Menbox update

If you’re a fan of this racy Chinese magazine that caters to a niche audience, you won’t want to miss Danwei’s latest post, complete with a very ballsy photo.

Danwei’s now officially back. If you haven’t been there before, go now. It’s the most interesting blog in China.

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Michael Savage slams Chinese dog eaters

Always living up to his reputation as a crude, foul-mouthed racist (and then some), radio talk show tyrant Mike Savage just went on a rant about the Chinese.

SAVAGE: [apparently reading from an article in USA Today] “Researchers have surprising news about what breeds of dogs came first and which dogs are more closely related.” What do I give a rat’s behind about which dog is related? Why is this study done? All I know is we treat dogs very well here, and the great originators of the dog eat them. How come they don’t put that in their story about ‘em, the Asians still chew ‘em up? In China they’re in cages waiting to be cooked. Yeah, I know, you’re not supposed to say that. All the quiet, sacred soy eaters over there.

Of course, this is just one more example of Savage’s loathing of anyone who isn’t white. And to think, MSNBC gave him his own TV show not that long ago. (They fired him after he expressed glee at the idea of gays dying of AIDS; what a charming man.)

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Makin’ news outta nuthin’ at all

No, it’s not a song by Air Supply, it’s a description of Fox News.

Tonight, brain-dead viper Sean Hannity trotted out a 19-year-old photo of John Kerry shaking hands with former Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega, and used it to conjure up all the old images of Kerry as a commie-lover, a man who’s always going against America’s interests and a general scoundrel.

Hannity alluded to Kerry shaking hands with the “brutal communist dictator.” I have bad news, Sean: Under lots of international pressure, Ortega called national elections, lost and gave up his power to the winner. Brutal dictators, communist or otherwise, do not just step down following an election. If they do, they’re not a dictator. I’m not giving Ortega any praise — he committed plenty of sins. But in a world of truly repressive monsters, Ortega’s profile is very slender.

That aside, what about the photos of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein 20 years ago? What about other high-ranking Republicans selling drugs to the Iranians (then our bitterest foes) to buy arms for the contras? The sheer hypocrisy and hubris is staggering.

There was no Fox News when I left America for Asia, or if there was it was in its nascent stages. Coming home to Fox News has been a major source of culture shock for me. That they have the gall to put such slanderous shit on the air at all is astounding — that they do so under the rubric of being “fair and balanced” is repulsive. I could blog all day just about Fox News and its sins. I’ve never seen anything like it, and if someone told me a few years ago that such garbage would be watched by millions of Americans I wouldn’t have believed it.

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Nick Berg was dead before he was beheaded

That’s what forensics expert Joseph Bosco concludes, and I’m perplexed why the mainstream media have been silent on the subject. When the video was first discussed, our venerated journalists at Fox told us over and over how Berg shrieked as his head was slowly and agonizingly sawed off. Looking at the video, which I finally did, I’d have to conclude the shrieks were edited in.

This may not be very significant. Whether Berg was alive or not, the action was grotesque and disgusting and unforgivable. But our professional media are supposed to be more inquisitive than this, and their silence on the subject is peculiar. I’d also like to hear more about how they can be so sure it was al Zarkawi who wielded the knife.

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China to follow the Singapore example?

I find this far-fetched on more than one level, but an entire aticle in the CSM is dedicated to the question of whether China will follow the Singaporean model of socio-political evolution.

As the government [of Singapore] tweaks its social policy, civil society groups are sprouting here, airing views on gay rights, artistic freedom, and the environment. Their mild dissent has resonated among youth raised on a global diet of pop culture and consumerism.

For observers trying to gauge the spread of democracy in Asia, Singapore’s cautious steps show how a maturing economy can embrace social and political change. While there’s no exact correlation between prosperity and freedom, social scientists posit that democracy usually blooms after economic development creates a stable middle class that demands a greater say.

No where does this idea matter more than in China, where the Communist Party has unleashed an economic dynamo that threatens to undercut its long-term grip. Free-traders argue that bolstering China’s middle class is more likely to bring political change than bashing Beijing’s repressive rule, citing the Party’s growing emphasis on its legitimacy as a provider of economic growth. Some China-watchers say members of the Communist hierarchy are taking note of Singapore’s model of tightly controlled democracy and economic efficiency.

Luckily the article notes early on the huge differences in the countries’ size and population, but I still think its analysis of Singapore’s evolution is misleading — and that may derail much of the theory.

The premise is that Singapore’s wealth and prosperity have led the way to greater freedoms and social tolerance. It especially singles out the government’s new willingness to hire gays as evidence.

Having lived there when the government made this very controversial decision, I can safely say it was not an act of social enlightenment, but of practicality based on economics. (This is no secret, and was stated in many articles that came out at the time.) As China’s shadow lengthens, Singapore’s great dread is losing foreign investment, and it’s determined to do anything and everything it can to lure Western companies to set up shop there. It was afraid Western countries were being turned off by the government’s intolerance toward gays, so the law was changed.

In other words, the new-found toleration stemmed not from burgeoning prosperity but from a fear that the economy was at a dangerous precipice, and all the stops had to be pulled to keep it from going down. Suddenly Singaporeans were allowed to dance on the bar, and it was announced that Cosmopolitan would be sold in the country for the first time.

There’s no doubt that as Singapore’s wealth rose, it loosened up along the way. But not to the extent the article would have you believe.

