Friday, August 29, 2008

Comparisons in Political Slander

I was just reading an article in which Fox News (who else?) was exploring the tie between a designer used for something or other by Britney Spears, and now as set designer for Obama.

... Oh, what trite bullshit!

Honestly, the Republicans must be pretty hard up for Obama criticism, if this is the best that they can do. What, are we in high school, making fun of each other's homecoming parade floats? The tie to a designer used by Britney is really a stretch. People who have the funds to do so (which Obama does, and McCain doesn't) will make use of the best designers and consultants... period.

I didn't mind McCain, and once had some respect for the old codger who stood up to his party on a number of issues... until he sold himself out to his party's right wing extremists. Now he's just making himself look silly with the "celebrity" line of attack. Republicans often tout Reagan as their greatest president (at least of the Republican party in its modern sense), but the man was quite literally a celebrity of the Hollywood variety. The only presidents lacking 'celebrity appeal' (such as Bush the Elder or Gore) were somewhat less than successful in their search for executive powers.

Speaking of Gore, you certainly can't accuse Republicans of consistency. They accused that learned candidate of being too boring and lacking in charisma, but now they're essentially accusing Obama of the opposite, being too exciting and too charismatic.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Moving to Nanjing!

As of our last conversation, it seemed that I would be joining a magazine just opening in Chongqing. Unfortunately I won't be taking up that job offer, for a variety of reasons including under-investment and reluctance by those people in charge to pay a fair wage (they wanted me to manage the magazine's new branches in both Chongqing and Chengdu--a city four hours away by train from here--for about half what I'd been making as an English training school manager). In any case, I managed to get about three months experience with that business, as well as a digital copy of our proposed first magazine issue mostly comprised of my own photography and articles. I should be able to use that in my portfolio of work experience, I imagine, and leverage a similar sort of job later on.

In lieu, then, of staying in Chongqing to work on this magazine, I've taken a job as an English instructor at the Nanjing College of Information Technology. I've always wanted to try my hand at teaching college students, and now I'll get a chance to see how I like it. I recall that one of my classmates in high school insisted that I carried with me the ambiance of an English professor... well, I guess I now am one, sort of.

Nanjing is a lovely city. Maybe some of you read my descriptions of it two years ago in my older blog. Shortly after I arrived in China for the first time I visited that city of long history, grand universities, and beauteous gardens. I thought then, and still think now, that I'd enjoy living there for a time. I'll be sending another update along soon, as well as more detailed information about Nanjing.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Politically Correct Massacre

As a writer, I feel quite comfortable with the vagaries of language--all the little assumptions (often incorrect) that slowly grow up around the words, some ancient, some young, which we use in everyday parlance. We will probably always seek advantage in our choice of words: as economists tend to do when they label subsidies they support as 'incentives', and subsidies they don't support as 'behavior distorting'. We also often feel a need to be sensitive in how we vent steam from our mouths.

But there is also a need to examine when sensitivity gives way to senseless timidity.

Namely, there are times when genocide should be called genocide, and not 'ethnic cleansing'. I mean, is there not something sick in our apparent zest to equate historical horrors such as the Holocaust with ablution and cleanliness? The word was clearly developed by the very mass murderers we like to abhor in international headlines, so then what use is there in adopting their terminology (and thus their thought process and explanation for such acts).

Being politically a liberal progressive, I always viewed 'political correctness' with sympathy. But lately, as I look at the words picked up and promulgated by news reports and disseminated and ingested by the populace, I really have to look askance on our constant need to sanitize language.

Never mind the fact that as a writer, I also see no reason why words rich that are voluptuous in their accretion of powerful meaning should be replaced with the vapid, clean products of political testing for least amount of offensive potential. Words can and sometimes should have the vim to break bones, and we shouldn't rob them of that.

