Typepad Troubles

Posted on June 29th, by matt_schiavenza in Blogs. No Comments

So it looks like Typepad is up and running again in China, after about a week of being stuck behind the firewall.  The evil Chinese cybernanny must have had a weak moment!  Anyway, this now means that in my more narcissistic moments, I can read my own blog in China without using a proxy server.…

All Finished!

Posted on June 27th, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. No Comments

On Thursday, I walked the four flights of stairs to my classroom for the last time, merely to say goodbye to my students.  Pictures were taken, e-mail addresses were exchanged, and I congratulated the students who did very well on their final exam.  I will miss them, even the ones who tested my patience on a daily basis.

So that’s it!  Year One in the books.  Being finished feels good, but it hasn’t sunk in yet.  After all, I’ve got plenty to do:  pack, ship a box to Fuzhou, settle any outstanding banking issues, buy a one-way plane ticket to Shanghai, and of course entertain my parents when they arrive here on the 2nd. 

There’s also the inevitable send-offs for my friends.  Jorge left last week.  Liz leaves today.  Jane and Mike go to Shanghai on Wednesday.  Polly leaves two days before me.  When I leave, I’ll also have to say goodbye to those that are sticking around: Tina, Carsten, Olya, Alex, Haige, Michel, Neville, Nadia, and of course all of my Chinese acquaintences.

In two weeks, I’ll be having a beer in Tokyo with Sean and Jascha- that’s hard to believe.  And in less than a month, I’ll be home, sitting on my parents’ balcony overlooking the San Francisco Bay.  That’s even harder to believe.…

Is No Anti-War Movement A Good Thing?

Posted on June 27th, by matt_schiavenza in Politics. 5 comments

Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post argues that the lack of a visible anti-war movement, such as the one during the Vietnam War, has accounted for President Bush’s poor poll numbers.  Nixon attacked the deeply unpopular demonstrators, earning him points with the "silent majority" notwithstanding wide dissatisfaction with his Vietnam policy.  Bush lacks a similarly easy target, instead going after more respectable targets like Amnesty International and now Senator Richard Durbin.…

On John Bolton…

Posted on June 24th, by matt_schiavenza in Current Affairs. No Comments

I really can’t get too wound-up about the nomination of John Bolton as the US Ambassador to the UN.  Yes, I agree that he’s a poor selection, though not for his bad manners and droopy moustache.  There are several good reasons for opposing his nominations, and several other candidates who would have been far better choices.

I just don’t think Bolton’s confirmation would be such a terrible thing.  Greg Djerejian and now Mickey Kaus have pointed out that Bolton angled for a big State Department position and didn’t get it.  The UN ambassadorship, then, is his consolation prize.  And it should be ours, too.

For better or for worse, the State Department is a much bigger player in geopolitics than the UN.  Had Bolton been Condi Rice’s deputy, he’d have much more influence in the formation of policy than he would enjoy at Turtle Bay.  That Rice (and Bush) spurned Bolton in favor of the more moderate Robert Zoellick was a victory for those of us who believe in a smarter American foreign policy.

The UN is a weakened institution and I doubt that any US ambassador appointed by Bush could do anything about it.  Bush’s personal animus against international institutions matters, not the ambassador’s himself.  An enfeebled UN serves Bush’s interests far more than a strong one.  Bolton would just preserve the status quo.

I also doubt that the US rep to the UN is a high-profile position internationally, which undercuts the theory that Bolton could do much diplomatic damage.  Remember, Bolton won’t be making his own decisions- he’ll be under direct orders from Bush.

I believe that a strong UN benefits the global community, and that in today’s unipolar alignment only the US President has sufficient power to push reform.   Our problems with the UN will not change as long as Bush remains in office, regardless of who our ambassador is.…

Was Karl Rove Out of Line?

Posted on June 24th, by matt_schiavenza in Politics. No Comments

Probably, though his comments came as no surprise to those of us who have suffered exposure to comment threads on right-wing blogs.  Here’s what Bush’s Svengali said, via Taegan Goddard:

"Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare
indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.
Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for
war.
  Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts
the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our
troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of
liberals
."

Pretty provocative stuff.  Slanderous.  McCarthyite.  Choose whichever term you’d like. Let’s consider the audience for Rove’s speech, though.  He delivered his remarks in front of a gathering of New York conservatives, so his remarks can be accurately characterized as throwing red meat to the faithful.

Moreover, are Rove’s statements much worse than what Howard Dean has said about Republicans/conservatives?  James Joyner rounds up some of Dean’s quotes and I must admit I agree that Dean’s are not any less offensive:

- …."a lot of [Republicans] have never made an honest living in their lives"
- "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for"
- "This is a struggle of good vs. evil and we’re the good".

Dean’s provocative rhetoric serves the same purpose as Rove’s:  firing up the base by articulating an opinion that most intuitively believe.  Is it polite, conciliatory, politics?  Hell no.  Are they honest?  Of course not.

