Saturday, October 31, 2009 useful if... have a relatively normal financial situation, and are situated in the US. The website takes into account your bank balances, budget estimates, loans, assets (car, house, stocks, etc.) to provide user-friendly displays on one's personal finances. I suppose it'd be quite a useful tool. Unfortunately, I only have one bank account in the states, its sole purpose being to pay off my student loans. I haven't had a credit card for the past three or four years and don't plan on having one in the foreseeable future. My salary here in China is direct-deposited to one of my two China-side bank accounts--and the "Industrial and Commercial Bank of China" doesn't seem to be listed in's extensive list of financial institutions it can take into account for calculations. My salary is in RMB, also known as Chinese Yuan, so trying to compare APY is difficult if not useless over a period of time: the vaster proportion of my money is helplessly tied to exchange rates which may fluctuate based on political decisions in Beijing; it's also subject to Chinese government rules that do not allow foreigners to exchange RMB for foreign currency in a normal manner. Luckily, I have Kiera to help me, or I'd have to rely on the 'official' black market dealers for this service. While at least the value of my RMB holdings are not rapidly depreciating, as they would if my eventual intentions were to transfer into Euros, Pounds, or any number of other major currencies, this does still hamper me greatly in my attempts to keep track of my finances. For those of you not currently enjoying foreign financial entanglements, however, I'd recommend the service provided by Mint (a nice pun on both the money-making word and their website's color scheme). Budgeting 2.0 can be an empowering experience.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Question: Secular and Muslim?

As I read a report about Turkey 'calling off military exercises with Israel', I was confused by the reporters' description of Turkey (Turkiye) as a "secular muslim" country. The two adjectives appear to be oxymoronic. I ask as a genuine question, rather than an accusation, if it is acceptable journalistic practice to oversimplify in this way. I don't believe the uninformed reader would know what this description of Turkey is supposed to mean. 
Having lived in the Republic of Turkey for a brief time, I could disambiguate: The modern republic has a fiercely secular constitution and political tradition handed down by the much-revered founding father, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk. The government is currently headed by a mildly-islamist political party (much milder in its pushing of religious issues, in fact, than the Republican party of the secular republic that is the United States) in parliament and presidency. The majority of Turkish citizens are at least nominally muslim in faith, and many are devoutly muslim. So when we pair these two words, secular and muslim, to describe Turkey, are they in fact oxymoronic?
"Muslim" is traditional in its use as a noun to describe the adherents of Islam (literally the meaning of the word "muslim" as derrived from Arabic is 'a follower of God'. But in the English language we can see this word also sometimes used as an adjective. Thus far--poring through the online dictionaries available to me--I haven't found a dictionary entry that defines what muslim means when it is used as an adjective. Does it overlap or superimpose the adjective "islamic"? The word islamic, if used to describe a country would, I think, suggest a non-secular government.
"Secular" is a word that refers only to form of governance, but muslim could possibly be seen here as a reference to either the people or the government. "Majority-muslim" could have disambiguated this description, discerning between Turkey as a government and Turkey as a body of people who are mostly muslim.  
The result is ambiguous. The reporters (based on name, one of the reporters seems to be a Turk or of Turkish ethnicity) surely know better, but their readers won't.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Propaganda Organs Modernize--Become Tabloids

I recently read an odd article concerning Sweden, written by Xinhua (China's main news agency, as well as one of the CCP's main propaganda outlets), and propagated by various other mainland news agencies. The article discusses a town in northern Sweden where only women are allowed, and lesbianism is rampant. The only problem is that the Swedish have never heard of this place. Swedish article commenting on the matter can be accessed here:

The whole newspaper website is blocked in China, unsurprisingly (oh you silly censors, I still managed to get past your ramparts). Apparently the original story has also been deleted from Xinhua's website--however, it can still be accessed through Google's cached pages*. How embarrassing for Xinhua.

It seems to me, this problem could arise from two conditions: (1) Pressure on Chinese news agencies to maintain quotas for reporting good vs bad news, and (2) state run agencies' (such as Xinhua) tendency to suffer from nepotistic hiring practices. The result: Xinhua ends up with a surplus of untalented hacks looking for positive, whimsical stories with which to entertain the masses. The result is that national news agencies in China often contain a lot of tabloid journalism. I've seen plenty such stories in the news papers here--my girlfriend likes to point out odd stories to me sometimes--although this one takes the cake for being the most bizarre example. I suppose the fact that the reported subject matter is foreign gave the reporter the feeling he/she could take more license in the fabrication of the story.

Local or specialist papers (the Local, for example) can probably sympathize with the search for entertaining, oddball subject matter to report... but they're still more accountable for the accuracy of the stories they print, and less accountable for making sure their stories do not reflect on negative trends/events or negative perceptions of their home governments.

*Read the comments section of the article itself for more specific details (as well as list of Chinese newspapers that printed this article).