Saturday, July 07, 2007

"CNN still hasn't figured it out"

Former CNN Reporter Aaron Brown has an interesting take on the competition between CNN and Fox News:

"On the one hand, you have this very disciplined, ratings-directed news organization, or whatever they are... On the other hand, you have an organization that is trying to figure out if it can be all things to all people. Can it be an opinion network, can it be a tabloid-driven network, can it be a serious news organization? It used to be a serious news organization.

It's hard to be all those things. It's really hard to be all those things.

You end up being none of them."

Brown thinks Paula Zahn's show is symbolic. "Whatever competence she has, and whatever skills her producers have, it wasn't clear to me what the program was," Brown said. "It has never had a clear definition. In some ways, I believe the network is [similar]."

Brown said he noticed an "incredibly dismissive attitude" toward Fox when he arrived at CNN in 2001.

"It ran through every part of the organization, top to bottom. It wasn't just bosses, everybody had it. I thought then, and I said then in meetings, that this is a huge mistake. And it was. That's the truth of it. It was," he said. "And I think in many ways the organization continues to pay for it."

Brown continued: "Fox is an incredibly disciplined organization. CNN is much less disciplined. It's part of the reason why CNN's a better journalism organization. It doesn't have the kind of top-down discipline that Fox has.

But in a competitive race, Fox knows exactly what its audience wants. It's been one of the most remarkable things I've ever seen in television: no matter what the story is, no matter what the circumstances are, if it's not what the audience wants, they will walk away from the story."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Starbucks/Paul McCartney nexus (Updated)

Tuesday I sat in Starbucks for several hours because I've been editing a Master's thesis by a student from Tsinghua University in Hsinchu. It didn't take me long to notice that Paul McCartney's new album was playing (I had some recollection that he had just come out with a new album). I remember the thought flashing through my head: this is pretty good. Maybe I'll go out and buy it.

I took another sip from my coffee and continued reading. Imagine to yourself a time-lapse photographic movement, a jump forward...time has elapsed. The coffee cup that was once filled with robust steaming brew is now only half full. It suddenly occurs to me that I am stuck in a recurring theme: "I've heard this song before." Yes, the Paul McCartney album had finished and apparently started again from the beginning. And again...and again...and again...on and on and on...from beginning to end and end to beginning and back again. Was I in the movie, Groundhog Day?

I know Starbucks has a habit of doing this; they usually play one CD for days, weeks, even months at a time. The CDs are centrally produced and then sent out to all of the different Starbucks. I have no way of gaging whether or not every Starbucks has the same music playing at any given time, nor do I know if there is any set time-limit for how long a CD can play, or how long before a new cd is distributed. What I do know is that the Christmas season was a little difficult to bear. Moreover, up until that day--Tuesday--the songs on any one CD have always been from a variety of artists. Never just one, so there is generally the feeling that you are hearing a variety of sounds. So I was thinking--this is unusual.

I finally decided to do a Google search: Paul McCartney and Starbucks. I figured they must have signed a deal. I was right. McCartney's new album was released on Tuesday on the "Hear Music label, a joint venture between Starbucks and the Concord Music Group." That's what Allan Kozinn writes in the June 4 International Herald Tribune. He goes on:

"Memory Almost Full" is a change for McCartney, although not primarily in musical ways. It has, after all, hints of everything from the sound of his 1970s band, Wings, to echoes of relatively recent work like "Flaming Pie," from 1997, and McCartney seems to have steadfastly avoided hopping on current pop music trends.

Still, he wanted to shake up his approach to releasing an album. The video made its debut on YouTube. And having been an EMI artist since the Beatles signed with the company in 1962 (apart from a series of American releases on Columbia in the 1980s), he moved to Hear Music, hoping to draw on the eagerness and energy of an upstart label.

"Am I feeling like I've left the family home?" McCartney said, when asked if switching labels was traumatic. "I have left the family home, but it doesn't feel bad. I hate to tell you - the people at EMI sort of understood. The major record labels are having major problems. They're a little puzzled as to what's happening. And I sympathize with them. But as David Kahne said to me about a year ago, the major labels these days are like the dinosaurs sitting around discussing the asteroid."

