Quote of the day on Iraq

Stolen word for word from Talking Points Memo:

(Marshall begins by providing the following quote)
What [the Iraqis have] got going for them is that our maladroitness politically and diplomatically has put us in a real bind. There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein is an unpopular guy in Iraq, but he’s running against George Bush. If you’re an Iraqi, you’ve gotta decide who you’re going to vote for here….

I hate it when military plans are made with optimistic assumptions of that kind. I never made a plan that relied on the courage of my own troops. You hope that — and they generally will — fight bravely. Your plan ought to be predicated on more realistic assumptions.

And if we sent the 3rd Infantry up there naked, by themselves, because somebody assessed that they’d be throwing bouquets at us, that’s the worst thing you could say about political leadership, is that they made optimistic assumptions about warfare.

After presenting this quote, Marshall asks, “Michael Moore? Dan Rather? Phil Donohue? Nope. General Merrill A. McPeak, former Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force 1990-94, from an interview which appeared in the Thursday edition of the Oregonian.”

Of course, McPeak served two of his years as USAF Chief of Staff under Clinton, so get ready for the neo-cons to blame his attitude on the prince of darkness who brought death into this world and all our woes, and who obviously must have brainwashed his generals….

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China’s paranoia is alive and well

We all know how terrified the Chinese government is when it comes to new ideas (thus forbidding its citizens to see the blog you are reading now). Any sign of nonconformity is labelled “unharmonious” and results in harrassment, imprisonment or quarantine.

Thanks to China’s ultra-slick PR makeover, it’s easy to be deceived. “China is changing” the TV’s shout out to us, but on closer examination this claim rings somewhat hollow. For a good snapshot of how the Communist leadership continues its assault on free thinking, this article from today’s Washington Post is a great place start. There really are thought police out there.

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Thought-provoking perspectives on the war

Thought-provoking perspectives on the war over at Josh Marshall’s great site. These are exactly the kinds of opinions enraging Bush and Perle and Sullivan, but after Vietnam I believe it is our right to raise such issues and ask such questions. Not our right, our duty.
UPDATE: Looking at that last sentence I wrote, I have to say it borders on the self-righteous and pompous. Please disregard.

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Sullivan is bent out ot shape, again

Not unpredictably, Andrew Sullivan has gone into overdrive, bashing the media that dare question our war’s progress and insisting on the war’s “profound moral justification.”

What Sullivan, needless to say, cannot come to terms with is how he himself and his neo-con coterie set the stage for the current PR debacle. Reading Sullivan over the past few months, one would have thought it was common practice in Baghdad to toss people into huge shredding machines, to brutalize its citizens to such an extent that they would embrace the US invasion as a true liberation. They would greet us joyfully. Well, we all know how that went.

Now I am back in my cautious wait-and-see mode, not quite knowing what to believe. Some say the invasion may have been the right thing to do, but we were misled as to how easy it would be. Sullivan’s fundamental argument appears flawed — we are not being embraced the way he prophesied, and many Iraqi citizens actually appear to resent our presence. It makes me think about Hitler’s invasion of Russia. There was Stalin, a veritable monster slaughtering his own citizenry with remarkable energy and instilling fear in the hearts of all. And yet, when the invaders came, were they greeted with joy? Did the brutalized Russians embrace the opportunity to be rid of Uncle Joe? Well, a few did (mainly White Russians who, of course, were promptly murdered by their liberators). But it’s funny what war does to the invadees — usually they do not appreciate it, and sometimes they even fight back. Sometimes the invaders are taken totally by surprise by the tenacity of the native folk; it was just this tenacity that turned WWII around and brought the Russians marching into Berlin in 1945.

(Obviously, I don’t think this will be the scenario in Iraq, where our victory, at least on the battlefield, is assured. But it does seem that we failed to recognize how tenacious the opposition might be, despite hating their oppressive dictator.)

Last comment on Sullivan (for today). He showed his very worst colors today when he wrote:

The day of reckoning is not just coming for Saddam Hussein. It’s coming for the anti-war movement.

This sort of thing is scary. It implies that he believes it’s not enough for the anti-war protestors to be proven wrong — they must also be punished. Revenge is called for. Maybe I am over-reacting, but this seems to border on thuggery; it subtly but clearly implants in the minds of the reader the idea that its okay to wreak vengeance on those who opposed the war. Sullivan, of all people, should be sensitive to the dangers of transmitting potentially destructive memes to his readers (see Orcinus’ Rush, Newspeak and Fascism series for more on meme transmission).

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No matter how much Mickey

No matter how much Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan sneer at their favorite whipping boy, whom they derisively refer to as “Enron advisor Paul Krugman,” he continues to be just about the bravest and, often, most intelligent pundit out there. Don’t miss his latest column on Dick Cheney’s sickening courtship of the energy industry, and the parallels that can be drawn between his communications on that subject and on the war with Iraq.

(Everytime Sullivan or Kaus refer to him as Enron Advisor Paul Krugman, I wonder how they’d react if journalists always referred to their hero as “President Bush, who failed to win the popular election….”)

There’s another interesting column in the Times on how this war is perceived outside of the US. As an expat I can verify that Americans would be shocked at the bellicose reaction this war has ignited. They would also be amazed to learn that there is a perception out there that we are losing this war, and that the surprising tenacity of the Iraqis proves Bush to have been a blatant liar from day one.

