Monday, February 18, 2008

Spielburg Takes a Stand

Those reading the news might have seen this already. Apparently Steven Spielburg had been set to be the creative director of the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. A few days ago, however, he suddenly decided to rebuke the Chinese government for selling weapons (and buying oil) from Sudan, thus contributing to the atrocities in Darfur.

That's not a bad stand to take. Good for you, Steve! But I'm not sure if Darfur would have topped my list of offenses when it comes to the Chinese government. Their support of the Myanmar junta that recently cracked down on peacefully protesting Buddhist monks; their restrained punishment of corrupt party officials responsible for abducting and enslaving children; or their recent law making unregulated reincarnation a crime (poor Dalai Lama); or their support of Robert Mugabe, under whom Zimbabwe has all but crumbled; or even their inexplicable inability to curb the rampant piracy of Spielburg's (and everyone else's) movies... all these would also seem justifiable excuses to abdicate one's role in the Beijing propaganda-fest coming this summer. But, oddly, Spielburg chose Darfur... the one issue on which Beijing has given ground. Recently, the Chinese have been using their considerable influence with the Sudanese regime to give more support for AU and UN missions in Darfur. So I'd have to wonder if it isn't counterproductive to rub Beijing's nose in that particular shit, especially when there is so much other shit hitting the fans, the side-walks, and the noisome toilets of the People's Republic of China.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Response

I just registered (re-registered, actually) with the Democrats Abroad organization ( as part of my preparations to vote absentee in the presidential election come November.

I was scrolling through the comments on the Asia Pacific forum group on that website when I came across a couple postings probably planted by Clinton operatives. I certainly don't begrudge genuine supporters of Hillary--I think she's an intelligent, capable, experienced, and divisive public figure--the chance to vent their feelings as Obama gains momentum, but these postings just struck a negative chord with me. One from a Democrat, and one from an 'Independent', both said pretty much the same thing: The US isn't ready for a black president; Hillary is the only chance to defeat McCain come November; don't worry, we'll give Obama a nice cabinet position... perhaps somewhere behind the marmalade.

I'm reposting those two posts...

"February 4th, 2008

Hi and greetings from Dongguan. I just voted online and it was so easy. I watched the debates a few days ago and am glad that Obama and Clinton are playing nicer. I strongly believe that they will both be in the next administration either as President and VP, or a member of the cabinet. So who do I vote for?

Well, I like both, but honestly if it were Obama against McCain I don't think Obama can win. I think most people who embraced the "change thing" during the primaries will get cold feet. Sadly, I believe that too many will question whether they should vote for a black candidate. Putting color aside, I think people will question the experience side of things whether Obama has the experience, and when compared to McCain we have to admit the answer is No!

So I think we should support Hillary as the best opportunity to beat the Republicans in November. She has experience, and the fact that she is a woman will help in the new administration. Further, I do think that having Bill around the White House again can't be all that bad, just keep him away from the interns.

I am confident (and hope) that she will have Barak involved in her cabinet in some way, shape or form whether it be VP, or perhaps in a more affective post.

So that is my opinion and hope we can shake things up!"

(As a side note, how would being a woman help in the new administration? All things being equal--and if I read my constitution correctly, women and men are equal--neither Hillary Clinton being a woman nor her husband being a man should be considered to have anything to do with how well either govern!)

"I registered as an independent when I became a citizen last May. This year I wanted to participate in the Democratic primary election and voted just before I left California for Shanghai. I think the Democratic primary is becoming a farce, and the whole election is falling into the Republican's traps. While I hold no bias toward a black president, I have to admit that deep in people's mind they still think it is premature to have a black president now. The republicans will have so many cards to play. Just like the last election, they will moblize all those most religious and conservative people to vote. For me, if Hillary can't win, then I will vote for McCain. The Democratic party really stinks!!!"

(If he really thinks the Democratic party stinks, why is the fellow considering voting for Hillary? Is she any less a Democrat than Obama?)

...and my (overly long) reply:

May I ask, when do you feel the time for a black president will be? If now, eight years into the 21st century, isn't the time when could it ever be? I ask that question as a young, white, liberal but independent voter from Michigan (now in Chongqing). Honestly, this is the kind of crypto-racism I expect to hear from Republicans, not on a Democrat forum.

That "change thing" as you call it has filled my generation with enthusiasm for the democratic process, and thus caused a great surge in turnout from a demographic that tends to support the Democrats. That demographic has also been long written off as increasingly cynical and unenthusiastic about both politicians and the election of them.

So let me ask: What's the point of voting, if you don't want to see a change? And who wouldn't want serious change after the gross incompetence of the past eight years? The mandate for change gave the Democrats control of both houses in the midterm elections, and the mandate for change is partly why the fundamentalist vote is going to stay at home and cry into their oatmeal this year instead of voting. The only case where I expect the 'change' vote to get cold feet, is if establishment figures, partisan snipers, and "culture warriors" are the only candidates they have to choose from.

