East Cathay

News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Blending in with authoritarianism

Biff: I've long tossed around the idea of writing a novel set in the midst of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Coming across the following section in Jan Tomasz Gross's War Through Children's Eyes reminded me of a circumstance I would need to represent cleverly, evocatively, and in considerable detail: the comprehensive change in the local zeitgeist once the invaders settled in and the caste system (stalwart patriots vs. suspect locals) took hold. I was thinking of the change in terms of television, traffic, utilities, and so forth. Of course there would also be politically motivated disappearances, the overt rounding up of political prisoners, the general cowing of the public through posters, abusive public officials, bruited warnings on TV, but I didn't think ahead far enough to recognize the pervasive changes in behavioral norms which would occur in the public sphere and at home, even within the security of the private.

After 50 years of Japanese occupation, the Taiwanese had become highly civilized and modern. You can see this in the period architecture, and I'm not referring just to structures erected by banks and so forth, but also walls and farm houses. During the Japanese era, quality counted. After the KMT arrived, quality became either unbecoming or, more probably, dangerous and was thus replaced by the rag bag, the jerryrigged, and the slapdash. Crap was less likely to attract predatory officials or the newly imported species of burglar.

Clearly, there was a drastic decline in professional standards, and I remember wondering ages ago if this reflected a decline in personal standards too. When I arrived here 20 odd years ago, people swarmed buses, lied like rugs to the inquisitive unfamiliar, were remarkably callous to strangers involved in accidents, and otherwise acted in a brutish manner in urban public places. Public passivity was a facade hiding intense suspicion. Questions prompted wild answers, people would say anything, however irresponsible, to help. To help get rid of you. Nobody knew anything and two blocks away from everyone's home began a forbidden zone, beyond the pale and not to be risked.

And so stores selling the same things concentrated in queer zones, ghettos as it were, because vendors couldn't attract enough customers out in suburbia. Nobody knew what existed around the corner from where they lived. Too risky. So no bright shopping centers, only endless dim warrens. People warned me not to look out car windows in Taoyuan. Those locals were dangerous.

Naturally things have improved vastly the past couple of decades, though the urban peasant complex survives in many respects, in the fashions of the aged for example.

Edward Said, in Orientialism, quotes an Englishman in Egypt decrying various low practices of the locals: laziness, mendacity, unreliability and so forth. And yet I recognized practically every pejorative description from my own experience while Taiwan was still under martial law. Rather than lazily accuse foreigners of being Eurocentric, these negative traits could be better explained by trying to imagine life under martial law, i.e. without the rule of law, without the immunity a foreigner such as myself had by virtue of his passport. Connections were everything at that time, and bribes were de rigeur for everything from processing a government license to making sure one's doctor didn't saw off the wrong limb in the hospital. Sticking out in any manner was likely to attract the troublesome attention of everyone from jealous cops to observant pick pockets. Telling the truth to strangers was asking for trouble for sooner or later for one was bound to say something offensive to someone with power or connections to power.

Just as the Polish learned to dumb down everything from their apparel to their behavior in public in order not to attract unwanted attention from their Russian overlords, so the Taiwanese made a point of not attracting unwanted attention from the KMT and its local lieutenants.

Here's what happened in Poland in 1939 when the USSR occupied the eastern half, with many of the parallels with the Taiwan of yesteryear rather striking (the very public filth, the overpowering (presumably new) odors, for example):

The threat of arrest and deportation or the necessity to hide one's political past, or the necessity to hide one's political past complicated many people's lives. Both the immediate and all pervasive realization that a new society had already been installed came from the new look of houses and streets and the people in them; from the new songs, music, and propaganda broadcast full blast over speakers mounted in the streets; from unfamiliar odors, like that of the tar with which the footwear of Soviet soldiers was impregnated.

The visual change was the most striking. "Within a week our town was completely changed: dirty all-around, no one caring to keep it clean, heaps of refuse thrown away by the Army disintegrating in the streets. Sidewalks, trees, lawns all destroyed by trucks and tractors." (HI, PGC, Wlodzimierz Wolynski; 39; see also Doc. no. 77) There had been no war in the area, but the brief military operations caused relatively little disruption to life and property. The new look was more a result of the occupation of the war itself, and promptly passed, as if by contagion, from things to people. The population suddenly became acutely aware that external appearance was indicative of social origin. Dressing in certain ways or carrying certain objects increased the probability of being stopped in the street by militiamen and invited snide comments from supporters of the new order, as well as curiosity from Soviet soldiers. It took only a few days for the population in the streets to change its look and undergo a rapid process of upward, external proletarianization. Soon everyone looked more or less like a worker going to or from work. No one wore extravagant colors or fancy clothes; ties rapidly disappeared from men's wardrobes; and scarves replaced hats on women's heads. People instinctively started to care less about external appearance. They went out, indistinguishable in the large crowd of similar men and women, unkempt, hurried, and colorless. On this subdued proletarianized backdrop, a new reality was systematically imposed. Very symbols of Polish state of cultural tradition were slowly eliminated -- memorial plaques, monuments, Polish Eagles. "Lwow jest juz bez lwow" (Lwow is now with lions) wrote a high school friend to Danuta Polniaszek; the occupiers had removed the stone lions in front of the town hall. Street signs were rapidly changed, the Polish names in Latin characters replaced by Ukrainian inscriptions in Cyrillic. Towns and villages were decorated with portraits of Soviet leaders, which appeared everywhere in all sizes, the biggest ones perhaps 6 x 8 m, on office buildings occupied by the new administration. Banners with inscriptions in posters were hung in public places, some ridiculing the former Polish government, some showing despicable silhouettes of Polish officers or, for contrast, advertising the beauty and happiness of the lives of Soviet citizens... On Hetman's Embankments in Lwow enormous red billboards with excerpts from the Soviet constitution written in gold were erected... Red stars popped up here and there, replacing old crosses, Eagles, and sometimes, the traditional rooster shaped windvanes. The physiognomies of Soviet leaders invaded the interiors of buildings as well; in view of the familiar faces of Polish politicians, holy pictures, or small wooden crosses, the appeared on the walls of restaurants, offices, and classrooms...

