Monday, July 31, 2006

The reflected world

Often eyes too shy to meet face to face gaze off into a reflected world. There, in the alternate reality on the other side of the window pane, as the train passes underground, there: we see eye to eye.

Friday, July 28, 2006

More on Scribblism

Who knew as the idea hit me on my approach to the Xinbeitou station that there really is something called scribblism? See Scribblism: art and practice of the scribble. Way cool site.

A short note

I spend a lot of time on this site going back and forth between writing about Taiwanese politics and American politics, between attempting to capture what people I meet here think about their society and what I am thinking, feeling, seeing, dreaming, smelling, hearing, and doing on any given day--between subjective and objective, personal and global, the past, present, and future. That is partly the nature of blogs (though many bloggers confine their discussions within specific frames), but probably more a reflection of my own manner of scribbling. So, hopefully, those of you who were attracted to this site because of an interest in Taiwan's situation won't be put off by a post on America's situation, or vice versa. Likewise, it is not my intention to scare away people who have liked some of my posts that transmitted the words of random strangers on the streets of Taipei with posts that described memories from my childhood--ones to which only my parents could relate. I guess I am also one of those random strangers lurking in Taipei's lanes and alleyways.

A Shaolin monk

Yesterday, on the metro I met a monk from Nepal (probably Tibetan). He told me he came to Taiwan 8 years ago to learn martial arts. He lives at a temple near Taoyuan, where a monk teaches him the Shaolin way. I didn't ask him if his master came from Shaolin temple in China. There wasn't much time to talk. Soon after we started chatting, we arrived at Yuanshan. Both of us got off, said a few more words, shook hands, and went our separate ways. Should have given him my business card. Silly me.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Get ready for it: 2008 will be a pivotal year in this planet's history

1. Taiwan presidential election: Ma Ying-jeou expected to win (?)

2. American presidential election: Already some front runners (Hillary and McCain), but the field in both parties is open and anything might happen. Don't listen to the pundits and out-dated consultants.

3. Beijing Olympics: You know this is going to be amazing, no matter what your views are. I'll try to be there.

4. ???

What else will be happening that year? What other countries are having presidential elections? Send your letters to the personnel department in the comments section.

A lot will happen before than, but 2008 will be the year.

Misunderstanding Taiwan

Michael has an important post critiquing a Washington policy paper on Taiwan. It might be difficult to read for those who are pro-China at all costs as I once was:
Taiwan is a headache for the foreign policy Establishment since its ornery democracy that insists on an independence of its own interferes with smooth relations with China (translation: Big Profits), and thus, much of the writing that comes out of Establishment institutions on Taiwan consists of attempts to find a language and a stance that rationalizes the writer's cognitive dissonance as he, usually a decent human being, discusses how democratic Taiwan can best be betrayed to Communist China. Often this involves blaming Taiwan for being "provocative," thus inviting the reader to subconsciously adopt the point of view that Taiwan is an obstreporous child in need of discipline, and deserves its fate. Reading such stuff, one is reminded of Jan Masaryk's visit to Downing Street after the infamous surrender at Munich, where he told Chamberlain and Halifax: "If you have sacrificed my nation to preserve the peace of the world, I will be the first to applaud you. But if not, gentlemen, God help your souls."
My own personal wish is to see an open and thriving China (not just economically)--one that can accept the co-existence of a prospering but independent Taiwan. When China can do that, it will truly live up to the greatness that is its potential, and will be a model for the world.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Interesting restaurant idea

I must have walked by it a million times (well maybe not that many) as I window-shopped in Shilin. It looked like a store selling toilet bowls. But tonight, after purchasing a Kung-pao chicken pizza (and eating it), I walk past this "shop" on my way back to the metro. I looked inside and there were a lot of people sitting on the bowls; they were at tables; they were eating. No, this was not a toilet bowl shop; it was a restaurant and all of the seats were toilet bowls. Perhaps (and this is pure speculation) the place doubles as a bathroom supply store. I'll have to obtain some pictures. Stay tuned...

The systemic problems

David Sirota responds to the New York Times review of his book, Hostile Takeover, and in the process arrives at the systemic problem in American media/politics:
That, my friends, is the fault line that is driving everything in today's politics: a battle between the people inside the Establishment whose careers rely on protecting the status quo and the vast majority of Americans who have been locked out of their own political and media debate. Of course, you don't hear that in our current political discourse - everything is always ramrodded into a debate between Democrats and Republicans, red and blue, liberals and conservatives. That's deliberate - the Establishment wants the public to think this battle is about everything OTHER than the struggle between those with power who want to preserve the status quo, and those without power who want democratic control of their country. Because if this fault line is actually brought to the front and talked about, it means a direct challenge to the powers that be.

