Archive for December, 2008

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Watching China Grow

The Western China-related blogosphere sometimes seems to be split down the middle – pandahuggers and pandabashers. (Actually, I think it is a bit unfair to equate the Pandas and China in its current shape. Imaginative Chinese people make take offense from that because they think of themselves as self-strenghtening and rising while Pandas are kind of decadent, and the Pandas could take offense because they are nice.)

To me, China is no amiable country. I like many of its “small traditions”, including an attitude that makes many informal gatherings easy, happy, and comfortable (I like Chinese-style parties much more than Western-style parties), I like staying there from time to time, but I don’t like the big picture. I do wish China democracy and I do wish its people individual determination or self-determination, because I believe that’s what men and women are here for, but that doesn’t mean I’m sure that democracy will make China a force for good. I can think of the Communist Party as an organization that fuels nationalism because nationalism is useful to maintain its monopoly on power. I can also think of China’s leaders and elites as people who are sometimes afraid of that fuel. The Party controls the country to an extent few other political parties anywhere else do, but they also seem to be driven by the people’s nationalism. Even if they wanted to take a more relaxed approach towards Taiwan, I doubt they could afford to do that. The Communist party isn’t accountable to Chinese individuals, but it is accountable to the people whenever they turn into a mob.

Therefore I think it isn’t fun to watch China grow, but it is fascinating. It makes no sense to discuss if one should be happy about the existence of a country in the condition China is in - China is here, it is what it is, and it will make choices with good or bad impacts on itself and on the global landscape. Meantime, we have to make our own choices. If you ask a Cuban if he wishes America wouldn’t exist, you’d either get rather simple answers (either way), or he would ask you if you need to see a doctor – which would be a pretty adequate reaction. If you ask me if I’m glad that there is a country like America, I’d say that I count myself lucky that it is there, and so should all Europeans. (Looking at WW2 in the Pacific, China should count itself lucky, too.)

We should be aware that “opening up” wasn’t a Chinese heart’s desire in the 1970s. It was arguably the only way out from the calamities created in the decades before that. In the 1980s, a saying in official Chinese papers was that the world (this referred to the Western world in the first place, I guess) was invited to make contributions to China’s development. Any further contribution now is a contribution not only to China’s development, but to China’s rise. That’s what made me thoughtful during the past decade. Maybe it is also what made me decide that I shouldn’t spend too much time improving my Chinese language skills. I see that as a hobby rather than as an investment. When you invest, you need to know the project you are investing in. I believe that “knowing China” is difficult, given censorship and manipulation from a political center that cares more about its people’s thoughts than about their well-being. Some of the Chinese anger vented at the West may really be frustration caused at home, rather than from abroad. After all, it is easier for a Chinese national to criticize foreign countries than to criticize a local or central  leadership that is free to put him or her into jail without observing any judicial standards. As long as China is ruled the way it is, I see no way to know what drives people there in the first place.

Certainly, there are also useless ways of reacting to China’s rise. It is useless to criticize China for taking what it can get. When chief executives in Germany decide to transfer unique technologies to China and accept the risk or even likelihood of technological rip-off, that’s our problem to solve, not China’s.  If Western companies give in to an almost superstitious belief that you can’t do business anywhere if you can’t do business with China, that’s our superstition, not China’s. Western businesses’ terms of trade could be better (and still be useful enough for China) if they were generally more ready to return from negotiations with empty hands, rather than making a deal at almost all costs.

I’d say I’m neither too optimistic about China’s future role, nor too pessimistic. I live in my home country. I try to contribute here, and I’m enjoying my life. Here is where I belong. Maybe I’m skeptical about China.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lipo-Energy Sculps

A certain Dr Bittner is going back to South America to volunteer with a small clinic, according to his website earlier this month, quoted by the Daily Mail. There were two more possible reasons for his departure: several patients filed a lawsuit against his practice for allegedly allowing his unlicensed girlfriend to carry out operations – and although it is illegal in the U.S. to use human medical waste to power vehicles, Dr Bittner (and his patients?) had volunteered to save the world by turning the excess lipo into biodiesel.

