Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Winning the alphabet lottery: .tv and the nation of Tuvalu

Today, as video is watched on smartphones and laptops rather than on living room couches, the .tv suffix — owned, improbably, by the tiny South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu — has become for some companies a chance to signal that they are showing video the way people are increasingly used to seeing it. ...

The sudden prominence of .tv is the latest twist in one of the Internet’s more unusual tales. In the 1990s, the suffix .tv was assigned to Tuvalu (Britain received .uk; France, .fr; and so on). At the height of the Internet gold rush, in 1999, a start-up named DotTV paid Tuvalu $50 million over 12 years for the right to sell .tv to other companies. ...

In 2002, Verisign, a large manager of web addresses, acquired the company and still operates the .tv domain today. It agreed in 2011 to manage the .tv address through 2021, and the payments to Tuvalu’s government are said to be a couple million dollars a year.

Those dividend payments are an important revenue source for the country, which has a population of barely 10,000 who live on a tiny cluster of coral atolls and islands about halfway between Australia and Hawaii.

The economic success of Tuvalu and .tv has led other countries to try to leverage their domain names into a consistent revenue source: Montenegro, for example, has the extension. me that can offer a personal touch to a Web address; and Colombia’s .co has emerged as a logical, less expensive substitute for .com. ...

“I was once shocked when I saw someone using an alternative ending, I thought they were dooming themselves,” said Josh Bourne, a managing partner at FairWinds Partners, a consultant on domain names. “But I’ve changed my opinion,” he said, rattling off prominent examples like Ask.fm (fm for Micronesia) and Bit.ly (ly for Libya).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The calculated plan to export Korean pop culture

The so-called “Korean Wave” of pop culture that seems to have taken the world by storm was set in motion two decades ago. Known as “Hallyu” in Korean – it’s the most well-funded, highly-orchestrated national marketing campaign in the history of the world. The goal: to make Korea the world’s top exporter of pop culture. Korean pop culture exports have already gone from nearly zero, in the early 1990s, to $4.6 billion in revenue in 2012 (the most recent official year-end figures available...

The answer lies partly in the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-1998, which left the country economically crippled, forcing the government to request a $57-billion loan from the IMF. The crisis exposed a huge fault line in the Korean economy: it was too dependent on the nation’s chaebols – megaconglomerates like Hyundai, Samsung, and LG, which hauled the economy up from sub-Saharan-African levels of poverty in the 50s and so became too big to fail.

The government of then-president Kim Dae-jung realised it had to diversify. According to Choi Bokeun, an official at Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sport, and Tourism, Dae-jung marveled at how much revenue the United States brought in from films, and the UK from stage musicals. And he decided to use those two countries as benchmarks for creating a pop culture industry for Korea.

Was the president out of his mind? Building a pop culture export industry from scratch during a financial crisis seems like bringing a Frisbee instead of food to a desert island. But there was method to the madness. The creation of pop culture, Dae-jung argued, doesn’t require a massive infrastructure; all you really need is time and talent. Of course, that was easier said than done. In order to sell pop culture to the world, you first have to convince the world that your nation is cool.

Korea had no tradition of homegrown pop music bands. If the country wanted to achieve its pop culture export aspirations, it was going to have to use extreme methods. K-pop stars are groomed like Romanian gymnasts or Bolshoi ballerinas – picked out as children and groomed for years before they are permitted to perform in public, a process that results in 13-year music contracts. ...

It’s not just the record labels who are putting their noses to the grindstone. The Korean government runs and finances a fund of funds, managed by an entity called the Korean Venture Investment Corporation, with a staggering $1 billion earmarked solely to be invested into Korean pop culture. One government-funded lab is working on virtual reality and hyper-realistic hologram technology – not for the purpose of warfare or espionage but rather, to make a mind-blowing concert experience.
--Euny Hong, Newsweek, on manufacturing cool

European countries are poor by U.S. standards

If Britain were to join the United States, it would be the second-poorest state, behind Alabama and ahead of Mississippi.

The ranking, determined by Fraser Nelson, an editor of The Spectator magazine, was made by dividing the gross domestic product of each state by its population, and it took into account purchasing power parity for cost of living. Several other European countries were also included in the ranking.

--Hunter Schwarz, Washington Post, on putting things in economic perspective. HT: NK

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Buffett on how to invest if you're not Buffett

Vanguard got a huge boost this spring when Warren Buffett gave it a public stamp of approval in March.