Although Hear Music has collaborated with other labels on projects ranging from Ray Charles's "Genius Loves Company" to a recent compilation of John Lennon tracks, McCartney is the first artist signed to it directly. To celebrate his album's release, Starbucks is having what it is calling a global listening event: The album will be played around the clock on Tuesday in more than 10,000 Starbucks stores in 29 countries. Based on its high-volume traffic - some 44 million customers a week - the company expects about 6 million people to hear the music that day. Starbucks's channel on XM satellite radio will also be promoting the record heavily, and XM will devote another channel exclusively to McCartney's music on the release day.

So there I was, participating in an early 21st century emerging trend, "a global listening event." A new gimmick or a sudden bifurcation in the trajectory of global capitalism? So far, McCartney is the only artist to sign on with the collaborative label. Will it be a success? Certainly, the fame of the ex-Beatle will give a boost to the incipient trend, and Starbucks is a perfect medium through which to expose coffee-drinking customers--some who sit for hours or come on a daily basis--to new sounds.

But will this attempt to program customers work? Or is it overkill? One thing I can say is that after the first listening I was tempted to buy the album, but after repeated listenings, I was driven to rebel against the not-so-subtle washing of my brain.

Did I mention that I just love the new Paul McCartney album?

Update: Tony Sachs has some interesting thoughts about McCartney and the future of CDs over at The Huffington Post:

Sir Paul's pretty hip. He knows that record companies selling CDs through record stores is so last-decade. He also knows that debuting his video on YouTube is a lot more cool than giving it to MTV, which probably wouldn't have touched it, anyway, and reaches just as many of the young'uns. His innovative marketing strategy has generated a ton of publicity, and he didn't even have to shave his head and flee rehab to get it.

The run-up to the album's release was flawless. But now that Memory Almost Full has been released, latte-drinkers nationwide will find it in their local Starbucks outlets for a whopping $15.99. That's not exactly priced to move, especially when you can find it on Amazon for $9.99. If you want the deluxe edition with extra songs, Starbucks isn't even stocking it.

It'll be interesting to see what kind of numbers Memory Almost Full does in its first week, especially in Starbucks. Because if they can sell a $15.99 CD that can be found in almost any other store for a lot less, then the presumption that the CD is on its last legs will have to be re-thought.

The CD is far from dead. It may not have a clean bill of health, but still accounts for more than 80 percent of music sales. Rather, what's dead is the CD store. And that's a whole 'nuther story. Just because people don't want to go to a store that only sells music doesn't mean they don't want to buy music while also getting a mochaccino from Starbucks, or a flat screen TV from Best Buy, or some ammo from Wal-Mart.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Dutch roots of New York City and Taiwan (Update)

Update: Cross-posted at the European Tribune, where it has been on the recommendation list--a lot of great comments there. Check it out.

This is a very long post, but I had to get it out of me. Read at your leisure. [editor]

I'm reading a fascinating book--The Island at the Center of the World--by Russell Shorto. No, it is not about Taiwan, though, in many ways, it could be, and the global context in which the story is set, is the same. The second part of the title of Shorto's book should provide you with insight into its main themes--The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotton Colony that Shaped America.

Shorto's thesis is that the history of early America that American children learn in school--especially the role that New York City (New Amsterdam) played in that history--is not the complete picture; it is rather a narrative propagated by the British, who inherited New York from the Dutch. Shorto's task is to discover--and uncover--the contribution of the Dutch colony in forging what became the United States:

We are used to thinking of American beginnings as involving thirteen English colonies--to thinking of American history as an English root onto which, over time, the cultures of many other nations were grafted to create a new species of society that has become a multiethnic model for progressive societies around the world. But that isn't true. To talk of the thirteen English colonies is to ignore another European colony, the one centered on Manhattan, which predated New York and whose whose history was all but erased when the English took it over(2).

Shorto's book mentions Taiwan only briefly, though it does raise questions about which I have also been wondering in the case of that other island pulled suddenly into the epicenter of the global trade network: What is the Dutch legacy (hamburger shops?)?