He could have saved a lot of animals instead of the environment: there are dogs who /which enjoy the pulp out of lipopractices’ trashcans won’t eat that much canned meat, as we learn from Douglas Coupland’s “Generation X”. Is it illegal for liposculptors to keep their trashcans unlocked, too?

Another Daily Mail quote from Dr Bittner’s ex-website: liposculpture is a far more advanced form of liposuction.

That sculps.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Taiwanese Appointments

Human Right Flag-raising Assembly »
Gathering Time: 5 a.m. Jan. 1st 2009 AT Liberty Square
Walking to Ketagalan Blvd.
When the flag sets up, wear the mask of Chen Yun-lin.
When the ceremony blesses ROC, raise the slogan of Human Rights.
Please be quiet through out the whole process.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Buddenbrooks – another Movie

Went to the cinema last night. “Buddenbrooks”, based on Thomas Mann‘s novel, and the third or fourth time someone tried to put it into pictures – directed by Heinrich Breloer this time.

It’s a big book squeezed into some 160 minutes or so. To my surprise, it seemed to work. I’d think so, anyway. The movie rushed through the whole chronology pretty fast, but not too fast. The script dumped the oldest generation described in the novel, one little sister, a legacy-hunting pastor and many other hightlights. Originally homeric events are screened in a nutshell, but just the more augmentatively. And in contrast to both the novel and an eleven-hours tv play of 1979, it reduces the Buddenbrooks to just another provincial patrician family which no longer comes across as larger than life, but still as a showcase of an era, and as a spectacle of economic and social change (and fear of it). The 1848 Revolutions, basically just an element of comedy in the novel, is taken much more seriously by Breloer, too. So are societal constraints.

The movie is a robust re-interpretation of the old classic novel (published in 1901), and that’s always a daring enterprise in this conservative country. The movie has already drawn criticism, even from one of its main performers, Jessica Schwarz. Maybe she didn’t have a good time making it, but I had a good time watching it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

German Nationalism 1914 – a Snapshot

“This is how we come across abroad: as brutal, aggressive, sabre-rattling lansquenets – who are all this simply because we are fearful, chicken-hearted, peaceloving, helpless slaves.”

Original: “So erscheinen wir dem Ausland: als brutale, Händel suchende, mit dem Säbel rasselnde Kriegesknechte – die aber all das nur sind, weil wir ängstliche, feige, friedliebende, hilflose Herrenknechte sind.”

Gustav Landauer in 1914, quoted by Wolfram Wessels, “1914 – Es muss etwas geschehen”, radio feature “Der Erste Weltkrieg”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Piece of Chinese Patriotic Education

The internet can facilitate friendship and understanding between the nations of the world. Umm… realization, anyway.
The China Digital Times published the text and a translation of an act that is apparently taught to Chinese schoolchildren – probably a local initiative by some nice Chinese patriotic teachers and unlikely to be publicly endorsed by the CCP Central Committee.

Excerpt (video included):

Lead: Earthquakes, shifting back and forth like the positions of Sarkozy, with his dirty tricks, trying to shake the great China
Lead: Did China retreat?
All: No. The Shenzhou-7 launched. We are victorious!
Lead: Pathetic Europe will never stop the insurmountable force of our great dynasty
All: Just the aftershocks from the earthquake would destroy France!

Radovan Karadzic Award

Radovan Karadzic Award

Here is Hermit’s cultural exchange plan: the patriotic teachers are asked to authenticate themselves and qualify for this Patriotic Award. After that, the teachers and their rock band can go on a world tour and achieve global cult status. From the money earned on their world tour, these outstanding educators can finance some aircraft carriers. Or they can spend the money in pubs and brothels to get a bit more relaxed.

