Thursday, July 31

Janny Scott, Specialty Foods: Strong in Weak Economy shows how New Yorkers are more cosmopolitain than most Americans. Of course, it's a huge market.
Eun-Kyung Kim, Pentagon: China Gearing for Taiwan Attack
Defense officials said China was emphasizing a "surprise, deception and shock" doctrine in its campaign against Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.

Tuesday, July 29

The real logic of the war always had to do with cleaning up the aftermath of OPEC and switching the economies of the Middle-East to a different developmental path.


Once the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries gained control over oil prices in the early 1970s, with the complicity of the Nixon Administration, subsequent US administrations had little choice but to side with one well-financed Middle-East regime against another for twenty years. The Iran-Iraq War was one result. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was another. Escalating terrorism was directed at Israel throughout.


Deposing Saddam Hussein�s government should be viewed as the taking-down of a dictator of America�s making � rather like the capture and jailing Manuel Noriega in Panama in 1990. Quite apart from benefits that the Bush Administration hopes will be conferred on civil society in Iraq, the pay-off already has been better Israeli-Palestinian relations. The next task is to jump-start some Palestinian growth � and to that end Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas was in Washington meeting with President Bush last week.
From economicprincipals.com.
I know the Chinese can sometimes show some pretty gory images; I don't know about the Middle East, but as L.T. Smash writes
Some people have criticized the decision to release photos of the late Uday and Qusay Hussein to the media. They complain that it is insensitive to Arab culture to display the dead in such a manner. (Have they ever seen al Jazeera?)
Most of the major media reports I found about the pics of the dead dictator's sons cited the same "Egyptian scholar" who told Al Jazeera television that displaying the bodies publicly violated Islamic law, but in the Nov. 18, 2001 issue of the New York Times Magazine, Fouad Ajami wrote
Al-Jazeera is not subtle television....Al-Jazeera loves grisly footage and is never shy about presenting graphic imagery.
And that's not the only evidence of grisly pics. Of course, there's a lot of hypocrisy here: back on March 23, 2003, Andrew Sullivan wrote of the pictures of dead Americans
The pictures on al Jazeera are Danny Pearl revisited. Cowardly, evil, depraved: and the fact that al Jazeera is broadcasting them shows exactly how unhinged the enemy has become.

Monday, July 28

I nearly don't feel like linking to What Chinese character are you?, because like most of those quizzes, it's a lot of crap, plus this one has some errors, like the one at Tim B. Liar Lies, where I found it.
Trying to figure out just what "subaltern" meant, I ran across the phrase "white men saving brown women from brown men", and I wanted to know if there was a China dimension for this (footbinding, etc.), so I googled "white men saving brown women from brown men" china. Google asks, did you mean: "white men shaving brown women from brown men" china. What a pervert. Anyway, I ran across this comment by John Hudock at Commonsense & Wonder about just how dangerous it is for the soldiers serving in Iraq.
We saw the eminently forgettable Tin Men (1987). That made a splash when it came out, but it doesn't speak to me. It was better than The Summer House (1993), which had some inexplicable stuff going on. That was alright, but something missing. Maybe I'll read the book by Alice Thomas Ellis. I actually preferred the made-for-TV Dead Gorgeous (2002), even though it was pretty predicatable (there's got to be a new expression for the surprise ending that's no surprise), and the title doesn't make a lot of sense. This was based on Peter Lovesey's novel On the Edge, which I think I will read. Maybe I should also read Strangers on a Train, which it imitates.

Wednesday, July 23

In the 4/21/2003 New Republic, Jasper Becker writes "Sudden Impact"
In Beijing's mind, the Iraq war shows Powell wasn't bluffing. Diplomats in Beijing say China now believes it has only a brief window to prevent an Iraq-like war from exploding near its borders and thus has drawn closer to the U.S. position...According to diplomats in Beijing, China has even begun considering how to push Kim Jong Il from power. Diplomats say some Chinese officials have privately started arguing that it would be better for Beijing to undertake actions that help remove Kim and install a new government in the North committed to economic reform and regional stability, which would benefit China. Some also feel it would be better for China, rather than the United States, to oust Kim so as not to extend U.S. influence in China's backyard.
In the 6/23/2003 edn., it's "Mussolini Redux", where he convincingly argues that the CCP is turning fascist, presenting several factors, including
To teach average Chinese that China is a waking power that has often been abused by outsiders, the CCP organizes frequent mass events, such as the garden ceremony and giant pageants attended by hundreds of thousands, as well as other propaganda. And, just as the press under Mussolini played up foreigners' invasions and humiliations of Italy, endless articles in China's state-controlled press remind the Chinese of the West's dominance of Chinese politics and economics before World War II and of Japan's invasion of China in the '30s. In so doing, the party instills a permanent resentment of foreigners, even though far more Chinese have been killed by the CCP than by the United States, Japan, and Great Britain....[The CCP] could become increasingly tempted to use its military strength to demonstrate national glory, as Mussolini did by invading Ethiopia in 1935. The CCP and the army are completely intertwined--Jiang is the head of the military--and China's rhetoric is often so vehemently irredentist that a demonstration of military strength, perhaps by invading Taiwan, seems all too possible. The propaganda machine is constantly engaged in an effort to elevate the military's prestige and glorify its victories and contributions to national unity.
(emphasis mine).

Tuesday, July 22

Judy Skatssoon's Religion 'could offer model for delusion'
Studying the mechanisms of religious belief could lead to a better understanding of what goes on in the minds of people with psychiatric delusions.

An international conference in Sydney this week will hear that some religious beliefs - including that a virgin gave birth to the son of God - qualify as delusions.
(via Improved Clinch--although he apparently disagrees.)
Robert Fulford's Humanities scholars spend lots of time reading, so why can't they write? cites some pomo-babble gems:
We can see a socio-sexual parallel between the geography of the wilderness and the topographies of narrative in this genre, which organizes a particular spatial itinerary and social anatomy.