Henry Hudson, an Englishman working for the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC), discovered Manhattan in 1609 when his ship entered the river that would be known by his last name. The mandate with which the VOC had charged Hudson had been to find a new passage to Asia. It is amazing--looking at the discovery from my modern-day perspective--that anyone would have dreamed that the Hudson River (near to where I grew up) was a passage to Asia. Hudson soon realized that his dream passage was a dead end, but the stories he brought back with him to Amsterdam, as Shorto writes, had a more important effect:

The news of Hudson's river voyage passed through the sieve of Dutch political and business interests. To the sea-minded merchants on the Zandhoek and the Buitekant, Amsterdam's harborfront, monitoring the offloading of lighters packed with Spanish taffeta, German porcelain, Swedish copper, and East Indies spices while looking for the next business opportunity, hopes of a newfound passage to Asia were forgotten as they studied Van Meteren's report (published as an announcement to the world that the discovery was Dutch). There they learned of the discovery and charting of a water highway into the unexplored continent that was "as fine a river as can be found, wide and deep, with good anchoring on both sides." It was a bonus that it was lightly inhabited by a "friendly and polite people...."(33-34)

And from that discovery, a Dutch colony known as New Netherlands, where the author of this blog would spend much of his early years, and where his parents still reside.

The Dutch did not discover Taiwan; the Portugese did (at least the first Europeans to do so), in the late 16th century, and as almost everyone knows, they named it Ilha Formosa or the Beautiful Island. However, the Dutch East Indies Company or VOC soon acquired part of southern Taiwan, and just as the history of what is now Manhattan was altered by the sale of land, so too was the history of Taiwan. Lynn Scott, who penned a docudrama based on VOC records for Radio Taiwan International, writes:

On January 20, 1625, a very important transaction took place on the southwestern coast of Formosa: the Dutch representative of the VOC bought a strip of land from the western plains aborigines for fifteen pieces of cloth. The story of colonial trade and tragedy on Formosa during the next thirty-eight years of Dutch rule holds secrets about this island which exchanged everything -- names, languages, people, cultures, religion, and trade -- everything, that is, except its heart.

Similarly, and about the same time, one of the first leaders of the New Netherlands' colony, Peter Minuit, purchased Manhattan from the indigenous inhabitants of the island. Shorto writes:

So he bought it. Everyone knows that. Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan Island from a group of local Indians for sixty guilders worth of goods, or as the nineteenth-century historian Edmund O'Callaghan calculated it, twenty-four dollars. From the seventeenth through the early twentieth century thousands of real estate transactions occurred in which native Americans sold parcels--ranging in size from a town lot to a midwestern state--to English, Dutch, French, Spanish, and other European settlers. But only one is legend; only one is known by everyone. (49-50)

Shorto has an interesting discussion about what such purchases meant in seventeenth-century America, and how they were interpreted differently by the Europeans and the indigenous peoples. I would like to see a similar discussion of how Aborigines in Taiwan understood such land sales, but that's a tangent for another day.

What interests me for now is the global context in which the Dutch came to occupy parts of North America, Taiwan, and of course other places as well:

Dutch control of Dayuan severed the trading route between China and the Philippines, threatening Spanish interests. The Spanish had occupied northern Luzon 呂宋 since 1571 and had built a fortress in Manila. Chinese merchants traded there and even established a Chinese community called Parian 澗內. Japanese traders also visited Manila, and the settlement enjoyed growing prosperity. The Spanish would not tolerate Dutch interference from a base on Taiwan and resolved to defend their interests. In 1626, a Spanish expedition traveled to Keelung, which the Spanish called Santísima Trinidad, and built Fort San Salvador. Between 1628 and 1629, they moved to occupy Danshuei, where they set up the settlement of Fort Santo Domingo in a bid to attract Chinese merchants.

