Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The first female president

Within the next year, Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, could step down--or, a lesser possibility, he could be recalled. It might happen tomorrow or next month or it might not happen at all. Much still has to play out in this politi-drama, the sequel to Clinton 1998.

Since last week, several opposition leaders have been calling for Chen to give up his position, or face a recall, because his son-in-law was recently arrested for an insider trading scandal. In fact, even though Chen hasn't been implicated in anything, scandal is the word of the day. You can read a simple run-down here (You can also listen to the longer piece by Caroline Gluck, who freelances for RTI and BBC. Just click next to the "Listen Now" sign on the top right of the RTI webpage. It's the 4th story).

The calls for Chen to step down will only grow louder. Some people are calling it a witch hunt.

As things stand, if no new variables enter the equation, Ma Ying-jeou, the mayor of Taipei and the head of the opposition KMT (formerly the only party in Taiwan), will likely win the 2008 presidential election.

Ma, as I understand it, is also liked in Beijing--he has traveled there to meet with Chinese leaders. He recently also traveled to the states, while Chen, Taiwan's democratically elected president, was refused entry.

If a recall of the president is indeed successfull, it would have damaging consequences for his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and almost certainly assure KMT control of the island.

However, and I say this as a fairly unbiased observer, if Chen can find the opportune moment to step down (I don't know if he would do that), it would be a historic moment, and in my view the best possibility for his party.

Vice President, Annette Lu, would become president (I'm not sure what would happen in the event of a recall, but it would draw out for a long time). She would be the first woman president in Taiwan's history. You can read this Time interview with her from April 2000, when she and Chen first came to power, here. Just to stoke your curiosity, the sub-heading of the interview reads: "Meet the woman Beijing recently labeled the 'scum of the nation.'" Caroline Gluck recently interviewed her as well.

We'll just have to wait and see what happens. Things could start to get very interesting here.

It's the management, stupid...

John Emerson of Seeing the Forest writes this letter to Bob Somerby to clarify what is wrong with the current establishment media:
I've been arguing for some time now that the bylined reporters and commentators aren't agents. They just watch patterns of hiring and promotion and do what seems to work best. They're lackeys giving their bosses what they want.

Responsibility has to ascribed to faceless management and to the owners (Sulzberger [NYT] and Graham [WP], for example). For whatever reason, for the last ten years or more all of the media have swung consistently right.

My theory is that the reason is financial, and that the tax cuts and other goodies have caused financial management to interfere with operations. (Both Sulzberger and Graham are simultaneously business managers and operations managers of their respective publications).

This is bad news indeed. The media cannot be shamed into cleaning up their act, because bad reporting is a deliberate bottom-line policy, not an oversight or a mistake.

I have suggested that only new national media at every level (cable, TV, newspaper, radio) can improve the situation. Present players are incorrigible and inveterate. Air America was a good start, but not nearly enough. (I was horrified at the unenthusiastic reception AA got from many liberals and Democrats. Sometimes I think that Democrats are too stupid to live).

Monday, May 29, 2006

Setting the record straight

Me (your brother)--is he my brother?--corrects the record; I thought the Harvey Keitel character in Smoke took a picture at the same spot every day for 1 year. Actually, it was 11 years:
One of the most fascinating moments of Smoke occurs when Auggie talks about a project that has consumed him for the last eleven years: every morning at the same hour, he goes across the street from his shop and takes a single picture with his 35 mm camera. Over time, he has accumulated more than 4000 photographs, each of which tells a story.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Affluence for all

Stirling has an excellent post that looks at the last 30 years of American politics through the eyes of a boy maturing into adulthood over the course of the same period:
In the years that came, the impression that the Republican party was no longer the party of Lincoln, that of responsible and powerful government, descendant of Hamilton's high Federalism and Teddy Roosevelt's Progressivism, but instead had absorbed those influences that were most repulsive of the proudly provincial, and bombastically bigoted, reaches of the American psyche. Cold days spent in bare apartments watching friends fade and waste away. The sounds of Republicanism had changed, filled with nasty fat faced young men, with an edge to their voice and a kind of absolute certainty that faith overwhelmed fact.

It was 1994, and a young man warned Democrats, his adopted party, that there was an electoral wipe out coming. It came, and a blizzard of the very men who had repelled that young man from the Democrats fell from positions of power, to be replaced by Republicans who were in every way worse. In the rage of days that had filled the dry years of the early 1990's he had read certain words that had convinced him that it was not the party, but the principle, to which he owed his loyalty. That principle was of a liberal spirit, and the possibility of affluence for all. In the words of a President he had come to rate above all others, even his youthful hero Abraham Linooln.

"Freedom for everyone, everywhere in the world."

American media establishment

The evidence that Al Gore and the Clintons are liars and George Bush is authentic.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

More thoughts about space

No, not out there! Around here! I stopped by the TaiwanMex yesterday and met a retired gentleman from Kansas City, Missouri. The university took the house where he had been living for 10 years, so he decided to try his luck in Taipei. He's 70 years old and originally from Brooklyn.

He is just fascinated by this city. He said: "This place is just really cutting edge!" One aspect he likened to New York when he was growing up. He said every block had all of the necessary stores, so a person never had to leave their block. People spent their lives in a much smaller area and didn't tend to travel far.