You can see how frightened the Establishment is in how the elites treat anyone who dares highlight this fault line.

In the book world, books like Hostile Takeover, Crashing the Gates, How Would A Patriot Act?, Lapdogs and others are movement books that represent the desires, aspirations and centrist political positions of the vast majority of Americans. Books like The Good Fight and The World is Flat, on the other hand, are books that not only represent the status quo Establishment, but go out of their way to attack the nerve of those outside the Washington Beltway who want serious change. Not surprisingly, the Establishment aggressively pushes the latter in its corporate media channels, and attacks or suppresses coverage of the former.

In the electoral arena, Washington pundits and incumbent politicians are out in force breathlessly berating Connecticut voters that are backing primary candidate Ned Lamont in his challenge to incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman (D). The Establishment is outraged that voters would have the chutzpah to believe that elections should be, well, elections - and not coronations for Senators who think they are royalty and think they can sell out their constituents with no consequences.

Even in the policy arena, this Ordinary Americans vs. Establishment s power struggle is occurring. On one side, you see millions of newly engaged citizens involving themselves in Internet activism, union organizing, and political campaigns that take on the status quo and push a policy agenda that represents the vast majority of Americans. You see courageous politicians take principled stands on specific policies that the Establishment has tried to preserve for years.

On the other side, there are organizations like the Democratic Leadership Council, which is holding its "national conversation" in Denver this weekend. The group purports to represent America's political "center" but on issue after issue after issue, the organization and its highest-profile leaders have gone on record advocating for extremist national security, trade and economic policies well outside the mainstream of American public opinion. These policies, undoubtedly influenced by the group's big corporate donors, have helped destroy America's middle class and weaken America's security. The group, of course, purports to represent ordinary Americans. But they can't hide even the farcical nature of that assertion. As just one example, the Rocky Mountain News reports the DLC's supposedly "national conversation" runs "through Monday at the Hyatt Regency hotel and is not open to the public." And now the group is pitching stories to reporters trying to openly position themselves as the counterweight to grassroots political organizing and activism.

The New York Times and other Establishment media try to make everything about one party or another, and about one election or another. But what is clear - and what is frightening them and their friends at their elite cocktail party gatherings - is the realization that a movement is being built that transcends both parties and any one election. This is a movement that sees the principles of standing up for the little guy and the ideology that puts regular people first not as a threat, but as a necessity to rebuilding the foundations this country was built on - foundations that are now under a vicious assault by those in the Establishment.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Lee 等会 (Lee Wait a Minute)

There is a fascinating documentary on the Taiwan Art Channel about former Taiwanese President, Lee Teng-hui, and the democracy movement in Taiwan. Unfortunately, I can't understand much of it since it is mostly in Taiwanese. Looks like the eighties and nineties (before I came) was an exciting period in Taipei and elsewhere in this island nation. But, then again, what period hasn't been (including now)?

About the title of this post: it comes from a joke. Apparently, when Chiang Ching-kuo was on his death bed and had to choose a successor, he said, "You wait a minute" (你等会) and everyone took him to mean: "Lee Teng-hui" (李登輝). The two sound alike. I doubt this was a joke told by his supporters, but the documentary played a song based on the joke.

This kind of pun on leaders' names is common in Chinese, not just in Taiwan. I was just in the 7 Eleven near where I live, and someone referred to President Chen Shui-bian as Chen Shui---pian. By changing the "b" to "p" he was in effect saying--Chen Shui-deceive. He was very clear about what he meant.

Wikipedia has an interesting description of Lee's life and career, especially this bit about the Taiwan localization movement, the predicessor to the Taiwan independence movement:
Lee Teng-hui, during his term as president, supported the Taiwanese localization movement. The Taiwanese localization movement has its roots in the home rule groups founded during the Japanese era and sought to put emphasis on Taiwan as the center of people's lives as opposed Mainland China or Japan. During the Chiang regime, China was promoted as the center of an ideology that would build a Chinese national outlook in a people who had once considered themselves Japanese subjects. Under this ideology, Taiwan was seen as a place for mainlanders to resent as they waited for the re-conquest of the Maoist mainland. Taiwan was often relegated to a backwater province of China in the KMT-supported history books. People were discouraged from studying Taiwan and old customs were to be replaced by "Chinese" customs. Lee, conversely, sought to turn Taiwan into a center rather than an appendage, a shift that was widely supported in Taiwan. However, he has stated that his actions were also based on the premise that a Chinese identity and a Taiwanese identity are ultimately incompatible, a notion that is very controversial on the island, even among supporters of localization.