People in the streets changed not only their appearance, but also their behavior. For one thing, the pace of street life changed. Rather than strolling leisurely or aimlessly, people pretended to walk quickly toward a specific destination. They avoided meeting each other in the street and engaging in conversation. "On October 21, I was walking down Zyblikiewicz Street with Mrs. Wanda S. we were talking about some family matters. Suddenly two men separated us brutally and proceeded to question us about the subject of our conversation. Since our answers were identical, we were released. But I know of people who were arrested in this matter." ...It was safest to walk alone, briskly.

There was also less courtesy, chivalry, and politeness in crowded tramways or public places, and women received less of the recognition and respect traditionally granted them. This was partly due to the overcrowding and shortages and fatigue and irritation typical of situations of prolonged stress. But to a large extent it was another consequence of the law of mimicry, for the occupiers were, most conspicuously, lacking in social graces: "Their conduct was one of the main reasons why we looked upon them as if they were of a different mentality, as if they belonged to a different spiritual formation." To understand the experience of the Bolshevik occupation, one would have to know "how they moved, how they walked, how they sat, how they waved their hands."

Sunday, April 05, 2009

History doesn't repeat itself, it rhymes - Mark Twain

Biff: There were several comic aspects to the barbarous stage of occupation of Taiwan by KMT forces from 1945 onward. One was the notion instilled into common soldiers by their captains and political officers that Taiwan was to be liberated from the vicious grasp of the amoral Japanese while the Taiwanese themselves were a disreputable crew of Benedict Arnolds. Either way, the theory ran that the Taiwanese had been deprived of the patriotic milk of human kindness oozing from the withered teats of the civil-war exhausted motherland and were not only unaware but, much worse, ungrateful. They not only suffered under the iron grip of the Devil Dwarves but had been brainwashed into credulously believing they were superior to their native Chinese brothers and sisters, who, though equal, were more equal than they, when all was said and done, given their superior provenence and hence enhanced authenticity.

Theory, all theory usually, hits the road for the first time with a crash. When the KMT soldiers arrived, they found themselves in a wealthy land which had prospered under Japanese oppression. In fact the land was so oppressedly wealthy and prosperous, and the common soldiers from China rendered so poor and deprived care of their patriotic paymasters, that quite a few liberators took to stealing with abandon from the ostensibly oppressed.

Theft by itself is unremarkable. But it was sometimes done with style. KMT soldiers stole bicycles for example. Unable to peddle them away because they couldn't ride them competently, they gave the game away by carrying them on their shoulders. Too obvious, like a forlorn fashionista carrying her pocket pooch (the more successful ones collar a man-serf, a lap-dog if you will, to carry their toy coolies, er, collies). Excuses that the bike belonged to the porter underneath the purloined contraption, i.e. bike rides man, rather than the other way around, were to no avail.

And then there was the common soldiery witnessing the holy prodigy of household running water, streams of which emerged from an appliance called a tap, planted in many a Taiwanese wall. Inspired to purchase one of these miracle gadgets at a local hardware store, the tap was screwed or otherwise forced into the wall of one's own dwelling on the theory, assisted by a belief in the miracles of Western science, that turning said spigot would generate running water. Failure to comply with expectations clearly indicated that said tap was defective. Those tricky Taiwanese turncoats! This in turn led to heated arguments with hardware store owners and accusations of retailing faulty goods to take advantage of innocent patriots, patriotic emancipators that is, who having converted weapons to plowshares, were now helpless in the face of emancipation of their hard-earned scrip.

In Poland, the USSR troops, same same. History rhymes. Check out the below.

The following excerpted from books.google (War Through Children's Eyes) by Jan Tomasz Gross.

...The first visual contact between the Soviets and the population of eastern Poland revealed something that neither side anticipated. The red Army was, of course, an army, but there was something odd about its makeup. True, its tanks rolled proudly along streets and country roads, but then horseman and horse-drawn supply carts came. Most of the animals appeared to be on their last legs. Soldiers poured in endlessly -- there were thousands of them -- but some had saddles and some did not; some had shoes, but others only cloth wrapped around their feet; some wore long coats, other short ones; some had belts, while others had only strings attached to their rifles (Docs. no. 17, 9, 43, 110). And there was a strange look on their faces -- a mixture of suspicion, incredulity, and joy. For they literally could not believe their eyes when they saw those images, unbelievable riches. Take, for example, the peasant horses and cattle, all so well fed and well kept. Many a red Army soldier jumped on the grazing horse and sped away. Many swapped their nags for the healthy and strong horse of a helpless peasant. Then, too, there was food, in dazzling amounts and varieties: orchards bearing fruit which they freely helped themselves, food offered in peasant huts, including delicacies rarely seen in their kolkhozes or hometowns -- butter, sour cream, meat, sausage, eggs, cheese. But perhaps the greatest revelation came when they reached the towns with their material objects and commodities: shoes, clothes, fabrics, and industrial products of all sorts -- watches, for example, were great wonder. And all this can be seen in the shops; it could be touched, bought, appropriated.

It was a very confusing experience for Red Army soldiers who knew they had come to liberate the oppressed blood brothers from the masters yoke. For they also knew that the masters, by definition, were a small minority and that everyone else was suffering deprivation. But where were the masses if everyone lived so well? (this is even more ironical since the eastern half was the poorest part of Poland, which itself was rather poor by contemporary European standards.)

Before being ordered into Poland, red Army personnel had been warned of propaganda tricks that would be pulled on them in this foreign country, and they were taught how to protect themselves and how to behave... There were even standard phrases to memorize such as "U nas vse est'" (we have everything) and "U nas etogo mnogo" (we have plenty of that). But as the soldier saw many commodities for the first time in their lives, they blundered repeatedly and made fools of themselves. Soon the boldest young pranksters in Lwow and other towns were entertaining audiences by engaging soldiers in conversations about Soviet factories that produced oranges, Greta Garbos, and Amsterdams (Doc. no. 77)
Quoted from books.google (War Through Children's Eyes) by Jan Tomasz Gross.

...Numerous militia units, all over the "liberated" territory, included common criminals in their ranks (Docs. no. 15, 100).

It is not surprising that the Soviets should utilize criminals to subdue the conquered territory and the potentially hostile population since they used criminals in camps throughout Russia as auxiliaries and treated them better and trusted them more than politically suspect people. Common criminals were viewed in the USSR as "class allies" whose cooperation in the effort to stamp out the social' no opasnyj (socially harmful) element, that is class enemies, was most welcome.