It’s time for Democrats such as Senator Schumer to stop whining about "divisive" remarks and look in the mirror.   Rove and Dean are employed to help their side win elections, not to win awards for civility.

China and the Persistent Cult of Mao

Posted on June 22nd, by matt_schiavenza in China. 1 Comment

Mao Zedong, without question, was one of the worst tyrants of the 20th century, rightfully grouped with his  contemporaries Hitler and Stalin.  In many ways, his successors have repudiated Mao’s vision of a socialist paradise by embracing market reforms and opening doors to Western investment.   In addition, Chinese leaders now acknowledge that Mao’s "Great Leap Forward" and "Cultural Revolution" were terrible mistakes.

Nonetheless, Mao’s portrait still sits on Tiananmen Gate in Beijing, China’s national symbol.  His smiling image graces nearly all of China’s banknotes.  Most Chinese subscribe to Deng Xiaoping’s opinion that Mao was "70 percent correct, 30 percent incorrect".  Mao is routinely referred to as a "great man" by ordinary citizens, including some of my students.

Via Richard TPD at The Peking Duck, here is some commentary by a Chinese scholar arguing that Chinese must fully dump Mao before it can begin to make any political progress:

Should Chairman Mao’s huge portrait still hang above the front gate of
Tiananmen Square? Should China’s ruling party still call itself
Communist?

These are not idle questions. Unless and until China’s leaders
answer both questions with a simple “No” they will continue to have
blood on their hands and a tainted legitimacy. Many Chinese do not
accept communist rule precisely because the Communist Party denies its
past and remains unapologetic about its cruelty.

China’s communist rulers must own up to their history and drop Mao and
the communist legacy. The country needs a new constitution – one that
enshrines genuine democracy.

I think nearly everyone would like to see a democratic China.  Nonetheless, these comments simplify the complex relationship that the Chinese have with their dominant ex-chairman.

Mao, for better or for worse, presided over a fully independent, unified China that became a major player on the international scene.  Those distinctions are very important.  The one hundred years leading up to Mao’s ascension were humiliating for the Chinese, as they were first taken advantage of by the British during the 19th century Opium Wars and then occupied by the brutal Japanese in the early 20th century.  The Chinese view Mao as the leader that restored their national pride and sovereignty.  That vision alone trumps all of his failings as a head of state.

Also, Communism officially ended the prevailing Chinese paradigm of rural feudalism.  One can argue that what replaced that paradigm isn’t much better, but for better or for worse Mao’s Leninist economic policies eliminated the artistocracy that had been in place since at least the Han dynasty.

In the West, we view Mao as a tyrant and villain that attempted to ruin his country and nearly succeeded.  The Chinese view, as it is with so many other things, is entirely different. …

Nazi Analogies and Conservative Apologia

Posted on June 21st, by matt_schiavenza in Current Affairs. No Comments

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) recently cited an FBI agent report on conditions at Guantanamo Bay and uttered that there is little difference between our terror tactics and those of Pol Pot and Hitler.

Durbin’s remarks caused a firestorm of rage in Republican circles, especially in the wingnut half of the blogosphere.  I’ve read calls for Durbin to be censured, calls for Durbin to be resigned, and calls for Durbin to spend some time in Gitmo so that he might then have a firmer basis for comparison.

If you’ve been exposed to the same bloviating blowhards that I have, take a few minutes and read Andrew Sullivan’s thoughts on the matter.  Sullivan, as I’ve noted before, is no liberal, Bush-hating reactionary.  He represents a dying breed of principled conservatives, most of whom have been silenced by Bush sycophants in Congress and on the airwaves.

Sullivan’s correct:  Durbin did nothing wrong.  In fact, such historical analyses are useful if only to draw attention to a neglected facet of our foreign policy.  Had Amnesty International not referred to Gitmo as part of our "gulag" network, it is doubtful anyone would have paid much attention at all.

What’s truly outrageous, as Sullivan points out, is that there are a lot of influential pundits and politicians whose first reaction is to immediately look for excuses.  You know, Gitmo wouldn’t be such a problem if we bourgeoisie libruls that hate America didn’t stick our nose in and point out that our government sanctions torture there.

This meme, that liberals are treasonous America-haters that use the mass media in a sinister plot to lose the war, isn’t new.  It began in Vietnam, where most conservatives still believe that only US squeamishness cost us the war.  These very people are now applying their incorrect conclusions to our current war against terror.

Who’s being treasonous here?  Is it really anti-American to point out what our government is doing?  Isn’t that the essence of Americanism?  The more I think about conservative apologia for torture, the more I’m convinced that these people misunderstand the values upon which our nation was built.…

Live Peep Show

Posted on June 21st, by matt_schiavenza in China. No Comments

The opening of a new bar in entertainment-starved Lianyungang counts as a major, major event.  Yesterday, I was a member of a three-person delegation (along with Mike and Jane) to stick our flag into the place, or at least check out the decor and prices.