With the Spanish in the north of Taiwan and Dutch in the south, confrontation between these two European adversaries was inevitable. The Dutch were not content to allow an expansion of Spanish power on Taiwan, and tried to expel the Spanish forces on several occasions. In 1642, the Dutch finally sent troops north to attack the Spanish fortresses. The Spanish were defeated and, after only 16 years, forced to withdraw from Taiwan. This left the Dutch as the sole ruling power on Taiwan until Jheng Cheng-gong’s conquest of the island in 1661/62. (Huang Fu-san)

For some reason, whenever I heard that the Dutch controlled southern Taiwan, near Tainan, and the Spanish occupied areas of northern Taiwan, and that the Dutch defeated the Spanish, I never made the associations with the battles between the same powers in other parts of the world--never until I started reading Shorto's book:

As Henry Hudson arrived in Amsterdam in the autumn of 1608, the world around him was turning. The Spanish and Portuguese empires that had had their way with South America and the East Indies for more than a century were in decline, and two new powers were rising in tandem. The Dutch were growing in might right alongside the English, and would peak sooner, giving the world Rembrandt, Vermeer, the microscope, the tulip, the stock exchange, and the modern notion of home as a private, intimate place.

The Dutch, of course, were of the sea; keeping it back was a way of life. Consequently, water was the orientation; they were the continent's ship-builders, sailors, pilots, and traffickers, and this was their key to empire. When the union of Spain and Portugal in 1580 closed to Dutch traders the port of Lisbon (where they had long received Asian goods for resale throughout Europe), the Dutch merchants took the drastic step of stocking their vessels with gunpowder and cannonballs and going directly to the Iberian supply source, the islands of the East Indies, more than a year's journey away by the southern route. They arrived with guns blazing at the Portuguese military-trading posts there, and took them, converting Java, Sumatra, and the Malaysian peninsula into outposts of a new empire. When the first successful convey returned home in 1599, its hulls packed with six hundred thousand pounds of pepper and an equal amount of nutmeg, cloves, and other spices, Amsterdammers were stunned at the plenitude. Churchbells throughout the city rang, and the rise to world power began. (25-26)

The other context in which to understand this events is the Dutch fight for independence from Spanish rule. It is strange that I never made this connection before, considering that I lived in Leiden (where the Pilgrims took refuge before sailing to America) for about a year (that's where I was on September 11, 2001).

The Netherlands (low countries) first came under under Spanish rule in 1495, as Shorto says (27), 3 years after Columbus sailed to America. He goes on:

As Hudson entered Amsterdam, the United Provinces of the Netherlands had been fighting for independence from their Spanish overlords for nearly four decades, and the long war had toughened them, focused them, made them militarily and economically stronger. Before, they had been scattered, each province tending to go its own way. The Catholic tyranny of Spain--complete with bloody Inquisition tactics to force Protestants to return to the fold--united them. It gave them a Father of the Country in the person of Willem I, the Prince of Orange, known to history as William the Silent. (27)

The northern part of the Netherlands (present-day Netherland) declared independence from Spain in 1579, 11 years after the start of the Eighty Years' War with Spain. The southern part (present-day Belgium) remained Spanish territory and Catholic. What was now known as the United Provinces in the north became a refuge for persecuted religious groups. Spain finally recognized Dutch independence in 1648, 6 years after the Dutch defeated Spain in Taiwan. It really is surprising that I never considered this in connection with Taiwan's history. I was in Leiden for October 3rd:

It is a huge party, with an enormous funfair and a dozen of open air discos in the night. The municipality gives free herring and white bread to the citizens of Leiden.

It was on that day in 1574 that the city of Leiden gained its independence from the Spanish, after two long sieges:

The town of Leiden had withstood a Spanish onslaught in 1574, and as a reward for the bravery of its fighters, William the Silent chose Leiden as the site of the grand university that he believed the Dutch provinces needed if they were to become a nation. In a remarkably short time the university achieved a status equaling that of Bologna or Oxford and became just what William had envisioned: a breeding ground for the new nation's top scientists, politicians, lawyers, and religious figures. (95)

This brings me back to the possible Dutch legacy in Taiwan. First, the obvious ones. The Dutch period saw the first Protestant missionaries arrive in Taiwan. But the bigger impact of Dutch rule, was as Huang Fu-san writes, economic:

The Dutch came to Taiwan to establish a base from which they could engage in international entrepôt trade. Their administration of Taiwan followed the dictates of mercantilism and gave rise to Taiwan’s tradition of trade and commerce. The Dutch also developed light industry to further increase their profits, leading Taiwan down the road towards greater economic development. These achievements were possible thanks to the cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship between the Dutch and the Han Chinese.

