Thursday, July 24, 2008

What Is "Character"?

One of the best definitions for "character" which I've ever come across is this: "Character is doing the right thing when nobody is looking.”

In their new book, Walk the Talk, Eric Harvey and Steve Ventura offer a longer definition. They say that one of the keys to character is commitment. Here's what the authors wrote:

Think of someone you know who is "a person of good character." Lock his or her image in your mind. Now take a moment to reflect on the things this person says and does...the personal characteristics that make him or her a role model for you.

What comes to mind? What do you see?

Chances are that high on the list of your role model's qualities is COMMITMENT - the unwavering dedication to being a good family member and doing his or her best at work and away from the doing what's right, noble, and decent.

Committed people like your role model just seem to have their heads and hearts in the right place. They keep their priorities straight. They stay focused on what's important. They know, inherently, that what they believe must drive how they behave - and how they behave ultimately determines the character they possess, the reputation they enjoy, and the legacy they leave.

Abraham Lincoln had this to say about commitment: "COMMITMENT is what transforms a promise into reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions. And the actions which speak louder than the words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism."

The world renowned pianist, Van Cliburn, after one of his magnificent concerts was approached by an admirer who had been in the audience. The emotional fan grasped Cliburn's hand and said, "I would give my life to be able to play the piano like that." The pianist smiled and replied..."I DID."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Two Faces of Chinese Nationalism

(Published in China Briefing, Center For International Relations, August 2008, pp. 9-11.)

On May 12, 2008, China’s Sichuan province was struck by a massive 7.9 earthquake. In the aftermath, Chinese people rallied together in an unprecedented show of national solidarity and fellowship. Many volunteered to excavate victims still buried in the rubble; others donated money to help survivors; still others offered to adopt the children whom the quake had made orphans. A week after the disaster on May 19 at 2:28 p.m., people all across China mourned in silence for three minutes. All of which led outside observers to remark that we might be witnessing the beginning of a genuine civil society in China. As longtime Sinologist Ross Terrill put it, “A new China could be glimpsed after the earthquake.”

But a month before the quake, the world had seen an uglier face of Chinese nationalism. As human rights protesters dogged the Beijing Olympics’ torch relay around the world, Chinese convulsed in collective outrage against international criticisms of their government’s violent crackdown in Tibet and support of the genocidal regime in Sudan. In online forums and chat rooms, Chinese youth blasted their leaders in Beijing for not being tougher against the Tibetan “separatists.” Some 20 million signed an online petition calling for a boycott against Western businesses, such as the American chains McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Chinese ire especially targeted the French retailer Carrefour—protests and demonstrations in front of its outlets in Wuhan drew thousands.

Chinese nationalist anger even spread to college campuses in the United States. At the University of Southern California, Chinese students harassed a visiting Tibetan monk. At the University of Washington, hundreds protested outside during a speech by the Tibetan spiritual leader-in-exile, the Dalai Lama. At Duke University, a Chinese student who had tried to mediate between pro-China and pro-Tibet protesters was branded a traitor by her compatriots. Her photo was posted on the Internet, together with her contact information and her parents’ address in China.

These incidents are a reminder of Chinese nationalism’s volatile mix of prickly pride and smoldering resentment. The same nationalism exploded into anti-Japan riots across China in 2005, against Japanese school textbooks that minimized Imperial Japan’s World War II atrocities. The visiting Japanese national soccer team was brutally attacked; Japanese missions and businesses were trashed. The same Chinese nationalism also burst into violent anti-American protests in 1999 after NATO’s accidental bombing of China’s embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. And when the United States was attacked by Islamic terrorists on September 11, 2001, some Chinese exulted over America’s pain. One student told pollsters that “When the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, I really felt very delighted.”

