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China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Archive for November 2007

Chinese vs. American Netizens

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The future is not “on” the Internet.  The internet is a medium.  It is a form of communicating and expressing beyond all previous boundaries.  In this, it is rare.  In this, it is powerful.

However, the power of the internet is constantly miscalculated.  Stock plunges so epic they created monikers.  Howard Dean’s chances of being nominated for Democratic presidential candidate.  UFOs flying over Haiti.  This is just a forkful of the fodder that comes to mind.

An article on today’s Economist.com discusses the alleged digital evolution of Chinese youth in comparison to the seemingly skimpy strides of young American netizens.  The article reads:

“Despite all the hoopla in America about the growth of online communities such as MySpace, Facebook, and Second Life … the Chinese seem far keener on communing via the internet. Some 82% of young Chinese agreed that ‘interactivity helps create intimacy, even at a distance,’ compared with 36% of Americans. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Chinese surveyed agreed that ‘it’s perfectly possible to have real relationships purely online with no face-to-face contact’. Only 21% of Americans felt the same.” —  The Economist, Nov.27, 2007.

This information is timely and pertinent from an economic standpoint.  But from a logical and cultural perspective, it is totally bogus.

Yes, there is money to be made on the expansion of Chinese internet use.   I mean, hello, 1 out of every 5 people on this rock are Chinese.  It falls into the coarse economic theory of “until every Chinese has one of these in his/her hand, the market can expand.”  Duh.  This is the same reasoning behind people investing in toothpaste and deodorant sales.

But what is really happening with the internet in China?  Well, for starters, one must mention the government crackdown on anything deemed “non-harmonious.”  The internet freezes, webpages “time out” and one might even catch a little cyber-Hu Jintao popping up in the corner waving his finger saying, “Uh, uh, uh!”  I write on this blog only after connecting to a proxy server in some distant land, which often times fails to connect.  My blog is blocked. Or as they say here, “harmonized.”

Empirical testing by Harvard Law students in 2002 described “a shifting set of barriers to surfing the web from Chinese points of access– sites that are reported unavailable or domain names that are unknown to the system or that lead to unexpected destinations, individual pages that are blocked, and the use of search keywords that result in temporary limits to further searches.”  To be fair, the Chinese have loosened in some regards.  As long as websites do not mention democracy, historical Chinese brutality, human rights, Japanese relations, Taiwan, Tibet, freedom of speech or Marxism, the government may let it slide.

The Economist article also fails to evaluate how Chinese youth utilize the internet.  How?  They game-out, hard.  Super-hard.  Imagine removing all the PS3s, XBox360s and Wiis from the American youth (the Chinese situation).  Where would they go?  Right back to World of Warcraft and Counter-Strike.

I have been inside these 24-hour internet caves.  I have choked on the knee-to-ceiling cloud of nicotine.  And stomped through the piles of garbage amassing by the mouse click.  It is intense.  These young Chinese take it seriously.  As in, they seriously wanna pull out some Ultra-Magnetic-Solar-Pump-Shotgun and disintegrate your ass to earn 1,000,000 points.  And the scary part is, from what Chinese and Taiwanese friends tell me, they meet people this way.  Online gaming communities are huge.  Call it mutual online death-seeking, with a codename and a cyber-girlfriend watching your back.

The very bottom of the Economist‘s article touches on the counterintuitive strength of such Chinese internet use.  While it may help people express themselves, I fear it is still merely the tool of an emerging super geekdom.  Relationships without ever meeting people?  Not being able to go one day without the internet?  77% of Chinese poll respondents saying the internet helps them make friends?  Is not this the internet use we Americans are trying to keep our children away from?  Who harnesses this parasitic, isolated cyber existence with no connectivity to the physical world?

Internet entrepreneurs.  That’s who.  Until they all have toothpaste and Facebook accounts.  I, for one, hope American and Chinese youth step outside the box, or log-out of it enough, to see the fight we youth are really facing.

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Written by Miles

November 27, 2007 at 5:04 pm

Carbon Cap Article

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The Economist posted an article explaining some of the alternative carbon policies currently being debated in Congress, here.

Written by Miles

November 20, 2007 at 3:19 pm

My Platform

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There was an opinion piece on NPR the other day.  The essence of which asked why debates and campaigns inevitably turn to such meaningless drivel during elections.  They become subjective popularity contests judged on the basis of who can put others down with more gravitas and who slithers out of wall-cornering questions the silkiest.