"That's like Taipei now. You have your convenience stores and banks and post offices and pharmacies and restaurants all on one block. And then, if that wasn't enough, there is all of that at the underground mall as well."

I can't comment on New York in the forties, but I partly agree with his comments about Taipei. A person doesn't need to travel far. There are Seven-Elevens on practically every block, as there are noodle shops, etc. Indeed, the people running the breakfast shop and the laundrymat and the other stores near where I live, as in every other part of the city, are likely fixtures of the neighborhood. They are there everyday like clockwork.

However, there is another side to the city, perhaps any modern city. There are the cars and motorcycles zipping about. Every morning and every evening there are countless people commuting on the metro and various buses from their homes in one part of the city to another to go to work. On the weekend, they could stay put, they could stay where they are, but instead, many get on the metro and head to places like Danshui, or they go on outings outside of the city.

Just different ways of experiencing space.

For my vegetarian readers

Today I found a great stand as I got off at the Shipai stop, near Tianmu--the heart of the wealthy expat community in Taipei. It used to be, at least. I saw what looked like an outdoor salad bar with a crowd of people in front of it. Naturally, as you could all imagine, I walked over to inspect what might soon be entering my digestive system. It was a sushi type set-up, but most of the fillings appeared to be vegetables. There were about five different kinds of rice to choose from; I chose the purple rice. Then, the server asked me if I wanted to choose the fillings or if she should choose the best match. I let her, and after we made the necessary exchange, I walked off into the sun, eating my purple rice treat and sipping a soy milk. It was a truly unique culinary experience. And there was harmony in the world.

Friday, May 26, 2006

That photo album from Smoke

One thing I like to do is find a spot and sit for awhile and gaze upon the life flowing by. I like to immerse myself in the duree of the place at a particular moment. I have enjoyed this process ever since I can remember--in Xi'an sitting at a table sipping a bottle of Sprite, in Colorado sitting on the roof of a building and watching friends kick a tiny sack, in Millburn sitting in a park near where we lived (though there weren't too many people walking by), and in Massachussetts sitting on the beach, watching the gleaming sword of sunlight flash across the open sea.

I guess that's why I relate to herons so much; they always seem to be gazing. They just stand there with their long skinny legs and gaze down into the water. You would think they are looking for fish, but no, they are just gazing.

Yesterday I emerged from the Shuanglian MRT station, and after discovering a cool outdoor market adjacent to the station, I found my spot, on which I sat until I had to go to work. I sat there with my camera in hand, gazing, and taking pictures of the surroundings, mostly of the people walking by, some together, some alone, some chatting, some deep in thought, some hard at work, some carefree with leisure.

I like to capture people in motion, whether it is their bodies moving, words being uttered, or simply a thought flashing across the mind.

I sat there in that spot and observed the changing landscape, always the people walking to and fro, not too different from waves rolling in or transitions of lighting throughout the day. Always shifting, ever becoming.

I thought about the scene in the movie Smoke when the character (I think Harvey Keitel) explains his photo album, and how every day he stood in the same place at the same time and took the same picture, but the picture was never the same. Did he do this for a year?

I tried to do the same thing but in a shorter span of time. Here are some of the pictures documenting what I saw (I aimed the camera in a few different directions so it is more of a panorama than a single scene):

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Something fascinating happened yesterday...

And terrible for the person to whom it happened. We were preparing the news for the 7:00 live broadcast (the only live broadcast each day). I was working on a story about a group of overseas Taiwanese from around the world protesting in Geneva before the World Health Organization was to meet.

One of the biggest stories concerning Taiwan right now, and one we see almost every day, has to do with the WHO granting it observer status. China has opposed this for the past 9 years because it views Taiwan as a Chinese province even though it has been ruled independently for over 50 years. So, every day there are stories and editorials arguing that viruses have no borders. Apparently, the Chinese government blocked WHO doctors from traveling to Taiwan for one week when SARS was breaking out. Indeed: "Viruses have no borders."

The story was to begin with an actual clip of the protesters singing "We shall Overcome," as it still does, but the focus was on the protesters.

Stephen, the editor, suggested that I end the story with part of another story, which was that the director general of the WHO, Lee Jong-wook, fell sick and was rushed to the hospital on Saturday, just days before the WHO was to meet, leaving the Taiwan issue up in the air. Doctors were attempting to remove a blood clot from his brain.

I had just finished writing the article (as simply as I could possibly write it). Starting to relax, I typed Lee's name in Google News. Several articles had appeared within the last 10 minutes.

Lee died after doctors operated on him.

Suddenly, Lee became the focus of the story. The protestors (and Taiwan) were pushed into the background. I remember saying out loud: "The story has changed!" Wow!

Here is the final version.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Thinking about space

Before I came to Taipei for the first time I was living in Berkeley, where I began my Chinese studies. Once I had made my decision to continue my studies in Taiwan, people were telling me all sorts of bad things about living here--about the weather, about the traffic, about the pollution, etc. Then, a Berkeley architecture student from Hong Kong living in my building said: Taipei is a really nice city. I asked her if she meant it had really nice architecture. Her reply came to mind as I was roaming the city yesterday: "I wouldn't just focus on the structure or appearance of the buildings; you should consider the way that space is utilized." I don't know much about architecture theory, so perhaps someone who does (you know who you are) could explain this.