The Dutch also developed agriculture in Taiwan, cultivating sugar and rice on the island. This also resulted in the first large-scale migrations of Chinese settlers to Taiwan.

But what are the more abstract, harder-to-detect legacies of Dutch rule in Taiwan. One hint might come from Shorto's book. Shorto believes one of the biggest gifts the Dutch gave to the United States was the notion of tolerance:

Tolerance was more than just an attitude in the Dutch Republic. Following the bloody religious persecution of thousands in the previous century at the hands of the Spanish, the Dutch provinces had broken new ground in writing into their 1579 de facto constitution the guarantee that "each person shall remain free, especially in his religion, and that no one shall be persecuted or investigated because of their relgion." This sentence became the ground on which the culturally diverse society of the seventeenth century was built. (96, see also p.6)

I'm reluctant to read too much into this, or to generalize too much, but people often comment about how open Taiwanese society is, how there is an anything-goes attitude about religious and political diversity. I know it wasn't always like this, just like it wasn't--and isn't--always like that in the US. There are always diverse impulses, but at least we can say that there is religious diversity in contemporary Taiwanese society--Daoism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, a variety of popular religious trends, new religions, secret societies, etc. People usually attribute this diversity to "Chinese culture," as if "Chinese culture" is in its essence open to diversity. The argument that is usually made is that Chinese religion is akin to syncretism--meaning that it is an amalgamation of different religious elements--and that Chinese people worship a variety of deities and do not distinguish between different religious traditions.

This might be part of the story, but there are several religious groups outlawed in China, that can openly worship in Taiwan: Falungong, Yiguandao, etc. In China, religious practice is extremely controlled by the government. The situation wasn't that much better in Taiwan during 50 years of Kuomintang rule. The KMT, Japanese, and Qing governments all attempted to restrict religious and political organizations. So, where does this laissez-faire attitude towards religion and politics come from in Taiwan?

Another potential Dutch legacy I have been considering while reading Shorto's book. Were the seeds of Taiwan independence planted during the Dutch period? Recall that during the time that Dutch were in Taiwan, they were fighting their own war of independence with Spain, and one of their battlegrounds was Taiwan:

[Peter Paul] Rubens was elated and went next to visit his countryman, Ambassador Joachimi, in London, hoping to persuade him that now the best hope for a unified Dutch Republic was for the rebel government to seek terms with Spain. But Rubens seriously underestimated the resolve of the northern provinces. Joachimi was as much a rebel as those he served, and told the painter that the only way the provinces would unify would be if those in the south joined in the war. (70)

Of course, there are many factors in the evolution of the Taiwan independence movement, most significantly, peoples' experience during the KMT period; I am merely speculating about the possible subtle sprouts of independence-thinking during the Dutch period.

Or perhaps it is simply as former US diplomat in Taiwan, George H. Kerr, once wrote:

After the Japanese surrender in 1945, the Formosans, despite the Cairo Declaration, hoped for a guaranteed neutrality under American or international trusteeship. Instead, they were delivered over to another and more oppressive occupation.

Their prosperous society was invaded by a horde of mainland Chinese, often brutal, ignorant, and greedy -- the dregs of the Nationalist army. The new governor, under orders, bled the island dry, ruthlessly and with dispatch.

Yet still the Formosans hoped. American propaganda, promising freedom to all oppressed peoples, and citing the glorious Revolution of 1776, continued to pour in upon them. In February 1947 unarmed Formosans rose en masse to demand reforms in the administration at Taipei. Chiang Kai-shek's answer was a brutal massacre. Thousands died -- first among them were the leaders who had asked for American help. Washington turned a deaf ear, while the Chinese communists rejoiced.

After Chiang's military collapse and retreat to Formosa the situation became even worse. As American emotional commitment to Chiang became more fervent, Formosan hope for American or United Nations intervention or understanding faded and died.