So, to be fair, here is my platform.  These the issues I would address if I were running for president:

1. Massive nationwide automotive emissions standard reforms, projecting the U.S. to be the most environmentally friendly auto manufacturer by 2012. That’s right, that soon. Put a little pressure on our big guys.  Hell, they might even have to hire a few bright people with ideas.

2. A Gasoline Tax. Sorry commuters, but it is time to face facts. If you want to commute an hour to work every day, don’t buy a Chevy Tahoe XLT.

3. Selecting a panel to investigate the feasibility of Carbon Emissions Cap and Trade System within the first month of my presidency. It isn’t just auto industries that would face my wrath. Exceeding cap allowance would impose fines, payable to the government and directly invested into alternative energy R&D funding.

4.  I would withdraw all regular troops from Iraq within 6 months, leaving behind only our best special-ops forces to execute cooperative missions with the Iraqi government.  I would refocus our military objectives on eliminating the threat in the mountainous border region between Afghan-Pakistan, cutting all funding to Pakistan until there is some progress and likely threatening them that we will help India take control of the region if they cannot.

5.  A “Better Deal” program.  With part of the money we would save by not continuing to fight in Iraq and certainly not going to war with Iran, I would reinvest in the lower and middle classes of America.  I would launch an 8-year nationwide infrastructure project focusing on creating the most advanced communications and transportation systems in the world.  This would include things like creating stiffer building codes for new commercial properties, so that we can catch up to places like South Korea and Japan.  Refurbishing school systems, striking deals with (American) companies to provide new computers and environmentally friendly buses.  It would include park gentrification.  It would include re-examining ways to protect and provide clean water.  It would include fitting city gas stations with hydrogen fuel pumps and forming a progressive plan for allotting more road space to bicycles, buses, smaller vehicles, and alternative public transportation systems.  No more big highways.

6.  Continue to work towards international debt forgiveness for African and other developing nations.  This is a time when America needs to be seen as a benevolent friend to those in need.  We need to be holding out a hand, not pointing a gun at people.

7.  So, how would I cut funds and balance a budget spiraling out of control?  Here is an obvious answer that certainly wouldn’t go over too well:  Abolish the Department of Homeland Security and The Information Awareness Office.  We have had one major terrorist attack in recent history.  Let’s let the CIA, FBI, DEA, and all the other acronyms handle it like they did in the past while continue to force them to work together in new  creative ways.

8.  Here is another tax-saver:  Abandon building a huge wall across the Mexico-US border.  Come on people, what are we Israelis?  This is one of those politicized issues that has nothing but subjective emotions behind it.  Mexican immigrants are part of what makes our American economy (and part of the Mexican economy) work, and it has been that way for a century.  This is like polling to see how racist America can be.

9.   Universal healthcare.  It isn’t that hard to figure out.  And yes, this might mean a slight tax increase… but hello, people, think of the money you save not paying for insurance!

10.  Stop letting religion play a role in our government!  Let states take a popular vote on abortion and stem cell research.

Honorable mention:  Cut half of the funding for the War on Drugs, Campaign finance reform, Pressuring China to continue towards freedom of speech, Strengthening the UN (arguably with a standing int’l force), Raising the pay for soldiers and teachers.

Written by Miles

November 19, 2007 at 1:29 pm

Recent Articles for Thought

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Written by Miles

November 15, 2007 at 12:46 pm

We Are Either With Or Against Ourselves

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We are raised in America to question authority, yes, but told we do so because it is the mental exercise of the most noble American value.  It is, in a sense, our greatest American power.  It is the act of being American.  Thus, just to think as an American establishes our notions of identity and power.

Our aptitude of self-examination belies a widening, modern dichotomy.  Our blank check on questions has bounced.  Increasingly, an American citizen’s greatest asset is becoming his potential Achilles’ heel.  Ask, okay, but do not stray.  Question authority, but recognize that authority means what it implies.  Don’t forget your place, little citizen, allegiance always.

This is true of any nation.  History books erase blunders and applaud achievements, instilling nationalist pride in its youth.  Nationalism creates loyal, docile citizens.  Nowhere on Earth, however, do I believe this installment is more reinforced than in America.  In my youth, I was accustomed to hearing, or perhaps honestly told, that while foreigners might love their motherland they all would rather choose to live and breath as an American.  This is my home, the mighty U.S.A.  It, and we, are the best.  That’s what we are taught.  That’s our indoctrination.

It reminds me in many ways of the belief in God.  Ironic, really, as our nation was founded by those who didn’t ascribe to one monotheistic belief that we now bully the world from our own Christian soapbox.  Oh, not us, you say?  No, we are accepting, in other words all-loving; we allow our own to do as they please while helping the world free themselves to do the same, in other words all-powerful; we create freedom and democracy through our own action, thus we are the creators!