Nationalism may be defined as the sentiments of affinity and love for one’s national group. China’s thorny nationalism was birthed out of the turmoil of what Chinese still call their “hundred years of humiliation.” That century began with Great Britain’s trouncing of Imperial China in the Opium War (1840-42), which opened the floodgates to more defeats, unequal treaties, economic turmoil, territorial losses, a massive rebellion, dynastic collapse, revolution, warlords, Japan’s colonization and invasion, and a ruinous civil war from which the Communist Party emerged as victor in 1949.

Unlike organic nations that are formed naturally over time, the Chinese nation is a product of the Chinese people’s experience of being abused and humiliated by outside groups. Their shared suffering at the hands of common enemies transformed Chinese from being “a tray of loose sand” into a nation. In effect, Chinese nationalism from its very beginning has been reactive and xenophobic.

After its bloody suppression of the pro-democracy movement in 1989, the Chinese government initiated a patriotic education campaign, using nationalism to shore up its legitimacy. School textbooks focus on China’s past humiliations, while the state media, such as the People's Daily, highlight contemporary China’s perceived mistreatment at the hands of the United States and other powers. As Hong Kong legislator Christine Loh observed, “If you don’t bear a grudge against China’s historical oppressors, then you don’t ai guo (love your country) enough.”

At the same time as it encourages reactive nationalism, the Chinese government also fears that runaway nationalist passions may harm the economy by alienating foreign investors or, worse yet, mutate into unrest and insurrection against Beijing. Thus far, Beijing has been able to douse the fire of populist nationalism when it became excessive. As an example, in 2005, although Beijing initially had stoked popular anti-Japan resentments, it later brought out riot-control police to restore order in the cities.

Today, on the eve of the opening of the Olympics in Beijing, the true face of Chinese nationalism remains an open question. Is it the peaceable face of herbivorous nationalism, wherein love of one’s own nation does not require hating others, or is Chinese nationalism carnivorous, wherein love of one’s own is intertwined with hatred and aggression towards other groups?

Whatever precedents there are in history are not encouraging. Recall that the nationalisms of both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were of the reactive carnivorous variety. Both saw themselves as having been victimized by others; both turned to grandiose dreams of empire in compensation; and in both cases, voices of reason and moderation were silenced by the authoritarian governments.

As China takes its place as a newly arrived member among the world’s great powers, which face of nationalism it wears carries serious implications for regional peace and security. So long as Chinese continue to overreact to international criticisms with hypersensitivity and rage, the world has reason to be wary. For the mark of a truly great power is the ability to undertake critical self-examination and to admit to flaws and mistakes when warranted.


For an extensive treatment of Chinese nationalism, see Maria Hsia Chang, Return of the Dragon: China's Wounded Nationalism (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2001).

Friday, July 11, 2008

What Does Hans Reiser's Handwriting Tell Us?

On April 28, 2008, after a six-month trial, 44-year-old Hans Reiser was convicted of murder-in-the-first-degree of his estranged wife, Nina. The case generated much media publicity due mainly to the defendant’s reputation of being a computer genius who had created the open-source Linux file system, the ReiserFS.

Local publicity was intense from the beginning [1] because the case originated as a missing person mystery: 31-year-old Nina had disappeared on a hot Labor Day weekend in 2006, after dropping off the couple’s two young children at Hans’ Oakland hills residence in the San Francisco Bay Area. Several search parties were undertaken, as well as huge billboards in conspicuous areas publicizing the missing woman. The trial also garnered the attention of the community [2] and the national media, including ABC’s 20-20 and CBS’s 48 Hours.

More than other murder trials, the Reiser case attracted its share of those who continue to insist on the defendant’s innocence even after the jury delivered a guilty verdict. On July 7, 2008, however, two days before Reiser’s sentencing, he led police to where he had buried his wife’s body, thereby removing all doubt about his culpability. His decision to do so was prompted by an agreement with the district attorney’s office, in which his sentence would be reduced from the first-degree murder penalty of 25 years to life imprisonment, to the second-degree penalty of 15 years to life.