Update, January 1 2009: A Linguistic Analysis…

___________

Related post: How Chinese Nationalism is different.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Story: The East is Red – Part III

« Part II of this scientific novel is here «

“If we used your seven-league boots, we could walk faster,” whispered Hermit, as they continued their way, unhindered by the monks.

“Forget it,” Nanny whispered back. “That would mean that I’d have to carry both Chinacansayno and you, and besides, I’m not sure if I want to reveal my secret weapons to him. He’s a sectarian, and he’s run away from his family.”

“But he’s run away for the revolutionary cause,” Hermit reminded her.

“Whatever. A son has to be pious and loyal. It’s too early to trust him.”

“But he’s Chinese, and under the Japanese aggression, we have to stand together.”

“I don’t like the idea. Besides, it doesn’t matter if we arrive one week earlier or one week later. The reincarnation of Chairman Mao can’t do much yet. He’s a helpless baby.”

“Maybe he’s no helpless baby, but has secret weapons too?”

“I don’t like the idea. Keep walking. Hugo Boss is catching up.”

“May I say something?”, asked Chinacansayno.

Hermit dropped his briefcase and sternly stared at Chinacansayno. “Spying is a very bad habit.”

“It depends on the situation,” said Chinacansayno. “Besides, I didn’t spy. You talked. Why should I apologize for my good hearing?”

“OK,” said Nanny. “Say what you have to say.”

“Consider it a leap of faith and a good example on my part. You don’t trust me, but maybe you can trust me after this. I had a talk with my daddy before leaving, and we agreed that I should join the cause.”

“Bullshit,” hissed Nanny.

“If I can join the cause as a son of a landlord, why do you think he can’t?”, asked Chinacansayno. “Think of this: he gave me my name: Chinacansayno.”

“That’s what you say,” scoffed Hermit. “Can you show us your ID card?”

“ID cards aren’t yet invented.”

“Oh, OK.”

“Anyway, I’ve already overheard that you have this pair of seven-league boots, Nanny. So what’s the point in not using them, now that I know anyway?”

“Idiot,” Nanny flipped Hermit against a tree.

Hermit checked his airfoils and walked back to her. “Sorry. But now he knows, and you never know what it may be good for.”

“So you want a delicate woman to carry two men? You are real junzimen! 1)Stop your silly snickers, bastards, or you’ll feel my seven-league boots!”

“Oh, sorry, but I just think you are a very strong woman,” Chinacansayno schmoozed her.

“Oh, well! Your own feet are big enough, Chang Woo Gow! Put my seven-league boots on yourself. And don’t try any dirty tricks. I’ll keep my gun ready.”

“Oumph. OK. As long as you don’t keep it pointed at my head,” griped Chinacansayno. “And after one-hundred steps, we take turns.”

“OK. Fifty steps for me, one-hundred steps for you.”

So it happened. Chinacansayno put the seven-league boots on at gunpoint, and started carrying Hermit and Nanny. After twenty steps, he was exhausted. Nanny took the boots back onto her feet, they had dinner and went to sleep.

3. Arrival in Yan’an

Nanny set up with a groan and crunched another pinging mobile. “OK,” she said. “It will be dark for another hour or two. Time enough to get close to Yan’an without anyone spotting us. But it wouldn’t be advisable to enter the place on seven-league boots, so we should get them off in time.”

***

“Wake up, Potberry! Wake up! Get out of the house! The earth is trembling!” Goatfucker, a peasant next to the Huangyan country lane jostled his wife. “Oh, what’s up, Goatfucker! It was a hard working day, and in an hour or two, another day of revolutionary toiling will dawn!”

“The earth is trembling, Potberry! Get out!”

“No need. This is no night like any other. Big events are casting their shadows. It’s no earthquake. It’s something historically revolutionary going on. Come back into bed and have another hour of sleep.”