A spoon full of sugar didn’t help the bitter pill go down when I finally came to terms with my misappropriation of faith in both the U.S.A. and God.  Those were the staples of my childhood.  These two articles of constitution allowed me to believe all I had to do was BE and I would be considered GOOD.

The unraveling situation in Pakistan provides yet another example of the hypocrisy latent in American values, manifest in our foreign policy.  While we preach peace and democracy, we are uphold the barriers to it.  For over one hundred years we have backed hundreds of Pervez Musharrafs because we find it in our self-interest.  It was said, in this latest case, in the case of post-9/11 Pakistan, that Musharraf’s support was essential in fighting our war on terror.  It was, in reality, asking Musharraf to “pretty please” cut off his own hands.  Yet, our government told us time and time again that progress was being made.  It should be known now that progress, in American regime terms, means writing blank checks to nations incapable of ever paying dividends.

Believe me, after taking politics courses focusing on Pakistan, I understand the difficulties anyone faces in trying to progress.  Benazir Bhutto didn’t do a great job of it in her first two attempts, proving to have just as many corrupt cronies as Musharraf does today.  Yet, this isn’t the point.  The point is when will citizens in America say enough is enough to the rhetoric and start facing complex facts.  We should not and cannot be bullied by nations who have geopolitical leverage on us.

It is the same in the treatment of the conflict between Taiwan and China.  While Taiwan represents everything the West asks for in a progressive democratic nation, it is continually abandoned of support when striving for its self-actualization.  It cannot be supported because this would anger China.  We whisper our support to authoritarians while bullhorns blare our false determination to aid lovable losers.

It is the core of many conflicts around the world.  And while it may seem unfair for me to blame America for the circumstances of foreign nations, if we are going to talk the talk we better walk the damn walk.  I was raised to believe we are capable of finding complex solutions, capable of righting wrongs, capable of utilizing power to offer alternatives for the good of all.  I was brainwashed, but it felt brilliant.  It felt possible.

Written by Miles

November 8, 2007 at 12:14 pm

Midterms, Personal Elections

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Shanghai is an airport.  Twenty million souls shuffling through time.  Burdened by baggage belonging to the past.  It’s an international depot of the poor, the pillaged, the pirates, the personable, the privileged.  It’s businessmen, foreigners, Chinese, terminals under construction, trendy coffee bars, and people moving on-the-fly.

Check-in and check-out of my life; they wobble en masse through my gates, stamp, and they are gone.

—————

If this were the ’50s, galvanized cool, I’d be Dean, reclusively placed, stolid, indubitable.  I’d be sipping something someone else didn’t even know the bar offered.  That’s cause I’d know the guy who knows the guy.  I’d have that dim spotlight on my eyes, the inverse raccoon effect, portraying awareness and a keen sense of my place alien to the commoner.  There’d be a newspaper on my table, folded twice, but I would have already read it; shit, I woulda been able to predict half of the nonsense.

That’d be me.  That’d be my opening scene.

————–

Part of the problem with Odyssey is the inherent oddity of life, satisfaction.  Friends respond to my recent emails with consolation, “Sorry you didn’t find what you were looking for in…”  But this is misguided.  I am no Columbus sailing off course.  Determination lead me here, not a cosmic miscalculation.  Perhaps my verbal mapping has not been GPS precise.  I don’t have Onstar, and I don’t particularly want some voice filling my moments of pause with informed decisions.

Friends, allow me to reiterate.  Shanghai has not been a failure.  Rather, a success.

Here I am, widdling away at a glacier of possibilities with a mere icepick.  I can make a lot of cocktails with that many cubes.  And I recently poured myself a sublime concoction.

With a splash of truth, I now realize that the order and confinement of schooling fails to wholly appease my intentions.  The quality of education, perhaps moreso of educators, fails to merit my monetary contributions.  Thus, a penny saved is a penny earned.

————–

In one month I will make my long-awaited return to the U.S.  It will have been 695 days since I have last stepped foot on the motherland.  Yet, it is just another layover, en route to the unknown.  Upon my return to Shanghai, I will finish my semester at Fudan University, and promptly withdraw.  The money alloted for tuition and rent, as well as my efforts to improve my Mandarin, will be better spent on the backroads of the countryside and quiet(er) alleyways along the seaside.

I am changing my itinerary, ditching the international terminal and flying national for a while.  In January, once again, it will be time to shed my material entrapments, pack my bags, and once more be off to a destination unknown.

Written by Miles

November 7, 2007 at 9:43 am