These enthusiastic new voters, comprising mostly liberal and moderate progressives (even luring some from the conservative fold), have flocked to Obama to a great degree they haven't to Hillary. Why? In my mind, it's not that she isn't a good person, or an experienced politician. I like the Clintons just fine--even shook hands with Bill, once--but unfortunately for Hillary, her very experience is what will be held against her, as not a true break with the past, or a chance for reconciliation and dynamism in our politics. If you're out here in China, I think you might have an idea why the US needs to pull together right now. It is time to ready ourselves for a century to come where the US will no longer be the lone alpha dog at the head of the pack. A divided country will prove easy pickings for the new and improving Chinese empire, and unfortunately Hillary has become a very divisive figure indeed.

As for the fundamentalists, they're a nice contrast in opposites to the Obamaniac youth movement. Despondent and disillusioned by Bush's perfidy and incompetence, they probably won't be visiting the voting booths in droves this year. Certainly they won't if Hillary isn't a candidate to vote against (needless to say, they hate her with a passion), and certainly not if the 'rogue' Republican, McCain, is their only conservative-ish option. I wouldn't worry about them too much.

To return to the 'race card', I think my father put it nicely to me in an email: as we speak, a more racist generation passes away into eternal sleep. Certainly there are plenty of racists still at large, and some of them are young. But a credible bid for the white house by a multi-racial candidate with support from Democrats, Independents, and even some Republicans, is just what we need to make history of that kind of thinking. That's just my opinion, and it seems to have been the opinion of quite a few people of all colors, including some very white Iowans.

Let us just remember, though, that no matter who is chosen for the duty of president--Obama, McCain, or Hillary--they are likely to be a whole lot better than the incompetence they will replace. I've always been excited about voting, and never more so now that I'm living in a country where the democratic process is outlawed!

Well, that's my two cents. Perhaps I'll post a longer, more complete essay on why I support Obama over Clinton later on.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How to Evade the Censors

Just so you know, this posting is a bit of an experiment. If the experiment worked out alright, you may be asking yourself, "What experiment?" My response would be the title of the post.

You see, I'm pretty angry that I had to abandon my previous, three year old, blog to the LiveJournal wilderness. I had already liked to curse the Chinese censors to hell, but afterwards I imagined special assignations for them, such as "grotto where the rabid, genital-gnawing Chinchillas live", or "the lagoon of the polluted, putrid quicksand".

The beauty of my current blog, however, was that although the Chinese censors had already found and blocked the content webpage (blogspot), they hadn't blocked the uploading page (blogger). Perhaps this concept was more than their fragile brain-gunk could handle. I've certainly always hoped so.

Imagine my horror, when the uploading page began not to work. I certainly do not look forward to moving my blog yet again! The first move was plenty enough.

But this blog contains within it yet another secret weapon. One which I'm choosing to test today. If today's blog posting works alright, then perhaps I'll never have to fear China's impotent censors ever again!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The 'New' New Year

Jon, Cherry, and I spent the past couple days in her hometown of Beibei, sharing the Chinese New Year's celebrations.

For those who don't already know, the Chinese have traditionally kept a lunar (rather than solar) calendar, and celebrate the beginning of spring as the start of the new year. This celebration usually takes place sometime around February, but the dates vary from year to year on the international solar calendar. This year's Spring Festival marks the beginning of the Year of the Rat.

Spring Festival is a crazy time in China, marked by one of the greatest temporary migrations of creatures on the planet, comparable to lemmings and locust swarms. A combined several billion trips by train, bus, plane, bicycle, donkey, etc, in order for most Chinese to make it back to their hometowns and extended families in time for the Spring festival are expected.

This year has been particularly difficult for China, as unusually cold weather has stranded millions of migrant workers (ironically, many of them working in Santa's toy factories in Guangdong province) on the wrong end of the railroad. The Chinese government, fearful of the wrath that proletarians without holidays are capable of, have gone on a massive public relations drive to assuage the damage.

This year's CCTV Spring Festival Gala featured many not-so-veiled references to president Hu Jintao's so-called "Harmonious China" doctrine. Don't ask me what Harmonious China is actually supposed to be, other than a China that doesn't challenge Party orthodoxy or the right of government officials to drive the latest BMWs and Hummers. I handled that question in a previous post, quite possibly on my previous blog before local censors made accessing it nigh impossible. The CCTV propaganda Gala also featured a bus skit billed on the English-language channel as being somehow related to the changing attitudes of Chinese towards environmental protection and energy conservation, as well as one heart-warming song dedicated to migrant workers and another repudiating the winter's harsh chill.