Seconds after sitting down at a table with our beers, an overly enthusiastic Chinese named Skye sat with us and tried teaching us a drinking game that involved kissing and biting.  We demurely declined.  He then asked us to give him suggestions on how to improve the bar.

We scanned the room, and found a sign advertising a "Live Peep Show".  Could this really be what they mean?  Good God, how in the world can they get away with advertising that in China, Lianyungang no less!  Since there didn’t seem to be any other related signs of perversion present, we asked him if he knew what it means.

He didn’t, and so Jane mimicked a woman taking her clothes off and I mimed a man looking through a peep.  A minute later, Syke understood, turning red with embarrassment.  We laughed and told him not to worry,  but that other foreigners (especially the lascivious Frenchmen) might take the sign at face value.  He said that he’d speak to the manager and have it changed.

So here I am- making China safer for the kiddies.  Can I get James Dobson on Line 1?…

Summer Solstice in China

Posted on June 21st, by matt_schiavenza in China. No Comments

June 21st marks the longest day of the year and the beginning of summer in China (and the rest of the Northern hemisphere).  In reality, though, summer arrived in Lianyungang a couple of weeks ago, as temperatures haven’t dipped below 30 degrees C (around 85 F) since early June.  Later this week, we’re expecting temperatures of 40 degrees (100 F plus), heat that makes tasks like walking to the store far more difficult than they should be.

Summer brings out the worst in Chinese air pollution, and even a medium-sized city like this one has consistent bad air days.  In most parts of the world, a night’s heavy rainstorm tends to produce clear air the next day.  Not here.  Pollution rules.  It doesn’t go away.  We haven’t seen much of the sun since springtime.  This place makes LA smell like Yosemite.

Perspiration is an issue for everyone, and for a big fella like myself it’s out of control.  I feel like a fat man running a mile every time I hike up the stairs to my classroom and watch beads of sweat fall onto the podium from which I teach.

Fortunately, I have air conditioning in my home so I’ve had no problems sleeping through the hot nights.  Most of my students are not so fortunate.  Those that live in the on-campus dormitory shower exactly one time a week- even in summer!  I’m showering at least twice a day.  No classrooms have air conditioning, so spending forty minutes in a cramped room with stinky, sweaty teenagers really tests your patience.

Luckily, I’m almost out of here.  I should finish my oral communication exams by Wed. afternoon and am already caught up in grading.  On Thursday, I will hand in my reports, e-mail my grades to my boss in Beijing, and triumphantly stride out of the school with my work completed.…

Melinda and Melinda

Posted on June 21st, by matt_schiavenza in Film. No Comments

I just bought and watched the latest Woody Allen film, Melinda & Melinda.  I wasn’t too impressed. It seems to me that the Woodman has reached the end of his tether as an interesting filmmaker.

Here’s his conundrum:  In his advanced age, Woody has realized he can no longer play himself in movies that involve a cast of characters half his age.    Nevertheless, he persists in hiring actors to substitute for him, all of whom spend months mimicking his idiosyncratic manner and style.

Will Ferrell is the latest, playing a struggling actor here.  For someone who specializes in physical humor, Ferrell just wasn’t convincing as a stuttering, neurotic schlemiel.  I rank his Woody Allen imitation somewhere between John Cusack in Bullets Over Broadway and Kenneth Branagh in Celebrity.

Melinda & Melinda derives its plot from a single device:  is the essence of life comic or tragic?  In the beginning, we meet a group of middle-aged intellectuals debating this subject in a New York bistro.  Given a scenario involving a woman named Melinda (Radha Mitchell), Wallace Shawn argues that her story is ripe for comedy while a counterpart weaves a similarly apt tragic tale.  As their conversation unfolds, Allen blends two seperate films, never featuring one for longer than fifteen minutes or so.

Mitchell’s Melinda is the only actor to star in both versions, and she manages to play a comic and tragic lead with equal skill.  In the comic version, Melinda is a kooky, off-beat beauty that charms Hobie (Ferrell), all the while being set up with men by Ferrell’s soon to be estranged wife, played by Amanda Peet.    In the tragedy, Melinda is a troubled, suicidal woman that barges into the life of her two oldest friends (one of whom is played by Chloe Sevigny) and struggles to regain her footing.

Ironically, the tragic part of the film was much, much better than the comedy.  I actually felt rather engaged with the sad Melinda and her misfortunes, and was bored and non-plussed by the humorous half.

Woody continues to make one film a year, but few of his recent ones have been worth a gander.  My favorite of this decade remains Sweet & Lowdown, perhaps because Woody didn’t write himself into the story.

So it is with sadness that I call for the retirement not of Woody the filmmaker, but of Woody the character.  I couldn’t help but think that if only Ferrell were allowed to develop his own character, of even a variation of Woody’s, Melinda & Melinda could have actually even claimed to have been half a comedy.…