The red Army broke open jails along its way -- who else could have been kept there but class enemies of the Polish "masters"? -- a logical deduction since during the first days of the war scores of Ukrainian nationalists and communist sympathizers had been arrested in Poland. Red Army commanders, on their westward march, had no time to ask for character references from everyone ready to assist them in organizing the new order. Front line soldiers and officers of the red Army knew that the old order in the conquered territory had to be inverted, that those on the top and on the bottom of the social scale would trade positions. Naturally, prisoners of the Polish government were more trustworthy than those who had not been in jail; a coachman was a better candidate for town office then a civil servant or politician; a doorman was better fit to run a large enterprise than an engineer; a porter made a perfect railroad station master; and the poorest peasants were promoted over everyone else to village committees....

Biff: Interesting, this logical reductio ad absurdum of populist socialism. That, in the end, if populist socialists gain authoritarian power, society is turned upside down and criminals lord it over the law-abiding, as here in this instance in Poland in 1941, and in China during the Cultural Revolution, when the students were granted lordship over their teachers, occasionally beating them to death, and in Pol Pot's Cambodia where the illiterate were empowered to righteously exterminate the literate. Idealism, beautiful booster of the cocksure, liberates the barbarian within to slay the noble savage without.

But we can also look to more benign examples of the same sort of thing. I wasn't thinking of anything as extreme as the Killing Fields when first plowing those several paragraphs. They simply reminded me of that excellent sendup of Bill Clinton, the film Primary Colors. There's a scene when the narrator is brought to a public event and informed by his comrade-in-arms and campaign-trail f-chick that most of the worthies in attendance are in fact derelicts flushed out of a local soup kitchen. The point is, if one is corralling populist votes, the votes of the underprivileged, i.e. the financially incompetent, one will naturally end up foraging through society's demimonde. One sees this in political party support for illegal immigrants, for example.

Don't get me wrong, I'm an immigrant. And when younger, had half a mind to sample illegal immigration.
Besides, populist socialism can work to the benefit of society when the given political party represents the injured interests of immigrant labor, transient labor, and so forth. But populist socialism also mutated into a horror show of absurdity in a previous era, one not so distant, and more importantly did so with a monotony that implies a logical inevitability running the show regardless of the posing ringmaster bawling shibboleths and taking credit.

Much of what human beings do, after all, runs under the radar of consciousness with consequences beyond our immediate awareness. Whether our personal lives, or political ones, we often believe we're controlling or even creating a show when in fact the show is an equation without fair reciprocity, action prompting unequal reaction, ourselves catalysts spurring an unwanted avalanche.

To be less cryptic, an example of such tipping points: cynical lip service paid to catastrophic global warming on the theory that though it's bogus it will improve the environment. Instead, it results in Third World forest being felled to grow corn for ethanol, local farmland turned into ethanol plantations with fallow land reactivated for crops, new land opened up too but not tilled in order to earn carbon credits. The subsequent rise in food prices causes privation and riots in the Third World, while pristine desert land is defaced by thousands of acres of solar panels, and wind farms kill thousands of birds per annum. To paraphrase Mark Twain, a lie gets half way round the world before the truth finishes screwing its pants on.

Again, my point isn't to paint populist socialists as evildoers. There are no evildoers. Just mortals. Ignoramuses. Dumb and dumberer. The deaf leading the blind.

Just my curiosity being peaked by pious individuals committing ideologically driven profanities. Just another drive-by shooting in man-made paradise.
Cramer Says Recession Over

Looks like Obama has given up somewhat on morality-play economics
(i.e. the pursuit of fairness, social justice, and other hidebound
parochial populist nonsense) and turned (somewhat) to the real thing,
i.e. empiricism and ethics based economics (i.e. that what actually
works and makes the country a better place is ethical, regardless of
how immoral it appears to the shallow and fatuous glib Luddite). Thank
god. After the tedious distraction of medieval Islamofascism, the last
thing we need is another set of morons preoccupied with the pieties of
dark-ages thinking and repeating the antiquated errors of FDR and Wang
Mang (the latter a first century AD Chinese political progressive
(i.e. an anti-science pious economic conservative) who bankrupted the
Han economy with his own morality-play grand-idea based economics (ex:
he replaced the original currency format with a new one of 28
currencies; what a great idea! It's complex and abstruse. A work of
genius! It was like abandoning Copernicus for Ptolemy to explain the
solar system and calling one's detractors simpletons and
conservative-minded, when of course Ptolemy predates Copernicus and
Copernicus' system both worked and obeyed Occam's Razor, a rule of
thumb that possibly finds its greatest application in economics &
finance (two entirely different fields by the way; economics is to
finance as anthropology is to sociology). Much of economic
progressivism in fact predates capitalism by a couple of thousand
years and is in fact an attempt to complicate a simple system which
has been working better than any other for a thousand years now since
its inception in Europe care of the Catholic Church or in China during
the Sung Dynasty.

A simple thought experiment: were income gaps bigger or smaller prior
to capitalism? Smaller of course. The farther we move into the future,
the greater the gap becomes. Ergo the "progressive" demand for an end
to high executive salaries inter alia is not progressive but
conservative. Its a demand to return to the good old days when income
disparity was less. It's a demand made by a pack of economically
illiterate good ole' boys posing as futurists.

This sort of progressivism appears at times in all political parties
and of course always will.

Anyway, I found the following video at The Huffington Post whose
masthead might as well read: All the Ad hominems Fit to Print. Ignore
the bellicose comments below the article at the url below, as
opposition (principled or otherwise) to Dem talking points de jour is
typically interpreted by HP readers as treachery or the folly of the
useful idiot: failure to carry water renders one objectively an enemy
of the state-to-be. (And I'm fully familiar with the John
Stewart/Cramer circus)

I have no idea if Cramer is right about the economy, but if he's right
about Obama (who appears in three short clips) we can all breathe
easier. Somebody seems to have schooled him in Econ 101.

Cramer Huffing and Puffing over at Huff Post is here:

The past month's performance of the DOW is here:

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Mainland Chinese: "Jews of the East" destined to be the new global Jews?