But Goatfucker ran out of the house in terror. Shivering, he stood there and watched the trembling hills. As if he was seeking for help from there, he looked at the skies. Jesus! Umm… Holy Guan-yin! That wasn’t a star like any other. That was… umm… hard to describe. “Potberry! POTBERRY! Come here! Look at THIS!”

Potberry came rushing out of the house, and they stood in awe and watched the weird star. “Don’t tell anyone,” she whispered. “They already think you are nuts. Me and the kids can’t do all the field work alone if they take you away, and they already take five Mao a day at the Revolutionary Brainwash. Prices are going up like if we lived in unliberated territories. Don’t tell anyone.”

“Promised,” Goatfucker said shivering.

***

Nanny bumped down, and Chinacansayno and Hermit tumbled onto the rocks. “Time to walk like ordinary people again,” she announced and put on her slippers.

It had been just in time. Suddenly, two Red Army posts stood in their way. “Who are you? Are you progressive forces of society, or are you useless public vermin sucking the blood of the people?”

“We are civilized Han Chinese people,” replied Hermit, “and we are Taoists and always ready for a jolly revolution.”

“I’m not a Taoist,” said Chinacansayno. “I’m Chinacansayno, a dedicated Communist.”

“Make up your mind,” said one of the soldiers with a grim face, looking from one to the other, while the other turned away and chuckled.

“Well, uh,” made Hermit. “He’s a Commie, OK, me’s Hermit the Taoist Dragonfly, and this is Nanny, the Taoist censorship expert. Maybe we aren’t quite as commie as this Chinacansayno here, but with a bit of re-education and after watching some performances by your local revolutionary cabaret artists, I’m sure it will sink in on us.”

Stop giggling,” the grim soldier yelled at his comrade. “Better tell me what we gonna do with these fellas.”

“Easy,” his comrade replied. “Let’s do what we always do. Let’s lock them up and await further instructions.”

“OK. Your gun and your pistol, please. Stocks towards me, barrels towards you. No funny games.”

Nanny reluctantly passed her gun over to the soldiers as told, and Chinacansayno did likewise with his pistol.

“OK,” said the grim one. “Welcome to Yan’an, compatriots. Sorry for the inconvenience” – he snatched Hermit and put him into a cardbox. “Just to make sure that he doesn’t fly away and tell the enemy our military situation,” he explained. “Anyway – we will make your stay as comfortable as can be. How about the Red-Sun Hotel, comrade Lu?”

“No good idea,” replied comrade Lu. “The Red-Sun Hotel is only for real communists. Those two” – he discreetly pointed at Nanny and the cardbox – “are Taoists, and that Chinacansayno is only half-communist. Look at that silly necktie and that tuifei Hugo-Boss shirt.”

“It’s wrong to judge people by their looks,” protested Chinacansayno.

“Aaanyway. You don’t want to stay in a hotel far away from your friends, right? I suggest we put them into the Good-Taste Hotel, comrade Zhang.”

“Just as good. OK, come with me. You’ll get a receipt for your weapons at the counter. The Red Army is very honest and steals nothing. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise, and report such vilifiers to us immediately when you hear them, or you’ll be in a world of shit.”

***

“Greeeaaat,” said Chinacansayno. “We are in a world of shit. They don’t trust us.”

“Could you open this ******* cardbox?”, asked Hermit from inside.

Chinacansayno opened it, and Hermit made a testflight through the room. “They still work,” he said and looked at his airfoils. “That idiot of a Zhang squeezed me like a parallel vise. Must be ******* afraid of me! Now, open the window, and I’ll fly and get help.”

a) they locked the windows, b) they’ve put a huge vulture into the tree in front of it just in case, and c) who would you want to ask for help?”, said Nanny.

“Dunno yet. Anyway, they don’t trust us, but if we had told them about our real mission, would they have trusted us more?”