The billionaire wrote in his closely watched letter to shareholders of his company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., that he believed most people would be well-served by following the investing instructions in his will.

Mr. Buffett, 83 years old and with a net worth of $66 billion, wrote that he advised his trustee to "put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund. (I suggest Vanguard's.)."

In the five months that followed, investors poured $5.5 billion into the Vanguard fund, or about three times more than during the same period the previous year.

Vanguard, based in Malvern, Pa., credits Mr. Buffett with the surge of money.
--Kirsten Grind, WSJ, on advice from an active investor

Most New Yorkers can't follow simple spoken directions

“I look at it much less scientifically,” said Susan Kellman, a longtime New York defense lawyer. Her favorite question is a simple listening-skills one: “Tell me one person who’s dead who we all know and respect.”

Most jurors say “my grandmother,” she said, and — unless that grandmother is Golda Meir — that tells her all she needs to know, she added.

“They don’t follow directions,” she said.
--Stephanie Clifford, NYT, on the transmission loss from mouth to brain

Monday, August 18, 2014

What happens when police wear body-mounted cameras

So it is in Rialto, Calif., where an entire police force is wearing so-called body-mounted cameras, no bigger than pagers, that record everything that transpires between officers and citizens. In the first year after the cameras' introduction, the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%. ...

What happens when police wear cameras isn't simply that tamper-proof recording devices provide an objective record of an encounter—though some of the reduction in complaints is apparently because of citizens declining to contest video evidence of their behavior—but a modification of the psychology of everyone involved. ...

In the U.K., where tests with them began in 2005, studies have shown that they aid in the prosecution of crimes, by providing additional, and uniquely compelling, evidence. In the U.S., in some instances they have shortened the amount of time required to investigate a shooting by police from two-to-three months to two-to-three days.

And they represent yet one more way we are being recorded by means that could eventually be leaked to the public.
--Christopher Mims, WSJ, on the effect of being watched

One black person in the jury pool reduces black defendant convictions by 16%

In a great paper, The Impact of Jury Race in Criminal Trials, Shamena Anwar, Patrick Bayer and Randi Hjalmarsson exploit random variation in the jury pool to estimate the effect of race on criminal trials. The authors have data from nearly 800 trials in two Florida counties. On any given day, a jury pool is randomly drawn from a master list based on driver’s licenses. On some days, the pool of about 30 people contains some black members and on other days, purely for random reasons, it does not. The voir dire process—removals, excuses and challenges—whittles down the jury pool to 6 jury members with typically 1 alternate.

The authors have data on the race, gender, and age of each member of the jury pool as well as each member of the ultimate jury. The authors also know the race and gender of the defendant and the charges. What the authors discover is that all white juries are 16% more likely to convict black defendants than white defendants but the presence of just a single black person in the jury pool equalizes conviction rates by race. The effect is large and remarkably it occurs even when the black person is not picked for the jury. The latter may not seem possible but the authors develop an elegant model of voir dire that shows how using up a veto on a black member of the pool shifts the characteristics of remaining pool members from which the lawyers must pick; that is, a diverse jury pool can make for a more “ideologically” balanced jury even when the jury is not racially balanced.
--Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution, on the elusive goal of color-blindness

Dollar-cost averaging doesn't work

Bernstein Global Research recently conducted its own study of the subject, and was able to quantify some of the cost of investing gradually. Using the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index and its predecessors, Bernstein examined the rolling one-year returns of the stock market through 12-month periods from the beginning of 1926 to the end of 2013 — a total of more than 1,000 such periods. It compared lump-sum investments made at the beginning of each period with stock purchases made through “dollar-cost averaging” — regular monthly investments in the S.&P. 500 for 12 months. Money on the sidelines stayed in three-month Treasury bills.

The firm found that the average one-year return was 12.2 percent for immediate investments into the stock index, 8.1 percent for the dollar-cost-averaging portfolios and 3.6 percent for the cash holdings. The penalty for investing gradually, in other words, was 4.1 percentage points. On the other hand, that gradual approach was 4.5 points better than just holding cash. ...

Bad timing happens by accident, though. If you had moved money into the stock market right before a major market peak, you would have been staring at big paper losses immediately.

How bad would those numbers have looked? For a concrete answer, I asked Mr. Masters to sift through his data and find the worst cases among the 12-month periods his firm analyzed.