(From an outgoing email:) ...And of course, there's a promising future too in the hating of Jews.
Envy of one's betters is a meme that never dies, only the excuses
masking it change. Witness the support of domestic and international
under-dogs (local minorities and failed states) who proudly perpetuate
ideologies of failure, often religious taboos against smart money
management. Failure is acceptable if it enables them to stick to their
ideals. The mantra "nothing succeeds like success" is crass. Far more
sublime, poignant, and wallowing in tragic history is the more poetic
crie de couer, "nothing succeeds like failure".

The original Jews of the East, the former sick men of Asia, the
continental Chinese, by and large despise another tribe of Chinese,
the Hakka, the Jews of China, a more successful money-sensible
minority which also sensibly avoided the traditional taboo on women
with unbound feet. If you'll recall, Hakka culture produced such
go-go evil-doers as Sun Yat-sen, Lee Kuan-yao and Lee Teng-hui.

New Jews are being invented all the time such as the Lebanese of West
Africa who enjoy a safety net not available to the serially pogromed
and massacred traditional Jews of the region, the Nigerian Igbo.
Fiji's Gujarati Indians, the Jews of India who used to run a
prosperous slave trade in Africans, have become the new Jews of their
region of the Pacific and gloomily await the day they'll be pushed
back into the ocean by the Melanesians. During the apartheid era,
South Africa's Jews were the whites, who opened the country club door
other international Jews via welcoming the Japanese and so forth into
official membership as whites, i.e. domestic Jews.

The Aztecs were the money-smart Jews of Mexico, the highest stratum of
their imperialistic society being traders. White Europeans were the
global Jews for the duration of the European stage of imperialism and
the Cold War. Since then, the emerging global Jew has been the
Americano (despised by the Old World's fallen imperial Jews, i.e.
social-democratic Europeans. We shall see how the Americano as Jew
meme goes, given that the US will not be overtaken by China and India
vis-a-vis military might in the next several decades (unless I'm
mistaken, China still can't R&D a fighter jet fuselage that doesn't
pull turns like a 70's Cadillac, a vehicle known in Florida as a "Jew
Canoe"). The election of Obama probably won't change anything as he
appears to be a Jack Kennedy democrat. Given his stance on
aggressively hunting Al Qaeda into Pakistan, he's out to prove a Dem
can kick international butt just as badly as a Republican.

The current crop of government-empowered mainland Chinese
international businessmen, unlike their Western analogue, don't
misapply family morals to the anonymous and unregulated business of
international commerce in the Third World. I expect them to be
increasingly vilified by pious paranoiacs of the left and right as
masterminds of a new world order they yet conspicuously fail to
control. See the recent anti-Chinese riots in the Solomon Islands,
decades of official pogroms against the Chinese in Indonesia, etc. for
which the Chinese and Taiwanese governments have been powerless to
prevent in the past (or near future I predict). Nevertheless, like the
non sequitur that George W. Bush was the ultimate doofus and yet also
the ultimate slick political operator, the non sequitur of greedy
Chinese businessmen who yet positively propel Africa's economic
development (unlike the conspicuous failure of international aid) will
drive the fanatics wild. After all, all too many fanatics are
unashamed of conspicuous failure if they can claim they stuck to their
ideals. What really enrages them is being shown up by amoral success.
Now that's profane!
Utopian Devolution

Don't know if you've been paying any attention to ACORN, one of the apparent instigators of the subprime meltdown and also famous for members being found guilty of organized vote fraud in several states. One of the interesting commonalities to me is the policing of corporations by utopians such as Ralph Nader and ACORN which fight for social justice but refuse even the minimum wage to their own employees and unlawfully prevent their own employees from unionizing. Then again the history of utopian organizations reveals a consistent devolution from industrial society down to impoverishment, rule by fiat, sexism, and other resurrections of pre-industrial society.


July 9th,2008 The New York Times reported[1] that Dale Rathke, the brother of ACORN's founder Wade Rathke, was found to have embezzled $948,607.50 from the group and affiliated charitable organizations in 1999 and 2000. ACORN executives, including Rathke, did not inform the whole board, nor law enforcement, but signed an enforceable restitution agreement with the Rathke family to repay the amount of the embezzlement. Wade Rathke stated to the Times that "the decision to keep the matter secret was not made to protect his brother but because word of the embezzlement would have put a 'weapon' into the hands of [...] conservatives who object to [ACORN]'s often strident advocacy on behalf of low- and moderate-income families and workers." A whistleblower revealed the embezzlement in 2001; the Rathke brothers both departed ACORN in 2008.[1] [2]


The brother, Dale Rathke, embezzled nearly $1 million from Acorn and affiliated charitable organizations in 1999 and 2000, Acorn officials said, but a small group of executives decided to keep the information from almost all of the group’s board members and not to alert law enforcement.

Dale Rathke remained on Acorn’s payroll until a month ago, when disclosure of his theft by foundations and other donors forced the organization to dismiss him.

Biff: So, seven long years after being found embezzling from the organization, Dale Rathke was still an employee on the ACORN payrool. His restitution settlement? Pay back US$30,000 a year. How much was ACORN paying him per annum? $US38,000. Do the math. He owes US$948, 607. No doubt his play was to divert his ACORN salary to paying back the "loan" for him painlessly. At 30k per year, it would take 32 years to pay back the "loan" during which time, he'd profit from any and all investments, annuities, and so forth which acrrue from his cool million. Not a bad plan eh? At his age, Dale would probably have died prior to paying off all the money.


...In addition to vote fraud, ACORN has displayed a penchant for treating its workers poorly, despite the group’s close ties to Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Locals 100 and 880 (Rathke is chief organizer for Local 100, representing several thousand workers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas). It’s more than a little ironic that ACORN for nearly 15 years has been leading heavily union-backed campaigns to force private- as well as public-sector employers in cities and counties across the nation to pay workers a “living” wage, while severely underpaying and otherwise exploiting its own community foot soldiers. Indeed, ACORN for years had blocked attempts by employees to unionize until the National Labor Relations Board told them otherwise. In March 2003, the nonprofit group lost its final appeal of an NLRB ruling holding that ACORN had violated its employees’ rights.