Lee presided over the democratization of Taiwanese society and government in the late-1980s and early-1990s. During his presidency, Lee was followed by persistent suspicions that he secretly supported Taiwan independence and that he was intentionally sabotaging the Kuomintang. The former suspicion was proven true by Lee's behavior after his Presidency, which led to his expulsion from the Kuomintang and subsequently becoming the spiritual leader of the strongly pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union.

Could that be a ghost?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bush's New Clothes

For those of you who haven't been following Bush's mishaps on the world stage and for those who have, SF Gate columnist, Mark Morford, has the definitive piece: "Bush Gropes, Planet Cringes Knead a German chancellor, banter dumbly, reveal global ignorance. It's Dubya abroad!" He sums it all up:
So now we know.

I mean, we sort of thought we knew, before, what kind of guy George W. Bush is, essentially our very own inept, inarticulate ex-alcoholic ex-frat-guy failed-businessman pseudo-leader who famously appeals to the most God-fearin' and least educated and least attuned among us because he is, well, one of them.

We thought we had him pegged: Just a casual and aw-shucks sort of walkin', talkin', war-happy embarrassment to the country who was rumored to be a Genuinely Nice Guy in person but who, when he traveled abroad, nevertheless caused the entire nation to pre-emptively cringe in preparation for all sorts of imminent humiliations and lots of hilarious-yet-excruciating new material for "The Collected Bushisms."

But every so often we get a glimpse of just a little more. Or, rather, less. Of what lies just beneath that carefully controlled sheen of White House spin, what happens when Dubya is away from his handlers and his prefab scripts. We get a hint of just what fuels that clueless amble, that Chosen One bumble, that graceless and decidedly dorky sort of approach to everything from ordering a Diet Coke to comprehending Middle East chaos.

Witness, won't you, the latest in a huge pile of embarrassing Bush-on-tape moments. (Warning: Not for the faint of intellect.)

Here he is, the leader of the Free World, fresh off being caught on a live microphone at the Group of Eight summit meeting muttering to his favorite poodle Tony Blair, using his bestest Texas-boy shtick, that if them gul-dang Syrians would just tell Hezbollah to knock this s-- off, everything would be dandy ...

Here is the president of the most powerful nation on the planet, fresh from an awkward smackdown by Vladimir Putin on Bush's failed war in Iraq, muttering to Blair and Chinese President Hu Jintao, actually more amazed and confounded by the fact that Jintao's flight home takes about as long as Bush's to Washington ...

(Bush: "You eight hours? Me too. Russia's a big country and you're a big country. Takes him eight hours to fly home ... Russia's big and so is China. Yo Blair, what're you doing? Are you leaving?" Ah, dumb-guy banter. Makes you feel proud all over, no?)

And now, the icing on the giant cake o' domestic torture. Here is Dubya, strolling speedily into a G-8 summit meeting where powerful, intent world leaders are already gathered to discuss, presumably, serious issues of the day, walking straight up to a seated German Chancellor Angela Merkel and giving her a weird, unsolicited shoulder rub from behind, before dashing to his seat. Oh yes he did.

The pictures, the video reveal all. Merkel reacts accordingly, is instantly creeped out, cringes and shrugs Bush away with a look of surprised revulsion. Read on...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Scribe of Scribblism

It was inevitably the case that as a child, whenever one of those mega-boxes of crayons was placed in front of me and next to a blank sheet of white paper, I would reach for a random color and begin scribbling. I liked the way different colors mixed together in an expanding flow of chaos. However, I had no sense of how to fix this chaos into an orderly pattern, though the more I scribble the more a pattern seemed to emerge on its own.

There were many of us who scribbled their way through life, but it was hard to avoid comparisons with the other kids who designed extravagant images, magnificent in their detail. How did they do it, without even a ruler to guide their way.

I continued on this pathway in college. It is visible in so many instances of recollection: in the way I randomly chose courses during my freshman and sophomore years from a vast spectrum of offerings; in the way disparate parts of my thesis gradually came together in a re-run of the many times I put pencil to the paper of those connect the dots books I liked as a kid (they must have been designed with us scribblers in mind); in the way I splattered wax on T-shirts during batik class; and in the way I took each day as it came without much thought about the future. I figured my career would come to me (or it would not) and their was no need to waste too much energy on formulating a resume.

Then, following college, I went to China for a year; this was a move that full-filled a life-long dream, but was also one--at least in the short-term--that did little to imprint a direction on my life. It would come, but at the time I was still scribbling. It was as if I was thrown smack dab in the middle of the ocean, or rather in the heart of the Middle Kingdom. I had also moved beyond the peaceful hamlet of my upbringing into the wider world, where I threw off the armor protecting my cultural assumptions.