IO discussed this with my colleagues at work and was amazed to see how outspoken they are on the subject. The Chinese simply believe that we are idiots, liars, scoundrels and breakers of international law. They actually believe their twisted media — a big shock for me, since it is such a blatant and embarrassing propaganda tool, I assumed everyone just chuckled at it. A wake-up call to America: a lot of people hate us more than you’d ever imagine. Even more vitriolic is their attitude toward our president. I can safely say that precious few Americans have any idea whatsoever of how despised and sneered at our leader is. I was actually trying to defend him during my office debate, to no avail — they see him as a pure force of evil, on a par with, yes, Hitler. (Sometimes I do, too.)As I tried to convince them otherwise I realized they were actually laughing at me for trying to do so. It was another of those moments when I wondered why I was living in China.

Anyway, I am paying for this at my hotel’s business center, so to avoid bankruptcy I’d better stop here.

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Return to Civilization

Coming to Singapore causes me to realize just how inhospitable China, for all of its improvements and advances, still is. Cars actually stop when the traffic light rurns red, and Singapore drivers don’t pound on the horn every few seconds, almost as if they were presenting their calling card to those around them. The ATMs work and people appear to be enjoying their lives. You can drink the water. The taxis are clean and don’t reek of tobacco. The streets are immaculate. There are things to eat other than hot pots (by far the most popular restaurant fare in Beijing). I can access this blog without going through the inconvenience of a proxy server. There are actually news programs that don’t portray Americans as murderous thugs slaughtering Iraqi children in order to get their hands on the oil.

There is a lot of appeal to Beijing, and I recognize this more and more as the weather improves. Still, there’s no way around the fact that there are irreconcilable differences between Mainland China and me. Sure, it’s always fascinating to be The Odd Man Out, the “laowai” (“gweilo” in HK) that the children watch in curiosity and with a twing of fear, the one who causes everyone in the restaurant to stop talking for a few seconds after he walks in. But China isn’t the only place to be an expat. There are lots of places, like, say, Singapore.

I have about 6 more months to go in Asia, and there is a strong possibility I may make one last move. A Singapore firm is wooing me, and I have to say it is an appealing offer. I have absolutely not made up my mind yet, but I am definitely inclined to say Yes. It would round out my term in Asia with a stint in the South, give me familiarity with one more major market and make my experience here more pan-Asian. And it would keep me from going insane.

Singapore doesn’t have the nightlife or the beauty or the laissez-faire attitude of HK. It’s more conservative, and somehow the word “boring” always seems to come up when I talk to my friends about living there. That said, I would rather be bored in Singapore than totally miserable in Beijing. A decision is imminent. Stay tuned.

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Out to Lunch

I need to go to Singapore and work most of the weekend. Thus blogging will again recede to a trickle (if that), hopefully to resume with renewed force and vibrancy come Monday. Best.


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I want to die!

The Chinese are a very superstitious people, strong believers in Good Luck and Bad Luck. Certain colors, like red, are good luck; white is on the bad-luck side. And whenever new buildings are designed, its standard to call in a geomancer to get the ghosts out and make sure the principles of Feng Shui are diligently followed.

Numbers are an especially important source of good or bad luck. The numbers 8 and 28 offer the best luck (I’m not sure why). But then there are the bad luck numbers, notably 4 and 14. I have never been in a building in Beijing that has a 4th or 14th floor. But it’s something I never really thought about — until I was given a new phone number last year.

13XXXX14114 — that’s my number. If only my Chinese had been a bit better at the time, I would have instantly demanded another. You see, the word for “one” in spoken Chinese is “yi” or, whenever you read it in a phone number, “yao,” which also means to want or to need. Then there’s the number 4, which in Chinese is “si” (pronounced kind of like the word “sir” but without the “r”). I didn’t know it at the time, but si has another meaning: to die.

So a few weeks ago I was chatting with a Bloomberg reporter who’s lived here a number of years and he asked for my phone number. When I told him “13XXXX14114” he started laughing out loud. “Do you know what that means?” he asked. “Your phone number says, ‘I want to die, I want to, I want to DIE!'” He was giggling for a good 60 seconds. It was a revelation; no wonder no one liked my phone number.

Now that I’m almost through here in China I figure it’s too late to bother changing it. At least now I know why, for the past seven months, people have recoiled upon hearing my phone number. Remember this when you apply for a phone number in China. No 4’s, and especially no 14’s.

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Lies and more lies

Okay, so here’s the thing…. The senate just passed legislation to end the controversial “estate tax” that affects a teensy sliver of the population and adds quite a bit of revenue to the federal coffers each year. What bugs me is that somehow the word has gotten out that all of us will have our estates plundered by this tax. Utter nonsense, yet people I know actually worry about it and believe this untruth. Could it be a result of the hammering at the issue by right-wing radio celebrities and editorialists like the Wall Street Journal? I believe the answer is yes, but don’t have the energy right now to dig up the damning links. [UPDATE: Just go here for validation of my point.] To put it into perspective, here’s a recent article on the topic, written by none other than….Bill Gates’ father. Illuminating.

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I am touched and honored

I am touched and honored to see that this site is the very first on the list if you do a Google search for “peking duck.” I would say that about 50 percent of the traffic here stems from this phenomenon. And I don’t even pay them anything.

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