But, if Shorto is correct, then even that American propaganda of which Kerr spoke, was part of the Dutch legacy that became encapsulated in the notion that all humans are created equal and that all people should be free.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

CNN at it again

First look at the headline CNN used in its story about what Cheney "said" about Democrats. Then look at how they changed the headline of the AP article about Vice President Annette Lu running for president in Taiwan. It seems to be a pattern with CNN. At least they used quotation marks in the Annette Lu story.

The Tea Conoisseur revisited

This is one of my favorite posts ever and I will continue to link to it from time to time.

The history of a nation and a man

You don't want to miss this great post by Jerome Keating about Peng Ming-min, especially if you don't get what the Taiwan independence movement is all about. Peng was the Democratic Progressive Party's first presidential candidate back in 1996, also about the time I first arrived in Taipei. Peng's running mate was Frank Hsieh, who I now one of the DPP's presidential candidates this time around. They lost to Lee Teng-hui, but I still remember my first landlords referring to them as president and vice president. Do yourself a favor and read Jerome's piece about this fascinating life.

Why the name changes? Here's why.

Via The View From Taiwan, this excellent rundown on the rationale for renaming currently going on in Taiwan.

As part of this program, the Taiwanese government is pursuing a campaign to rename numerous state-controlled institutions. In 1949, when the Chinese Nationalists lost the Chinese civil war against the Communists and relocated the national government of the Republic of China to Taipei, they brought with them a host of the Republic’s state cultural, industrial and administrative organizations. These were maintained as a part of their forty year claim to be China’s legitimate government. The current government is removing these references to the Nationalists’ party-state and their legacy of nation-building on Taiwan in the name of China.

So China Post has been renamed Taiwan Post; the state China Petrochemical Company is now CPC, Taiwan; even the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, the grand square and monument to Taiwan’s former military strongman in central Taipei, has been renamed the Taiwan Democracy Memorial.

The naming issue is a cause of unease and a degree of confusion for the international community. The sharp response by the US State Department to the recent Taiwanese moves was modulated more by the Chinese reaction than a coherent position on the importance or otherwise of naming. Western governments generally have seemed to regard names as a rather eccentric preoccupation of the Chinese and Taiwanese, lying merely on the surface of their real regional geo-politics. The Chinese and Taiwanese, however,steeped in the intellectual heritage of Confucianism and its understanding of socio-political knowledge, have long understood the way names, and language generally, are the basis of politics and social structure. Naming defines the boundaries of power. In this, Confucius was something of a post-modernist, and two and a half thousand years later Western social theory has caught up in the work of writers such as Jacques Derrida.

The renaming program is just the most recent aspect in a campaign of post-authoritarian reckoning which has been going on in different forms for twenty years in Taiwan. The government is deploying the instruments of the state to redraw the boundaries of the island’s identity and history so that it is known as specifically Taiwanese. In so doing it consolidates the very basis of Taiwan’s political sovereignty.

The Taiwan that is being renamed by the government as “Taiwan” incorporates a distinctive island history. The received international shorthand for Taiwan’s history is to say that it “split from the mainland in 1949 at the end of the Chinese civil war”, but this is a very contingent and politicized reading. In Taiwan, a counter-narrative has been established over many decades which understands its history as a continuous narrative of its fraught location on the overlapping boundaries of the European, Manchu, Japanese and Chinese states which have ruled over it for four hundred years. Taiwan has an indigenous people who are Pacific islanders; its first modern government was a Dutch colonial administration in the 17th century, before being governed by the Manchu Qing dynasty until it became a colony of Japan in 1895. Taiwan was passed to the Chinese Republic in 1945 as part of an Allied agreement, and in 1947, the Taiwanese launched an uprising against Chinese Nationalist rule, which was brutally crushed. It was only then in 1949 that the national government of the Republic relocated to Taipei.

Monday, April 23, 2007

I find this a little scary

Atrios, commenting on a reader poll at Daily Kos:

A significant (not a majority or most, but significant) number of respondents basically read the Daily Kos and not much else. Their view of blogging is Kos-centric. That is, it isn't really about liberal blogs generally it's all about the Home of the Great Orange Satan.