In any case, my friends and I were able to make the forty-minute journey to our holiday destination with little or no trouble, despite weather and masses. Once there, we were (as always) bowled over by warm hospitality and perfect generosity. I spent some time questioning Ye Ye (grandpa, namely Cherry's paternal grandpa) about his family's history, while Nai Nai (grandma) and Ba Ba (father) prepared a sumptuous feast composed almost entirely of meat. Yes, no SDA dancing around phony baloney this holiday season--quite fine by me. Chou Chou, the dog whose name not inappropriately translates as 'Ugly Ugly' (but cute ugly, not nasty ugly) certainly desired to join the festivities. I stole a page out of my Dad's book when dealing with the canine... oops! A variety of comic skits and variety show 'numbers' played on the TV in background to the slurping of delicious foods.

Then at the stroke of midnight, the true explosive magic of the holiday revealed itself to us! Try and imagine yourself in this scene:

A barrage of gunfire seems to erupt from outside, coming from all sectors of the city. Booms and crashes and sounds that one--inexperienced in warfare as I am--might associate with rocket launchers are so loud and so constant that you might begin to wonder whether warfare auditory analogies are appropriate at all: perhaps a meteorite shower striking the stratosphere above, or a sudden deluge of biblical proportions fit the bill better! Had we been, on the stroke of midnight, magically transported to 1990's Bosnia? Have the peasants finally seen fit to overthrow their pseudo-socialist overlords?

Venturing outside--cowering, in fact--I can see Cherry's uncle throwing poor Chou Chou up in the air, while handling a long firework that shoots forth flame every couple seconds, variously deflecting off the neighbors porch, caroming off the tree, bouncing across the street a few times, or launching up over the roofs. Serious 'fourth of July' fireworks are being launched from the street corners all around us, as strings of firecrackers explode with flashes that sear the eyes and deafen the ears. Cherry, Jon, and myself are getting into the spirit of things: dancing with bunches of sizzle sticks in our hands, rather than cowering away from this boundless, cackling energy that suffuses and explodes in the air all around us. Nai Nai wanders out into the chaos to ask if we want anything more to eat. Gunpowder smoke is thick everywhere, further illuminating every flash, crackle, and boom throughout the city. A little boy across the street is holding his sizzle stick with utmost suspicion--which is very well, given the number of fingers and toes likely to go missing this very night--first holding it against a concrete telephone pole, and then throwing it into a puddle. His mother is instructively making twirling motions at him as he does so.

Yes, Chinese New Year's Eve in China is not really like the Fourth of July (the medium sized city of Beibei, population 600,000 put on a show more impressive if less choreographed than any I've ever seen) or International New Years elsewhere. I believe it's the fact that semi-oppressed masses of a billion or more are given fairly free access to any manner of explosive device purporting to be a firework and let loose upon the countryside. The result is much like war, but more patriotic and with relatively less casualties. The fact of matter is also that the Chinese people, despite many grim ghosts of past, present, and future to contend with, have quite a lot to celebrate.

1) Mao is dead (and barring a zombie plague, or armageddon, is likely to stay that way).
2) Deng Xiaoping was allowed to introduce capitalism into a socialist society.
3) Chinese international political and economic clout is growing every year along with double digit increases in the size of its domestic economy. US political and economic clout, by contrast, is stagnating.
4) Despite limitations of censorship, China has access to the internet and thus nearly limitless potential for instant messaging, digital romance, World of Warcraft, and porn.
5) It doesn't matter that the vast majority of Chinese are likely to remain in poverty, as long as they have the perception that they have the possibility of upward mobility. This is an underrated foundation of democracy often overlooked by progressive advocates when rating China's cuddliness factor.
6) Children receive hongbao (bribes, er... gift money) at Spring Festival. Along with the fireworks and permission to watch the variety show on national TV rather than doing homework, what is there not to love?

So, as blasts of fire rapped across the evening sky, even I felt a bit moved and a bit hopeful for a China that is allowed to demonstrate honest exuberance in such an explosive fashion*.

*Note: I exclude East Turkestan/Xinjiang, and Tibet from this statement. Residents of those Chinese protectorates are likely to continue to live a bewildered existence caught between the benefits of state subsidy, and the culture-clash inflicted by waves of imperialist bureaucrats and businessmen from the east.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Islamofascism, a misnomer?

The odd conjunction of these two words--one a religious identity, and another a totalitarian, radical-nationalist, one-party governmental philosophy--seems to have dramatically increased in recent years, and it doesn't take a dedicated researcher to figure out that the term 'Islamofascism' is being promoted by Western right-wingers in order to frame a variety of political debates.