It is the moment of non-construction, disclosing the absentation of actuality from the concept in part through its invitation to emphasize, in reading, the helplessness -- rather than the will to power -- of its fall into conceptuality.

Changing a brand of vodka
carries a metaphorical chain of deterritorialized signifiers, repackaged up and down a paradigmatic axis of associations.
He claims this, too, shall pass.
David Weddle has a superb article: Lights, Camera, Action. Marxism, Semiotics, Narratology. Film school isn't what it used to be, one father discovers. I usually don't seem to agree with Roger Ebert, but it's hard to argue with this:
Film theory has nothing to do with film. Students presumably hope to find out something about film, and all they will find out is an occult and arcane language designed only for the purpose of excluding those who have not mastered it and giving academic rewards to those who have. No one with any literacy, taste or intelligence would want to teach these courses, so the bona fide definition of people teaching them are people who are incapable of teaching anything else.
Unfortunately, an awful lot of literary "scholarship" is like this. (via Arts & Letters Daily).
Klaus Toepfer, the head of the U.N. Environment Program, argues that China's plans to quadruple their GDP threatens the consumption habits of the developed nations, or "so-called developed countries", as these Guardian reporters call them. But as the Washington Times argues,
the sort of developmental stasis envisioned by Mr. Toepfer is the last thing that the environment can truly sustain...The debate comes down to a fundamental disagreement in perspective: Mr. Toepfer and those with like minds see the size of the world's pie of resources as static, reduced each time any entity (individual or state) takes a slice. Conservationists are in many ways far more progressive. They expect that tomorrow's innovation will make taller pie (and so allow for greater environmental protection) from today's trash as it has innumerable times in the past.
They mention Michael Shermer's The Ignoble Savage: Science reveals humanity's heart of darkness, who explains that "Ignoble savages were nasty to one another as well as to their environments."
Propaganda works!


Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo criticizes the PRC's disinformation campaign against the people of Hong Kong and their demonstrations against article 23. He blames the disinformation for attitudes like this, which he finds on the xinlang BBS:
1. The national interest takes precedence over individual rights.
2. Social stability takes precedence over the protection of freedom.
3. Economic recovery takes precedence over political demands.
4. "One country" takes precedence over "two systems".
5. Criticism of the people of Hong Kong for their selfishness and ingratitude.
6. Criticism of Hong Kong's special status and the privileged consciousness of Hong Kong's people.
7. Accusations that the people of Hong Kong are being used by a small group of "hostile elements" and foreign anti-Chinese forces.
8. Without the mainland motherland, Hong Kong has no future.

Others go so far as to say things like, "If you don't support China's security, then get the hell out of China's jurisdiction!" or "It's time for liberating Hong Kong immediately and implementing 'one country one system'."

Original article here (in Chinese).
A NYT editorial favoring free trade. The story shows Americans using a trade-war trick perfected by the Europeans and so-called "antidumping" rules against Vietnamese catfish and
how wealthy countries that preach the gospel of free trade when it comes to finding markets for their manufactured goods can become wildly protectionist when their farmers face competition. The fate of Vietnam's catfish offers a warning to poorer nations short on leverage in the world trading system: beware of what may happen if you actually succeed at playing by the big boys' rules.
Just as I was wondering if the war in Iraq is worth paying the price of American lives lost, not to mention the amount of money it's costing, I read Peter Finn's A Lone Woman Testifies To Iraq's Order of Terror. Don't things like this make it worth it?
Ethan Frome & Through a Glass Darkly spoilers.


After Through a Glass Darkly, we saw Ethan Frome (1993), which was watchable, but had a lot of things that weren't done well, so I read the original Willa Cather story. The movie didn't explain very well why the protagonist Ethan got married to his wife Zeena, older than he was, and it didn't portray her as nasty as the original. It fails to explain the relations between Zeena and Mattie after what the movie portrays as an accident that leaves Ethan crippled, although in the story it's a suicide attempt. Finally, most egregiously for me, although the story is set in the early 1900's, Mattie and Ethan actually have sex in the movie, although this does not happen in the story. Ironically, Cather herself did have an affair while she was married to an older man, so maybe it's not that egregious. (I didn't mention I thought the incest in Through a Glass Darkly was a little much. Maybe that's a Bergman thing.)

Sunday, July 20

I wrote what I thought was a clever letter to a classmate of mine once, and she dismissed my "gloomy riddles". Now I feel a lot of Bergman is gloomy riddles, but I liked Through a Glass Darkly (1962), even though my wife lost patience with it. A couple of things I'd like to remember. The schizophrenic's distant father tells her, "We draw a magic circle and shut out everything that doesn't agree with our secret games. Each time life breaks the circle, the games turn grey and ridiculous. Then we draw a new circle and build a new defense." Also the grim humor of the fact that it's the schizophrenic who sees God, who turns out to be a spider with "terrible, stony face". Ha-ha. But the ending after that was less appealing for those of us who find the idea of a God unbelievable--or unendurable.
Would it really be such a bad thing for the U.S. to Go Back to U.N. for Iraq Mandate?
Paul Saunders, director of the Nixon Center, a nonpartisan research organization whose honorary chairman is Henry A. Kissinger...said there were two reasons for the United States to go back to the United Nations.


"It would be helpful to diffuse responsibility for this massive undertaking, and share any dissatisfaction with others and not be the sole target ourselves," he said. "Externally, it's also helpful in rebuilding some of the relationships that were strained in the dispute over going in."
The problem is not just that some policy makers "would consider it humiliating", but
administration officials worry that United Nations participation might force them to cede operational control over Iraq, even as the United States continues to pay most of the cost.
Still, I hope we can work out some compromise, even though I have misgivings about a lot of UN behavior.
DAVID W. CHEN writes about Hu Jintao on Hong Kong's proposed subversion law:
Hong Kong, he said, "must carry out" some version of the security law.

