Can you spot the photoshop?


From a fiercely funny post (yes again) from Madly Ho.


Slipping through my fingers

I knew I was sticking my neck out several weeks ago when I admitted to being a closet Abba listener. Now I will go even further, devoting an entire post to a new song of theirs I discovered last week. New to me, at least; it’s actually been around a quarter of a century, and it’s the first song that succeeded in reducing me to serious tears in a very long time.

Practically unknown following its late release in 1994, the much under-rated Slipping through My Fingers is a song about loss, specifically, a father’s loss of his daughter, who is growing up quickly – a daughter he has failed to appreciate and is now about to lose. It is the only Abba song that is unquestionably 100-percent autobiographical (although many of their songs do seem to form a narrative reflecting their lives, especially the two couples’ divorces). This is Bjorn’s agonizing admission that by being a workaholic who made a conscious choice to spend his time at the recording studio and on the road to pursue his musical and financial ambitions, he allowed his marriage to deteriorate. His wife, who chose home and family over career, “slipped through his fingers” with his daughter.

I don’t have any children, but I have experienced intense and painful loss. Just like all of us. This song brought it all back to me; the pain of making a choice that resulted in someone slipping through my fingers, and out of my life, maybe forever. I would claim that for any parent watching their child grow up, or for anyone at all who has experienced the loss of someone they love – especially a loss they might have prevented – it is virtually impossible to listen to this song without breaking into tears.

It didn’t happen right away, the tears. I had downloaded five new Abba songs I was unfamiliar with and put them on my iPod playlist. When I heard Slipping Through My Fingers the first couple of times it did not make a super-strong impression. I was struck right away by it’s unusual tone (for Abba): Nearly all of their songs, even the ones that are about separation and pain, somehow manage to be upbeat, the one glaring exception being their masterpiece, The Winner Takes it All (another autobiographical song). From first note to last, Slipping Through My Fingers is purely about pain, regret and sadness, without the usual healing froth Abba is so wonderful at providing.

I realized the song had touched something deep within me when, several nights ago, it kept playing in my head as I tried to sleep (always a sure sign that a song is affecting me). Then I began to play it over and over again, memorizing all the harmonies, the words, the instrumentals. And then, it just kicked in – I suddenly “got” that this song was speaking to me, about my life today in Beijing, and what is not part of my life here in Beijing. And since then, every time I hear it I choke up.

Amazingly, this is a live performance – none of the usual over-produced studio pyrotechnics that typify your standard Abba song. And the performance by Agnetha confirms my long-held belief that she is simply the greatest pop vocalist who ever lived. This, I have to say, is among her greatest performances ever.

After a charming classical-style piano introduction, Agnetha starts out with a sweet, almost saccharine description of a father saying goodbye to his little girl. And she sounds like a little girl at first, though in a few seconds that changes. It’s only in the next section that Agnetha unleashes the explosion of sadness, with the words, “The feeling that I’m losing her forever, and without really entering her worth….” Suddenly we know, it’s not just a father saying goodbye to his daughter as she leaves for school; no – he realizes he has lost her forever, and that he never appreciated her while she was there. The chorus begins, one of their most beautiful ever, so poignant, free of their usual optimism-even-in-the-face-of-sorrow. As the chorus ends, Annifrid’s voice intertwines with Agnetha’s for the next verse, and the following line, “What happened to the wonderful adventures,” is almost unbearable in its anguish – lost, forever, the dreams and the plans, all the good intentions unfulfilled. Gone is the childlike tone of the song’s opening; now we feel the full power of the music that reflects life’s deepest disappointments and regrets. After the chorus repeats there’s a mesmerizing duet between two guitars, a final repeat of the chorus, and the song ends.

As I said, it doesn’t hit you at first. It took me a full week of listening before I realized I was obsessedhooked. Knowing that with music beauty is often in the ear of the beholder (or be-hearer), I asked a friend of mine to listen to it. He went through a similar process, at first finding it sweet, but wondering why I was raving about it so much. Then he said he listened again and again, and now he, too, cries when he hears it – and this is someone who, unlike me, does not cry easily. You can see the live video of this performance, but I think it has to be heard on an iPod to really overwhelm you. Whatever you do, don’t watch the youtube clip on a laptop with mediocre speakers; it won’t work. (But do go there to read the comments!)

I know I’ll never be rich or famous, and I’ve had to readjust my dreams and ambitions to conform to the realities of life. But when I am grabbed by a song like this, and when I am overpowered by emotions that bring tears to my eyes, I realize that I wouldn’t give up that ability – the ability to feel deep emotions for something that is beautiful simply because it is beautiful – for anything in the world.

Go to iTunes and pay the 99 cents for the song (from their album Thank You for the Music). If after multiple listenings you don’t think it was worth it, let me know and I will somehow pay the 99 cents back to you. Yeah, it’s just a pop song, and the lyrics are at times lame, even cheesy, but nothing can dam the inspiration behind it. As it was conceived you know its creators were touched by a wave of emotion from deep within their own well of experience. The result: a song that is ever so poignant, ever so moving, and utterly sublime.


Is the party coming to an end?

I dunno. But this fellow makes some intriguing arguments.

Every time a US Dollar is traded, a check is issued on an account that is overdrawn by $8.6 trillion. (That is the present size of the national debt) It is, without question, the biggest swindle in history. Flimsy sheets of faded-green scrip are eagerly exchanged for costly goods and services without any regard for the real value of the currency.

And, the real value of the currency is absolutely nothing!

How is it that this scam persists when people appear to be aware of the massive debt and deficits which underwrite the dollar? Do they still believe in that puerile fairy tale about ‘the full faith and credit’ of the United States backing up every greenback? Or are they pacified by the wizened graybeards, like Alan Greenspan and Hank Paulson, who soothingly bray about the ‘strong dollar policy’?

What gibberish.

In truth, the dollar rests on the crumbling foundation of consumerism and oil. The American consumer’s gluttonous appetite for spending has kept the greenback flying high for decades. Economists marvel at America’s lust for electronic gadgetry, the latest fashions, and useless knick-knacks. They call our profligate spending ‘the engine for global growth’; and indeed it is. No other country in the world is nearly as addicted to binge-spending as the US consumer. As long as he can beg, borrow or steal his way into the shopping mall; the orgy of spending is bound to continue. (Consumer spending is 70% of GDP)

Regrettably, there are signs that the US consumer is beginning to buckle from the weight of personal debt. The Associated Press reported just this week that ‘people are saving at the slowest rate since the Great Depression… and the Commerce Dept stated that the nation’s personal savings rate for 2006 was a negative 1%, the worst showing in 73 years.’

Red flags are going up everywhere. China’s central bank issued a warning in December about the risks of the weakening dollar:

‘If external capital stops flowing into the US, a significant drop in the dollar may occur with consumption and investment shrinking, interest rates rising, and financial markets experiencing turbulence, endangering global financial and economic stability. There could be adjustments to how European private capital, Asian foreign exchange reserves and oil export proceeds are invested.’

Yes, of course, a complete economic meltdown with capital fleeing the United States to foreign countries and the American economy collapsing in a heap.

The Chinese central bank statement adds:

‘If the US current account deficit continues to grow faster than GDP, then the investment value of US assets may be subject to doubts and challenges and the willingness of investors to continue holding and buying US financial products may weaken. This could cause changes in capital flows, the exchange rates of major currencies, and the value of foreign exchange assets.’

The Chinese bank is giving the Bush Team a chapter out of Econ. 101: ‘If you keep spending more than you are taking in; the stock market will fall, the dollar will plummet, and the US economy will tank.’

What could be clearer than that?

The administration, however, chooses to ignore the basic laws of economics and pursue a madcap plan to wage aggressive war across the planet and pilfer the world’s oil reserves.

Much more, and some great comments as well (the one about the “Zionist-controlled media” excepted). Will America survive it? Probably, simply due to the magnitude of its wealth and power. Will we experience pain that will last for generations? I really think so. And I think the axe will fall this year. Common sense tells me the current situation is simply not sustainable, and when I see Bush going out of his way to start a war with Iran I’m more convinced than ever that the bleeding – of our treasury and our troops – will continue, and worsen.


“How not to report the news in China”

Unfortunately, thanks to China’s hallowed tradition of valuing harmony ueber alles, I cannot read this article, but based on this source (have to watch an ad to read it) I’m betting it’s well worth a glance. Maybe someone can cut-paste it into the comments? Or maybe someone can tell me how to set up tor without bringing my browser to its knees.

By the way, dinner last night was awesome. Thanks to all 12 who came on zero notice – this should become a once-a-quarter ritual, though maybe we should find a restaurant that’s easier to find.


Dinner Friday night? (Yes, tomorrow)

Jeremiah of the great blog Granite Studio will be in Beijing tomorrow night and I am hoping that despite the short notice we might be able to pull together a small gathering of readers, bloggers and lurkers for dinner. Please contact me by email as soon as you can so I know how many seats to reserve; I will then get back to you with the location details. Dinner would start at 8 p.m., not far from Kerry Center.

These things are always a lot of fun, so I hope to see you there.


And the Lord said, ