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Archive for March 2008

The Danger of Nationalism and False Identity

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There was a well-written IHT.com article posted yesterday on the issue that I think reiterates some of the points I made in my last post. Here are some highlights:

“Analysts have long debated how often the Communist Party steers and inflames nationalism versus how often nationalist public attitudes are beyond the party’s control. In the run-up to the Summer Games, the steady attacks against China on issues like Darfur, global warming, air pollution and human rights abuses have increasingly been interpreted by many Chinese, including those overseas, as an unfair attempt to undermine China’s Olympic moment.

But the Tibet crisis has touched directly on the raw nerve of separatism at the core of Chinese nationalism. Tibet is usually a low-profile issue within China, especially compared with Taiwan. But most Chinese, influenced by the government, are interpreting the Tibetan crisis as an attempt to split China.”

“Influenced by the government” is an understatement. The press has been bashing the Dalai Lama like he is Osama bin Laden, another man intent on destroying the world to promote his own agenda. Instead of engaging underlying Tibetan grievances, the CCP has aggravated ethnic tensions with one-sided reports on damages and the pain of Han Chinese. This goes against the image jogging its way around the world with Olympic torch in hand.

“Communist Party leaders have hoped the Olympics would showcase China as a modern, confident and nonthreatening emerging world power, while also validating the party’s hold on power. President Hu Jintao has advocated a “harmonious society” to signal a new government effort at addressing inequality in society. At the same time, China’s soft power abroad is rising with its bulging foreign-exchange reserves and its increasingly active diplomatic role on issues like the North Korea nuclear problem.”

But China’s geopolitical emergence hinges on support at home. As grand projects pave the way for a developed nation, the toll on society has been steep and often ignored. It is essential that the CCP maintain a positive image, providing its mandate for change.

“Scholars often describe nationalism as China’s state religion now that the Communist Party has shrugged off socialist ideology and made economic development the country’s priority. Dibyesh Anand, a Tibet specialist, said modern Chinese nationalism could be traced to Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese revolutionary who described the country’s main ethnic groups – the Han, Manchu, Hui, Mongolian and Tibetan peoples – as the “five fingers” of China… Today, Han Chinese constitute more than 92 percent of the population, but without one of those five fingers, China’s leaders do not consider the country whole.”

So, it is with the intention of preserving the mechanics of change that the CCP reacts reflexively with excessive strength and secrecy. It maintains order and promotes a mythically unrelenting reach of power. It reminds citizens that their government is capable of anything—developing China at a rate never seen on this planet and willing to conquer any obstacles in its way.

Does this ring any bells with government information campaign and agenda-setting in the US as it seeks to maintain its own mandate for waging an unpopular, inhumane war in Mesopotamia?

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Written by Miles

March 31, 2008 at 4:01 pm

Obama, Tibet and Dignity

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Online, on-air, and among friends there has been plenty of talk dismissing the validity of Barack Obama’s candidacy.  It’s not so much a discussion about can he win the nomination.  That’s possible, most say, and they leave it at that, filed away in a little manila folder tabbed “As Good As it Gets.”  It’s the national election that people adamantly fear he will lose.  

There are all sorts of platitudes to buttress this intuition.  America just isn’t ready for a black president being the primary crux.  He doesn’t have enough experience, secondly.  But what lies within these statements that empower them with such detrimental imperium?  These justifications mask a latent submission to the methodology of our past, a belief that change is not possible in our time, that the powers-at-be will keep on being and have always been.

Zimbabweans went to the polls this week with a chance to legally oust their hero-turned-tyrant president from a possible sixth term in office.  The country hasn’t just spiraled out of control; it has turned a tailspin into a drill-bit, burying the country beneath unthinkable inflation and imprudent policies.  It is tragic.  I feel for my friends there, some of whom have been forced to flee their homes in search of the means to provide basic necessities of life.  I admire the entire country’s fortitude and resilience.  Yet, how is it that Zim has not risen against its elite?  How can it be, that even with nothing left to lose, there is nothing left to fight for?