"I'm sure that after conscientious, broad consultations, the proposed law will win the universal understanding, support and acceptance of the broad masses of Hong Kong compatriots," he said.
And the reports tell us that the people of Hong Kong like this guy?
David Cho: Not Just Anybody's Raw Fish Rolls--Area Japanese Chefs Say Others' Sushi Loses in Translation. One Japanese chef comments:
sushi is going to be international. . . . It's like pasta or pizza: It's not Italian anymore, which is good and a little bit sad
It's not like Chinese food in the US is authentic, either.
The War After the War
Anne Hull and Tamara Jones on wounded servicemen.
Molly Moore writes A Foe That Collapsed From Within--Former Iraqi Officers Say Internal Divisions, Ineptitude Ensured Defeat
The rapid disintegration was largely preordained, Iraqis said. The Iraqi military was composed of disparate and competing armies with no central command authority, top generals inexplicably ordered some units not to fight, and security precautions left officers unable to communicate or to coordinate battle plans, according to interviews with more than two dozen former general officers and other field commanders serving in the regular army and special military units....


The army, with assistance from specialists, designed a cannon with a barrel 210 millimeters -- more than eight inches -- in diameter, a weapon so cumbersome that Joubouri and the other specialists knew it could not work. Still, Joubouri helped build a full-scale model and drafted fake performance records to convince the president that the project was progressing.


"No one could tell him it couldn't work," said Joubouri, who said he was still working on the cannon when he left the army six months ago. "He was giving us awards and presents."...
Army officers lied about their fighting ability.
They were afraid of telling the president the truth: Their aircraft, tanks and other weaponry were far too old and decrepit to take on U.S. forces.


"We knew there was no way to fight the Americans," he said. "We knew we'd lose the war."

Another officer says,
We expected all the Arab countries to stand against Bush and stop the war."
Oops.

Saturday, July 19

This week and last we've seen A Man of No Importance and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, both from 1994, and both about "the love that dare not speak its name," although in the case of the latter, they fairly scream the name. Our univ. library certainly loves the gay movies. Looking over the reviews on MRQE.com, I see most of the reviewers agree with me. The movies are OK, but not wonderful. Certainly a lot more watchable than a lot of art films. A couple of embarrassing things about Priscilla: I finally recognized Hugo Weaving after half an hour (we've seen both Matrices, but none of the Lords of the Rings. So sue me.) But only after checking the internet did I realize we'd seen Guy Pearce in both Memento (2000) and L.A. Confidential (1997; didn't he look a little gay in the latter?). Both of which we liked, so you'd think we'd remember. And I'd seen Terence Stamp in Modesty Blaise (1966) and Histoires extraordinaires (1968; the "Toby Dammit" segment I remember liking, although Fellini is generally beyond me) when they first came out. How old am I, eh? (Note to self: see if I can find The Limey, which sounded sort of interesting.) And finally, Guy Pearce/Adam on the top of the Priscilla bus. Didn't Titanic steal that scene? Or maybe it's a natural idea for these arty types. Michael Gambon, from A Man of No Importance looked familiar; we'd seen him in Nicholas Renton's Wives and Daughters 1999 miniseries. It was good.
Julian Sanchez on cost-benefit analysis. Is he reading my blog?

Wednesday, July 16

Is Organic Food Provably Better? We can tell what the author of this article hopes. When she cites Alex Avery, a critic of the studies she discusses, she identifies him as someone "who frequently disputes claims for the positive health benefits of organic farming" and later someone "whose organization has received financing from Monsanto, DowElanco and the Ag-Chem Equipment Company, which are involved in conventional agriculture and biotechnology". Fair enough.

But she identifies Charles Benbrook as "former executive director of the Board on Agriculture at the National Academy of Sciences, who is a consultant on the impact of agricultural systems and technology on food safety and the environment". He's co-author of a study comparing pesticide residues on organic and conventional foods, which has come to the conclusion that "lower pesticide levels translate into lower risk of cancer and other health effects for consumers who eat organic food, particularly children." And he has argued, albeit somewhat persuasively to me, against biotech foods. Not that he's a crank by any means, but he does have an ax to grind. So even if his support for the research is nuanced, it's worth mentioning more about his background.

Similarly,
Dr. John Reganold, a professor of soil science at Washington State University, who has conducted research with organic farming systems systems, described the Italian study as good, and said the results were valid.
Here's a report on an organic research project of his. And note that that project was funded by the Organic Farming Research Foundation, which promotes organic farming.

Finally, she concludes the article by quoting Marion Nestle:
I don't think there is any question that as more research is done, it is going to become increasingly apparent that organic food is healthier.
It's disheartening to see a scientist who thinks she knows the answer even before anyone has done the research!

On the other hand, people you'd think would be less objective are fairly reasonable. The executive director of the Organic Trade Association, which is looking to finance research on organic food says,
We want to take the knowledge to the next level until there is a solid body of research that we can stand behind
and a researcher of one of the studies cited says
We acknowledge it's very preliminary data.
Damn straight.
Prince Roy's upset with a Taiwanese woman who insists on speaking English with him.


My Chinese is nearly native and my wife's from Taiwan, but the Taiwanese husband of one of her classmates who has immigrated to California with her insists on speaking English not only to me but also to my wife. And his English isn't all that good (he confuses liver & kidney, for instance). We can't figure out what's going on in his mind--is he trying to be as American as possible?

It reminds me of our Chinese friends who insist on speaking their poorly accented, ungrammatical English with their children, or worse, a mixture of their mediocre English with the occasional Chinese word thrown in. I'm guessing it's because they want their kids to fit into American society. However, most children are whizzes at picking up a new language, and I believe that they'd be better off if their parents would insist that they speak Chinese at home. When the children grow up, I suspect many of the parents are going to have increasing trouble communicating more complex ideas to their children.

Ironically, a large proportion of students taking Chinese at American universities are these second-generation Chinese, many of whom didn't learn the language very well at home when they could have.
KEITH BRADSHER: In Wake of Protests, Security Chief in Hong Kong Resigns
Mr. Tung's decision to accept Mrs. Ip's resignation is striking not just because it inevitably gives the appearance that Beijing is yielding to public pressure, but also because of Mr. Tung's refusal over the past year to accept the resignations of other senior officials, including that of Mr. Leung.

Ip, ip, ooray!

Unless they decide to send in the tanks, now. I think the Chicoms have been caught flat-footed, and haven't come to a consensus on how to handle the problem.

Tuesday, July 15

In Beijing backs Tung, prepares for worst, Ching Cheong writes on China's "ad hoc leading group on Hong Kong", which includes Lieutenant-General Xiong Guangkai, deputy head of General Staff of the People's Liberation Army:
Lt-Gen Xiong is to work on the worst case scenario - when the PLA's garrison force in Hong Kong has to be called in. The latter three represent the hard approach.


As a last resort, the group is also looking at the possibility of invoking Articles 14 and 18 of the Basic Law, the SAR's mini-Constitution, to allow Beijing's intervention.


Article 14 says: 'The Government of the Hong Kong SAR may, when necessary, ask the Central People's Government for assistance from the garrison in the maintenance of public order.'


Article 18 states that when the Chinese Parliament decides the SAR is in a state of emergency endangering national unity or security and beyond the SAR government's control, central government can apply relevant national laws in Hong Kong.


The source explained: 'Although the current situation does not warrant such a drastic measure, the central government is not taking the demonstration lightly.'

It doesn't warrant such a drastic measure, eh? That's nice. And Lt.-Gen. Xiong Guangkai isn't such a bad guy. OK, he reportedly made an implied Chinese threat to "nuke" Los Angeles if Washington were to intervene in the Taiwan Strait missile crisis. And he ran domestic and foreign rackets, including liquor smuggling, and he's a blowhard who boasted about his chances to be elected to the full Central Committee, and enjoys a well-documented lack of respect in the Chinese military and an
infamous reputation in the United States as a latter-day cross between General Curtis LeMay, Lavrenty Beria, and Fu Manchu
Some claim that his
secret police identified and targeted student leaders in the massacre at Tiananmen Square
but consider the source. Anyway, even if it's true, he was only following orders, right?
Goddam internet. Now I've got to find out what the thing is about Fu Manchu (see above). Here's Sax Rohmer's "classic description"
Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government--which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence. Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.
And here's a chronology which claims that in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, "The Devil Doctor is clearly Fu Manchu".
ugh. When I read the line
Neo-liberal propaganda has orchestrated the public to blame its misfortune not on globalized market fundamentalism and US dollar hegemony
I started skimming; when I got to this:
Communists also treasure democracy.
I just stopped reading. The psychology is not unlike that of the American far left, which isn't galvanized by victims, but by victimizers, as Peter Beinart writes (link via Glenn Reynolds, whose reader Dennis Hollingsworth also has an important point).


Francesco Sisci's The trouble with Tung is more nuanced. Speaking of Glenn Reynolds, he wrote,
DICTATOR SUCK-UP WATCH (FoxNews subsection): A search of the FoxNews.com website still shows no stories on the massive Hong Kong protests.

Philip P. Pan's Hong Kong's Summer of Discontent says,
"Hong Kong is a small community of 7 million at the edge of the Chinese empire, but because it behaves differently, it is a catalyst for change," said Christine Loh, a former Hong Kong legislator who runs a group that promotes civil society here. "This is not to say Hong Kong will cause a revolution in China or push things very quickly, but the bigger system clearly has not overwhelmed the smaller one.


"Instead, we're seeing two different ideas about what society should be like, and when you talk about a tussle of ideas, size doesn't matter much. We all know ideas can start small and go a long way, and the Hong Kong idea, while dominant in only a small part of China, represents the dominant idea in the global community."...


"Hong Kong people protested" against the internal security bill "not just to protect themselves, but also because it would have limited activities that push forward democratic change in China," said Han Dongfang, an exiled labor activist in Hong Kong who broadcasts a radio show into the mainland on U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia.


But Han and other activists said it was unlikely the demonstrations in Hong Kong would spark similar protests across the mainland.


Participants in the July 1 Hong Kong demonstrations were primarily college-educated members of the middle class, and were united in their grievances. In a survey conducted by Hong Kong University, more than 90 percent of those polled opposed the anti-subversion bill and expressed disappointment with the Hong Kong government, while 80 percent called on Tung to step down.


By contrast, an urban middle class is only beginning to emerge in China, and while discontent with the party is widespread, Chinese society is more fragmented, with impoverished farmers making different demands of the government than laid-off workers, for example.


Han said people in China are angrier and more frustrated with the government than people in Hong Kong, but they are unable to stage large-scale demonstrations because the media cannot report protests and the police are quick to arrest organizers.


"The environment created by the state is the key difference," Han said. "In China, there is a lot of fear. . . . In Hong Kong, it's completely different."
So what's the solution for the Communists? I hope they don't decide to create "a lot of fear" in Hong Kong, too.

Monday, July 14

Bob the Angry Flower, via Sasha Volokh.
I sowed my (tiny) Gloxinia (Sinningia speciosa) seeds yesterday. They're supposed to germinate in 30 days. We'll see.

Update
Hmm, it's a good thing stereolabrat doesn't know about this. I have, incidentally, a half dozen "flourishing" African violets in my office window.

Friday, July 11

I'm flummoxed by those rap hand gestures. I found this from The Blue Brick, Hand Gestures Ruling Rap:
So what is it about a rapper�s contorted hands that draw us to them? Psychologist Timothy Ovitz has been studying the phenomenon. �The only thing that I can come up with to account for the power of these ridiculous gestures and posing is the astronomical drop in the intelligence of our youth�, offers Ovitz. His studies involve playing rap songs of very poor quality to a group of teenagers, and having them write down their opinion of the song. Then, the same song is played, but the image of a rapper displaying various hand gestures is shown during the song. Again, the teen� opinions are documented. The results are staggering, says Ovitz. �First, the subjects hate the song. Then, after seeing a rapper doing something as inane as curling their fingers, as if they were tightly gripping a grapefruit, and moving their hands and arms up and down, they suddenly love the damn (rap song)�.
Then there's this one.

I should not mention that in the same breath as hastas and mudras.
A picture worth a thousand words? (also via Dean's World.)
Autopsy Report Blog used to be here, now it's here, where I get the message that it's exceeded its daily bandwidth. (via Dean's World).
L.T. SMASH writes:
If we gave in to the snivelers and peaceniks who cry, �Bring our troops home now!� Iraq would undoubtedly descend into a bloody civil war, and God only knows who would come out on top. Saddam might even emerge from hiding, claiming to have driven the �infidels� out of his country. The United States would have suffered another black eye, and our enemies would be further emboldened to attack us again. We would have lost the war, and all of the brave Americans and British who gave their lives in this operation would have died in vain.
I had my doubts about the war because of I was afraid the American people wouldn't have the stomach for the long term. I hope I'm wrong. Link via Dean's World, who also suggests reading this. Me, I like the one showing the bureacratic mind at work:
Someone in this strange land has the job of opening every box of Heinz 57 Sauce, removing each individual bottle, crossing out the word �pork,� and returning it to the box.
Sniff! It makes me proud!

Although maybe the administration doesn't know what it's doing; Sgt Stryker says,
My personal feeling is that there's no beef to this reconstruction. I see a plan emphasizing the appearance of strength and action, yet little else. It's as if they're waiting for something to happen. What that something is, I don't know, but they seem to be waiting for it. The dog and pony show is fine at the outset, yet at some point you really have to begin delivering on the things you promised the natives, else they will start paying attention to the man behind the curtain. Once that happens, the mist of authority and credibility will evaporate quite quickly and you'll find yourself in an undesirable and messy situation.

Thursday, July 10

Notice the difference?
Anne Applebaum's review of Robert Harvey's Comrades: the Rise and Fall of World Communism says,
To be successful, he contends, communist revolutions had to combine at least four critical ingredients. They had to offer a quasi-religious creed, powerful enough to replace indigenous religions. They had to take place in newly industrialised, newly mobile societies. They had to take place at a time of popular discontent. Finally, they had to be flexible enough to absorb old nationalist and feudalist authoritarian traditions into a synthesis that seemed both new and familiar to a given society.

Like fascism, Harvey argues, communism was a reaction to economic modernisation, and to the globalisation of capitalism that began in earnest at the beginning of the 20th century. Invariably, communism succeeded wherever there was a large population of recently displaced peasants, who had been yanked out of their traditional villages, and thrust into a bewildering and apparently valueless industrial world. Communist ideology thrived on the sense of disorientation that people experienced when deprived of older belief systems. At least for a time, it successfully explained the world to people who found it inexplicable.
Hmm, Islam seems to work the same way for many people.
John Ray posts Wayne Lusvardi's review of Amy Chua's World on Fire, but I'll link to this version:
Substitute such terms as "bourgeoise" for Chua's "market dominant minority," "the proletariat" for Chua's "the poor," "control over the mode of production" for "market dominance," "ethnic conflict" for the "Jewish Question," and "backlash" for "dialectical conflict" and you have a new lexicon of Marxism. It would be totally unfair to label Chua as a Marxist communist or revolutionist. But her diagnosis (or shall we say "dialectic") is nearly identical. With the impeccable credentials of Chua one can only wonder how she wrote a book paralleling Marxist diagnostics so closely without even once citing Marx in her book?
Better than what I mentioned earlier.
ERIK ECKHOLM's Hong Kong Bombshell for Beijing
As it seeks to contain the fallout from a political fiasco in its cherished "special administrative region" of Hong Kong, the Chinese government has been uncharacteristically tongue-tied...

"This has been a big shock for China's leaders," said Chu Shulong, a political scientist at Qinghua University here. "They think China has done a lot for Hong Kong, but now they see that even after all these years a lot of the people don't like Tung, don't like the Hong Kong government and don't like the government in Beijing."...

One reason for this official silence is that Chinese leaders are anxious to sustain the notion that Hong Kong, since its formal return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, enjoys autonomy over its internal affairs.

The Chinese are having special difficulty articulating a policy now, political experts say, because the events have challenged some of their most hallowed political tenets.

The return of Hong Kong to the motherland is regarded here as one of the great national victories of the modern era; that its residents will thrive and be contented under the promised "one country, two systems" formula is repeated on the mainland as an article of faith.

But the angry debate over the proposed security laws has exposed the inherent weakness of the formula: what happens when vital interests, as perceived in Beijing and Hong Kong, conflict? No one pretends that in a crunch, Beijing's needs would not prevail.

If the anti-Tung movement gains enough force, Beijing's leaders may face an unpleasant choice between allowing a mass movement to usurp their plans for Hong Kong, or pulling strings on the island far more openly than they want to.

"One country, two systems" is also the principle under which China is pursuing its overriding foreign policy objective, the return of Taiwan to mainland sovereignty.

Though Beijing has offered Taiwan even greater autonomy than it gave Hong Kong, people on Taiwan have always been deeply suspicious of how union with the mainland would affect their self-rule. That skepticism has only been strengthened by the current conflict in Hong Kong and the specter of a popular uprising against a leader seen as too solicitous of Beijing...