ACORN doesn’t even like paying the minimum wage, let alone a “living” one set several dollars an hour higher. In 1995, ACORN’s California chapter went to court seeking an exemption from having to pay its workers the state minimum, at the time $4.25 an hour. The group lost. In its unsuccessful appeal, ACORN argued that being forced to pay its workers the minimum wage would violate its First Amendment rights. The presiding judge termed the argument “absurd.” Welcome to the real world of employment.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

If one opposes the War on Drugs - what should perhaps more properly be called Narcotics Prohibition - what to make of the infamous Opium War of 19th-century China?
Narcotics had been marketed in the United States for a least a couple of hundred years before the Harrison act of 1914 began the government's busy-body dog-legging of the consumer drug traffic. Cigarettes were banned in some states because they encouraged debauchery and made men effeminate. Then alcohol was proscribed from 1920 to 1933 with the result that public drunkeness increased, not decreased. This was because drug dealers of the day - i.e. alcohol pushers - correctly reckoned that it was not in their best economic interest to risk prison time for the low profit margins incurred when selling low alcohol content beverages. Thus hard liquor quickly became the only form of hooch on tap. One simply couldn't buy beer or wine coolers. With only rotgut available, drunkeness quickly became almost de rigeur with drinkers. In fact, the two-fisted hard drinking culture (ex: the double martini lunch) which only began to die out in the late 1970s was sandbagged onto us by Prohibition. The present enlightened preference for drinking beer and wine coolers is actually a reversion to alcohol consumption in urban America prior to alcohol prohibition. As with so many alleged modernizations (women's lib, gay rights, etc), it's not that contemporary drinkers have heroically overcome the past to emerge more progressive and civilized, but that we've reverted to the earlier era of our great-grandfathers, to revive a more traditional and more civilized culture of drinking. To stride progressively into the future, we've taken a pleasant header into the past.
Opium has been available in China since at least the fourth century A.D. There had been no moral collapse as result of opium's availability for 15 centuries. But then, in the late 18th century opium prohibition began to appear care of busy-body academics and emperors. This produced the corruption that appears whenever government gets into the monopoly business and bans everyone else but itself from selling something. Furthermore, paleface missionaries got into the bidness of peddling the opium scare as a way of prompting donations back in the home countries. When saving heathens from themselves was an insufficient motivator for looting wallets of spare change (this was an era when self-reliance was still popular), the invention of an allegedly real-life demonology came in very handy vis-à-vis the narcotics peddler. If Demon Rum couldn't be hawked, then Demon Opium would more than suffice.
Here's a quote from an 1841 account of the opium business in China: Among the thousands who have suffered in person and property for being either really or constructively concerned in selling or using opium, three or four only of the government officers are said to have been called to account for their conduct; though the manner in which they have acted in the matter is summed up in the following story, which was often cited to me by an inhabitant of more than 40 years in China. The magistrates in a town upon the coast beheaded 13 opium smugglers one morning; and before three o'clock the same day they sent to the foreigners, saying, we are ready to admit opium again upon the terms heretofore observed between us. - they had washed their hands in blood, and were now prepared to incur a new debt of guilt, to be liquidated in due time after the same manner.
The more things change, the more they remain the same, yes? And here's a quote I'm particularly fond of: In China, the spendthrift, the man of lewd habits, the drunkard, and a large assortment of bad characters, slide into the opium smoker; hence the drug seems to be chargeable with all the vices of the country. Opium, doubtless, has her victims in persons who, but for her fascinating lures, might have escaped their ruin; but in the great majority of instances she only adds one stain more to a character already polluted.
If interested in this book, go here for more at Googlebooks: http://tinyurl.com/rc363
There's an interesting youtube vid here as well: Cops Against the Drug War

Monday, May 22, 2006

Won't post anything for a few days because of the mass of writing I have to complete for the literary luncheon this weekend. Biff...