But would a pattern emerge from all my scribbling. Would I walk in a specific direction outside the dreams that filled my consciousness?

At the time, the notion of direction was actually something that I feared. I was searching but not deciding, and it was the very idea of making a decision that scared me. First of all, there seemed to be so many possibilities out there, and at the same time, I pictured each potential decision as influencing--really fixing--the rest of my life. There was no turning back.

Thus, even though I was in China, my head was really in the clouds and I wasn't appreciating the reality that was in front of my eyes.

Then I returned to America and for the first time in my life I heard the words: "What are you going to do with your life?" This question freaked me out because of what I already described--that fear of making a decision. But I was also scared of somehow missing that golden moment, that once in a lifetime happening that transforms one's destiny in a serendipitous flash. Or had I already missed it?

Unless you are a scribbler you probably have a hard time imagining how difficult it can be to make this determined leap into an unknown venture--or perhaps it is only scribblers who would even dream of the alternate reality on the other side of the rainbow. You are organized, matter of fact, and down to earth. I am fine with that; there are myriad paths to the capital. I am simply describing my experience.

I endured a period of total confusion, one in which my scribbling got out of hand. I was afflicted also by a culture shock induced by my return into America's orbit, one which I likened to Zhuangzi's butterfly dream. It was much more of a challenge than going to China.

I revved up my car on a wintry day in February. It was dark and stormy and I drove on slippery roads in a direction despite my fear of direction. I drove into the unknown blizzards of the future that have become the past. I drove even though I witnessed no hope of finding a destination. That voice in my head--the one that likes to say, "You can't!"--was predicting doom.

And do you know what happened? Within days the sun was shining in the heavens. The chirping of birds in a morning park instilled hope in my heart. Encounters with strangers renewed in me an optimism about humanity and the possibilities that life has in store.

The more I drove the more I found my direction...and then came the single most important decision of my life up to that moment, the one that brought me out of my head and onto the page, which was at the time comprised of thousands and thousands of flashcards.

It was the decision that forced me to focus all my energy on linguistic mastery--the language was Chinese. For years I gave up scribbling. Other modes of being were crucial: memorization, internalization, and comprehension, etc. You couldn't just say anything because, "Chinese people don't say that." So it also called for becoming culturally sensitive, learning how to express things not how I was comfortable expressing them, but how it was acceptable to express them. This is a lifelong process, but the more I have learned the more "acceptable" has become "comfortable."

After all these years, I am still a scribbler. What has changed is that I no longer see scribbling as the creation of a chaotic mess; it is more a process. One must have faith that a pattern will emerge, that accumulated pages will come together into a dissertation, that the web has no weaver.

I introduce a new mode of thought to the world: scribblism. There are millions of us faithful out here, though unfortunately we have hitherto been unable to develop an effective form of communication. Our correspondences are percieved as jibberish and each of us has his/her own method of scribbling that is undecipherable to anyone else. Our religious structures are a mishmash of different materials assembled without any thought for function--or for that matter--form.

Of course, neither do we have leaders nor a social structure. And without a social structure no cohesive belief system.

The only thing that unites us is a faith--a principle--that there is something more to our scribbling, something that can be detected, something that, once discovered, can bring coherence to life, and with that coherence, a basis for everything else that humans hold dear.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Journalistic Courage

Via Mcjoan at Dailykos, Washington Post reporter, Walter Pincus writes:
A new element of courage in journalism would be for editors and reporters to decide not to cover the President's statements when he -- or any public figure -- repeats essentially what he or she has said before. The Bush team also has brought forward another totally PR gimmick: The President stands before a background that highlights the key words of his daily message. This tactic serves only to reinforce that what's going on is public relations -- not governing. Journalistic courage should include the refusal to publish in a newspaper or carry on a TV or radio news show any statements made by the President or any other government official that are designed solely as a public relations tool, offering no new or valuable information to the public.
This should be true in any so-called free society where truth is valued over PR.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Pink Floyd - Live At Pompeii - Echoes (part 1)

This is after Syd Barrett left the band, but one of the more amazing Pink Floyd appearances, live at Pompeii, though not much of a crowd. I think you can get a sense how creative these guys were/are. Amazing video as well, and one of their best songs. Haven't heard that in a long time.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

This guy was simply bizarre!