Before that, Reiser had tried to finagle the system, playing the body’s location as a trump card or bargaining chip, to be wielded only when all his other maneuvers had failed.

He first had his defense attorney William Du Bois file a motion declaring him to be “mentally incompetent” and “unable to understand the nature of the criminal proceedings or to assist counsel in the conduct of the defense in a rational manner.” Next, in a handwritten note to his trial judge, dated June 29, 2008, Hans asked that Du Bois be replaced by another lawyer, John Feury, who had been Hans’ divorce attorney. (The note can be viewed on Feury, in turn, filed a motion stating that Hans was mentally competent. Then Hans pointed the finger of guilt at his erstwhile best friend, Sean Sturgeon (who had carried on an adulterous affair with Nina), insisting that his only role was in assisting Sturgeon in burying Nina’s body. But the police gave Hans a lie detector test, which he flunked. Finally, when all else failed, Hans admitted he had strangled Nina in a heated argument, and led police to her skeletal remains buried in a 4’ x 4’ hole in a steep ravine in a regional park half a mile from his home.

Seeing Reiser’s handwritten note piqued my curiosity. I dug up a book I have on graphology [3] and consulted numerous websites on handwriting analysis. Admittedly, I am a rank amateur at this. Accordingly, in the following analysis of Hans Reiser’s handwriting, I will give reasons for each of my claims. I invite any professional grapho-analyst who is reading this to disagree, correct, or amend!

Danger Signs

Right off the bat, I wanted to see if Hans’ handwriting bears the telltale signs of someone who is seriously psychologically disturbed. In graphology, those danger signs include the following:

1. Felon’s claw: This is any letter that goes below the baseline, such as a lower-case “y”, “g”, or “z”, whose down stroke comes straight down and then veers up the left into a claw-like loop. This is someone who is underhanded and a back-stabber. It’s called the felon’s claw because it is found in the handwriting of prison inmates and the mentally unbalanced. Graphologist Andrea McNichol claims that 80% of convicted felons display this characteristic. [4]

2. Maniac “d”: A lower-case “d” whose stem falls over or collapses to the right. It indicates great pride and, more importantly, the writer’s extreme reaction to insults to his/her pride. Graphologist Bob Wallace claims that O. J. Simpson and the 1960s Zodiac killer both display this characteristic. [5]

3. Stinger: A little double-hook inside the lower-case letters “o”, “a”, “c”, or “d”. Stingers point to manipulation and often, anger at the opposite sex.

Hans’ handwriting contains none of the above signs that are characteristic of a severe mental disorder, which contradicts his defense attorney’s motion, now withdrawn, that Hans was “mentally incompetent.” Now, onto the rest of the analysis.

One of the first things that graphologists look for is the slant of the handwriting. The left represents the self, whereas the right represents others. Therefore, the degree to which handwriting slants to the right or left reveals how much the writer wants to be involved with others.

A left slant is a person who is self-interested, self–involved, skeptical of and emotionally aloof from others; whereas a right slant is empathic and open to others. An extreme right slant, however, is someone who cannot control his/her emotional expressions and is prone to hysteria. A person with vertical writing is someone who is objective and balanced, whose head rules the heart, and who assumes a neutral posture until s/he decides whether or not s/he approves of the subject matter.

Slant also shows how spontaneous one’s emotional reactions are and how receptive the writer is to external and internal events. It reveals how well a person controls his/her emotional responses after filtering them through the rational mind. Emotional equilibrium is shown in the steadiness of the slant, but a person whose writing alternately slants to the right, then to the left, is in great emotional turmoil. One website claims that whereas only 10% of the general population has a wobbly slant, as many as 70 to 80% of convicted felons have this characteristic. [6]

In Han’s case, his handwriting is consistently slightly slanted to the right, which indicates that he is expressive of his feelings (no surprise to those who observed his testimony in court) and somewhat impulsive. His heart rules more than his head. He also has some empathy for the feelings of others.