That line in the sand forms and reappears with the tides of the times.  In light of the political situation in my country, pawns will be pawns and kings’ll be kings. It becomes so ingrained in our mental faculty that the very notion of change becomes frightening, destabilizing, producing uncertainties.  For what if the brave leader who seeks to guide us falls, what then?  Shall I, humble peasant, be expected to lift his sword?

The situation in what China calls the “Tibet autonomous region” has left nearly one thousand buildings burnt to the ground, hundreds in jail, estimates between dozens and hundreds dead, and a society teetering on a Himalayan edge.  What brought about this uprising?  Why here and not Zim?  For years, China has been pumping money into its rocky southwestern region.  It came by way of new train lines, new roads, and subsidized business loans.  In China, a country with an Olympic-sized pool of laborers and a rice bowl to fit them all in, well, the draw was too enticing to pass up.  Thousands of ethnic Han Chinese flooded into the region, eager for their manifest destiny promised to them by politicians in a capital thousands of kilometers beyond the horizon.  Immediately, the cultural chasms split.  On the one side, you have Tibetans, a pious Buddhist population happy to live a quiet life observing its modest rituals.  On the other, you have Han Chinese, cleansed by Mao’s Cultural Revolution of almost all respect for anything beyond money, power, and the respect they feel the two bestow upon their owners.

Yes, I am simplifying.  But this is very much the situation.  Beijing’s crude attempts at policing culture have been very well documented, including forcing monks into re-education camps and hoping materialism would supplant idolatry of the Dalai Lama.  They failed.  And while the ethnic cleavages reinforce social separation, they were not enough to propel peace-loving monks into murderous mobs.  No, that final straw came atop the press pulpit.  The incessant global glamorization of China’s “journey of harmony” to the Olympics provoked a generally pacified Tibetan peasantry.  It was all the, “Hey World, look at us.  We are China, and we are great.  We don’t have any problems anymore because we blot them out of the newspapers and cut away from them on the television.  We bully lesser nations with our economy.  Denounce whoever we damn well please.  And after these Olympics, there ain’t a damn thing you’re gonna be able to do to stop us from taking your lunch money whenever we damn well please.”  That, that got ’em.

It was another slap in the face of a people who have been pushed to the very edge of the world and still cannot find their peace.  It was an affront on their dignity.  And, savvy as they are, Tibetans knew it was now or never for one last push at some international press before China is given the credibility it feels the Olympics bestow.  Here, the Beijing line is a one-sided world-view based on principles of power and ego.  Incomplete control over Tibet threatens the CCP’s paper-thin confidence, and they will stop at nothing not to be embarrassed.

It is this weak ego prodding along the blind pursuit of power that is so hauntingly similar to the broken vanity of the U.S.  Yet, each country has a palate of positive tools at its disposal, forces that inspire in me the idealism that things can and must change.  Paramount to each, China has its Olympics and at home, we have the election.

Tibet rose up because it was being denied its rightful dignity.  And that is the most difficult step to take, the step towards change.  It is time for Americans to restore the dignity of our nation.  Wobbling through the world as a belligerent bully wins no wars, no hearts and no minds.  Sobering up isn’t go to be easy.  But the first step is getting off the junk that got us here, the faulty choices that have run their course in our system.  It’s time for fundamental change, and that will require a more mental than fun exercise.  We must conquer our demons.  Conquer our fears, and respect ourselves again.  We need to believe that the U.S. is still capable of being the most progressive plot of land on this rock.  No, not perfect, as Obama said in his historic speech, but willing to work towards perfecting it.

Written by Miles

March 30, 2008 at 5:56 pm

Some photos…

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Decided it’s due time I upload some photos. Spent a whole bunch of time in Picasa making a slideshow only to figure out it isn’t an approved application on WordPress. Yikes. I really wish I was a computer wiz sometimes.  Click on the pic to jump to the gallery.

Entering Hoi An

 

Written by Miles

March 25, 2008 at 11:53 am

Where are we heading?

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My good buddy Bianj, who occasionally adds his two cents to this blog (see the London piece below), often comments on the paradox between professional and personal interests.  As a teacher during my time in Taiwan, the psychological battles I waged dealt more with an up close and intimate look at the fragility of our future– our children.  The basic principle of the day was progress.  And though I dealt with a fair amount of inner-school politics and curriculum based haggling, the job was straight forward.  There was no slight of hand.

I have found new challenges.  Working in television news, in China, is a myriad of perplexing personal gripes.  Most of it, I internalize.  Occasionally I bemoan a certain situation in as subtle and polite a manner as possible.  But I am only a piece of the finished product.  The manufacturing of the news is a political process that I am only beginning to learn.

Chinese journalists have a daily meeting in which superiors tell them what will be the primary focus of the day and what is not to be mentioned.  The first aspect of this is common in any newsroom around the world.  There is top news.  It leads.  But the later aspect, the self-censorship, well, that is the more interesting part.

The company I work for now is in a very tight spot. I believe it holds ambition and promise.  I believe it is coming along at a time of principle importance.  But, it must step gently.  It still must appease a government overseer, who fingers the strings of its future.  Attempting to cut free too soon would be catastrophic.  It must be a measured and lengthy battle, and in that, not even a battle.  No, more subtle, more subversive.  The government must accept it as one of their own, harbor it, let it expand, let it go international, build a base.  And then, and only then, will it possibly hold a card worth betting on at the table.

A lot of this has come to light for me in the past few weeks.  I have taken great pleasure in my ability to form the wording of news stories.  This began with news on Palestine.  I was finally able to personally remove some of the pro-Israel bias so embedded and intrinsic to Western media.  Some of you might question what that means.  Am I, too, biased?  How can someone “form” the news?  Well, that’s complex and simple.  To offer a simple example, remember in elementary school or in peer counseling classes when we were taught to make “I” statements to begin rehashing an argument.  Don’t say, “He stole my pencil.”  Say, “I was angry he stole my pencil.”  It seems pedantic but it matters.

Well, I was satisfied to be making minor (and truthful) adjustments to the presentation of some complex issues.  But then, then came Tibet.

I have never been witness to something so contrived, I thought.  Images of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan flag are banned from Chinese television.  He is to China what Osama bin Laden is to the US right now, a terrorist, public enemy number one.  And similar to the US, rather than engaging the public in even a very minor discourse as to why such animosity has emerged, the state is choosing to ramp up nationalism and ethnic identity to “defuse” the situation.  There is no discussion of how Han-Tibetan ties have been strained by unequal access to education, land, healthcare and opportunities.  And, now, it’s all about protecting the sanctity of the Olympics.

It is funny how much of this actually echoes what the US has done in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I hadn’t even made the connection until writing this now.  I had assumed it was such a Chinese move.  But take for instance the fact that foreign journalists have been barred from Tibet.  Weren’t all journalists practically barred from the US invasion zones during the run-up to war?  Or another example.  China immediately came out with a list of nations supporting its reaction to the outbreak of rioting in Lhasa.  It included such powerhouse nations as Mauritania and the Seychelles, not to mention a few regional neighbors too threatened to challenge the status-quo.  How much does that resonate with our Coalition of the Willing?

Malaysia just canceled a dance performance in its capital because it feared one short segment might anger China.  Well, to be specific, China said it would.  So officials in KL ex’d the show, refunded ticket sales, taking a major loss and inconveniencing people who traveled to see it.  All because China said so.  The economic weight is balled up like a fist behind the CCP.  Cross China and your gonna get one in the jaw.  Less and less does the world stand-up for the people getting pummeled beneath the feet of human(e?) progress.

