear. It’s unknown what effect (if any) the presence of an armed citizen in the movie theater would have made. But how many times are we told that if some program or policy or law can save (or improve) just one life, it’s worth doing (that’s why we have ObamaCare, right?)? While such a fear of guns is certainly understandable, that doesn’t make it any more rational. Guns are merely a tool, and attempting to ban or restrict their use will not prevent bad things from happening. If you ban guns, people will simply find more creative ways to kill each other. The fact of the matter is that there’s evil in the world, and that is one thing you cannot legislate away.

Drumming, Ringing, and Chinese Catholics

Matteo Ricci, in the front courtyard

Picture 1 of 35

Picture Archives

Today, I went to go visit the Nantang Cathedral (technically that’s redundant, as “tang” is the word for “cathedral”, but eh). It was originally founded by (interestingly, not “saint”) Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit and one of the first missionaries allowed outside Macau. The “South Cathedral” is the oldest church in Beijing, originally built in 1605. However a series of earthquakes and the Boxer Rebellion destroyed several earlier versions of the church. So, the foundation is really all that’s left of the original church. The Mass was well-attended, but there were some oddities. There was a team of people (as in about half a dozen) with CCTV video cameras wandering around the church throughout the whole Mass, and they appeared to be trying to film everyone in the building. It was quite odd, as it there didn’t appear to be any important church officials (archbishops, cardinals, etc.) present, and the cameramen went to great lengths to film people in the pews (that is, until they suddenly left). Then there was the little kid who, in between running around the back of the church, ran up to his brother (sitting next to me) and started yelling at him that they had to leave (or they’d die) because he’d seen some PSB (Public Security Bureau) goon out back. The whole thing was weird. It’s worth noting that Nantang is one of the state-sanctioned churches. I actually discovered that the bishop who oversees it is one of the few approved by both the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (i.e. the government) and the Vatican.

After that rather odd encounter with Chinese spirituality, I went to Houhai to visit the Bell and Drum Towers. These are actually two separate towers which were used during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties to sound the time. The Bell Tower houses a huge bell (about 40 feet top to bottom), which goes by the title “King of Bells.” The Drum Tower houses a hall filled with large drums (approximately 10 feet in diameter). Every hour, a team of drummers comes out to play the drums. I’ve included two clips of the performance below. Because the towers are fairly tall, you can also get a nice view of the surrounding area. The towers are actually built on a straight line with the center of the Forbidden City. The weather was a bit overcast, but I could still sort of make out the tops of some of the Forbidden City’s buildings. There were also several hutongs at the base of the towers, so you could also get an aerial view of some of those.