Saturday, May 20, 2006

China’s Union Push Leaves Wal-Mart With Hard Choice: ACFTU's goal is to increase the number of foreign companies with unionized work forces. Currently, only about 30% of foreign companies in China have trade unions. Trade groups are aiming for 60% by the end of this year and 80% by 2007. Biff- Sure, return to socialism, which has worked so well before... There goes the economy.
-- Wal-Mart has a history in both the U.S. and abroad of resisting the involvement of any third-parties with its work force. In 2000, a group of butchers in a Texas Wal-Mart supercenter voted to unionize. Shortly thereafter, Wal-Mart announced it was switching to prepackaged beef and reassigned the store's butchers. In Canada, the United Food and Commercial Workers organized a Jonquiere, Quebec, Wal-Mart in 2004. The retailer shuttered the store last year, claiming it was losing money and that union demands would prevent it from becoming profitable. Biff- Outstanding. I ain't no fan of unions.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Mysterious "Internet Police" Surfaces: "The Internet police cartoon figures are present at Shenzhen News Net, Shenzhen Hotline, QQ and more than 100 major forums in Shenzhen," said worker Wang Ke to this reporter. "They are on duty twenty-four hours a day, and they guarantee that they will respond to reports or requests from netizens."
"The main purpose is to warn people and to deter irrational behavior and harmful information on the Internet," explained Xu Qian. "Jingjing" and "Chacha" have cute images, they have police officer status, they are friendly and they are easy to accept."
Xu Qian and Wang Ke are Internet police officers at the Internet Security Supervisory Department of the Shenzhen Public Security Bureau. In the past, they were just "lurking" in the dark at the forums and watching the Internet netizens bustle around. The netizens had not even been aware that they existed.
Presently, more than 100 Internet police officers have formed a large Internet force of "virtual police" and they have stepped out into the open. On the Internet, they now have the two cute image spokespersons, "Jingjing" and "Chacha."
"The keyboard and the mouse are our weapons." The thin Xu Qian looked more like a shy university student than the traditional stern and stout police officer. His office is set up like a commercial company office: central air conditioning, three rows of twelve cubicles separated by blue-and-white boards and everybody watching their computer screen quietly. On the desk, there are no mountains of case files. The setting is simple: one 17" LCD monitor, one 16-line green notebook and one telephone.
Shaolin today has been reborn as a well-oiled corporation, with holding monks with master of business administration (MBA) degrees sorting out temple management issues on cellular phones, presided over by an abbot the local media call the "CEO of Shaolin".
..."In a globalized world we need our monks to be able to communicate in different languages," says Shi. He adds that about half of the temple's 200 monks speak a foreign language. English, Korean and Japanese are the most popular, and a few have even learned Farsi. Currently more than 10 monks are taking degrees abroad. The abbot's latest commercial venture is the production of an international, televised martial-arts contest, the winner of which will star in a series of movies the temple is investing in.
Each day, tens of thousands of communist Chinese peasants stream into Macau, the Las Vegas of Asia, to bet their entire lifesavings in the hope of a better future.
...Her route takes her through streets lined with jewelers and pawn shops, where winners show off and losers go begging, where bleach-blonde Ukrainian women saunter from one pimp to the next and young girls from all over China take their new breasts, recently enlarged for 4,500 yuan (€450) a piece, for a walk.
...Despite her devastating losses, she still believes Macau is the better China and that it offers a better life. She's certain she'll return to Macau as soon as possible. And that the next time she'll make her fortune. She eats a small bowl of noodles in a Taiwanese soup restaurant underneath the girders of the city's elevated highway, where waitresses standing at the tables yell out their orders to the kitchen, as loudly as if they were calling the police. She is here to say goodbye to Wei Quihua, a short, good-humored woman who became her friend within a few days. Wei bet and lost 100,000 yuan (almost €10,000) -- the entire capital and earnings of her lamp shop back home in Jiangxi Province.
...Nanchang's beautiful people have no idea who Zhou Enlai was. They too have only heard about Mao in passing. To them, "communism" and "party" are nothing but words, and phrases like "socialist market economy" are concepts they find difficult to comprehend as they sit in the C Straits Café, drinking latte macchiatos and gazing down at the city's lake, where the elderly still perform their Qi Gong gymnastics in formation every morning, just as they've always done.
Saving Seoul: Pollution is ruining the quality of life in much of urban Asia. But Seoul's transformation into a greener city proves the tide can still be turned.
... Seoul—a city long synonymous with unchecked urban development, where Parks were more commonly found in the phone book than on the streets—is growing green. Besides the restored Cheonggyecheon, which opened last October, the city has helped plant some 3.3 million trees since 1998 and recently developed Seoul Forest, a $224 million patch of urban woodland comparable to London's Hyde Park. A cutting-edge, clean-running transit system is slowly weaning Seoulites off their auto addiction.
...Rising incomes play a part in the priority shift, but Kim Won Bae, a director at the Korean Research Institute for Human Settlements (KRIHS), a Seoul-based think tank, traces the change back to disasters like the collapse of the shoddily constructed Sampoong department store in 1995, which killed 501 people, and the economic crisis of 1997. "Those events made a lot of people think again about what economic growth was all about," he says.