Protesters were just arrested at the Olympic Torch lighting ceremony today.  That’s the crux.  Protect the sanctity of the Games.  How dare someone politicize such a holy event, right?  How dare people speak out against a country basking in glory while repressing entire regions of the world!  I was sitting in our newsroom watching the “live” coverage of the torch ceremony on CCTV, China’s national corporation in control of nearly everything, especially live events.  We were watching because it was going to lead the news tonight.  I had my head down and heard a slight blip of something.  Everyone poked their heads up, curious.  When we looked, the channel was normal.  Just a cut away, and then it went back to the man giving the speech.  The entire raucous was edited out!  The entire nation missed it!  Smart, I suppose.  How can discontent even be stirred?  After all, masses are generally timid, awaiting others to step up, seeking security in numbers, before speaking out for some cause.

So, as far as making a connection Bianj… as far as bridging that divide between the personal and the political… well, I am still working on it.

Written by Miles

March 24, 2008 at 6:16 pm

Off of House-Arrest

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Alright, apologies to anyone patient enough to still check-in on this blog.  I recently moved.  The shift in address crippled my internet access, as I require my laptop to hack my way into the anti-censored web.  It took me a week or two to get my landlord to pull a few strings and get this all plugged in.

Anyways, I wanted to share an e-mail I recently sent to some friends in the forum-type email group I sometimes mention here.  It has to do with the Obama Race Speech, which I believe deserves all CAPS…

When I was in South Africa, when I met Simba and some of you, I had
the privilege of spending a lot of time with Evan.  Ev can explain his
own story, but, to me and for me, he did a damn proper job of keeping
a smile on my face.  The man is an optimist, and even if he isn’t, his
energy and positivity would fool you.  Now, one of my favorite things
about Ev was his little mantra before he set out for the day, for
class, to a hoops game or what have you.  He always chirped out his
kid-in-dad’s-shoes-slash-rapper slogan, “Let’s go to work.”

And Ev’s a pretty diligent man.  He’s done work, put in work.  And it
shows.  When I was reading this speech, doing my best to instill
Obama’s personal inflection between my own ears, I thought of that.  I
thought of the promise of this whole campaign and the work that lies
ahead.
I have wondered when it would be that Obama would have to pitch this
tent.  I work in the media, and often it is shameful, especially when
you get an up-close look at the dollar signs that float around
people’s minds.  Race was going to come out.  The media has been
scouring every angle to find some shit-storm for ratings.  Because in
this world, its money, sex, drugs, death, hate.  That’s what the
audience wants, they are lashing their lips for more.  It’s shameful.
So this was Obama’s opus.  And I feel he delivered.  He did what he
has been doing.  He went to work.  And he asked us to come with him.
He’s right, a lesser man, certainly a lesser politician, would have
severed ties with his pastor.  He would have tried to throw dirt back
over the body of racism, though the grave we dig is always too
shallow.  But no, Obama didn’t do that.  He spoke outright, and he
challenged America to face the realities and challenges in a way we
have not been asked in a long time, specifically with race.
But that’s what Obama has been doing, and it is how he won me over.  I
was nodding my head in the section where he says we can chose to
ignore this and find another distraction next election.  And then
another, and another.  Because that’s how it has been.  Forever.
We Americans have a fancy habit of glorifying our past, we are
indoctrinated with it.  Obama himself echoes it in his “audacity of
hope.”  But like my uncle told me, America has never been the saint it
sees itself as, for as long as our history dates.  The one thing we
never lost is this ideology that we can solve problems, and that for
this reason we envision ourselves a few streets ahead on the path to
progress.  Everyone hearkens back to our “ancestors,” to the founding
fathers.  But what I particularly liked about Obama’s speech is that
he admit those guys weren’t right then, and the people that followed
didn’t have it all ironed out either.  We are an imperfect union, and
we have work to do.
“What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who
were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the
streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience
and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of
our ideals and the reality of their time.”
That last line is brilliant, “that gap between the promise of our
ideals and the reality of their time.”  Well, this is OUR time.  And
this is our job.  And like Ev says, we gotta go to work.
“This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has
shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find
myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives
me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose
attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history
in this election.”
It can always be perfected.  Damn, man, you know, it’s easy to be
cynical.  I live in China, shit isn’t too rosy over here.  The
implications for the future of our world are gloomy.  I’m too young to
think about my kids, and I have harbored the fear that this planet
might not be around long enough for me to need to worry.  But that’s
coppin’ out.  That’s surrendering.  That’s letting all these
puppet-masters who have bullied their way to the top keep pulling our
strings.  And I’m not cool with that.
So, I’m here.  Every day going to work, like Ev used to say.
Sometimes you just gotta keep your head down and your chin up at the
same time.  Keep pluggin’ away, keep facing the inner demons and
readying for those exterior battles.  Keep perfecting myself.  Because
its infectious, and it spawns hope.
Peace.