Now, after my arrival in Taipei in 1996, it took me quite a long time to really appreciate the city. Notions of American urban skylines and European city facades were too embedded in my thinking. When I thought, as I still tend to do, about architecture, I pictured structures. And to be honest, I never found the appearance of most buildings here to be that spectacular, that is, except for the temples (but even there, they are for the most part of the same mold.) Many buildings don't even seem to be meant to serve as permanent structures. I mean, watching down below from the metro traveling from Xinbeitou to Beitou, you can't help but notice that many of the roofs are constructed of that toughshed material, probably the quickest, easiest roof to throw on.

Yesterday, as I was walking in the metro station mall, under the Taipei Train Station, I was thinking, and this likely won't come as a deep thought to experienced architects, but architectural design here, has one function in mind--that is, to utilize space so that the maximum amount of people can congregate. You see it in the metro station, in the parks, in the night markets, in the temples, in the walk from the City Government metro station to 101, and in the building itself. It is all about people congregating.

I eventually came to see the beauty in this city, and it wasn't in my mind, in the structure of the buildings. It was in the people moving about within and without them.

Of course, building like 101 serve a greater function than that. 101 is an emblem of this place. You can see it from almost anywhere in the city. It won't always be the world's tallest building, but for a long time to come, it will be Taipei's tallest building.

To my German-speaking friends out there...

You will be happy to know that today, as I was walking from the Zhongxiao Xinsheng metro station to Da'an Park, I discovered Gasthaus zum Adler German Cuisine.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

An intrepid liberal writes about Dean (Update below)

Rob, a frequent commenter here, and the brilliant mind behind the Intrepid Liberal Journal, has a good post on Howard Dean as the head the Democratic Party, in which he says:
Until Howard Dean became head of the DNC, the Law of Competitive Balance didn't apply to the Democratic Party. Instead the Democrats lived by the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Dean has the nerve to challenge the party’s orthodoxy and transition the Democrats from a Washington centric party addicted to wealthy contributors to a states oriented party funded by a citizens donor base. It’s remarkable to me how some Democrats whine over McCain/Feingold and long for the old days of soft money donations to the national party. Dean didn’t whine. He adjusted and myopic Washington Democrats remain clueless.

Dean is the first Democrat to think “globally” by acting “locally.” The key to power and a better nation is by strengthening state parties and taking the country back one precinct at a time. It’s basic blocking and tackling in the ground game that has eluded the Democrats for a generation, as the establishment prefers to mobilize the same special interests coalition and rally behind the politics of expediency. Dean’s way is to craft a message of truth about the public interest and fight for every neighborhood. Hence his states oriented strategy has a better chance of transforming the Democratic Party into a national majority.
Read on...

See also Rob's interview with Dignity's Apostle, Robert Fuller.

UPDATE: Rob points our attention to this post by Robert Fuller, Dignity: A Unifying Value for the Democratic Party.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

I'm wired!

My place is, at least. I had a cable modem installed today; it's just more convenient this way and not too expensive--about 15 dollars a month.

Beltway wisdom?

Digby refutes the
...false impression about the netroots support for Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman as an expression of anti-war fervor....It's not about the war. That's just the most visible example. It's about having no standards, no loyalty, no principles --- and losing because of it!

This great statesman Joe Lieberman supported the president in his illegal, immoral war, sold out his party on numerous occasions and is being challenged for it. You'd think that a great student of the Talmud would see the good old fashioned message of divine retribution in that.
Once again, the beltway types just don't seem to get it.

I noticed this on a daily basis during the 2003 primaries; the majority of political reporters couldn't figure out what made the movement--the perfect wave--behind the Dean campaign tick. They made phone calls to political operatives working for the different campaigns, their friends in high places. They had their access, but what they did not have was their fingers on the pulse of the public. Their minds were in the ether; their feet were not on the ground. The Dean phenomenon was just the beginning of my becoming aware to this fact.

They talk about angry, immature bloggers, as if there was only one person to ever disseminate their thoughts via a weblog, and that person was only 13 years old. Actually, according to a recent survey, the average political blogger is in his/her 40s. They talk about us like Marie Antoinette spoke about the masses.

No, we are not left-wing radical children (well, some might be); we are doctors and lawyers and professors and cafe owners and authors and reporters and politicians and teachers and actors and waiters and farmers and entrepeneurs. We are accomplished people--people with our own understanding and experience of the world. A blog is just a medium. You can't speak about "bloggers" in conventional, stereotypical ways. You can, but you'll miss it; you'll miss the scoop.

Now, back Digby and why there is so much support for Senator Lieberman's challenger in Connecticut among grassroots' and netroots' activists:
There are quite a few Democrats who voted for the war. They certainly have some work to do to convince many of us that they have seen the light. But the reason the netroots are taking on Joe Lieberman is because he enables Republicans on a host of issues and consistently shows disloyalty to the party in a hyper-partisan era. Alone among Democrats at the time, he went on the floor of the Senate and excoriated Bill Clinton for personal failures (that's what the speech was about) and gave support to the hypocritical Republican witch-hunters. Then, once again, alone among Democrats, he stood up for George Bush as it became obvious that the justification for the war in Iraq was based upon lies and hype. These are just two telling examples of where Lieberman tends to come out on issues that mean something to the Democratic party in a larger sense.