Slant can also mean slope—whether the baseline of a person’s handwriting is level, or slopes upward or downward. An upward slant is indicative of the writer’s optimism. In Hans’ case, however, his baselines slightly slope down, which suggests he is in a pessimistic frame of mind.

The next thing I looked for is the width of margins. Assuming that the pdf view is an accurate representation of Han’s actual note, his narrow left margin indicates a clinging to the past (his childhood?) and a need for security, neither of which is surprising given his murder conviction and incarceration.

A narrow or no margin at all, left or right, also indicates frugality and the writer’s strong focus on money. Indeed, during his murder trial, Hans’ concern about finances was discussed. He gave that as one of the reasons why he allegedly slept in his Honda CRX; he also accused Nina for embezzling from his software company, Namesys.

Pressure refers to the force with which one writes. In graphology, too light a touch signifies indecisiveness, while a very heavy hand may point to a domineering personality. [7] In Hans’ case, the pressure is variable, alternately heavy and light, which suggests erratic emotions and uneven depth-of-emotion.

Graphologists divide each line of writing into three areas or zones: the middle, upper and lower. The middle zone is the baseline where one finds letters with no upper or lower extensions, e.g., the lower-case “a”, “n”, “o”, “w”, etc. Other letters have extensions into the upper or lower zones, e.g., “b”, “d”, “t”, “g”, “y”, etc. Only one letter, the lower-case “f” in script form (instead of printed), extends into both the upper and lower zones.

The upper zone is the area where one finds the stems and loops of letters like “f”, “t”, “l”; the dots of “i” and “j”; and “t” bars. This area represents a person’s thoughts, interests, aspirations and spirit; some graphologists identify a well-developed upper zone as indicative of a concern for the higher truths of philosophical, spiritual, moral, or theoretical matters. Kerrie Spencer maintains that upper loops that are way out of proportion to the rest of the writing points to a person whose thoughts are not terribly rational. [8]

The lower zone is where one finds the lower strokes and loops of such lower-case letters as “g”, “p”, “y”, etc. It is where the writer expresses his/her physical vigor, material demands, and sex drive. Spencer maintains that lower extensions that are way out of proportion to the rest of the handwriting indicate a person who has urgent, repressed, inhibited, or perverse sexual fantasies.
In Hans’ case, his upper zone is well developed but not exaggerated. In contrast, his lower zone has rather short lower extensions of “g”s and “y”s. Hans’ stunted lower zone signifies a lack of determination, a sedentary disposition or lifestyle, weak physical strength or a disinterest in physicality, and a blunting of the sex drive. All of which is unsurprising for an incarcerated man who is facing the depressing prospect of perhaps a lifetime in jail.

Personal Pronoun “I”
One of the more important signs to look for in handwriting is how the capital-letter “I” is written. This is because “I” is the personal pronoun, representative of one’s self. A person who writes his/her “I” consistently in the same manner has a stable self-image and knows who s/he is, unlike someone whose “I” is changeable and inconsistent. Graphologists also regard a script-form “I” (i.e., an “I” with a looped upstroke and base-stroke) as indicative of the writer’s relationship with his/her parents.

In Hans’ case, he writes his capital “I” in a consistent manner, which means he has a good idea who he is. His capital “I”s are of a good size, but not disproportionately large, indicating a fair amount of self-esteem.

He also writes his “I” in script form with a looped upstroke and a larger cup-shaped base-stroke, which points to a strong connection to both parents. The looped upstroke signifies his connection to his mother, Beverly Palmer. But Hans begins that upper loop with an initial upstroke at the baseline, which makes his capital “I” resemble a small-letter “l”. In graphology, that initial upstroke to a letter is called a “resentment stroke,” which suggests that although Hans is close to his mother, he feels some resentment against her.

Even more interesting is the looped base-stroke of his capital “I”. Not only is it larger than the upper loop, it resembles a small-letter “c”. The cup-shaped and larger base-stroke of Hans’ capital “I” is suggestive of a stronger, more open, and nurturing (or dependent?) relationship with his father, Ramon.