...Won Bae of KRIHS tells the story of visiting Shanghai and meeting a Chinese urban planner who had a burning question: how many 100-m-high or taller buildings did Seoul have? "I asked her why she asked that," he says. "She was still in the age of triumphalism. Seoul was once in that period as well, but we have passed it."
Iran used stocks of high-quality uranium gas from China in order to hasten a breakthrough in enrichment for a programme the West fears could be hiding nuclear weapons work, diplomats told AFP. "The Iranians have sought to accomplish a technological achievement for political purposes and chose the Chinese feedstock gas because of its quality, which ensures a better (uranium) enrichment process," said a diplomat with access to intelligence sources.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The only Asian entry for the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival is likely to be pulled from the competition before its first screening today after permission for it to be shown was refused by China's powerful censors. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television said Summer Palace failed to meet technical standards - the picture was "too fuzzy" and the sound quality poor.
The publicity material for the film on the festival website describes it as opening against a "volatile Chinese backdrop of political unrest" and adds that the lovers' relationship "becomes one of dangerous games, as all around them, their fellow students begin to demonstrate, demanding democracy and freedom". It is the director Lou Ye's second brush with the censors. In 2000 he was banned from filming for two years after showing his most famous work, Suzhou River, at overseas festivals without permission.
我的學長胡錦濤: 編者按:六四後流亡海外的原北京四通總裁萬潤南與中共總書記胡錦濤曾在清華大學有學友關係。本文回憶二人同學相知後來分道揚鑣的往事,是一份珍貴的史料。
Editor's Note: The author was personally acquainted with Hu Jintao, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, when both were students at Beijing 's Tsinghua University . Mr. Wan later became president of Beijing-based Stone Corp. before fleeing into exile after the “June 4 th” incident of 1989. Here he writes of his friendship with Hu during their college years before each eventually went his own way. This is a valuable historical piece for the study of the fourth generation of Chinese communist leaders.
...In her 300 years of history, Yale has produced many members of the elite, among them five presidents of the United States . But in 20 years, Tsinghua produced four members of the current Standing Committee of the Politburo, including Hu Jintao. From the standpoint of timing, Tsinghua exhibits a better efficiency.
How did president Jiang Nanxiang achieve this? Mainly by using a system of “political counselors” to train student cadres. At the time I was there, the student cultural and arts group had four counselors: Yin Fusheng, Hu Jintao, Li Guiqiu and Ren Lihan. Among them, Yin and Li were cold and remote, and Hu and Ren more personable. But they all had something in common: obedience and efficiency. Their nicknames were indicative of their roles and characters: Three were given a nickname based on their names: Lao Yin (meaning Old Yin), Li Gui, and Xiao Han (meaning Little Han). Only Hu Jintao was called “Commander.” Why was he addressed this way? I once asked Lao Yin. He said he had no idea. But it now seems this nickname was accurate. Hu rose from “Commander” of the student cultural and arts group to “Commander” of the Youth League of the communist party, then to Commander of Guizhou Province and the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and now of the whole country.
關於文革的一個建議: 文革把中國蹂躪到如此黑暗、如此野蠻、如此悲慘的田地,可謂空前而絕後,不僅我們憤慨不已,列祖列宗也為之蒙羞!今日中國之種種醜行惡狀,難道沒有文革遺風的影響所致?因此,本刊以微薄的力量,二十年來盡匹夫之責,從來沒有在文革評論和批毛方面退後一步,對於那些保毛崇毛言論,總是嗤之以鼻。我們也深知面對的是一個巨大工程,尚須以愚公移山之志,不棄一鋤一鎬之力。美國吳弘達先生,鑒於俄羅斯有「古拉格」 Gulag ,猶太人有「大屠殺」 Holocaust 之例,以紀國恥,以醒後人,乃費十年辛勞,終將「勞改」 Laogai 一詞列入牛津大辭典,讓世界知道中國的悲劇。我們不妨提議,將「文革」 Wenge 一詞循例辦理,希望大家以後再不用「文化大革命」「文化革命」這樣官方的辭令,而直稱「文革」可也。
English discourse has for some time adopted the Russian term “Gulag” and the concept of the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jewish people, as a means of reminding current and future generations of national disgrace. For the same purpose, Mr. Harry Wu of the United States spent 10 years before finally persuading the editor of the Oxford Dictionary to incorporate the word “Laogai,” the Chinese phonetic spelling for “reform through labor,” into the English language so as to make the world aware of China 's tragedy. Likewise, this magazine suggests that we do the same for the word “Wenge,” the Chinese pinyin for “Cultural Revolution.” We hope that from now on no one uses the grand official terms of “Cultural Revolution” or “Great Cultural Revolution,” but simply “Wenge.”
Burma Karen families 'on the run': Thousands of families are reported to be on the run in the hills of eastern Burma because of a government offensive against ethnic Karen rebels.
...Slipping across the Burmese border by boat, then hiking through the jungle to a remote valley, we met 700 weary civilians who are now in hiding. The Khu family had arrived a day earlier trekking for a month from their village. The father, Sawmaw, said Burmese government troops had burned every house and killed some of his neighbours.
Bank of China, the country's second largest lender, has announced the launch of a $9.8bn (£5.2bn) share flotation on the Hong Kong market. Set to be the world's biggest initial share offering since 2000, it comes as China continues to open up its banking sector to foreign competition. A consortium of international banks led by Royal Bank of Scotland spent $3bn on a 10% stake in Bank of China last year.
...But some analysts have warned off investors, pointing out the bank's problems with bad loans, fraud investigations and antiquated computer systems.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