He comes from Connecticut. There is no excuse that he's in a Red State and has to pander to conservatives. He does this completely for its own sake. And inevitably, he gets the highest accolades from Republicans for doing so; he actually seems to revel in his position as George Bush's favorite Democrat. It is understandable that a Democratic senator lauded constantly by the right wing noise machine is going to be suspect among Democratic partisans.

There was a time when a vital center coalition existed in the Senate, where there was room on both sides for trading votes across party lines. The Republicans destroyed that coalition and Liebermann, inexplicably, doesn't seem to get that. Even worse, when the shit comes down, he inevitably sides with them. Many Democrats took a long time to learn the harsh lessons of GOP political hardball and had to lose to a bunch of thuggish right-wingers before they began to recognise what they were up against. Lieberman still refuses to accept the fact that his high minded centrism is a weapon in the hands of the radical Republicans.

The netroots are bringing some heat from the partisans and even if Lamont loses maybe this will move Lieberman's ass a little bit back to the party that brung him. That is not illegitimate politics. It is the only way to educate him apparently. He certainly has not listened to anything else.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Today I ran around the city on errands. I needed to get two seals made with my "Chinese" name, one to open a bank account at the post office (yes, I will have to close the other one I opened) and one for the radio station. I sat there behind the train station, outside, at a seal carving vendor. A tape of Buddhist monks chanting "A-mi-tuo-fo" played as the man carved my two wooden seals. I watched people slowly walking by and the shoe mender yards away. It is kind of amazing that in a society where you can pay many of your bills at any convenience store, you still need a traditional name seal for important business transactions.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

This is not my hometown

When I first moved in my apartment about a month ago, I had a strange feeling walking around my new neighborhood--Xinbeitou--as if my neighbors didn't quite accept me in their world. It was a different feeling than in other parts of Taipei, though I've had this feeling before. A stranger. An alien.

However, lately, as I walk about, I have a familiar feeling. The sites are familiar. The faces are familiar. I walk into shops and the people know me. I walk by and they greet me. The guy in the Seven-Eleven near my apartment said to me the other night: "You're home early this evening."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

For the most part I agree with this

Michael Standaert, writing at the Huffington Post, wonders what happened to Taiwan:
So where did Taiwan go is a question that doesn't only refer to this map, but in the eyes of the wider world. I'm not suggesting Taiwan should declare independence, though I do believe that is up to them. Nor would I claim China has no right to see Taiwan as part of China. Historically, they have a valid position. I do believe, however, that the failure to recognize Taiwan's success over the past decades in building its democratic institutions, its political and press freedoms, as well as its success moving from a heavily industrialized economy to a high-tech and service oriented economy, should be held up as something for China to emulate. Instead, Taiwan is being isolated and strangled by Chinese dominance and forced into the position have having only two options left: join China, or declare independence and fight China. If China is really keen on promoting 'peace and harmony' as is so often heard in its Orwellian official rhetoric, they could start by laying off Taiwan and perhaps learning from their neighbor. They would also be wise to see that the pressure they do exert against Taiwan only pushes those pro-independence forces in Taiwan further toward that eventuality, and possibly war. Perhaps that is what they want.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Al Gore on Saturday Night Live

This is worth seeing and really funny and a little sad:
Good evening, my fellow Americans. In 2000 when you overwhelmingly made the decision to elect me as your 43rd president, I knew the road ahead would be difficult. We have accomplished so much yet challenges lie ahead.

In the last 6 years we have been able to stop global warming. No one could have predicted the negative results of this. Glaciers that once were melting are now on the attack. As you know, these renegade glaciers have already captured parts of upper Michigan and northern Maine, but I assure you: we will not let the glaciers win.

Right now, in the 2nd week of May 2006, we are facing perhaps the worst gas crisis in history. We have way too much gasoline. Gas is down to $0.19 a gallon and the oil companies are hurting. I know that I am partly to blame by insisting that cars run on trash.

I am therefore proposing a federal bailout to our oil companies because- hey if it were the other way around, you know the oil companies would help us...
This article in Wired Magazine on Gore's resurrection is quite fascinating as well:
Al Gore? Five and a half years after leaving the political stage, only the fourth man in US history to win the popular vote for president without being inaugurated, Gore has deftly remade himself from an object of pity into a fearless environmental crusader. The new Gore is bent on fixing what he calls the "climate crisis" through a combination of public awareness, federal action, and good old-fashioned capitalism. He's traveling the globe, delivering a slide show that, by his own estimate, he's given more than a thousand times over the years. His one-man campaign is chronicled in a new documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, which made Gore the unlikely darling of the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and will be released on May 26 by Paramount Classics. He has also written a forthcoming companion volume of the same name, his first book on the subject since the 1992 campaign tome Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit.