I can make some assumptions as to why conservative hawks find the term useful. Firstly, it tries to make connections between our current 'war on terror' and only seemingly untainted war effort of modern times, WWII. The advantages are rather obvious: comparing the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan, and numerous minor offensives, to a war often seen as a grand conflict between 'good and evil', sainted for ending the genocide of Jews and Gypsies and murders of gays, deified in various novels and Hollywood blockbusters. If you make a comparison between our current predicament and the moral ambiguities of the Cold War--of blanketing Vietnamese countryside with napalm and Agent Orange, of bolstering actual fascist dictators in places like Nicaragua, Pakistan, Indonesia as long as they fought the commies for us--a conservative is likely to find no such high ground with which to excuse the methods of our anti-terrorist struggle. In his 'Axis of Evil' speech, Dubya was clearly trying to steer our metaphorical definitions of his conflict past the Cold War and back to our black and white memories of WWII. Iraq, Iran, and North Korea... two Eurasian and one East Asian nation served up on a plate, anyone?

But where to find this so-called Islamo-fascism? The presence of Islamic theocratic influence within a country, including the oft-mentioned Shariah law-system, does not necessarily mean that we can confine that country's government within this term, 'Islamo-fascism'. Do we consider the (single party, single religion, opaque voting procedures) Vatican to be a Christian Fascist state?

So let us look at a case by case basis:

One of my Republican friends once tried to convince me that the war in Iraq was justified in order to end Saddam's rule. That is perhaps the only justification that I do accept for that invasion, in fact, but my friend was not satisfied that I just accept Saddam as a despot... he also claimed ties between the Nazis and the Baathists. Again we see this obsession the Neo-cons have with trying to connect WWII and the present. Saddam, however, certainly was a fascist by most definitions, including one-party rule by Baathists who persecuted the (conservative, religious) Shiite majority and conducted a genocidal 'Arabisation' campaign against the Kurdish northern regions. Saddam was also a secular authority, and certainly not looking to share power with imams or allow shariah (rather than himself) to dictate laws. No Islamofascist to be found there... only an ordinary, garden-variety fascist along the lines of Mussolini or Mugabe. If anything, by toppling the secular dictator, the US may have all but assured a democratically-elected theocracy in Iraq's future.

Speaking of Iraq's future prospects, how should we term Hamas, the victor of democratic elections in the Palestinian territories? Islamist, they certainly are, but for the moment the Fatah party (currently-beloved of Israel and the West) is equally culpable in what has become more of a cold civil war. Also, if reports are to be believed, the Palestinians elected Hamas not so much for its radical 'foreign' policies, but for its practical and uncorrupt management of domestic services. It seems unlikely that the Palestinians would give Hamas a mandate to form a fascist movement, despite the dire problems that beset Palestinian nationalism. Israel could always aid the process of a fascist formation, of course, by imposing economic sanctions on the Palestinian state.

How about Syria? Fascist, but secular. Libya? Fascist, suposedly reforming, opposed by the Islamic radicals. Egypt? Fascist, secular. Democratic reforms, if instituted, are likely to benefit Islamic radicals just as in Palestine. Turkiye? Power is divied between a secular/fascist military establishment and a democratically elected, mildly-islamic party. The Central Asian republics are a variety of fascist states, and the Persian gulf is a string of monarchies. Those monarchies, emirates, and Pakistan--US supported--are perhaps as close as any to being 'islamofascist' states.

Iran might almost fit the bill, but as I mentioned earlier, I think there's a distinction between a theocracy and a fascist state. Certainly the theocracy of the Ayatollahs weighs in on the semi-democratic processes, a system where only give-and-take between moderate-conservatives, and arch-conservatives is allowed (quite similar to what Bush had in mind for America, it seems).

The fact is that fascism, totalitarian states of one sort or another (Venezuela is an example of a socialist sort of fascism, Robert Mugabe is an example of a nominally-democratic one) exist all over this world. Undeveloped countries are particularly susceptible: for lack of competing power bases such as free media, established centers of learning, private corporations, and religious establishments, and also because there has been no history of a powerful and free-thinking local role-models for citizens of those countries to draw on, various manners of imperial and colonial governments did their best to discourage democratic development.

So why should we worry about this 'Islamofascism'? Iran is hardly the worst human-rights offender in the world, despite the (impeachable) Mr. Ahmadinejad. Myself, I'm far more worried about the spread of plain, old, garden-variety fascism, of the sort that both Russia and China have managed to hold on to. The Russo-Chinese brand is fast catching on a role-model for countries from Central Asia to Central America, namely because it isn't Muslim, and thus isn't thrust as much into the limelight. Venezuela, Myanmar, and Zimbabwe are all just offshoots of the model, and for as long as the Russo-Chinese model can prove economically successful, the West is going to have much less success in promoting democratic government and liberal freedoms abroad. At the very least, the West needs a better PR/Marketing team than the last White House provided.