I would love to embrace the premise that China will follow this path. In the broadest sense, it’s doing so already: wealth is expanding and social freedoms are, too. But what Singapore had that sets it apart is, of course, Lee Kuan Yew who, for all his nannying ways, was something of a genius, a visionary who managed to make his vision happen. (Never mind that his vision resulted in the most asphyxiatingly boring place on earth; that’s nother conversation.) It takes a man with a rare mix of ruthlessness, brilliance and integrity to do what Lee did.

The reason Singapore works so well is that people are confident in their government. Some may not like their leaders, but they know the trains will run on time, and if things don’t go right they know where they can go to complain. The law is taken seriously, and public servants do their work efficiently; there are no potholes in Singapore, the passport line at the airport moves quickly, and no one runs red lights. Oh, and there is no corruption. Graft-free government is the very cornerstone of Lee’s plan. Bribery is all but unheard of in Singapore, and if it happens the punishment is swift and severe.

So why am I boring everyone with facts they already know about Singapore? Mainly to underscore how wildly different the mentality is between the two countries.

If China wants to strive for a Singapore-type model, with a strong but beneficent ruler at the helm of a semi-democracy that slowly but steadily loosens its grip on personal freedoms as the country grow richer, that’s fine. But remember, the reason it works in Singapore is trust in the government.

Right now, with graft and bribery a staple of doing business in China, I don’t think the country’s anywhere near establishing the kind of trust that makes thhe Singapore system work. Everyone needs to know they will be taken care of and protected from injustices. Everyone needs to agree that the government is so good, it’s okay if they can’t read Cosmopolitan or dance on the bar.

Maybe China will be able to offer its people such assurances, but not while corruption rules and the little guy has no voice. The time may not be right for a long while to come.

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The only good news about Iraq

There’s nothing positive to say about what’s happening in Iraq, except that it may be Bush’s undoing:

President Bush’s job performance ratings have fallen to new lows, largely a casualty of the Iraq war, ABC News reported Tuesday.

According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll fewer than half of U.S. respondents, 47 percent, approve of Bush’s overall job performance, while 50 percent disapprove.

Bush’s rating for handling the situation in Iraq registers a 58 percent disapproval. His handling of the prison abuse scandal gets a 57 percent disapproval, and his stewardship of the U.S. economy gets a 54 percent disapproval.

The president’s approval ratings, the lowest since the war in Iraq, match Gerald Ford’s in the spring before his narrow loss in the 1976 presidential election.

The CBS poll earlier this week was even worse for Bush, with his approval rating hitting just 41 percent.

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Googlebombing Kerry

We all know where we’re sent when we do an “I’m feeling lucky” Google search for “miserable failure.” Now, the Bushies have their revenge, making the John Kerry campaign site the No. 1 hit if you search for the word “waffles.”

But Kerry’s team has taken a creative approach to the situation and might actually capitalize from it:

The campaign has purchased Google AdWords, sponsored links that come up beside results when certain words are searched. The short links also refer to Kerry’s website, but suggest users “read about President Bush’s Waffles.”

“When we heard people were linking the word ‘waffles’ with John Kerry, our thought was, ‘This is ridiculous,’” said Morra Aarons, Internet grass-roots coordinator for John Kerry for President. “But our solution was to fight fire with fire.”

This is really smart. The list of Bush’s waffles is staggering, but its been drowned out by the noise about Kerry’s alleged flip-flops. Nothing like fighting fire with fire; it’s the only way the Dems can possibly compete with the ruthlessly media-savvy GOP.

Unlike Gore, Kerry will not go gentle into that good night. So come on George, bring’em on.

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“They do things so differently in China”

No one will dispute that. ShanghaiEye has some precious anecdotes on how the Chinese do democracy that really drive the point home. Funny, strange and totally Chinese.

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China’s Challenges

There’s an intriguing post at China Letter that tries to put into perspective just how mammoth China’s socio-economic challenges are. I especially admire Stephen’s ability to clarify the issues using examples and comparisons.

To the uninitiated statistics in China are mind boggling. One hears figures and attempts to relate them in some orderly way to known things. China’s population at the end of 2003 was estimated at 1.29 billion people, 21% of the population of the whole world. 64 times the size of Australia (20m) 21 times the size of Great Britain (60m) and 4 times the size of the United States (290m). It is estimated it will grow to 1.448 million by 2020 and 1.6 billion by mid century.

China’s population over the age of 16 will increase by the staggering number of 5.5 million people annually for the next twenty years, a number many times the size of most large cities. What does it take to provide an infrastructure and an economy to absorb and support a new State of Victoria, Australia (4.64m 2001) or Minnesota, USA (5.01m 2002 est), or two Greater Manchesters U.K. (2.48m 2001) every year, year in an year out for the next 20, all working aged people?

And we think we’ve got problems? And that’s just one of many cited in the post. Like the situation in Iraq, China’s challenges seem insurmountable, and yet somehow the world keeps moving along and takes these impossible situations in its stride, and they all get worked out one way or another. It will be intriguing to see how China copes, but given its history of dealing with the impossible, I suspect it will emerge intact and relatively healthy.

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Uninspired, apprehensive

I’m not in the mood to write right now, sorry. It’s a strange time here in America, and I’m trying to absorb it all and make sense of it. I’ve never seen the country so split, and figuring out what’s true has never seemed so difficult. Over the past two weeks there’s been an avalanche of information and accusations and counter-accusations over Iraq and the upcoming elections, and once I get my arms around it all, I’ll be back. Probably in a day or two. Thanks for your patience.

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