Asked whether Beijing's support of Mr. Tung had been shaken by his clear lack of popularity, Mr. Kong said only that it would be inappropriate for the Foreign Ministry to comment on Hong Kong's internal affairs.

Funniest thing I've seen in a long time. I had earlier wondered about what the return of Hong Kong to the "motherland" would do for the Chinese. It's turning out to be a poison pill, isn't it?

Wednesday, July 9

China Stands Up
Reoriented links to one in a series of articles by Joan Maltese about what it's like to work for China Central Television's English-language news service. Good stuff, even if it's from the hair-raising newsmax.
One thing management has provided is a mission: to make our employer, the central government, look good.

That�s why �Your first window on China� always affords a sunny view. When a British tourist was murdered near the Great Wall, CCTV-9 knew nothing about it...

When an enterprising intern who also worked as a translator and interpreter wanted to do an expos� on China�s woefully unsupervised translation and interpretation business, she was told to forget it. "Why would you want foreigners to know about this problem?" demanded those in charge. The irony seems lost on them that this method of making China look good is simply exposing the country as a joke...

The overall message driven in week after week is that because we are broadcasting to foreigners, there is only so much propaganda we can get away with. Therefore, we should discuss certain of China�s problems and, crucially, show that China is handling them just fine.

That�s how a mass poisoning case in Nanjing turns out to be all about the party�s conscientiousness. "Authorities are doing all they can,� we lead, �to save the food-poison victims."...

The story does not reveal that 42 people died.
And as she writes, the "news" the Chinese get is even more tightly controlled. If you don't believe it, see what Reoriented wrote earlier about the mainland reporting of the Article 23 debacle:
In almost every instance, Article 23 is portrayed as essential for China's security...
(edited for spelling). So it's not quite as easy for mainlanders to be influenced as some Westerners suggest. Oh, and here's another version of Joan's remarks.

Monday, July 7

I don't think much of demonstrations in democracies; maybe that's because of their recent agenda here. But the demonstrations in Hong Kong, leading to Tung Chee-hwa's climbdown look like something huge to me. As if it'll mean much for Hong Kong in the long term, much less China. But one can hope.

I don't see why this isn't a bigger story; I guess now I know how people who are interested in African news feel. Here's a little more by Philip P. Pan:
As residents of this gleaming port city in southern China awoke this morning, the news spread quickly: Though they cannot elect their chief executive, or even a majority of their lawmakers, they had forced the government to back down simply by marching through the streets.
and A Lin Neumann got it before the climbdown:
If China forces the legislation now, it stands a substantial chance of being defeated without the Liberal Party's votes. If the legislation is materially altered, opened to real public debate and delayed as critics want, it will be a triumph for the democracy of the streets. All this in China. Imagine that.
Yep, it's "a triumph for the democracy of the streets".

Update
Jonathan Watts writes The marchers make democracy work - and throw Hong Kong into crisis
Tung Chee-hwa, was forced into a humiliating u-turn on security legislation demanded by Beijing.

The chief executive, who was hand-picked by communist party bosses to steer Hong Kong after the transfer from British rule, undermined his authority and embarrassed his superiors on the mainland by announcing that he would delay an anti-subversion law in the face of an overwhelming display of people power and the loss of a key ally.

The climbdown marks a victory for the 500,000 residents who took to the streets last week in the biggest demonstration in the territory since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests - and challenges the communist party to show whether it has changed since the murderous crackdown that followed.

Having misread the mood in Hong Kong, Beijing is now obliged to consider whether to prop up or replace Mr Tung, a choice that represents the toughest challenge yet to the "one-nation, two-systems" arrangement under which the territory is granted more freedoms and democracy than the mainland....

"This a big test for Beijing. If it wants to show the world that one country, two systems can work, then it must use a light hand. There is a lot of prestige involved. The stakes are very high."...

There is no precedent for a leader to step down mid-term. The Basic Law states vaguely that a chief executive should resign for "ill health or other reasons," but it would be embarrassing for leaders in Beijing to replace Mr Tung, whom they have supported publicly. As recently as last week, the new prime minister, Wen Jiabao, stood side by side with the chief executive in trying to reassure the territory that it had nothing to fear from the anti-subversion laws....

Hong Kong puts the [Communist] party in an unexpected bind. For the past six years, its assumption has been that the territory's seven million residents are more interested in making money than pursuing democracy. But the sudden surge of activism could set a precedent that threatens its own authority on the mainland.