It turns out that if you had held onto your stocks long enough, you would have come out whole — and much faster than I had expected.

For example, the worst 12-month period since 1926 began on July 1, 1931, during the Depression: The stock index lost 67.6 percent, including dividends, in those 12 months. Yet it would have taken only 39 months — 3.25 years — to erase all your losses, assuming that you had stayed in the market.

In recent decades, Bernstein found, the worst 12-month period began on March 1, 2008, when the market’s return was minus 43.3 percent. Many people bailed out of stocks then and never went back. But if you had stayed fully invested in the market, you would have recovered all of your losses within 22 months — and would be sitting on enormous gains today.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Correction: Debreu was not so dishonorable

Writing too quickly last week about Finding Equilibrium: Arrow, Debreu, McKenzie and the Problem of Scientific Credit, by Till Düppe and E. Roy Weintraub (Princeton University Press, 2014), [Economic Principals] made a serious mistake, combining one misfortune with another and blaming both on Gérard Debreu, the Nobel laureate, who died in 2004.

Robert Anderson, of the University of California at Berkeley, wrote, “I was astonished to read the following statement in the August 11 [EP] article:”
Further details had emerged, including an astonishing fact: the anonymous referee, who bottled UP McKenzie’s submission to Econometrica for a critical time, while Arrow and Debreu tidied up their proof, was none other than Debreu himself; and Debreu hadn’t disclosed his conflict of interest to the editor, Robert Solow. Debreu’s conduct was thus revealed as having been dishonorable.
Anderson continued,
The chronology of the book makes it clear that it was [Leonid] Hurwicz and [John] Nash who held up the publication by failing to provide timely referee reports. The chronology states that Solow requested a referee report from Debreu on October 5, 1953; that on December 14, Strotz communicated to McKenzie that the reports were favorable and that Debreu submitted his final referee report recommending publication on December 17, 1953. That is fast refereeing by any standard. 
Furthermore, it indicates that on May 1, 1953, Solow noted the similarity between McKenzie’s paper and that of Arrow and Debreu. So Solow was fully aware of the situation when he asked Debreu to referee the paper. Debreu, however, did fail to notify Solow of the overlap between the Arrow-Debreu and McKenzie papers.
--David Warsh, Economic Principals, on an unfortunate smearing

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Americans don't understand health insurance

The comprehension study shows that people have a limited understanding of traditional health insurance. Only 14% of the sample was able to answer correctly 4 multiple choice questions about the four basic components of traditional health insurance design: deductibles, copays, coinsurance and maximum out of pocket costs (‘MOOP’). Similarly, many respondents were unable to calculate the cost of basic services covered by the traditional insurance plan. Most strikingly, only 11% were able to correctly answer a fill-in-the-blank question about the cost of a hospitalization. ...

[If] consumers don’t understand their own health insurance policies, it is unlikely that they will respond to the incentives embedded in those policies.
--Loewenstein et al., "Consumers' Misunderstanding of Health Insurance," on an over-engineered product

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why don't we require helmets for walking and driving?

Walking and driving are just as dangerous as biking — but they don't require helmets. ...

Back in the early 1990s, Australia collected good data on head injuries for walking, biking, and driving. (This was before the country imposed mandatory helmet laws for bikers.) And what they found was that biking was only slightly more dangerous than walking or driving:


...

Other data shows that despite increased voluntary helmet use by adults in the US and Great Britain, the overall number of cyclist fatalities hasn't been affected. ...

One can be blamed on drivers: perhaps for subconscious reasons, they seem to be less careful around helmeted cyclists. ...

Many people also suggest that wearing a helmet makes cyclists themselves less cautious in their riding, increasing the chance of an accident.

Why car theft is rare nowadays

Auto theft isn’t much of a problem anymore in New York City. In 1990, the city had 147,000 reported auto thefts, one for every 50 residents; last year, there were just 7,400, or one per 1,100. That’s a 96 percent drop in the rate of car theft.

So, why did this happen? All crime has fallen, nationally and especially in New York. But there has also been a big shift in the economics of auto theft: Stealing cars is harder than it used to be, less lucrative and more likely to land you in jail. As such, people have found other things to do.

The most important factor is a technological advance: engine immobilizer systems, adopted by manufacturers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. These make it essentially impossible to start a car without the ignition key, which contains a microchip uniquely programmed by the dealer to match the car. ...