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Pink Floyd's crazy diamond dead at 60 (Updated below)

Yes, Syd Barrett, one of the founding members of Pink Floyd has died. This means a lot to me since Pink Floyd was my favorite band from high school through college and beyond. Even now, when I hear Pink Floyd songs I am moved in a very very particular way. It all started when my sister gave me her warped copy of "Dark Side of the Moon" (post-Barrett). It took me awhile, but it gradually replaced Def Leppard to become my most listened to album and band. First I got hooked on "Money" and then the rest of the album followed, which led me to many other Floyd discoveries.

Actually, in 6th grade we used to all plug into the tape recorder in the library and listen to "Another Brick in the Wall" over and over again: "We don't need no education. We don't need no thought control." And so I went on to get a Ph.D. Go figure?

The AP article by Jill Lawless--an appropriate name--has a particularly egregious error, which sooner or later will be corrected:
Barrett co-founded Pink Floyd in 1965 with David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright, and wrote many of the band's early songs. The group's jazz-infused rock made them darlings of the London psychedelic scene, and the 1967 album "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" — largely written by Barrett, who also played guitar — was a commercial and critical hit.

However, Barrett suffered from mental instability, exacerbated by his use of LSD. His behavior grew increasingly erratic, and he left the group in 1968 — five years before the release of Pink Floyd's most popular album, "Dark Side of the Moon." He was replaced by David Gilmour.
Floyd fans already caught it; the rest of you are in the dark. The article does not include Roger Waters as one of the founding members, and nowhere even mentions his name. Instead, David Gilmour is both one of the founding members and Syd's replacement. This is a shame.

Update: I also posted this at Daily Kos and got a lot of interesting comments. It was amazing how fast the comments multiplied. I think there are a lot of progressive Pink Floyd fans out there. Almost 200 people voted in the poll I posted there. Check out the results.

Here is a corrected version of the AP article that mentions Roger Waters.

Adam Berstein pens a good piece on Syd in the Washington Post:
Roger Keith Barrett was born Jan. 6, 1946, in Cambridge, England, where his father was a university lecturer in pathology. He was drawn to jazz and blues early on, playing ukulele and later switching to guitar, and he hung out in music clubs. He took his nickname from a old Cambridge jazz drummer he knew, Sid Barrett, and used a "y" for effect.

Mr. Barrett was an indifferent art student in London when he joined his high school friend Waters in a rock band that included Mason and Wright. Mr. Barrett wrote many of the group's early songs, inspired mostly by prodigious drug use and an astronomical atlas he carried everywhere.

He also renamed the band, formerly the Screaming Abdabs, after two obscure American bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd "Dipper Boy" Council.
It also has the nitty gritty on Syd's life after he left the band. Kind of tragic:
After brief hospitalization, Mr. Barrett was cared for by his mother, and he rarely left home. After his mother died in 1991, his health worsened, and his eyesight began to fail. He enjoyed gardening, however, and was said to be skillful at stuffing peppers.
The revised AP article adds this fascinating tidbit about Syd's later years:
He spent much of the rest of his life living quietly in his hometown of Cambridge, England, and reverting to his real name, Roger Barrett.
He was a familiar figure, often seen cycling or walking to the corner store, but rarely spoke to the fans and journalists who sought him out over the years.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Ma's trip to Japan (Update)

I just noticed this informative article at Asia Times Online by Hisane Masaki on Chairman--I mean--Mayor Ma's trip to Japan, as well as Japan's position in the middle of the cross-strait conflict:
In stark contrast with its withering ties with communist-ruled China, Japan's relations with Taiwan, a capitalist democracy, have been in full bloom in recent years. In the absence of diplomatic ties, Japan still imposes strict restrictions on high-level official contacts with Taiwan.

At the same time, economic and cultural exchanges between Japan and Taiwan have expanded. After Japan dropped visa requirements for Taiwanese visitors last year, the two countries exchanged a record 2.5 million visitors. Taiwan is currently Japan's fourth largest trading partner. The 345-kilometer Taiwan High Speed Line using the Japanese Shinkansen bullet train technology system is under construction between Taipei and Kaohsiung and is due for completion later this year. The project is widely seen as a symbol of Japan-Taiwan friendship.

As such, many Taiwanese are said to harbor pro-Japanese sentiments. Some Taiwanese even think that Japan's 1895-1945 colonial rule in the region has contributed to the island's current economic prosperity through the universities, roads and other infrastructure the Japanese left behind. According to a recent survey by the Taiwanese business magazine Global Review, Japan topped the list of countries that Taiwanese would prefer to emigrate, travel or think is the "greatest". Former President Lee was staunchly pro-Japan and even defended Koizumi's Yasukuni visits.