U.S. Aims to Improve Military Ties With China: "They really went out of their way to accommodate nearly everything I wanted to do," he said. The goal, he added, is to push for more contacts, "to see more things and different things, and to be more open and transparent in military matters." Seeking to accelerate the movement, Fallon said, he invited senior Chinese officers to observe U.S.-led joint military exercises next summer near the Pacific island of Guam, promising them the opportunity to review U.S. bases and board U.S. warships during air-sea drills. Implicit in the invitation, he added, was the idea that, if the Chinese attend, they would reciprocate by inviting U.S. officers to observe future Chinese exercises "in a manner we would like to make a standard for both countries."
China's Crackdown On Foreign Law Firms -- The Heat We Get/The Heat We Generate: Many legal documents, such as opinions on how Chinese law applies to a transaction, can only be rendered by a Chinese attorney, which foreign law firms are prohibited from employing. Potentially, all transactions that have taken place to date, including contracts, financing agreements and IPOs, that have used documents drafted by foreign law firms as their legal basis could be declared null and void by the government on the grounds that the firms lacked the authorization to issue such documents, said Dickinson.
...However, I agree with Dan [Harris of the China Law Blog] that it's not all that remarkable. China is no more insular, territorial and medieval toward "foreign" business lawyers than the 50 states are toward China lawyers. Moreover, several American states in particular are arguably more backward and restrictive than China. For example, California, one of four jurisdictions where I am licensed, is supposedly a progressive state with a huge and vibrant economy. But it still has a non-reciprocity bar admission policy with respect to licensing out-of-state lawyers--as if it refuses to recognize that business is done across both state and international borders. Massachusetts' Alan Dershowitz would have to take the 2-day "lawyers" California bar exam--a world-class waste of time and money--along side hundreds of 25-year-olds named Justin, Brandon and Brittany to argue more than one appellate case a year here. So would Florida's Roy Black and New York's David Boies in the trial courts. So China and California (and other non-reciprocity states) are about even on the anti-business and general madness meters.
New charges expected in defense data theft ring: Chi, Tai and Rebecca Mak have pleaded not guilty to the original charges in the case. "We presented evidence throughout this case that undermines the government's conclusion that these individuals were involved in espionage," Ronald Kaye, Chi Mak's attorney, said in an interview. An attorney for Mrs. Chiu, Stanley Greenberg, said he is confident that his client will be found not guilty. An attorney for Tai Mak could not be reached for comment. U.S. officials described Tai Mak, an engineer with Phoenix Television, as an intelligence courier for the Chinese military who was carrying an encrypted computer disk holding defense technology data when he was arrested. Tai Mak also will be charged with aiding and abetting and possession of property to aid a foreign government. He and his wife were arrested at Los Angeles International Airport as they were about to fly to Hong Kong. Tai Mak was carrying an encrypted disk that FBI officials said contained data on a new technology for destroyers known as quiet electric drive. Earlier charges that Chi Mak, Tai Mak and Rebecca Mak failed to register as Chinese government agents will be kept in the new indictment. Chi and Tai Mak were born in Guangzhou, China. The new charges were based on thousands of pages of documents found at the home of Chi Mak, officials said.
North Korean "brides" are prized in China, where there is a shortage of young women thanks to Beijing's one-child policy, Chinese families' preference for sons, and the government's blind eye toward rampant female infanticide. In northeast China, where many ethnic Koreans live, North Korean women are "known to be polite and clean," says Hannah. "Young Chinese women from rural areas marry into the cities," adds Naomi. "It's difficult to find young women in the countryside."
A North Korean in China--even one who is there against her own volition--quickly learns that there is a worse fate than being sold into sexual slavery: being captured by the Chinese authorities and repatriated. It is a crime to leave the North, and Koreans who are sent back end up in prison camps or worse. "I had no choice but to depend on the man" who bought her, Hannah says. But "for the first time in my life, I felt like a sinner, because I had a family in North Korea and I was living with this man."
..."When I was eight months pregnant, I was captured by the Chinese," she says. "Somebody from my neighborhood reported me. . . . [The Chinese] pay people to report North Koreans." Her relatives paid the fine, but seven months later, when her son was still nursing, she was captured again. This time she was sent back to North Korea. Her son was wrenched from her.
She spent the next period of her life in a succession of prison camps. "I went into the Musan Security Center. There if you even spoke a word, they would make you hold out your hands and beat you with a large wooden stick." She did farm work in another camp. It was harvest season. "You start at 4 o'clock in the morning and work until 10 or 11 at night." When the guards moved prisoners from camp to camp, "they would use shoelaces to tie our thumbs together to the thumbs of the person next to us so tightly that our thumbs would swell up."
Next Wave of Camera-Wielding Tourists Is From China: For the first time in history, large numbers of Chinese are leaving their country as tourists, resulting in an unparalleled explosion in Chinese travel. If current projections are met, the global tourism industry will be undergoing a crash course in everything Chinese to accommodate the needs of what promises to be the greatest wave of international travelers ever.
As usual when something goes over big in China, the numbers are staggering. In 1995, only 4.5 million Chinese traveled overseas. By 2005 that figure had increased to 31 million, and if expectations for future growth are met or approached, even that gargantuan growth will be quickly dwarfed. Chinese and international travel industry experts forecast that at least 50 million Chinese tourists will travel overseas annually by 2010, and 100 million by 2020.
In 2004, the last year for which there is complete information, 61.7 million Americans traveled abroad.
...Chinese tourists have been fined heavily in France recently for arriving with counterfeit luxury goods, like fake Louis-Vuitton handbags.
In Shanghai and other cities, travel agencies post people at airports warning Chinese travelers about penalties for importing fakes and imparting advice on etiquette in the West. "Don't pick teeth, touch your belt, pull at your pants or take off your shoes in public," reads one common brochure. "Don't point fingers at people you're talking to, and don't put your hands on others' shoulders."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Taiwan Plans Big Anti-Appeasement Campaign: Concerned that time could be working against Taiwan, its increasingly isolated, independence-leaning government is preparing a major new propaganda push that will make the case for defending the island against a possible Chinese attack.
...Back to the main story. In a novel twist on the historical argument, we are told Taiwan's propagandists plan to draw a moral comparison with another endangered nation, one that some might be tempted to isolate or sacrifice in an attempt to appease powerful oil producing nations. That country, of course, is Israel--which ironically supplies China with important military technology that could be used against Taiwan. Ignoring important legal and political differences (Taiwan is a United Nations outcast currently recognized by only 25 countries, while Israel is a UN member nation recognized by China, Russia, the US and 157 other countries, including two of Israel's Arab neighbors and former foes, Egypt and Jordan), the Taiwanese view is that its moral case for statehood is no weaker than Israel's, given that a Jewish State in predominantly Arab, British-controlled Palestine came into existence against the wishes of the majority of its inhabitants. Taiwanese officials argue that while it is true Israel in part owes its existence to a UN resolution that partitioned Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, the 1948 vote for partition would have been a non-starter in a post-colonial-era UN.
China to Allow Local Communist Party Elections: China is taking a significant step toward political reform--at least, that is what Beijing wants the world to believe.The ruling Communist Party announced Monday that it would hold local elections for the first time. An offical described the move as "an enormous step."
...In this regard, Beijing could be adopting old ideas floated long ago by sympathetic critics of two very different repressive regimes--the USSR and Imperial Iran. Years before both systems fell, attempts were made to persuade Soviet leaders and the autocratic Shah to reform their ruling parties by allowing multicandidate elections and, in the case of the Rastakhiz (Resurrection) Party, to transform it into a means of upward mobility for great masses of Iranians left behind by the monarch's White Revolution. The proposals and suggestions fell on deaf ears.But China seems to be listening....
China Poised to Crack Down on Foreign Law Firms: The memo details "illegal activities" that most of the foreign law firms doing business in China are allegedly engaged in, describing the activities as "serious" and "severe" threats to "China's legal system and economic safety." Shanghai is most threatened, according to the document.The principal sin seems to be practicing Chinese law without a license.In 2005, there were 82 "foreign law firms" in Shanghai, and 16 more "established by Hong Kong law firms," the memo notes. While recognizing that foreign law firms "bring advanced new concepts and management experience to China," the memo asserts that their "illegal business activities are becoming serious" and must be stopped.
Beijing has used executions to crack down on white-collar crimes and executed batches of prisoners in public rallies scheduled at national holidays to maximize attention. "Sentences often depend greatly on the political climate and timing," Amnesty International says on its website. The group says Beijing's use of capital punishment "targets poor and marginalized groups including ethnic minorities, migrant communities, political dissidents and so-called 'separatists.' "
Under Chinese rules, the initial trial and appeal in capital cases are heard by the same court. Most condemned prisoners are executed without having higher courts review their cases.
Most of those put to death were given limited access to defense lawyers; others were convicted on the basis of confessions they made after beatings by police, says Katie Lee, director of the Great Britain-China Center, a London-based organization working on judicial changes with Chinese legal officials. "Torture is rampant during custody and questioning stages. Verdicts are often decided behind closed doors prior to the trial proceedings," Amnesty International says on its website.
...Under China's New Policy:
• Appeals in all death sentence cases must be heard in open court. Lawyers for the accused, now restricted to written appeals, will be allowed to make oral arguments.
• Lethal injections, administered in vans traveling from prison to prison, will increasingly replace shootings. (For now, most of those put to death are executed in public — shot in the back of the head after being forced to kneel and open their mouths so the bullet will do minimal damage to facial features.)
• Final approval in each capital case will eventually move to an arm of China's highest court, the Supreme People's Court, which will review cases individually, according to the state-run People's Daily newspaper.
"This will greatly reduce the number of executions — by at least 20%-30%," says Huang Jingping, law professor at People's University.
40 years after start of 'years of chaos', China's top lawyer says lessons must be learned : Although President Hu Jintao says that China is moving towards rule by law, political interference in judicial decision-making is the norm at all levels. "It is ridiculous that party cadres who have no legal qualification are taking the place of the courts in administering justice," said Zhang. "But in the current environment, it has become almost a rule of the game."
China seeks good-looking sailors : Officials say anyone joining the service in 2006 must be good-looking, tall and polite. Manners and looks matter because navy vessels often visit other countries and host reciprocal visits, a spokesman has told the official Xinhua news agency. Biff- doesn't sound too belligerent.