Written by Miles

March 24, 2008 at 4:08 pm

Cheers? I’d rather a kick in the teeth!

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Hello all. It has been a long time since I wrote on Mr. Miles’ blog last. I apologize for my lack of presence here. I have been stoned. I have been skiing. I have been living life without thinking. I have taken risks. I have won, and I have lost. Over the last few days I have reflected. Hopefully, my reflection has made me better. I would like to share thoughts from the last five days that I have spent in London with all of you because I think my time here dovetails nicely with the question that Miles’ last piece writing raises. How do we change the world?

As I said, I’ve been in London for almost a week now. I’m here on business. I have felt uncomfortable during my time here. Not physically uncomfortable. I’m staying at one of the nicest hotels in town. Someone opens the door to the entrance as I approach. Someone turns down my bed while I’m at dinner. In fact, they go even farther than that. They fold the clothes that I’ve haphazardly strewn across the floor. They put the change in piles on the desk so that the 1 pound coins are in a stack next to the 50 pence pieces which are stacked next to the 20 pence pieces and so on. There is an incredible amount of care put into arranging my things. For some reason, that is supposed to make me feel comfortable. Well, it fucking doesn’t. I don’t even like it. It annoys me. I don’t want people tending to my stuff. I want people to engage me, and they don’t do that here. Almost no one has since I got here. And maybe it’s my fault. I am a business man, a man of high finance. I’ll don a suit and ask pointed questions in a meeting with someone twice my age with multiples of my wealth, but I’d like to think I’m a human being first. I like to befriend janitors in the same way I like to befriend CEOs. Hugs, real hugs, where you feel like you take a piece of someone else with you and like you leave a piece of yourself in their arms are one of my favorite parts of earthly existence. I haven’t had one of those since I got here. People are polite. The “blue collar class” goes above and beyond to do things for the “white collar class,” but it’s done like with a sense of duty, not a sense of care.

I eat my meals alone as I’m alone here and my girlfriend would, understandably, be upset if I invited young ladies to dinner every night. So, I sit at the bar for meals. I try to engage the bartender. No luck. They chuckle at what I say as if I were a comedian instead of a diner. Then it’s back to their business. I just want to connect. Frankly, I’d like someone to yell at me or threaten to kick my ass. I feel like the small child who lashes out to receive negative attention because he’s so fed up with receiving no attention at all. Even then, even when I act like an ass on the phone to the front desk or I harangue the concierge about a package that I have yet to receive, I get nothing but the most polite, least engaged response. “We’ll check on that, sir.” “Right away, sir.” “I am very sorry for your inconvenience, sir.” Either make me feel like you really give a damn or tell me to shut the hell up, but enough with the bullshit and the sir.