You can see this in the pattern of thefts of America’s most stolen car, the Honda Accord. About 54,000 Accords were stolen in 2013, 84 percent of them from model years 1997 or earlier, according to data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a trade group for auto insurers and lenders. Not coincidentally, Accords started to be sold with immobilizers in the 1998 model year. The Honda Civic, America’s second-most stolen car, shows a similar pattern before and after it got immobilizer technology for model year 2001.

Old cars are easier to steal, and there are plenty of them still on the road. But there’s an obvious problem with stealing them: They’re not worth very much.
--Josh Barro, The Upshot, on criminals responding to incentives

Monday, August 11, 2014

Gerard Debreu's dishonorable path to the Nobel Prize

It had been intuitively obvious since Adam Smith that, in an economic system, everything depends on everything else, and thought possible, since Leon Walras, to calculate and measure such a system – in other words, to produce a blueprint to test against the world. But proving that such a coherence is possible in the first place in a world of many competing individuals was the necessary first step to describing it in detail. ...

For thirty years the official story of general equilibrium went like this: Kenneth Arrow and Gerard Debreu, working independently at first, then joining forces, proved that Adam Smith was right, and the rest is history. ...

It was some time in the 1970s that [economist and historian of economic thought Roy] Weintraub first became aware that [Lionel] McKenzie, by then of the University of Rochester, had in the early 1950s proved the same result as had Arrow and Debreu, and slightly earlier at that, but somehow had failed to share in the enormous credit assigned or their famous result. ...

Debreu arrived from Paris in 1950, deeply trained in Bourbakist mathematics and somewhat insulated from the emphasis on planning methods that dominated Cowles at the time. He and Arrow began working on the equilibrium proof separately; when learning of each other’s work, they threw their lots in together and presented their results at the 1952 meetings of the Econometric Society, in Chicago – a day after McKenzie had talked about his work. Their paper, “Existence of an Equilibrium for a Competitive Economy,” appeared in Econometrica eighteen months later, more general than that of McKenzie, but three months after his. ...

Not long after, McKenzie would begin one of the greatest second acts in twentieth-century economics. Unable to get a job at a top-five university (Princeton at least awarded him his Ph.D. on the basis of his journal articles), he signed on at the University of Rochester in 1957 on the strength of a promise that he could build a department. ... And so McKenzie did. ... From modest beginnings, Rochester went on to become one of the most successful training grounds for young economists in the world...

[Weintraub] noticed that the principals had been somewhat reluctant to discuss the details surrounding their respective proofs. He badgered them, gradually learned that Debreu had attended McKenzie’s session and hadn’t told Arrow about it. ...

Further details had emerged, including an astonishing fact: the anonymous referee, who bottled UP McKenzie’s submission to Econometrica for a critical time, while Arrow and Debreu tidied up their proof, was none other than Debreu himself; and Debreu hadn’t disclosed his conflict of interest to the editor, Robert Solow. Debreu’s conduct was thus revealed as having been dishonorable.
--David Warsh, Economic Principals, on a reminder to act honorably when refereeing papers "anonymously"


UPDATE: Debreu did not in fact delay his referee report.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Quantifying the advance in PED technology in muscle-building

For many, Schwarzenegger represents the alpha and omega of bodybuilding. He was the sport’s first genuine celebrity, its first crossover star, and still remains the tallest champion (at six-foot-two) in the history of the Olympia. ...

Texas native Ronnie Coleman, an eight-time Mr. Olympia who is arguably the greatest bodybuilder of all time, had a listed height of five-foot-10 but frequently took the competition stage at 295 pounds. Jay Cutler, Coleman’s immediate successor as Mr. Olympia, competed at an equally massive 280 pounds. Even at his peak, Schwarzenegger never exceeded a competition weight of 235 pounds. The physiques of modern bodybuilders were quite literally unattainable during the early days of the sport. ...

From the outset, Mr. Olympia participants benefited from one of the great discoveries of the 1950s: anabolic steroids. ... When 240-pound Lee Haney emerged as an unbeatable competitor in the early 1980s, it appeared that human development could go no further.

With his victory in the 1992 Mr. Olympia, English bodybuilder Dorian Yates changed all of that. Though only five-foot-nine, Yates competed at a lean 270 pounds through the combination of a maniacal training program with precise steroid usage that was stacked with growth hormone. GH proved to be a missing link in the chain that allowed athletes to reach unprecedented lean weights...
--Oliver Lee Bateman, The Atlantic, on Schwarzenegger as a girly-man among today's bodybuilders

Professional adult dodgeball

Dodgeball used to be a children's sport, like hopscotch and tag. But adult dodgeball participation has grown 20% annually over the past three years, according to the Sport and Social Industry Association.