Along the way, Gore has become a neo-green entrepreneur, taking his messianic faith in the power of technology to stop global warming and applying it to an ecofriendly investment firm. The company, Generation Investment Management, which he cofounded nearly two years ago, puts money into businesses that are positioned to capitalize on the carbon-constrained economy Gore and his partners see coming in the near future. All the while, he has been busy polishing his reputation as the ultimate wired citizen: Not far from the Stanford campus, Gore sits on the board of directors at Apple and serves as a senior adviser to Google. Farther up Highway 101 are the San Francisco headquarters of Current TV, the youth-oriented cable network he cofounded with legal entrepreneur Joel Hyatt.

For Gore, the private-sector ventures are all pieces of the same puzzle. He's challenging the power of the investment and media industries to decide what information matters most and how it ought to be distributed. "I find a lot of joy in the fact that these parts of my life post-politics have connected into what feels like a coherent whole, in ways that I didn't consciously plan," Gore told me at the Technology Entertainment Design conference in Monterey, California, where - again - he was the star attraction. "I think I'm very lucky."

This is not, of course, the image of Al Gore stored in the nation's memory. He's been filed away as a tragic character who saw his victory hijacked by the Supreme Court. (In the film, he addresses the experience in a poignant passage: "That was a hard blow, but what do you do? You make the best of it.") How Gore has reengineered himself as a hero of the new green movement is a story known so far by only the relative few who have seen him in action lately. "You have a sense that this is the moment in his life, as though all the work he's been doing is now coming to a head," says film director Davis Guggenheim, who spent months traveling with Gore while shooting An Inconvenient Truth. "City by city, as he gives this presentation, he is redeeming himself in a classically heroic way - someone who's been defeated and is lifting himself out of the ashes."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

On Blogging

Mark in Hanoi has some parting words on blogging as he closes up shop at his own blog. Something for all you bloggers out there to chew on:
When I began writing I was very conscious of those I knew were reading my blog: friends, family and some coworkers back home. Early on I was concerned about how I could balance the demands of such different groups of people. At the same time I tried to keep the existence of my blog relatively quiet and limit my audience. For one thing, I still hadn't figured out how personal I wanted to get.

This strategy proved in vain as readers I didn't even know began to tune in. I think this is because somewhere along the line I had already abandoned the email analogy and started writing as if it mattered. I decided I would only write something when I felt I had a point. I was not travel blogging, and was not interested in posting mere descriptions or lists of places. Those things I would save for private emails when I felt the need. Instead I decided to post observations, reflections, a good story, anything I thought was a window into the culture. Once I began to write for a more general audience I became much more disciplined - not just in the writing process but in the choice of topics.

I don't know if I succeeded, but this is the peculiar potential of the blog, to become a kind of grassroots journalism, personal, engaged and yet disciplined. This is what Global Voices calls the "bridge blog", blogs that are rooted in personal experience and yet can speak to a much broader audience beyond its local context.

Although I wish I had done it earlier, opening up my audience came with certain risks. For one thing, although I adopted pseudonyms, I was still writing about people I knew and I feared them finding out. In any circumstance this would be awkward, but anyone who has read my entries about the dynamics of Vietnamese social groups (The Group, for instance) will know the value placed on confidence amongst friends in a society given to so much gossip, even when it comes to things we wouldn't consider particularly personal in the West. Furthermore, I was often writing about gay men who have more urgent reasons to keep their worlds separate. Consequently I tried not to write too personally about people I knew, even though there were some fascinating stories that were just begging to be told. Same things with pictures of people.

There were other constraints. I think anyone blogging in that part of the world probably has a nagging question about who out there is actually reading your stuff - and I don't just mean personal friends. Let's just say a little bit of self-censorship probably occurs. I'm not even talking about overtly political issues necessarily. It would have been a disaster on so many levels if my workplace had discovered me writing on workplace experiences. It would have entailed a loss of face and trust among other things.

Actually I suspect all serious bloggers probably face at least some of these constraints just by virtue of the fact that blogs are public. The freedom of the diary (even the email) is lost; what is gained is the potential to make your experiences speak to others. And to participate in virtual communities.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Thank you, Stephen!

There are now 57,374 thank yous at the Thank you Stephen Colbert site. Have you thanked Stephen yet? Why do I keep harping on about this? Doug Elfman, the television critic of the Chicago Sun-Times explains why:
Colbert's routine was more remarkable for its unique and creative brazenness. He joked that Bush's presidency is like the Hindenburg; that Bush's wiretappers were monitoring this very event, and that the White House press corps, sitting in front of Colbert, gave Bush a free pass, scandal after scandal, until recently (when his polls numbers dropped).

How's this for a newsworthy lead? It was perhaps the first time in Bush's tenure that the president was forced to sit and listen to any American cite the litany of criminal and corruption allegations that have piled up against his administration. And mouth-tense Bush and first lady Laura Bush fled as soon as possible afterward.

From whom were they fleeing? A star comedian pretending to be a Fox News-like blowhard doing a sort of performance art that America hasn't witnessed nationally since the days of Andy Kaufman. Even if Colbert's bit had been reported as a train wreck, that would have sufficed. Instead, shocking lines like the following were barely covered by any traditional organ except industry magazine Editor & Publisher: "I stand by" Bush, Colbert cracked, "because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble, and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world."
By the way, the line he quotes here us my favorite from the performance. As Homer Simson would say, "It's so funny because its true!"