I'll avoid the temptation to go deeply into this, but I think a lot of the social dynamic that plays out there and elsewhere can be explained in part by this. Us outsiders see Kos as one blog among many, if a very highly trafficked blog, and his voice one among many many many voices on the blog (the other front pagers, the prominence of the recommended diaries, etc...). Some insiders and former insiders see it as the center of the universe.

I've been a regular reader of Kos, and occasional sidebar diarist, since about May or June 2003 when I got swept up in the Dean craze. I think it was Joe Trippi who pointed me there. I usually start my day at the orange site, but not just to read what Markos says. I usually glance over what the front pagers (Markos included) write, then see what's up with the recommended diaries. From there, I pick some of my favorites from the blogroll, my first pick usually being Unfortunately Markos got rid of some of my regular sites (like, most of which have links on this site.

The idea that there are people that only read Kos, though, just gives me a weird feeling. I have always considered myself an outsider there, part of the community, but not attached to it. I think it provides a great service, a wonderful cacophony of voices. Some I agree with; some I do not. No, I don't always agree with Markos either. Sometimes, the verbal attacks in the comment section are bothersome, but to be honest, I don't really go there for the comments. I mean, sometimes I will scan them, but there are just too many. In fact, I am more likely to read the comments on less trafficked sites; it's easier to digest them.

Well, not much more to say about this. I just find it amazing that in the vast multiversal un-structure of the blogosphere, there are those who every day, several times a day, maybe even all day long, only visit one orange mansion.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

I can live with this

Brian Williams' explanation of why NBC aired video sent to them by a mass murderer. Makes sense. At the same time, I don't think there was anything wrong with people questioning NBC's motives. It is a nice gesture that Williams bothered to respond and explain their decision-making process. It shows that they are not beyond judgment or accountability, and that they are not somehow separate from the audience who views their broadcast. Williams demonstrated a level of transparency and humanity that I find commendable. That said, I'm still not sure how I would have handled the situation myself. Does it help to transform a killer into a martyr, one that future killers will look back to as a symbol? I don't know

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Is Taiwan Chinese?

Michael has a great post that asks what it means to be Chinese?

Anyone who has been around Taiwan for any length of time knows that the claim that "Taiwan preserves Chinese culture better than the mainland" is an old KMT propaganda chestnut. Such claims of "preserved" cultures that view traditional culture as both identifiable and unchanging are romantic fantasies of the western colonial era, but more fundamentally, they beg the question of what is meant by "Chinese culture."

Looking at Taiwan, what does one see? Taiwan has a democratic government -- there is nothing else like it in Chinese history, and a growing awareness and appreciation for democracy -- also a rarity in Chinese history. The educational system and police structure are European filtered through Japanese colonialism and postwar authoritarianism. Japanese influence is enormous, from food and fashion to technology. The business culture is an ecletic blend of imported ideas like double entry bookkeeping and local ideas like guanxi networks. For breakfast I can get a "western" breakfast of a layer sandwich that is entirely a local cuisine, or I can eat a Chinese breakfast consisted of foods updated by modern technology and altered thereby, whose ancestral dishes stem from the continent next door. I drive on western-style roads, in western-style cars....well, I could go on forever. Just what's "Chinese" about Taiwan? (Purely as an aside -- why does technology always disappear when we talk about culture? None of the tech now used on Taiwan is of recent Chinese vintage. The major shaping influences are all western).

Well, on the other hand, just about everything, one could answer. The local languages are all Chinese languages, except for the aboriginal tongues. Cultural ideals about women, the family, child-raising, male and female relations, politics, sex, religion, power -- many deriving from "Chinese culture," (again, except for aborigines) but as for actual culture practices? Your mileage may vary. What people say about themselves, and how they actually behave, are very different things.

The only reason anyone even raises the "Is Taiwan Chinese" issue is because Taiwan's alleged "Chineseness" is a claim that is part of the package of assertions that Beijing makes about Taiwan to support its drive to annex the island. Definitions like "Is Taiwan Chinese?" are a matter of values, not facts, only worth arguing about over beer -- unless some predatory power decides to base a foreign policy on them. It's a shame that an academic who says he knows better has nevertheless chosen to use a highly debateable title that is so useful to Beijing.