However, not everyone in Taiwan shares those favorable sentiments, including elements inside the KMT which favor closer ties with Beijing. Earlier this year, the KMT fumed when Japanese and Taiwanese groups jointly erected a monument in a Taipei suburb honoring thousands of indigenous Taiwanese who died while fighting for the Japanese Imperial Army in Southeast Asia. Most of the monument was ordered dismantled by local KMT officials a few weeks later. Ma reportedly described the incident as a good example of the emotions that could be unleashed if embracing Japan goes too far. Taiwanese who revel in the Japanese colonial period are still "brainwashed," he said.

(Update) I also missed Michael's post on the same article. Be sure to also read the fascinating comments to his post.

Life's ideal

Ambivalent Maybe--that humble lover of words and symbols--of Lumpenlogogracy summed up my own personal ideal better than I ever could when he said he got the impression from reading my blog of: "a sublime state of laid-back fascination." While I can't say I have reached any sublime state, I am definitely content with the direction my life has taken, and this city ceaselessly offers fascinating experiences to feed my imagination. I guess I am laid-back by nature (part of it is cultivated), and am at my best when I can see wonder in the world, though I also have my mood-swings, yearnings, and short-comings, as well as moments that are filled with boredom, loneliness, melancholy, and other negative feelings (these moments have been diminishing however). To make a long story short, what you read here is real, though of course not complete. I have done nothing intentional on the level of a million little pieces to enhance this blog--that is, nothing beyond the creative use of words to share my experience with the world. I yam what I yam.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The White Terror and James Soong

Michael has a fascinating post on James Soong's involvement in some of Taiwan's not-so-nice recent events:
It is sobering to recall that the man responsible for coordinating the KMT's campaign to deflect the massive publicity hit they took from that killing was none other than James Soong, last seen at a sit-in about the integrity of the government outside the Presidential Office.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Engagement not appeasement

Australian Labor Party MP, Michael Danby, has some words that are similar to what I said in my post below:
Let me now say something about Australia and China. My political party, the Australian Labor Party, while in government established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic in 1972 and greatly expanded Australia's economic relations with China.

Those were both correct decisions. Reform in China will not be brought about by trying to isolate China or by refusing to trade with it. China is entitled to be treated with diplomatic respect, and must be allowed to trade like any other country. Experience elsewhere shows that the more prosperous a country becomes through trade, the greater will be the pressure for further economic reform and then for political reform. China and Australia have a strong and mutually beneficial economic relationship, and that is a natural and positive development.

We must be careful, however, not to allow a desire to maintain and develop good economic relations with China to lead to a policy of appeasement. If you appease dictators, they only demand more. If you stand up to dictators on matters of principle, they retreat.

My fear is that the current Australian government has gone too far in the direction of appeasement of China, and has adopted what I call a policy of "pre-emptive kow tow." We have seen this in the repeated hints by the Foreign Minister that if there is a confrontation between the US and China in the Taiwan Straits, Australia will not come to the assistance of the US and Taiwan. We have seen it also in the refusal of the government to take a stand for persecuted Chinese dissidents, editors and writers, substituting instead a "human rights dialogue" designed to empty the issue of human rights in China of all real meaning and urgency.

Why is the Australian government behaving in this way? Apparently they believe that the best way to preserve our economic relationship with China is to go to any lengths to avoid offending its government. The current government apparently believes that if they offend China by criticizing its human rights record China will stop buying our raw materials and the huge inflow of Chinese money will dry up, with dire consequences for Australia.

This is, of course, nonsense. It is perfectly possible for democratic countries to have a "two-track" policy with China. On the one hand, a healthy economic relationship based on mutual self-interest. On the other hand, a political relationship based on courteous but frank statements of difference when this is necessary.

To suggest that China will risk damaging its own vital economic interests by seeking to withdraw from its economic relationships with Western countries and other democracies is highly unrealistic.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Chinese and Taiwanese views of America (it's about dignity)

When I was traveling on the mainland with Eyvi back in October and November of last year, one thing I noticed was a generally negative attitude towards America, Americans, and most importantly, Bush, who is known there as "Little Bush," and whose name in Chinese, "Xiao Bushi," sounds to me like "Xiao Bullshit." This was in stark contrast to the first time I was there, when it seemed like everyone wanted to go to America.

On this past trip, some people came right out and said, "I don't like Americans," though when we pushed them further, and asked, "What about us?" they would respond more positively. Also, Clinton had very high ratings, which was also a shift from the first time I traveled to China in 1992, when Clinton first became president. Over that time, he had morphed from the leader of the world police into the American President who traveled to and around China with his family, and who advocated engagement and an interconnected world.

