All you need is love – and 20,000 people!

On a sunny day on the outskirts of Shanghai on Sunday, 20,000 hopeful, curious and in some cases desperate Chinese gathered for the world’s largest dating event.

But it would be misjudging the mood to say love was in the air. Instead, in a business convention centre, a stream of pragmatic men and women briskly exchanged vital statistics and contact details…

Like New York or London, Shanghai has become a city of career-obsessed workaholics, the organisers said, leaving many people with little time to find their perfect match. So 40 of the city’s dating agencies decided to hold Shanghai’s first “Marriage and Love Expo”, to a dramatic response.

Just over 10,000 tickets for the event were officially sold, but Shu Xin, one of the organisers, claimed that 20,000 people had visited yesterday and 18,500 on Saturday…

At least a third of the attendees were parents, either chaperoning their children, acting as go-betweens for the more bashful, or brokering deals with other parents for arranged romances…

The attendees, meanwhile, had some very rigid ideas about what they were looking for. Men said they wanted a “kind-hearted” wife, not too beautiful and flighty, but modest and homely. The “minimum requirement” for the women meanwhile was straight-forward: a man with his own house, and preferably also a car…

The government has tinkered with the law to try to dissuade women from marrying for money, rather than love, but there was little sign yesterday that the message had sunk in.

For many couples, the money for the house and car comes from the parents, giving those wandering yesterday’s fair plenty of influence when it comes to picking their in-laws.

Pretty scary. The parents for sure. Marriage culture in China is still obviously having a rough time breaking away from the past.

We went through the same thing in the West – several centuries ago. I don’t envy the current generation in China the struggle on this question.

Three young African-Americans recognized as Masters

Fewer than 2 percent of the 47,000 members of the United States Chess Federation are masters — and just 13 of them are under the age of 14.

Among that select group of prodigies are three black players from the New York City area — Justus Williams, Joshua Colas and James Black Jr. — who each became masters before their 13th birthdays.

“Masters don’t happen every day, and African-American masters who are 12 never happen,” said Maurice Ashley, 45, the only African-American to earn the top title of grandmaster. “To have three young players do what they have done is something of an amazing curiosity. You normally wouldn’t get something like that in any city of any race.”

The chess federation, the game’s governing body, does not keep records on the ethnicity of its members. But a Web site called the Chess Drum — which chronicles the achievements of black chess players and is run by Daaim Shabazz, an associate professor of business at Florida A&M University — lists 85 African-American masters. Shabazz said many of them no longer compete regularly.

Ashley, who became a master at age 20 and a grandmaster 14 years later, said the rarity was not surprising. “Chess just isn’t that big in the African-American community,” he said…That wasn’t my experience at least among Black musicians when I spent a significant chunk of my life on the jazz scene.

The three New Yorkers met several years ago during competitions. Justus has an edge over James, mostly because he won many of their early games, before James caught up. Head to head, James and Joshua each have several wins against the other. Justus and Joshua have rarely competed against each other.

Although they are rivals, the boys are also friends and share a sense that they are role models…

Supporting the boys’ interest is not easy financially. Though there are many tournaments in the New York City area, the boys must travel to play in more prestigious competitions, sometimes overseas. This week, they are set to play in the World Youth Chess Championship in Brazil.

They study the game with professional coaches who are grandmasters. The lessons are expensive — $100 an hour is not unusual — and the boys’ families have either found sponsors or have paid for the instruction themselves.

A very special Bravo from a blog that appreciates chess.

Phony Republican debates ignore Wall Street’s role in the recession


As much space as they deserve
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

All of the post-mortems on the CNBC Republican debate focused on the sad, but hilarious, senior moment Gov. Rick Perry suffered when he couldn’t remember the third federal agency he wants to eliminate.

…But what also stood out as perplexing — and stunning — was how all of the candidates were unwilling to hold Wall Street accountable for the deplorable economic condition the nation continues to find itself in.

When the housing crisis was raised, Mitt Romney and most of the others chose to unleash their rage on the consumers and the financial reform bill that was passed after the crisis hit, instead of on the shady practices of Wall Street…

The favorite GOP bogeyman is Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed housing lenders. Yet anyone with half a brain knows that those institutions brought on Democrats and Republicans on their payroll in order to ensure that Congress would let them continue practices as usual.

During the debate, Newt Gingrich was asked about the $300,000 he was paid by Freddie Mac in 2006, which he said was for “advice.” He was quick to say he did no lobbying on behalf of Freddie Mac, but we all know that his presence, along with other former politicians and political strategists from both parties, greatly helped the company prevent congressional scrutiny…

What Gingrich and the other candidates absolutely refused to do was tell the public that one of the biggest proponents of an aggressive home ownership plan in America was President George W. Bush…

It is beyond clear that we got into this huge mess because we were too lax in holding banks accountable. Getting rid of the Glass-Steagall Act, thus allowing commercial banks and investment banks to merge, was a disaster.

Not a single GOP candidate said we should put the provision separating those activities back in place…

In no way can I remove the role the consumer played in the economic debacle, but for the GOP candidates to act like we had too many regulations, and that’s why Wall Street bankers lost their minds, is deplorable…

How in the world can we trust that any of these candidates will care about the Average Joe, Jane, Jose, Jimmy, Janice or Jamila if they are elected president, when they won’t even hold Wall Street accountable in a debate?

Roland Martin pretending that we’re just discovering that the Republican Party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the US Chamber of Commerce is a bit disingenuous.

That Republicans and Teabaggers alike attend worship services at the Wall Street branch of the Church of the Holy Dollar should be no surprise to anyone. They kneel before the lords of finance and banking as automagically as any serf in the Dark Ages.

Anyone hear a moderator ask if anyone understands evolution, BTW?

Not enough dorm space – move into a California McMansion!