Lower-case “t”
Graphologists place great importance on the lower-case “t” because how it is written reveals a great deal about the writer’s personality.

To begin with, the “t” of a direct or forthright person is simple, without an initial upstroke—the resentment stroke—at or below the baseline. In Hans’ case, some of his “t”s (as well as his “y”s) begin with an initial upstroke, which means he is not straightforward in his communication, as attested to by his rambling meandering 11-day testimony on the stand. He is also quite angry and resentful.

The fact that Hans’ “t”s (and “d”s) have high stems points to his pride. He is also persistent or obstinate, as indicated in the upstroke and downstroke of his “t”s forming a teepee or steeple.

Then there are his horizontal t-bars. They are completed (Hans is not a procrastinator), short (Hans lacks enthusiasm; his energy is only available for short spurts), either level or slanting slightly downward (pessimism), and are halfway down the stem instead of on top of or above the stem (practical goals and a lack of self-confidence).

In graphology, the presence of loops within a writer’s lower-case “a” and “o” is indicative of dishonesty, secrecy, and deception, especially when double-loops are found inside the “o” letter. The larger the inner loop, the more secrets are withheld from others. Graphologists also emphasize whether the inner loop within “o” is on the left or right side. A loop on the left side signifies self-deception.

In Hans’ case, his lower-case “a”s are clear and not retraced. However, his lower-case “o” not only is retraced in some cases, it also contains a small right loop, which is indicative of some dishonesty toward others. Moreover, secrecy is indicated in his lower-case “s” being closed instead of open. All of which is confirmed by Hans’ repeated lies in and out of court, including one instance of admitted perjury, and his keeping secret the location of Nina’s body.

Other characteristics
Here are some other of Hans’ attributes that can be gleaned from his handwriting:

* Intuition: minimal, as indicated by the fact that there are few breaks in his letters.

* Sense of humor: minimal, as indicated by a short, if any, beginning stroke on his capital or small “M” or “N”.

* Generosity: moderate, as indicated by a medium-length final on the end of his lower-case “y” and “g”.

* Sensitivity to criticism about his work: minimal or none, as indicated by his lower-case “t” not being looped.

* Some sensitivity to criticism about his person, as indicated in the stem of his lower-case “d” being looped. But even here, his sensitivity is not great because the loop is quite narrow, nor is his “d” always looped.

* Jealousy: some, as indicated by the small clockwise near-circle of the base-stroke of Hans’ capital “I”.

* Friends: a few, as indicated in the infrequent and narrow lower loops of Hans’ lower-case “y”, "g" and “j”. Hans may be protective of himself by being selective in his choice of friends.

* Hans’ squared lower-case “r”s indicate manual dexterity, as in engineering talent.

* He is not selfish, indicated by the absence of curled initial loops of his capital letters. He is somewhat generous with friends and family, as indicated by his ending his words with a small upstroke.

* He has a fairly good organizational ability, as indicated by the balanced upper and lower loops of his lower-case “f”.

* He has good attention to details, as indicated by his dotting every “i” and crossing every “t”.

* Irritability and some impatience are shown in his i-dots being flicks or short dashes instead of dots. Those i-flicks or dashes are also to the right of the i-stems, especially in the word “Reiser” of his signature, where the i-flick is so to the right that it is on top of the next letter “s”.


(1) See Henry K. Lee’s blogs on the trial for the San Francisco Chronicle,
(2) See David Kravets’ blogs on the trial for,
(3) Josh Batchelor, Handwriting Reveals You, 2003.
(5) Bob Wallace, “Page Full o’ Fun,”
(6) “10 Secrets Your Handwriting Might Reveal,”
(7) Linda Sorcie Smith, “Tips for analyzing people's handwriting,”
(8) Kerrie Spencer, “The Three Zones (Used in Handwriting Analysis,”