“You must not improvise when the motherland is at the historical crossroads,” said Chinacansayno. “But we could prepare a big show to impress them. Maybe you can kick the door in with your seven-league boots, Nanny?”

“And get shot before making the first step, huh? Great idea, idiot!”

“OK then,” said Chinacansayno. “Sooner or later they’ll take us away for interrogation. Maybe that’s the right time to put on a big show…”

Nanny set down. “Let’s put ourselves into that scenario,” she said. “Put this electronic hat on my head and connect that beamer in my kit to it. You will be able to observe my vision on the wall there.”

Chinacansayno closed the curtains, and the beamer started projecting Nanny’s vision onto the wall.

They saw Nanny apply for a short demonstration to comrade Zhang. Zhang ordered half a dozen of guards to keep their guns ready and agreed to the short demonstration. Then they saw Chinacansayno marching ahead of Nanny and Hermit and shouting “Give way to the seer! Give way to Nanny the Renowned Seer! She’s here to find Chairman Mao’s reincarnation!

They saw the wardens arresting Chinacansayno and Nanny and killing Hermit with a fly flap. Then they put Chinacansayno and Nanny into straight jackets and sent them to the Municipal Revolutionary Brainwash.

Chinacansayno switched the beamer off, and Nanny removed the electronical hat. “Great idea,” she hissed at Chinacansayno. Give way to the renowned seer, huh? Don’t you know that you are dead when you try to give instructions to people in power? Actually, brainwashing is still a humane answer. Nobody in your spoilt home ever told you that there are people more powerful than you, eh?”

“I wouldn’t have said such nonsense at all,” Chinacansayno defended himself. “Maybe something is wrong with your vision?”

“Shameless bourgeois! You would have said it! I can see it from my correct vision and from your hubristic and futile attempt to justify your stupid words!”

“Don’t quarrel,” Hermit frowned at them. “If we get vocal, they’ll come in and look after us, and how do you want to explain to those Stone Age commies what a beamer is?”

“Pack the beamer back into my kit,” Nanny ordered Chinacansayno who obliged without contradiction.

“Communism is scientific, isn’t it, Chinacansayno?”, asked Hermit.

“Umm, yes, sort of,” stuttered Chinacansayno.

“Then why don’t they have beamers?”

“I stole the beamer from the local Kuo Min Tang headquarters in Qinghai,” said Nanny. “They used it to watch Mickey Mouse movies. They are more scientific than the commies, but also more stupid. They watch too many movies.”

“What were you doing there at the headquarters?”, asked Chinacansayno.

“I worked there as a censor,” replied Nanny. “But then I found that politics is dirty business. In the future, I’ll only be a censor for a good cause.”

“Are you sure that the commie cause is a good cause?”, asked Chinacansayno.

You are asking me? Aren’t you the commie here?”

“Before they show you their revolutionary cabaret gigs and reeducate you, let me warn you,” said Chinacansayno. “I’ll put my cards on the table – now there’s still time to do that. I support the commies because they fight against the Japanese. But I haven’t thought beyond that yet. Communism is cool, but…”

Nanny rose and walked to the bell rope. “I’ll report you immediately, bloody bourgeois!”

“Hang on,” said Chinacansayno. “You can still call the reception if my side of the story doesn’t convince you. It’s time now to reveal the truth – but the complete truth.”

Nanny sat down again, but next to the bell rope. “OK. You’ve got one minute to explain.”

“Two minutes,” suggested Chinacansayno.

“One minute and-a-half.”

“OK. We all want to get rid of the Japanese. The Commies put on a better fight than the Republicans, right?”

“Go ahead, don’t waste your time,” said Nanny.

“Now, after we get rid of them, I want to continue bloodsucking the people just like daddy does,” said Chinacansayno. “And let me tell you this: if the Commies run the country after the Japanese are gone, they’ll destroy Hermit’s observatory and burn down both his and your libraries, Nanny. And because you are Taoists and no real Commies – your class backgrounds suck – they’ll let you wear paper hats and criticize yourselves and they’ll let you do hard farm work year in year out – if you’re lucky.”