Little Bush is different. He is known as the leader of the nation that bullies other world powers and unilaterally attacks other countries. Eyvi can perhaps remember taxi drivers in Luoyang lecturing us about the Iraq War and how the laobaixing (people) just want to live their lives in peace:
in luoyang the taxi drivers lectured us about american politics, i.e. the war in iraq and our president. in fact, as soon as we reached henan province, every random stranger we had contact with said something about iraq and the president--all said "war is meaningless;" all said "little bush loves war; little bush is a bad person;"
While I agree with this notion of the wrongheadedness of Bush Iraq policy and his bullying tactics, I also find it ironic, considering that many Taiwanese interpret China's bullying of Taiwan on the world stage in the same way.

Well, when I came to Taiwan from the mainland in November for a conference in Hualian, I couldn't help but notice the difference in how people thought about Bush's America. One, Bush was not Little Bush but President Buxi (Boo Shee), which to me, sounded much more respectful. Two, people with whom I spoke stuck up for Bush and were generally more positive. I even heard that Republicans were more friendly to Taiwan. And the same view seemed to hold for people of the pro-green and pro-blue camps.

"Was this true?" I thought to myself. Michael bemoans progressive America's overlooking Taiwan as well.

So, there is a vocal minority within the Republican Party that supports Taiwan. My hunch is that this goes back to earlier ties between the Republican Party and the KMT.

One aspect that probably turns progressives off, besides sheer ignorance, is that some of the loudest pro-Taiwan voices in America are also some of the most conservative in America.

It probably doesn't help that the Reuters article that reported House votes to overturn some Taiwan restrictions, only quotes Republicans, which makes it seem like it is only Republicans--people like Thomas Tancredo of Colorado--who are pushing the issue of Taiwan.

And yet, a quick look at the list of members on the U.S. Congress Taiwan Caucus reveals plenty of liberal and progressive names, even if the Daily Kos community is ignorant about Taiwan. Sherrod Brown, a self-avowed progressive, and the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Ohio, is on this list of names.

Brown and N.J. Democratic Rep. Robert Andrews co-sponsored the amendment, along with two Republicans, to lift restrictions on Taiwanese officials to meet with high-level U.S. officials in places like the White House and State Department building, and would allow high-level U.S. State and Defense Department officials to travel to Taiwan.

I think it was wrong to exclude "Red China" from the world community for so long; it is equally wrong to exclude Taiwan.

If the bill miraculously makes it through the Senate, then it would be on Bush's desk for him to sign. What is his view on the matter?

As Charles Snyder of the Taipei Times reports:
The administration of US President George W. Bush on Thursday came out in opposition to a measure passed by the US House of Representatives that would lift a series of curbs on contacts between US and Taiwan officials, arguing that the measure would hurt the president's ability to conduct its foreign policy.

The statement came as the House gave final approval to the measure, by overwhelmingly passing the government agency funding bill -- to which the Taiwan measure was attached as an amendment -- by a 393-23 vote.

The bill now goes to the Senate for more deliberation. Both chambers have to agree to the Taiwan provision, and the president has to sign the bill with the measure intact, for it to become law.
People of Taiwan, you can't trust George Bush. He is not thinking in your best interests, nor for that matter, in the interests of the Chinese people. As an editorial in the Taipei Times says:
But Taiwan is, nonetheless, entitled to something: some reminder of why the US can be trusted, some reward for cooperating with the US in maintaining regional stability, some encouragement that at the end of the day the powers that be will stand up for those in need. Of late, the State Department and other pro-China agencies have offered none of these comforts and this is beginning to panic supporters at home and abroad. Add a long-term campaign against weapons purchases by the pan-blue camp and you have a recipe for thorough demoralization -- just what the Chinese doctor ordered.

It's high time that pro-China forces in Washington were reminded in practical terms that Taiwan is not Cuba -- and that the fundamental freedoms of Taiwanese should be reflected in the ability of their unofficial representatives in the US to speak to who they want, when they want.
Bush talks a lot about freedom and democracy, but when push comes to shove, he has other interests in mind. Remember, Taiwan's democratically-elected president was prevented from landing in Alaska, while the leader of the opposition party was allowed to freely travel about influential American circles.

I always supported Clinton's policy of engagment with China. In fact, I began my study of Chinese when he came into office, and have studied Chinese language and culture ever since. I have lived in China and Taiwan, and have friends on both sides of the straits (friends who are also friends with each other).

Engagement, cultural understanding, and a global consciousness are important (equally so for Iran), but U.S. foreign policy should never be crafted merely to appease the leaders of any one country in the world. As progressives, we should be fighting for human dignity--and the underdog. Pointing missiles at Taiwan, and constantly threatening war so as to scare the Taiwanese people into submission, are an affront to human dignity. Therefore, while engaging China (I'm not sure the Bush administration is really doing that), the international community should also be protecting and promoting the vibrant democracy that exist in Taiwan, imperfect as it is.