Only once during my stay did I feel connected with someone. As I trundled down the escalator into the underground (subway), I heard a voice filling the void of human spirit that existed in the crowd of commuters all around me. I continued through the tunnels toward my train and the voice got louder. “Sittin’ on the dock of the bay…” One of my favorite songs. A chill ran through me. I turned the corner and a man of about 50 years stood in front of me with a guitar belting it out like he were Otis Redding himself. I paused in front of him and the sea of people in the tunnel split to accomodate my decision. I dropped a one pound coin into his guitar case that contained only a handful of 10 and 20 pence pieces. He looked at me and whispered something that was inaudible. I met his eyes and bowed my head slightly in acknowledgement of the beauty he was creating. I wanted to yell at everyone else to listen to hug each other to sing to shout, shit, to hit each other if they wanted. At least in New York, people run into you as you walk down the street. They yell at you when you stop walking in the middle of a crowd. These people just politely passed wordless, emotionless, meaningless.

So, how do you add meaning? How do you change the world? Do you do it in a subway with a deep voice and a guitar? I don’t know. But, I do know how you change someone’s day. I do know how to connect. That guy changed my day, and it meant a lot that I changed his.

Written by bianj

March 12, 2008 at 9:38 pm

A Reflection of Charges

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I used to play this game on my father’s “new” PC down in our basement in the ’80s, played it on one of the first computers out there, running DOS and floppy disks.  It was called “Depth Charge” or at least that was the concept.  It consisted of the brain-racking task of pressing spacebar to drop a battleship’s charges on submarines zipping left to right and back again on the screen below.  It was a mix of short green lines on a black screen, a funny bleeping noise, and a crunching explosion sound.  And I would just sit there and play it.  Spacebar.  Spacebar……. spacebar.

The more subs I obliterated, the more points I amassed.  The more points I amassed, the faster the targets blipped across my underwater sonar.  And, if I was really an ace, I would time my release in order to plunge my charge all the way to the bottom of the ocean, perilously eluding each horizontal line of traffic, and smash to smithereens a more formidable subaqueous vessel.  Spacebar… bonus points.

Now the real trick, if I recall, was not running out of depth charges.  For every sub I destroyed, my ammunition was restocked (+1).  But if I missed, or hit a mine a sub may have dropped… well, bad news captain.  Subs launched vertically ascending torpedoes, and as soon as you were out of charges, man, it was like those guys knew!  Incoming left… incoming right… damn, trapped… GAME OVER.

Somewhere, in someone’s novel, not too long ago, I read that humans reach their intellectual apotheosis at age 24.  The author attributed this fact to Einstein just to hammer home the intellectual inadequacy of his audience.  My own incapacity to create meaningful change in this world is something I have not come to terms with, and most of that incomprehension falls within my own inability to balance the bullshit I espouse against my actions.

I was staring at my spacebar, the button creating order, delivering pause to thoughts, the largest tool at one’s disposal on a keyboard.  Maybe that channeled my memories of the game.  The implications of its measurement on the yardstick of my life, on turning 25, on our coming from DOS to the Iphone, on where I float now in this cosmic creation of empty black space… well, it seemed fitting.

The cliché says we are all our own islands.  But what if we are more a community of ships at sea?  Each ship is equipped for its own level of battle, and each carries a certain quantity of ammunition for life’s obstacles.  If that’s my ship floating up there, what are my aims?  In the beginning, an unskilled player must first learn to destroy the subs closest to his hull.  The deeper targets pass by unassailable.  And as that player advances he becomes more aware of the opportunities in the seas, becomes more aware of the futility of taking only what comes easy, begins to merit focus; he becomes cognizant of limitations of time and space, mines that set one back, and other levels attainable. 

That’s me floating in a sea of blank space.  And now I feel like I have been playing this game long enough to know how.  It’s not just about survival for me, I was lucky enough to be awarded a finely-crafted ship.  No, for me, it’s about achievement, feeling rewarded for my efforts.  Am I still one of those cretinous hacks taking out easy tasks close at hand?  Or do I have the skill and patience to take down one of those rare opportunities that seem so far from within my sights?

Written by Miles

March 7, 2008 at 3:08 pm