Why, for recent example, should we pretend that the Caucasus is an apparently spic-and-span place according to our depiction of cleansing there (the ethnic or racial variety) that has a noble history going back to Roman times. The ancient denizens of that land, then called Alans, Khazars, Circassians, etc, and now called Ingushetians, Chechens, Georgians, Ossetians, et al, have been trying to wipe each other from the face of the planet in between the more economically rewarding activity of raiding the Silk Road caravans. Should we assume that the planet will be a more hygienic place with this inflamed quilt of ethnicities 'wiped' clear?

It is bad enough that the Ossetian and Georgian grand ma-ma's are busy these days burying the festering remains of sons and husbands in their unfinished basements to avoid the roving bands of 'cleansers' outside. It is worse to suggest that the gathering clouds of flies and ancient recriminations are somehow clean.

Quote of the day: "If you speak of cultural melting pots to the Caucasians, they'll melt you!"

(The quote is attributable to S. Hakan Kirimli, Ph.D., professor of a class on the history of the Caucasus at Bilkent University in Ankara,Turkey; Justin, please correct me if I mangled that quote in any way.)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Guide to the Opening Ceremony

-I thought the presentations on Chinese culture were wonderfully done. Allusions to the Communist Party were kept to a minimum, and past/future achievements of science, culture, and artistry were brought to the fore. Particularly, I enjoyed the performance of the Confucian disciples, dressed in grey robes and adorned with feathered tee-pee headdresses. The corresponding demonstration of a printing press showed the evolution of the Chinese character 'He', which means something like 'peace'. Granted, the whole proceedings, including a lavish display of fireworks, was underwritten by the governing CCP, so I suppose they can afford to minimize self-congratulation along with the many controversial episodes of Chinese history tied to their rule.

-'Da Shan', a popular foreigner who speaks fluent Mandarin, works for the government-owned media conglomerate, CCTV, and adorns various advertising campaigns, joined his fellow Canadian Olympians as they marched into the stadium. I suppose that this means the tongue contortions necessary to speak proper Chinese counts as an Olympic sport?

-I was surprised to see the Taiwan delegation show up. I wonder what manner of diplomatic fast talk resulted in the rather odd title bestowed on them, "Chinese Taipei" (Taipei is the main city), or their interesting banner?

-Speaking of delegations, I think some applause is in order for the delegations from Iraq (who narrowly avoided being kept from attending), Afghanistan, Sudan, and Palestine. I read that the Palestinian athletes had little or no resources, and little access to even sub-par training centers, so their arrival (along with delegations from those other war-torn nations) is a minor miracle. Ditto on the Sudanese.

-I'm sure, on the other hand, that the Chinese won't know what to make of the Georgians. It appears that this warlike Caucasian republic has initiated a small war with the Russians and their proxies, the breakaway republic of South Ossetia... during the Olympics!

-Fireworks in the shape of footprints, quite inventive. I suppose we'll all be looking over our shoulders in trepidation at the invisible giant this is supposed to represent. I also rather liked the initial fireworks, which created a shape and color much like the Chinese national flower, the peony.

-The American Olympians were headed by an athlete originally from Darfur. Thus far none of the Chinese I've talked to have picked up on this subtle slight, although one of my students did ask who the guy was.

-The many delegations of the nations of the earth marched into the stadium, demonstrating one pragmatic fact as they did: The Olympics is about money and prestige. Authoritarian countries, and overly-wealthy ones continue to dominate, at least in terms of numbers of athletes they send. How else to explain the imbalance between the rather small delegations fielded by India and Indonesia (second and fourth most populous countries in the world, I believe) when compared to large delegations by tiny, wealthy European countries such as the Netherlands? And although China and India are comparable in economic status, economic growth, and population, China's delegation could far surpass India's only because China's government is accountable to no one--thus able to afford intensive cradle-to-retirement athletic programs designed to increase its number of competitors in the sports that offer the highest number of gold medals--whereas India government is almost over-accountable and certainly too fractured and indecisive to support such efforts. Rich democracies such as America have ample private and (relatively small, when comparing percentage of GDP and tax revenues) public funds for this athletic prestige project, and poor democracies can barely support a token delegation.