Some thoughts about Superman Returns

For a long time, I've thought that the Hollywood blockbuster is the contemporary version (at least one) of what was in earlier times, the religious spectacle, but popularized and secularized (sometimes), and then packaged with the label, "entertainment." It is life extraordinary. It is the reality where anything is possible, and there is usually a moral to the story.

Many Hollywood action adventures employ biblical motifs--I think Job and Jesus must be the most popular, though I have no numbers to confirm this.

Why do I bring this up? Well, yesterday I used a free movie ticket I got for signing up for broadband service and went to see Superman Returns, an o.k. movie I thought, good special effects, but a little too obvious for me.

I say this as one who can generally suspend disbelief during movies; to me, that is the whole point of the Hollywood Blockbuster. People don't go to see such movies, especially action-adventure, horror, science fiction, etc. movies looking for realism. They want to go "where no human has gone before" and to experience life "faster than a speeding bullet," where superheros can walk through walls and perform other miracles. So, I tend not to have problems when characters in such movies defy gravity and fly up into the sky, whether they have capes or not.

Why did I have trouble suspending disbelief while watching Superman Returns? It wasn't the flying. Who would go see a Superman movie and complain that Superman was able to fly? It didn't help for me that everytime Clark Kent changes his guise, the heroic Superman music starts to play (and the fact that nobody recognizes Clark as Superman is starting to seem silly to me after all these years). But I guess this is all the stuff of myths and rituals. That music is part of the ritual experience.

I also don't usually have issues with overt expressions of religion in life or in art; in fact, I have always been interested in it. But the allusions to the accounts of Jesus' life in the Gospels are just so apparent, so obvious, so in your face. Voiceovers of Superman's father saying: "I gave my only son." Superman in the sky in crucifix pose. The scene where the nurse walks into Superman's hospital room and discovers he has disappeared, just like Jesus' corpse disappearing from the tomb. The very name, Superman Returns. Just substitute, "The Messiah...."

There is a drawn-out discussion throughout the movie about whether humans need Superman, and it becomes clear almost from the outset that Superman equals savior, so the real question becomes: "Do Humans need a savior?" Lois Lane initially argues that they do not ("You wrote that the world doesn't need a savior, but everyday I hear the world crying for one"), but her thinking on this gradually changes as the movie progresses.

I don't know enough about the history of the Superman comic to know if these allusions were always there, though I guess Lex Luther/Lucifer is pretty obvious. However, I never noticed them in such an obvious way before.

In the final analysis, I didn't mind Superman Returns, but I just couldn't get past the fact that I was sitting in a movie theater watching a movie. It didn't really take me out of the present, out of the mundane. There was no momentary transformation, no absorbing me into the reality evoked by the movie, and that, in my view, is what a successful ritual should do.

UPDATE: I guess my ability to recognize allusions in movies isn't that bad. In the comments, Charlie points us to this AP article at that makes the same case. See Jesus Christ Superman (quoted material below):
Pedersen said Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who introduced Superman in 1938 in a comic book, were Jews who were inspired by the Old Testament story of Moses and the supernatural golem character from Jewish folklore. (Author Michael Chabon made much of these similarities in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.")

The Christian allusions are recent innovations that compromise the integrity of the Superman myth, she said.

"This does not need to be a consistent cultural form from its beginning to its present, but something has to be maintained," Pedersen said.

"Superman Returns" director Bryan Singer said the notion of Superman as a messianic figure is simply another case of contemporary storytelling borrowing from ancient motifs.

Singer, who is Jewish, said his neighbors' Christianity played a powerful role in the community where he grew up.

"These allegories are part of how you're raised. They find their way into your work," he said. "They become ingrained in your storytelling, in the same way that the origin story of Superman is very much the story of Moses."

It's unlikely that studio executives, conscious of the size of the Christian audiences that were coaxed into theaters by the biblical echoes in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," would discourage religious associations.

"The way in which the Christian population can get behind a movie that they can agree with is a huge push financially," said Skelton, who also distributes Bible-study kits that draw scriptural lessons from classic television episodes. "It's a smart move in terms of attracting an audience."

At the same time, Superman is fixed firmly enough in popular secular culture so that the religious accents are unlikely to alienate a mainstream audience, said Craig Detweiler, who directs the film-studies program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.

"Just like Jesus, in some ways (Superman) transcends parities and politics and can not be co-opted to serve the narrow interests of others," he said. "That could be one reason why studios aren't afraid to let Superman go that way, toward the religious." (Read whole article)