Just a brand name in a suit

Digby (one of my favorite on-line authors) pens some words that are fitting of the judgements of the Grand Scribe, Sima Qian:
Bush by contrast has had a free hand. He had an historical moment that could have brought the country and the entire world together --- which he decided instead to use as an opportunity to aggressively assert arrogant partisan and American power. Rather than being a "uniter not a divider" as he promised in the campaign, he roared into office with his one vote majority and treated the Democrats like lackeys, behaving as if he had a mandate to enact the most extreme items on the GOP agenda. He used patriotism as a bludgeon to intimidate all dissent against his inexplicable war with Iraq. At every turn he behaved with insolence and hubris and his failure has been manifest. Now he lives in a bubble, wandering around dazed and confused about what is happening to him --- which is not the result of Democratic partisanship, I might add, but rather the assessment of the American people. (The Democrats were paralyzed during most of his term.) Perhaps that's why his fall has been so steady --- the slow realization among the people that being a leader takes more than a manly swagger and a down home accent.

Bill Clinton may have been an imperfect human being but he was a president. This guy is, and always was, just a brand name in a suit.

Sitting outside the Zhongshan metro

It's nice to sit outside and blog. Don't know why there aren't more people doing it, considering so much effort has gone into making the city wireless. I guess people think of the computer as an indoor mechanism, not something you use in a park or by a stream or on a high mountain in the clouds or in paradise. Where did that come from? The writer tends to be influenced by the environment in which he/she writes. Right not right?

Well, some of you are perhaps wondering how my first week as a radio broadcaster went. It went well. In the beginning (as I create my own world), I will focus mainly on news preparation while I get trained. Frankly, I'm relieved I haven't been immediately assigned to do my own program. It is kind of a "man man zou" (take your time) attitude. However, if you start listening to RTI, you might already at a random moment hear my voice, and it will reveal itself with greater frequency. Yesterday, I already recorded two actualities (an actuality is radio talk for a sound bite, an actual quotation in a story, really the actual voice of a character being reported on). For a few brief moments, I was the voice of President Chen Shui-bian on his return to Taiwan after an eventful trip pretty much all over the world (all because he wasn't allowed to land in the States). Then, Shirley asked me to read an actuality for her show after she did the news. It was a friend of hers--who she described as a Taike臺客 (that is, a person who loves everything about Taiwan)--talking about Taiwan Beer and how it is better than other beers: "I like American beer, but it is too strong. Taiwan Beer is like water. So good." That was very funny. I know there are people who think American beer--at least large-scale commercial beers like Budweiser--is like water. And that's not usually a good thing.

What I like most is the training, probably because I'm a lifelong student. In whatever I do I want to learn something new. To me that is growth. And what better kind of learning than the hands-on kind.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Slow posting (Update)

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. I was having trouble logging on here from Starbucks. Now I am sitting outside the Shilin MRT station and not very comfortable. I feel like I am in Mission Impossible getting my message and the computer is about to explode. All of the MRT stations in Taipei are wireless as are many other places in the city. The goal of Taipei's leaders is to make this city the first completely wireless city in the world. I guess that is the goal of many other cities--Philadelphia, San Fransisco, Seattle...but this is the first city where I have seen evidence of it actually happening. I suppose other Asian cities are moving quickly on this front as well. It helps when corporations don't control government policy.

(Update) As if respond to what I said above, The Anniston Star resports, Philadelphia OKs wireless Internet project:
EarthLink will start building the network in June over a 15-square-mile test area that would cover parts of North and South Philadelphia. The test should take three to four months, said Clifton Roscoe, director of major projects for EarthLink.

Councilman Brian O'Neill said EarthLink has the choice to get out of the deal if the company doesn't like the results of the trial. But he added that he believes EarthLink will succeed.

The Internet service provider's first target would be the city's quarter-million dial-up customers plus existing broadband subscribers who want to pay lower prices, O'Neill said.

Community-based organizations will reach out to low-income households to get them interested.

Atlanta-based EarthLink will invest $22 million over a decade to provide Wi-Fi in the city. Prices are expected to be about $20 a month, or $9.95 for low-income households. EarthLink has agreed to lease capacity to rival Internet service providers.

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About 300 communities across the country are developing or have deployed Wi-Fi plans. Chicago and San Francisco also are planning big public Wi-Fi projects.

O'Neill said having citywide Wi-Fi will attract business and leisure travelers to Philadelphia.

"This puts us at the top of the list," he said.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Back in Taipei

Well, I'm back in Taipei, though I don't have much to write about at this point. I'm sitting in a smoky internet cafe, mostly used by teens playing computer games. I'll probably set up some kind of internet service in my place eventually, but for now I must inhale the tobacco mist as my entry fee into the blogosphere. Tomorrow, May 8th, 2006, is the first day of my new career: I am the media.

Two other takes on Colbert

I don't mean to keep pushing this, but there has been so much excellent on-line analysis of Colbert's performance, even as the corporate, mass media ignored it. This will be my last post about this for some time, I think.