Here in Merced, a city in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley and one of the country’s hardest hit by home foreclosures, the downturn in the real estate market has presented an unusual housing opportunity for thousands of college students. Facing a shortage of dorm space, they are moving into hundreds of luxurious homes in overbuilt planned communities…

There are the three-car garages, wall-to-wall carpeting, whirlpool baths, granite kitchen countertops, walk-in closets and inviting gas fireplaces…

The finances of subdivision life are compelling: the university estimates yearly on-campus room and board at $13,720 a year, compared with roughly $7,000 off-campus. Sprawl rats sharing a McMansion — with each getting a bedroom and often a private bath — pay $200 to $350 a month each, depending on the amenities…

A confluence of factors led to the unlikely presence of students in subdivisions, where the collegiate promise of sleeping in on a Saturday morning may be rudely interrupted by neighborhood children selling Girl Scout cookies door to door.

This city of 79,000 is ranked third nationally in metropolitan-area home foreclosures, behind Las Vegas and Vallejo, Calif., said Daren Blomquist, a spokesman for RealtyTrac, a company based in Irvine, Calif., that tracks housing sales. The speculative fever that gripped the region and drew waves of outside investors to this predominantly agricultural area was fueled in part by the promise of the university itself, which opened in 2005 as the first new University of California campus in 40 years.

The crash crashed harder here. “Builders were coming into the area by the bulkload,” said Loren M. Gonella, who owns a real estate company here. “It was, ‘Holy moly, let’s get on this gravy train.’ ”

But visions of an instant Berkeley materializing in the cow pastures were premature. The stylishly designed university planned for a gradual expansion, adding 600 new students a year. That has meant phased dorm construction, which is financed with tax-exempt bonds repaid by student revenue. There is room for only 1,600 students in the campus dorms, but 5,200 are enrolled.

With hundreds of homes standing empty, many of them likely foreclosures, students willing to share houses have been “a blessing,” said Ellie Wooten, a former mayor of Merced and a real estate broker. Five students paying $200 a month each trump families who cannot afford more than $800 a month…

The university’s free transit system, Cat Tracks, stops at student-heavy subdivisions…

RTFA. Some humorous anecdotes. Sour grapes from some of the homeowners still in residence – though they should be glad for the presence of students whose numbers probably deter the incidence of squatters and thieves specializing in everything from copper wiring to posh bathroom fixtures.

Face it. Creative solutions are most often better than sitting back, whining and waiting for a politician to happen along with a useful answer.

Sisters of St. Francis – occupying Wall Street since 1980


Sister Nora Nash

Long before Occupy Wall Street, the Sisters of St. Francis were quietly staging an occupation of their own. In recent years, this Roman Catholic order of 540 or so nuns has become one of the most surprising groups of corporate activists around.

The nuns have gone toe-to-toe with Kroger, the grocery store chain, over farm worker rights; with McDonald’s, over childhood obesity; and with Wells Fargo, over lending practices. They have tried, with mixed success, to exert some moral suasion over Fortune 500 executives, a group not always known for its piety…

The Sisters of St. Francis are an unusual example of the shareholder activism that has ripped through corporate America since the 1980s. Public pension funds led the way, flexing their financial muscles on issues from investment returns to workplace violence. Then, mutual fund managers charged in, followed by rabble-rousing hedge fund managers who tried to shame companies into replacing their C.E.O.’s, shaking up their boards — anything to bolster the value of their investments.

The nuns have something else in mind: using the investments in their retirement fund to become Wall Street’s moral minority…

In 1980, Sister Nora Nash and her community formed a corporate responsibility committee to combat what they saw as troubling developments at the businesses in which they invested their retirement fund. A year later, in coordination with groups like the Philadelphia Area Coalition for Responsible Investment, they mounted their offensive. They boycotted Big Oil, took aim at Nestlé over labor policies, and urged Big Tobacco to change its ways.

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Corporate cruds want Congress to boost robocalls to your cellphone

Almost everyone with a landline has felt the annoyance of picking up the phone and realizing that a call is not from a friend or a family member but rather is a prerecorded message delivered by a software-robot…

Telemarketers cannot make prerecorded calls to either residential landlines or cellphones, unless the recipient has provided express consent or has a business relationship with the caller. For commercial calls that do not involve an explicit sales pitch, the law extends special protection to cellphones: automated equipment cannot be used unless the recipient has provided consent.

“Consent” is not hard to secure. Current law assumes that it is given by the act of providing one’s phone number, even if it was just for a one-time home delivery or was mentioned in reply to a clerk’s spoken question. This allows automated cellphone calls that may not be especially welcome, like a “customer satisfaction” survey administered entirely by robo-software, or robo-messages about an overdue payment.

The Federal Communications Commission has been working on a draft of a stricter rule defining consent. Businesses might be required to secure the customer’s consent in writing or from a box clicked online if automatic calling equipment will be used to call the customer’s cellphone in the future.

The American Bankers Association, the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals and other trade groups want to prevent the F.C.C. from strengthening the consent requirement. They are backing a bill in the House, H.R. 3035, that they say would clarify issues of consent surrounding automated calls…

The bill is opposed by the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the Consumer Federation of America, Americans for Financial Reform, Consumer Watchdog, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and other consumer advocates…

Cellphones are an immeasurable convenience. But the fact that the phones go wherever we go means that unwanted calls of any kind feel far more intrusive than calls that came in to the home number (for those who remember home numbers). The banks’ last nifty idea for consumers was a monthly charge for debit cards. Their fight to block stronger protection of our cellphone numbers is just as consumer-friendly.

So, uh, when you have a chance, drop your Congress-critter an email and ask which side they’re going to support? I wonder if they’ll straight-out support consumers or dance around the Maypole for a while and offer a canned corporate rationale?