-I wanted to eat a Chinese dish called xihongshi chaojidan (fried tomatoes and eggs) in honor of the controversial design choices for the costumes of the Chinese delegation, but had to settle for some nice homemade pasta instead. The red, at least, was still represented, if not the bright gold.

-A note on China's flagbearer and accompaniment: Yao Ming is an NBA giant. I'm not really a fan, as his basketball skills seem to come from the 'Shaq' school of thought. The little boy is perhaps more notable. He was apparently somehow involved in rescuing people in the recent Sichuan earthquakes.

-My students were unanimous in their criticism of the Olympic theme song, 'You and Me' (Chinese: Wo he Ni, lit: I and You). They thought that it was too slow and too soft to make a proper Olympic song. I have to agree--although I admit to having a bias against saccharine pop music duets which this seems to take its style from. The song was not rousing at all and would probably put a caffeinated chimp to sleep.

-All in all the event as pulled off well. I think we can attribute the talents of Chinese director, Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern; Hero; House of Flying Daggers). His zest for bright, almost surreal coloring was certainly evident. We can also attribute the apparently bottomless pockets of the CCP. I doubt that any following Olympics host will dare appropriate as much money as they have to put on such a 'coming-out' party. I also doubt that any Olympic host will have such broad powers to shut down local traffic, factories, bars, clubs, street food vendors, etc. Although I'm not there myself (and happily so), I can well imagine that Beijing is currently enduring a kind of half-life, or undeath, until the Olympics are safely completed.

I'm also cautiously optimistic that there won't be a major incident of whatever kind during the midst of the Olympics. But in China, you never know. Despite rigid state control, chaos is still just a breath away.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Rain Washes Away All Sins

Tonight, on the eve of the long-awaited Beijing 2008 Olympics, grand thunderstorms blanket the uplifted teeth of the city, and rain washes down their soot-stained flanks. Here in Chongqing we are far to the south and west of Beijing, center of tomorrow's festivities, and I am thankful for that. The hoopla that city will undergo for the next few weeks is their fun and their sorrow. I can enjoy it vicariously through the TV, the new articles I read, and the enjoyment or frustrations of my students.

I look out over the darkened city, silvery gusts of rain descending like curtains along the street below my window. People, like beetles, scurry before its wrath. I wonder if this is a natural storm, or if the scientists have seeded the clouds over China with silver iodide to cause this sudden downpour. The officials of the CCP had threatened to do as much, funded experimentation recently into such technologies for weather modification, just in case nature decided to rebuke their attempts at a "most perfect" Olympics. A rainstorm over a Chinese city has the decidedly wonderful affect of clearing the skies over the cityscape of pollution for several days. I've seen this often, here in Chongqing. The day after a thunderstorm usually showing unusually blue, clear skies. Then day after day the smog gradually returns to rule its dominion.

Recent reports of humid, smoggy days settling in over Beijing may well have prompted such actions.

Will a fresh, new day dawn over Beijing tomorrow? Or will darker events ensue. Stay tuned....

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Note to the Announcers...

...of various American news agencies. I think it's high time that professionals such as yourselves learned the proper way to say the name of the city where the Olympics will be held this month.

It is no more correct to pronounce Beijing with a soft, French, J than it is to pronounce Michigan with a hard, British, CH.

Now, follow me: the first part, 'Bei' is said with a tone that first falls and then rises like the sharp curve of a V; the second part, 'Jing' uses a hard J and is spoken with a high, flat, unchanging tone.

Now then. I do hope that saves us all a bit of embarrassment. The American public famously only learns the proper pronunciation of foreign place names after our troops have invaded those same places, and I think we'd all prefer this geographical education to happen without the accompaniment of bomb blasts and bullet ricochets.