Any crackdown, however, would endanger foreign investment, slowing the giant economic steps taken by China over the past 10 years. It would also ruin Beijing's hopes of wooing Taiwan with a similar "one-nation, two-systems" promise....
That's via the gweilodiaries, as is Frank Ching's analysis:
The current crisis in Hong Kong, precipitated by the government's gross mishandling of anti-subversion legislation, highlights a key feature of China's "one country, two systems" policy: When the central government interferes in the special administrative region's internal affairs, it creates an artificial environment that results in political imbalance.
Meanwhile Philip P. Pan says,
pro-Beijing politicians called on Tung to respond to the outpouring of public anger by improving the city's ailing economy, firing members of his cabinet and stepping down as chief executive, if necessary. The Hong Kong people want a better, more effective government, they said, but not necessarily a democratically elected one.
He concludes,
Democracy advocates have often talked about Hong Kong serving as a model for the rest of China, while Chinese officials have repeatedly expressed concerns about activists using the city as a base for "subversive activities" on the mainland. It was that fear that drove the central government's push for the security bill in the first place.
It looks like it'll end in tears for the pro-democracy advocates.
James W. Ceaser has A genealogy of anti-Americanism, which criticizes "the European intellectual class" for this invention that spread to pre-World War II Japan, Latin American and African countries, and the Arab world as well.
Recent accounts of the intellectual origins of contemporary radical Islamic movements have demonstrated that their views of the West and America by no means derive exclusively from indigenous sources, but have been largely drawn from various currents of Western philosophy. Western thought is at least in part responsible for the innumerable fatwahs and the countless jihads that have been pronounced against the West. What has been attributed to a "clash of civilizations" has sometimes been no more than a facet of internecine intellectual warfare, conducted with the assistance of mercenary forces recruited from other cultures. It is vitally important that we understand the complex intellectual lineage behind anti-Americanism. Our aim should be to undo the damage it has wrought, while not using it as an excuse to shield this country from all criticism.
In fact, I think some of his analysis is typically over-reaching intellectual bullshit, but he's nonetheless generally convincing. (via Arts & Letters Daily)
Christopher Orlet on popular culture; as he points out, that's a misnomer, but he doesn't stick by any of the labels he thinks up. He divides popular entertainment into "low" (lacking in good taste, or vulgar and boorish), and "high", with which he feels most at home. "High culture" is totally different; it
allows us to "become all we are capable of being; expanding, if possible, to our full growth, which is the law of culture," to bring in Thomas Carlyle
But as he suggests, it demands considerable investment, and it's not something he's going to enjoy 100% of the time. Finally, he blames the USA, which I've got to say is pretty spot-on:
If the U.S. seems backward culturally, it is small wonder. Its democratic leaders give very little weight to high culture; even in its colleges and universities there is little encouragement "to know the best that has been said and thought in the world," as schools have generally moved from educating young men and women to job training. What pittance the government doles out to support the arts often goes to low mass institutions and other forms of popular entertainment, since that is what the majority of voters long for.

There is, I suspect, an undeniable pleasure, a rank smugness in being in the high mass minority, just as I suppose those in the high brow minority are doubly smug. Smugness, to my mind, is a greatly under-rated amusement. If one must be continually annoyed by pop culture - and I see no alternative to this in the near future - one may as well get some pleasure out it.
(via Butterflies and Wheels)
More on irony

JULIAN BARNES reviews Michel Houellebecq's The Elementary Particles, and mentions this kind of irony:
Flaubertian irony whereby anticipation and remembrance...often prove more vivid and reliable than the moment itself.
Nice review, by the way. (via Arts & Letters Daily)

Zoe Williams writes The final irony, which I didn't actually find all that helpful. (via Butterflies and Wheels)
With reference to Friedrich's Find and Replace exercise:
Communism was responsible for between 85 million and 100 million deaths in the century. In France, both sales and controversy were fueled, as Martin Malia notes in the foreword, by editor Courtois's specific comparison of communism's "class genocide" with Nazism's "race genocide."
Mentioned in various reviews of The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terrors, and Repression. Anyway, it's still OK to be prejudiced against the wealthy, because most of us would like their money.
I guess I'm a philistine. Even if some find Tystnaden (The Silence; 1963) "immensely powerful, and among the most disturbing of Bergman's works", or "one of his most perfectly realized efforts" portraying "the oppressive atmosphere of a world that becomes more and more incomprehensible", I just found it boring, like BOSLEY CROWTHER:
Mr. Bergman has not given us enough to draw on, to find the underlying meaning or emotional satisfaction in this film....the whole thing is rather tame, mystifying, and morbid.

Sunday, July 6

We saw Maedchen in Uniform (1931), which apparently means "Girls in Uniform". Not bad. I take exception to the insistence that this is necessarily a lesbian film; I see it as more anti-authoritarian, although the play it was based on (and the original incident) was certainly lesbian. However, the emphasis in the movie is not so lesbian. In a clash with the headmistress, the teacher the students have crushes on says, "What you call sin, I call the great spirit of love, which takes a thousand forms". Hertha Thiele, the charming actress who plays the protagonist, says of that line here,
I think that says it all. What it says is that it can be the beginning of lesbian love, it can also be the love of children, but in any case it's love. I think the sentence either makes or breaks the film. However, I really don't want to make a great deal of... or account for a film about lesbianism here. That's far from my mind, because the whole thing of course is also a revolt against the cruel Prussian education system.
While some commentators give Leontine Sagan credit for the movie, Thiele also says that Carl Froelich's technical role (he's credited with "artistic supervision" in many versions) was extremely important, and that she had trouble working with Leontine Sagan, who:
really didn't have the approach I needed - Sagan could have reduced me to tears really quickly. She had a callous attitude towards people, and at that time I couldn't cope with that at all....a great actress, a very intelligent, very competent woman....she didn't understand anything at all about film....It was really Carl Froelich, Walter Supper, Franz Weihmayr and Masolle, who did the sound, who brought about the film.

Friday, July 4

Just finished Bresson's 1969 Une femme douce. As Don Druker says, it's infused with Bresson's "characteristic technical severity and his persistent refusal to offer interpretations. Contemplative and not for all tastes...." Dominique Sanda's 1st major role; pretty tender-looking, if not exactly what I'd call douce. The acting was a little artificial, but I liked it. Not unlike his 1983 L'Argent, which we saw not long ago. Earlier today we tried to watch Bunuel's El Angel exterminador (1962). As one Limonov writes,
the movie is primarily Bunuel's impression of "high society" parties that seem to go on forever (as he stated himself in several interviews).
Unfortunately, the movie seems to go on forever, too.