James Poniewozik, the on-line television critic for Time Magazine has this to say:
Numerous attendees said that Colbert had "bombed" with an excessively harsh routine; commentators, mostly on the left, countered that anyone who panned his performance was a toady of the Administration.

Personally, I thought Colbert was good, if not his best; he flubbed a couple of jokes notably and recycled some lines from his own show. But he also got in some searingly acute shots, like the argument that, because "government governs best when it governs least" the government we set up in Iraq is outstanding. But I think that the people who said Colbert bombed reveal less about their political leanings than about their understanding of the media culture we live in now. The reason they think he flopped, of course, is that he didn't get many big laughs in the room. And once upon a time, that would have been what mattered. You might have caught the performance on C-SPAN, but really, who would have? So Colbert would have lived and died on how well he entertained the room, and how well the room spoke of him in the media the next day.

Today, however, thanks to the reposting of the Colbert video online, any of you who are curious about Colbert's performance have probably already seen it. Colbert wasn't playing to the room, I suspect, but to the wide audience of people who would later watch on the Internet. If anything, he was playing against the room—part of the frisson of his performance was the discomfort he generated in the audience, akin to the cringe humor of Da Ali G Show. (Cringe humor, too, is something probably lost on much of the Washington crowd at the dinner, as their pop-culture tastes tend to be on the square side.) To the audience that would watch Colbert on Comedy Central, the pained, uncomfortable, perhaps-a-little-scared-to-laugh reaction shots were not signs of failure. They were the money shots. They were the whole point.

In other words, what anyone fails to get who said Colbert bombed because he didn't win over the room is: the room no longer matters. Not the way it used to. The room, which once would have received and filtered the ritual performance for the rest of us, is now just another subject to be dissected online. Colbert—as he might say on The Colbert Report—"gets it." So does his patron, Jon Stewart, who similarly was said to have bombed at the Oscars because he turned off the stars in the theater with a snide performance that was much funnier to the (much bigger and more relevant) audience at home.

All of this, in other words, is yet another sign of how authority is fragmented and democratized in the Internet era—the top-down authority to assess and interpret for the masses that used to be much of the raison d'etre of the room. So if the room wasn't too amused by Colbert Saturday night, you'll have to excuse them. They don't have as much to laugh about anymore.
Emptywheel of The Next Hurrah uses Bakhtin's theory of the Carnival to analyze the White House Correspondents' Dinner and why Colbert's performance struck the chord that it did:
Mikhail Bakhtin popularized a way of thinking of pre-Lenten Carnival celebrations as that time when hierarchies of society are upended, when the poor dress up as kings and the kings clown around as grotesques. Add in a shared laughter, and Carnival--for one day or one week--manages to erase the hierarchical structure of society and infuse it with a little richness. Here's a description that may resonate:

Society is, in normal circumstances, ruled by the "head" (in medieval Europe, the court and the church). During carnival, hierarchy is not only suspended but inverted: The village idiot becomes king, sinners in priestly vestments preach nonsensical or blasphemous sermons. It is a space-time governed by what Bakhtin terms "the grotesque body" -- the joyously eating, drinking, screwing and odor-emitting regions of corporal existence, which the mind ignores or otherwise represses. Carnival is a reminder that the pope's shit stinks, too.

People disagree whether that makes Carnival revolutionary, because it challenges the rigidities of society's hierarchies. Or whether, by serving as a steam valve, it actually makes the underlying hierarchy more resilient. I kind of sit on the fence in this disagreement. Celebrated once a year, Carnival can only serve to reinforce hierarchies, because it implies everyone accepts limits on when one can ignore hierarchies. Though I accept that the process of highlighting the grotesque reality of the ruler can, if sustained, delegitimize it.

In any case, I think the White House Correspondents' Dinner normally serves the same function as Carnival. It's a time, once a year, when the White House and those who cover it can get together and laugh. Not just laugh, mind you, but laugh at the President. Pretend they don't normally buy into the protocol that strictly governs the behavior of both sides in the relationship. I suspect (siding with those who believe Carnival is not revolutionary) that the Correspondents' Dinner allows White House reporters to maintain the self-deception that they are not really subservient to the White House, thereby renewing their willingness to be subservient for the rest of the year.

But who knows what will happen after Stephen Colbert came in and broke the "rules" of Carnival? Carnival, after all, requires that the downtrodden may play king; they must be allowed to pretend to have power, for just this day, or the whole notion of Carnival loses its power. But rather than standing with journalists and laughing with them at Bush, Colbert first reinforced Bush's false position of power by saluting the President, mentioning illegal assertions of his power like the NSA wiretapping.

To actually sit here, at the same table with my hero, George W. Bush, to be this close to the man. I feel like I'm dreaming.


By the way, before I get started, if anybody needs anything else at their tables, just speak slowly and clearly into your table numbers. Somebody from the NSA will be right over with a cocktail.

Then he showed how--powerful as Bush is--his power is nothing more than a facade.

I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound -- with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.

Had that been all, Colbert might not have ruined the party. He spent a lot of time reinforcing (rather than denying) Bush's power, but that probably could have been laughed off. But then Colbert turned on the celebrating Carnival goers and reminded them, in clear terms, that their willingness to cede their own power not only made them subservient, but propped up an empty figurehead.