“Who’s the seer – you or me?!”, snarled Nanny.

“This isn’t about prophecy, it’s about class struggle. Class struggle is very scientific.”

“But why are you running after that Red Star then?”

“Because my daddy and I agree that we must reverse the fortunes of history if we can. Get rid of the Japanese, but maintain capitalism. You bet I don’t want my little son to grow up to criticize me!”

That would happen?!”, asked Hermit, and his big eyes got even bigger.

“Dead sure,” said Chinacansayno. “That Chairman Mao would be no different from the horse-faced Dowager Empress. He’d only make different use of the people, from this different point in time. Remember that official statement from the Imperial Court in 1908?”

“Shit,” said Nanny. “I thought there was something I could believe in.”

“Nothing to believe in but family, and good feudalistic values,” said Chinacansayno.

“But then you’ll have to admit that your name you told us isn’t true,” said Hermit.

“I thought about telling you about my intentions when you talked about the seven-league boots,” explained Chinacansayno. “But then, letting you know that I knew about the boots anyway looked more practical. Besides, Chinacansayno is my real name.”

“That’s not logical,” Hermit protested.

“Yes it is. China can say no to the Japanese, and China can say no to the common people if they want more than celestial order would grant them. The common people are here to eat shit, and we are here to have decadent parties and recite Confucian classics.”

“True,” Hermit agreed. “That’s our venerable tradition.”

“So we must act like if we were faithful commies,” Chinacansayno continued, “but we must remain white, not red, in our hearts. And most importantly, Nanny must make sure that she won’t choose Chairman Mao from the newborn babies here.”

Nannie grumbled. “That’s not professional.”

“Stealing a beamer from a Kuomintang office isn’t professional either,” Hermit sniggered. “Now you can act unprofessionally and still do the right thing.”

“Confusing,” said Nanny. “Anyway. Before I can choose the right baby from those stinking wrinkled zombies here, we must get into the position to choose one.”

“Easy,” said Hermit. “All we need to do is make ourselves useful. I can offer them my services as a flying spy, you can work as a censor, and Chinacansayno can clean the public toilets.”

Chinacansayno wrinkled his nose. “That’s why I don’t want the commies to rule. They’d be nice first, and make me clean the toilets later, maybe in the 1960s. No, I’ll offer them my services as a good warrior. I’m a good marksman.”

“But maybe you’ll have to die for the motherland then. Do you really want to take things that far?”, asked Hermit. “Think of your little son!”

“I don’t want to clean the toilets!”, yelled Chinacansayno.

The door opened and the guard looked at them over his gunbarrel. “What’s up?”

“Oh, uh, we are just practising a revolutionary opera,” said Hermit.

“Cool,” said the guard and closed the door again.

“You’d better control yourself,” Hermit growled at Chinacansayno.

___________

1) gentlemen, noblemen

__________

To be continued, but don’t hold your breath.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

News too Good to be True: A Thought on Taiwan’s SIP Investigations

After the indictment and intermittend detention of recent Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian, the Special Investigation Panel of the Supreme Prosecutor’s office said yesterday it would investigate former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) on suspicion of money laundering.  — Story here.

At first glance, I would congratulate Taiwan for its efficient judiciary. They seem to achieve something that France (Jacques Chirac corruption suspicions) and Germany (Helmut Kohl’s secret slush funds) seem to be unable to achieve: thorough investigations and indictment.

But without wanting to downplay Taiwan’s judiciary, or glorifying France’s or Germany’s: things in Taiwan are happening too fast and too resolutely for me to trust its system more than ours. Both Chen and Lee are old political adversaries to president Ma Ying-jeou, and in the past, the KMT was no vanguard of clean government.

Such a sudden change of heart there? That would be hard to believe.

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