The rules of the traditional game are familiar to anybody who didn't skip third-grade gym class: Hit someone with a ball, and he is out. Catch a ball and the thrower is out. The team whose players are eliminated loses. Simple in concept, it becomes far more difficult when you are playing against highly organized teams with scripted plays and predetermined strategies.

Adult dodgeball is played all sorts of ways. Mr. Marchbanks's team has won tournaments on trampolines, solid ground and mud. The team has played with foam balls and kickballs.

For many, it isn't a casual pastime. Mr. Marchbanks devotes about eight hours a week to practicing or playing the game, and four more hours to studying film of upcoming opponents. ...

Dodgeball, of course, isn't the only childhood pastime appealing to adults these days. The sixth annual World Thumb Wrestling Championship took place this month north of London, and the International Tree Climbing Championship was in Milwaukee. Two tournaments claim to grant the national kickball title. ...

Mr. Marchbanks and his squad—Team Doom—have won about $100,000 in cash prizes over the past two years. If the five members of Team Doom successfully defend their title at the Ultimate Dodgeball Championship starting Friday in Las Vegas, they'll add $20,000 to their winnings.
--Andrew Beaton, WSJ, on never having to grow up

Personal characteristics predict PTSD risk

Veterans who enlisted before graduating from high school were at especially high risk of developing chronic PTSD, as were those involved in intimate, close-combat killing. Previous studies have found the same.

Hispanics veterans were three times as likely as whites to develop the disorder, and blacks twice as likely. Those ethnic differences had turned up in other studies as well, though the gap was mostly explained by differences in education and combat exposure — minority soldiers and Marines generally had less education upon enlistment and saw more combat, compared to whites. The new report found that minority veterans were at high risk of developing chronic PTSD even after correcting for education and combat.
--Benedict Carey, NYT, on surprising correlates of trauma

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Learning about your peers' savings choices can be demotivating

Peer information interventions involve disseminating information about what a target population’s peers typically do. By sharing this information, it may be possible to teach people that a certain behavior is more common than they had previously believed, motivating those people to engage in the behavior more themselves. This approach has been dubbed “social norms marketing” and is used at approximately half of U.S. colleges in an effort to reduce student alcohol consumption. ...

We conducted our experiment in partnership with a large manufacturing firm and its retirement savings plan administrator. ...

For the [non-saving] recipients, the two peer information mailings stated the fraction of employees in the relevant age bracket who were already enrolled in the savings plan. For the [low-saving] recipients, the two peer information mailings stated the fraction of savings plan participants in the relevant age bracket contributing at least 6% of their pay on a before-tax basis to the plan. ...

We find that among [non-saving] recipients with a 0% contribution rate default—those whom we expected to be most susceptible to our information treatment—receiving peer information significantly reduced the likelihood of subsequently enrolling in the plan from 9.9% to 6.3%, a decrease of approximately one-third. ...

We find that the oppositional reaction among [non-saving] recipients with a 0% default is concentrated among employees with low relative incomes. This result raises the possibility that information about peers’ savings choices discourages low-income employees by making their relative economic status more salient, reducing their motivation to increase their savings rates and generating an oppositional reaction.
--Beshears et al., "The Effect of Providing Peer Information on Retirement Savings Decisions," on when disseminating peer information backfires

Spinach is not a good source of iron: The urban legend behind the urban legend

Spinach is not an exceptional nutritional source of iron. The leafy green has iron, yes, but not much more than you’d find in other green vegetables. And the plant contains oxalic acid, which inhibits iron absorption.

Why, then, do so many people believe spinach boasts such high iron levels? Scholars committed to unmasking spinach’s myths have long offered a story of academic sloppiness. German chemists in the 1930s misplaced a decimal point, the story goes. They thus overestimated the plant’s iron content tenfold.

But this story, it turns out, is apocryphal. It’s another myth, perpetuated by academic sloppiness of another kind. The German scientists never existed. Nor did the decimal point error occur. At least, we have no evidence of either. Because, you see, although academics often see themselves as debunkers, in skewering one myth they may fall victim to another.
--Charlie Tyson, Inside Higher Ed, on urban legend upon urban legend. HT: Marginal Revolution

Gluten is probably not causing your stomach upset

In 2011, Peter Gibson, a professor of gastroenterology at Monash University and director of the GI Unit at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, published a study that found gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley, to cause gastrointestinal distress in patients without celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder unequivocally triggered by gluten. Double-blinded, randomized, and placebo-controlled, the experiment was one of the strongest pieces of evidence to date that non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), more commonly known as gluten intolerance, is a genuine condition.

But like any meticulous scientist, Gibson wasn't satisfied with his first study. His research turned up no clues to what actually might be causing subjects' adverse reactions to gluten. ... He resolved to repeat the trial with a level of rigor lacking in most nutritional research. Subjects would be provided with every single meal for the duration of the trial. Any and all potential dietary triggers for gastrointestinal symptoms would be removed, including lactose (from milk products), certain preservatives like benzoates, propionate, sulfites, and nitrites, and fermentable, poorly absorbed short-chain carbohydrates, also known as FODMAPs. And last, but not least, nine days worth of urine and fecal matter would be collected. With this new study, Gibson wasn't messing around.

37 subjects took part, all confirmed not to have celiac disease but whose gastrointestinal symptoms improved on a gluten-free diet, thus fulfilling the diagnostic criteria for non-celiac gluten sensitivity.** They were first fed a diet low in FODMAPs for two weeks (baseline), then were given one of three diets for a week with either 16 grams per day of added gluten (high-gluten), 2 grams of gluten and 14 grams of whey protein isolate (low-gluten), or 16 grams of whey protein isolate (placebo). Each subject shuffled through every single diet so that they could serve as their own controls, and none ever knew what specific diet he or she was eating. After the main experiment, a second was conducted to ensure that the whey protein placebo was suitable. In this one, 22 of the original subjects shuffled through three different diets -- 16 grams of added gluten, 16 grams of added whey protein isolate, or the baseline diet -- for three days each.

Analyzing the data, Gibson found that each treatment diet, whether it included gluten or not, prompted subjects to report a worsening of gastrointestinal symptoms to similar degrees. Reported pain, bloating, nausea, and gas all increased over the baseline low-FODMAP diet. Even in the second experiment, when the placebo diet was identical to the baseline diet, subjects reported a worsening of symptoms! The data clearly indicated that a nocebo effect, the same reaction that prompts some people to get sick from wind turbines and wireless internet, was at work here. ... Gluten wasn't the culprit; the cause was likely psychological. Participants expected the diets to make them sick, and so they did. ...

Consider this: no underlying cause for gluten intolerance has yet been discovered.
--Ross Pomeroy, Real Clear Science, on the stomach irritant above the neck. HT: JFB. See also my earlier post on self-induced gluten intolerance

Monday, August 4, 2014

China's strategy towards its ethnic minorities

Those [55 ethnic] minorities number more than 100 million but as a group are all but invisible to the outside world, their situation complicated by the seeming paradox of being citizens of China without being part of the Chinese people. ...

It’s not hard to figure out why China’s ethnic minorities chafe under the domination of a government that combines Han chauvinism with ideological rigidity, and [British journalist] Eimer provides abundant detail. Even as the Han stream into their homelands, minority groups cannot be educated in their native languages or fully practice their religions, are relegated to menial jobs, and are ruthlessly repressed when they complain about such inequalities. ...

“We say China is a country vast in territory, rich in resources and large in population,” Mao Zedong said in a 1956 speech buried deep in the fifth volume of his selected works but cited by Mr. Eimer as a likely explanation for Chinese expansionism. “As a matter of fact, it is the Han nationality whose population is large and the minority nationalities whose territory is vast and whose resources are rich.” ...

But China always plays a long game, so when a Han informant says that “Uighurs are like pandas,” a species both coddled and endangered, that should bring to mind the fate of the Manchus, another minority discussed by Mr. Eimer. The Han way of dealing with the Manchus was “to make them Han” over time, so that their native language “became redundant, while their tribal culture and customs faded away until they were not more than a distant memory.”

Now, he reports, “it is estimated that barely 100 people can speak the language.” The once-mighty Manchus, who gave their name to Manchuria, are thus today “a people in name only who have been absorbed by the Han.” So, Tibetans and Uighurs beware.
--Larry Rohter, NYT, on becoming Han Chinese