Over the last five years you people were so good -- over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.

But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!

It was one of the most vicious displays of the power of irony I've ever seen. With an artfully crafted use of his fictional persona, Colbert showed the press that they're still just weaklings to a weakling President. Colbert broke the rules of Carnival and all the press corps can say is, well, they've got nothing to say.

Still, I wonder what happens now, now that the press corps has been denied their annual Carnival fun. Will they grow angrier at Bush because they've been reminded of their weakness? Will they take the energy that they (and Bush) had hoped they would have expended in laughing at Bush, and instead use it to start reporting on what a fake he really is? Or will they sidle up closer to Bush for a while, like whipped puppies looking for security, because at least Bush played by the rules, he performed his self-deprecating role like he was supposed to. Good village idiot playing king, good President Bush.

Craig Crawford on Colbert

Crawford was in the audience at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. This is his take:
All I know is that I was wiping away tears of laughter after the Comedy Central star's brilliant send-up (although I did notice that only a handful of folks at the tables around me were visibly amused).

Colbert spared no one, and Lord knows that none of us should be. In a hilarious passage that still makes me laugh at this writing, Colbert lampooned the entire country's jingoistic madness, from commerce to war-making, when he said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I believe it's yogurt. But I refuse to believe it's not butter."

For all the high and mighty whiners out there, I'll relay what Colbert told me in the green room before I did his show a few months ago. "I hope you understand that I play a character on this show," he said. "I play a complete idiot." And a gloriously funny idiot he is, played to perfection at last week's dinner. At least he was the one just playing the fool.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Colbert at the White House Correspondents' Dinner

(Update) Check out the Thank you Stephen Colberts site, which has the full video.

If you haven't seen it yet, I strongly encourage you to view the routine by Colbert, in my view, the most brilliant political satirist on American television, and despite the lack of serious competition, he really is superb. Last night, he spoke truth to power, with President Bush sitting right next to him, and in front of the entire community of Whitehouse correspondents, the very people who haven't held the president accountable the way they should have the last several years. For those who aren't familiar with Colbert, he is a persona, and imitation of the right wing pundits who pollute American media; he has mastered the art of turning their words and mannerisms against them. See for yourself. Needless to say, the president wasn't very happy, nor was his cultic base, and today, despite the very positive reaction on the internet, television and print media ignored Colbert's performance, even though he was the main act.

Here is what Peter Daou has to say about it:
It appears Mash's misgivings about press coverage are well-placed. The AP's first stab at it and pieces from Reuters and the Chicago Tribune tell us everything we need to know: Colbert's performance is sidestepped and marginalized while Bush is treated as light-hearted, humble, and funny. Expect nothing less from the cowardly American media. The story could just as well have been Bush and Laura's discomfort and the crowd's semi-hostile reaction to Colbert's razor-sharp barbs. In fact, I would guess that from the perspective of newsworthiness and public interest, Bush-the-playful-president is far less compelling than a comedy sketch gone awry, a pissed-off prez, and a shell-shocked audience.

This is the power of the media to choose the news, to decide when and how to shield Bush from negative publicity. Sins of omission can be just as bad as sins of commission. And speaking of a sycophantic media establishment bending over backwards to accommodate this White House and to regurgitate pro-GOP and anti-Dem spin, I urge readers to pick up a copy of Eric Boehlert's new book, Lapdogs. It's a powerful indictment of the media's timidity during the Bush presidency. Boehlert rips away the facade of a "liberal media" and exposes the invertebrates masquerading as journalists who have allowed and enabled the Bush administration's many transgressions to go unchecked, under-reported, or unquestioned.

A final thought: Bush's clownish banter with reporters - which is on constant display during press conferences - stands in such stark contrast to his administration's destructive policies and to the gravity of the bloodbath in Iraq that it is deeply unsettling to watch. This may be impolitic, but wouldn't refraining from frat-style horseplay be appropriate for this man? Or at the least, can't reporters suppress their raucous laughter every time he blurts out another jibe... the way they did when Colbert put them in their place?
Christy Smith at Firedoglake says:
The toughest job in comedy is to do a roast — where you skewer your audience and your host — with some biting satire, some painful truths and some harsh reality, all the while cloaking it in a sheen of laughter. Comedy is a means of speaking truth to power in a form of message that allows the truth to sink in long after the laughter has died away.

Stephen Colbert pulled that off in spades last night at the WH Correspondent’s Dinner — and the sting of his delivery is going to ripple out for days among the press corps and the sentient members of the Bush Administration. And the reason is this: no matter how much they try to bury it, by ignoring the Colbert portion of the evening in the teevee news, or burying it with a one-paragraph bit in the print media — online it is going to gather steam and take on a life of its own.

The buzz of truthiness, ladies and gentlemen, knows no boundaries in the computer age. (And thank you C&L for helping that along. Bravo.) Especially when it is coupled with some seriously funny satire.

Video clips and quotes are going to make their way through e-mails everywhere — and the butt of all those jokes is going to have to come to terms with some harsh reality, or become even more of a joke.