Archive for August, 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Short History of German-Russian Relations

I disagree with the line of Jeroen Bult’s article that says that former chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s departure from politics was “inglorious” – his uncritical ties with Russia were and are inglorious, but he was a courageous reformer at home. Only some of his foreign policies sucked.

Otherwise, I think Bult wrote an interesting “short history” of German-Russian relations. Don’t get confused by the focus on US vice president Cheney at the beginning of the article…

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Wu Jinglian: Not working as an American Spy

As a well-known economist and academic heavyweight in the eyes of the media, Wu, a 78 year-old economist who was a visiting scholar in universities such as Yale, Stanford and MIT during the 1980s and 1990s is talked about for his often bold and sharp argumentations, China Radio International quotes Xinhua News Agency.

Boxun reported the arrest of Wu on August 28, but added an update to the original news on August 29 stating “that he is fine” .

The way Wu speaks out on economics isn’t really unconventional by Chinese standards, as far as I can see. He advocates government reform and rule of law, but – in an interview with China Daily in 2007 – was rather vague on measures that could achieve this.

However, he doesn’t worship every kind of economic success. “Some leading media advocate ‘follow the manipulator to conquer the world'”, he said in a speech at Nanjing University in 2001, insisting that there was a bubble in China’s stock market.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Did the Olympic Games improve rights in China?

“In a sense, this was China struggling to pay lip service to an international idea of human rights without breaching its own boundaries.”

Jill McGivering, BBC News

Thursday, August 28, 2008

McCain’s and Obama’s Policies

“Dating to Ronald Reagan, low taxes, free trade and domestic competition through deregulation have been hallmarks of an economy that has grown rapidly,” says Holtz-Eakin, John top economic adviser. And according to the same source, Bloomberg of June 22, plans to address global warming, and help low-income households to buy health insurance. Both goals are laudable, but both hard to quantify.

Both Clinton and Obama, on the other hand, seem to be focused on the issue of health insurance, and the economy in general.

Sometimes I’m wondering if Americans take their own economic situation into account when voting in presidential elections. The Clinton years apparently did the average American more good than the Reagan years, or the terms of both Bush senior and junior. Is Iran a higher priority for average Americans, than economic decisions and fiscal rules?

And if so: why do they believe that Republicans have better foreign policies than Democrats? They would probably have valid points to make for that if every Democratic president had been a president like James Carter. But president Carter was a long time ago.

And what about Obama’s “inexperience”? Do people think that any newly-elected president (with the possible exception of Bush senior) didn’t lean – or should have leaned – heavily on the experience of his administration’s bureaucracy? And don’t they think that in case of a doubt, most newly-elected president listened to the State Department? The only president who blatantly didn’t do that, and lent his ear to stovepipes from dubious think-tanks instead was the incumbent president – we have seen the results of that.

I’m not an American, and not eligible to vote. But if I was, I have little doubts that I would vote for Barack Obama. My gut feeling is this: if Americans have trust in the future and their own potentials, they will take the calculated risk and vote the relative political newbie into the White House. If they are scared, they will vote for John McCain. Nothing personal, and just my personal view.

I feel respect for McCain – both for his military career (and the way he reportedly survived his time as a POW in Vietnam), and for his political ideas on Iraq (particularly the “surge”).

But elections are about the future, not the past. And the core decisions for America’s future are about what will happen inside America. It is about the economy, about education, about individual judgment, and, to sum all that down, about America’s global competitiveness. That competitiveness depends on what America has to offer on the world’s markets – not on the sophistication of its military weapons.

Last but not least: only a sound economy can bear the costs of effecient defense.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Beauty within Boredom – Learning English

The more I’m teaching, the more I’m thinking about the old people who were teaching me when I was growing up. Teaching languages comes with as little grammar as possible these days. That is a directive that is even compulsory for teachers in certain educational institutions. Grammatical errors made by the students have to be tolerated and mostly ignored, as long as the intented meaning of the clause still comes across.

Of course, to heed the directive doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own opinion about it. I believe that there are natural learners of English – those who watch CNN or BBC World at home or – even better – listen to radio stations like the BBC World Service, for example. When there is that much interest, language skills are likely to come naturally anyway. And even without that intensive exposure to a foreign language like English, there are still learners who don’t need rules and whose intuition guides them pretty well, especially after a few years of learning.

But there are different types of learners. Not only natural born learners need to learn foreign languages. And talking from my own experience, let me tell you this:

An old woman taught us English when we were some thirteen or fourteen years old. She was nice, old-fashioned, and sometimes incredibly boring. We had to learn grammar from huge tables, and she definitely took it too far once in a while, even for people like me who loved rules. She was sort of a barefoot teacher, with only a basic training to teach, but certainly with a good command of English herself.

After two years, a studied teacher who knew everything about modern training methodology took over from her. Hardly any grammar any more (but we had had our fill of that anyway, basically all of us), and lots of fascinating stories from American and British history, culture and folk instead. Songs, too. Every now and then, he brought his guitar along. I guess we all enjoyed his lessons better than the ones of the old lady who had preceded him.

But personally, I believe I can say that the mix of sometimes lackluster training during the preceding two years, and the fun of the two following them was exactly what I needed. With a secure feeling about word order and tenses, I enjoyed the new, fascinating and complex topics all the more, and some cool phrasal verbs led to real sense of achievement.

That said, I know that not every learner is a learner of my type. Ignoring that would make me a rather bad teacher. And I also understand that these days, even most of those students who could really use a good set of rules do need a sense of achievement from day one all the same. But I believe at the same time that this kind of impatience and unwillingness to live with some frustrations and uncertainties for a while is one of our biggest collective weaknesses.

And the directive that basically condemns every bit of good old-style grammar only seems to reflect that.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Quote: To Serve the People

“为人民利益而死,就比泰山还重.” – “To die for the people’s benefit weighs more heavily than Mount Taishan.”

Example sentence in Chinese dictionaries. Reportedly used by Mao Zedong (毛泽东)  in his To-serve-the-people speech (“为人民服务”) during a memorial ceremony for Zhang Side (张思德) in 1944. Apparently, Zhang, one of Mao’s security guards, died when a charcoal burner collapsed.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Hermit the Taoist Dragonfly Congrats



Hermit the Taoist Dragonfly and Lethal Suxxess [TM] congratulate the suxxessful.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hua Guo Feng, 1921 – 2008

Hua Guofeng was the first Chinese name I ever learned, about 32 years ago, when TV only showed black and white news-related photos next to the newsreaders (even though the era of color tv had already started). If I remember it right (I was a child then), Hua Guofeng was much more frequently on the German news then, than Hu Jintao is now.
After Mao Zedong’s death, Hua became chairman (a post which he kept until 1981), but he lost actual power in 1978 already.

Some of the media probably had had their obituaries ready for a decade or so – it seems to be no unusual practice that correspondents and editorial staff write obituaries on likely hits ahead of schedule during slack seasons and only need to update them when its time to publish.

Hua will probably be remembered most for two things. One is his continued Maoism (which didn’t die when Mao did – this led to conflict with Deng Xiaoping’s reformist agenda and led to Hua’s fall from power). Another is his “coup” against the Gang of Four.

Now it’s time for TV stations to choose another array of black-and-white photos.

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