We've also seen Polanski's execrable Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), which wanted to be funny, but was just dumb. And Jim Jarmusch's (1991) Night on Earth, which was alright. Rosie Perez cracked my wife up; Roberto Benigni was as all too usual a little much, but his crudity was funny. And Winona Ryder miscast, I'm sorry to say. And Picture Bride (1994). Quite forgettable, I'm sorry to say. We'd seen it a few years ago, but had to watch the entire thing to remember the ending. (I don't what to get all politically correct, but how come Tamlyn Tomita's character on JAG has an Italian surname?) And finally, on the plane, we saw How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, which was pretty bad. Kate Hudson has a pretty smile, but she can't act.
Friedrich at 2blowhards conducts an interesting Find and Replace exercise:
Gays -> wealthy people
Sexual -> economic
Homosexual -> rich
Texas sodomy law -> national progressive income tax
Having sex -> making money and not paying extortionate taxes on it
Same-sex marriage -> flat tax
this relationship -> economic activity
homes -> businesses
gay -> rich
lesbian -> rich
oral or anal sex -> making money and not paying extortionate taxes on it
same-sex couples -> rich people
heterosexuals -> middle-income people

Thursday, July 3

Drowning pools:
Some cities and states have been filling in the deep ends of their pools, and new pools are less likely to have deep water.

The old-style "drowning pools" won't be missed, said aquatics expert Tom Griffiths.

"Pools found out people were breaking their necks, so they took out the boards, but then they were left with a drowning pool," with children sinking in the deep end, said Griffiths, director of aquatics at Penn State University.

The new all-shallow pools are usually no deeper than 5 feet, can accommodate more people and are seen as more appealing to families. Often they include water slides, spray toys and gradual, beach-like approaches that let people walk into the water. They are often irregularly shaped, because their design is no longer dictated by the need for lanes for serious swimmers.
Hey! I don't know if it's serious, but I swim a mile 5 days a week. And look at the SWIMMER'S GUIDE. I'm not the only lap swimmer.

Wednesday, July 2

This trend of iced shaken refreshments owes a lot to Taiwanese beverages. But I don't see any zhenzhu naicha. Too bad. According to Starbuck's chairman, Starbucks's edge
is the customization of each beverage and the preparation ritual that will go along with preparing it.

"We've encouraged the baristas to have fun with it," Mr. Schultz said. "I don't think they're going to be doing that Tom Cruise move from 'Cocktail,' but we've just encouraged them to have fun."
What a tool. Like the poor counter people don't have enough to do with a long line of customers. And as a customer, I wouldn't want to wait while they shook their little shaker. (Not that I patronize their shop. It's too expensive. And the only two times I ever had Starbucks coffee, it didn't taste like espresso, just ordinary drip/filter coffee, and our local provider of cappucino produces the same disappointing stuff. I guess Americans don't like the taste of real espresso.) Anyway, even little stalls on the street on Taiwan have long since installed machines to do the shaking.

Tuesday, July 1

JOSEPH KAHN writes, Analysts See Tension Among China's Leaders
Mr. Jiang seemed to challenge one of Mr. Hu's most important decisions in late May when he invited Zhang Wenkang, the former health minister who was fired for mishandling SARS, to a private meeting in Beijing, several party officials said

The meeting, which was not publicized, rattled some supporters of Mr. Hu who felt that Mr. Zhang had correctly been held responsible for lying about the spread of SARS in March and early April...

The sensitivity of the jockeying was intensified when four party elders wrote to Mr. Jiang and the party's central leadership urging that Mr. Jiang resign as military chief to allow Mr. Hu to consolidate power.

The letter, described by two party officials with ties to the four retired leaders, may have had the effect of redoubling efforts by Mr. Jiang and his supporters to keep Mr. Hu in check, those people said...

In April Mr. Zhang, a military doctor who had been picked as health minister by Mr. Jiang, became a prominent symbol of Mr. Hu's willingness to hold officials accountable for mistakes. Few people questioned that Mr. Zhang had covered up the spread of SARS, contributing to its rapid spread and forcing an embarrassing about-face for party leaders.

In inviting Mr. Zhang to meet with him, Mr. Jiang signaled that he intended to defend his supporters and that he disapproved of Mr. Hu's handling of SARS, party officials said.

His intervention would appear to explain the erratic way that Gao Qiang, a deputy health minister who became the main spokesman for SARS policy, described the political fallout of the disease during separate televised news conferences.

In mid-April, Mr. Gao announced the dismissal of Mr. Zhang and another senior official and condemned their mistakes. Then in late May, shortly after Mr. Jiang was said to have met with Mr. Zhang, Mr. Gao reversed himself and strongly defended Mr. Zhang. At a third news conference in mid-June, Mr. Gao reverted to his original line, saying Mr. Zhang had made serious errors that justified his firing...
None of which is really news, but I wanted to make a note of it.
Lileks on The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Let me be blunt: the idea that �Invasion� is a Cold War allegory is bunkum. Perhaps some thing �Invasion� is allegorical because it�s so damned straightforward, so clear, so lean. You can read anything into it.
That's the thing about the arts: people, particularly intellectuals, love to read stuff into them. Like my colleagues who see evidence of various modern Western leftist "subversive" thinking in classical Chinese literature. Feh.

Update It's like those remarks about High Noon.
Colin L. Powell says (of a Palestinian state), "You can't have people with guns, armed militias, inside of a state." Meanwhile, we're disarming the Iraqis. What next? Red-blooded Americans? Although here's an irony via Pejman Yousefzadeh: GAIL SCHILLER writes, 3 Dead, 3 Hurt in Calif. Grocery Attack
IRVINE, Calif. - Police shot and killed a sword-wielding man described by relatives as schizophrenic after he slashed and killed two former co-workers and wounded three other people at a supermarket where he used to bag groceries.

About 40 to 50 shoppers ran from the store shortly after 9:30 a.m. Sunday as police went in to subdue Joseph Hunter Parker, who was armed with a samurai-style sword and wearing a beret and trenchcoat, said police Cmdr. Jeff Noble.
You'll have to pry my samurai sword from my cold, dead, hands. And rip my trenchcoat off my back. But no, rumors to the contrary, I don't wear a beret.
Dogbert says, "Never be afraid to tell the truth about yourself...because no one pays any attention to what you say."