The sand pebbles off topic:

Many years ago a friend of mine, who had been in the Flying Tigers, gave me a book to read about China.  It was called The Sand Pebbles, by Richard McKenna.  The book was in significant degree a diatribe against prejudice.  I don’t think that’s why I was given it to read; I think it was just a very realistic description of the time and place.  One could not read it without being much impressed by the Chinese.  I now learn that they are planning to build a high speed railroad along the Pacific coast of China, Russia, under the Bering Straights, down the Pacific coast of the US and Canada, terminating in Los Angeles. 

I am stunned.  It’s just about a great circle route, linking the two largest economies the world has ever seen and opening up significant parts of Russia, Canada and Alaska to otherwise unprofitable development.  The cost?  200 billion dollars.  What do they spend each year on high speed rail now?  300 billion.  If the project takes twenty years, the cost will be trifling in comparison with what they are doing already.  Why should it surprise me?  Was I prejudiced without knowing it?  Who did I think built our OWN railroads? 

The story is set on and around the Yangtze River in about 1926 and involves China and foreign influences such as the US navy and missionaries.  Oddly enough, I had two relatives on the Yangtze during the Boxer Rebellion, about 27 years earlier, one an admiral in the US navy and the other a missionary. 

The title of the book refers to the crew of an American fictional navy boat the San Pablo.  It seems a sort of a desolate name for a bunch of men, quite in keeping with the tone of the novel.  The American crew of course was portrayed as being totally and irrevocably prejudiced against the Chinese.  It turned out that one of their problems was that the Chinese ate rice.  As a South Carolinian, of course, I prefer rice to any other starch except grits (and French bread back when they cooked it right, before everybody started fortifying flour).  Yet the Americans themselves were eating rice at every meal. 

At one meal it turned out that the crew were less prejudiced against Chinese from Manchuria.  They grew wheat in Manchuria, so that made it all right.  For the persona of the story, this was simply silly.  However, there is now some evidence that can be brought to bear.  (You Are What You Eat
ECONOMIST vol. 411 no.8886 May 10 page 78)

A study has found that people from regions where rice is grown regularly and has been grown time out of mind are more socially cooperative than other people.  They looked at other factors that might apply and found the correlation was very persistent.  The rational is that it takes twice as much work to grow rice as it does to grow wheat.  My own reaction, even with South Carolina blood, is to ask, “For goodness sake, then why don’t you grow wheat?” 

I’m sure there’s an answer.  But apparently the more intense labor rewarded a tendency to cooperate, and that tendency persists even when the diet changes.

I do wonder what my old fighter pilot friend would have said to that.

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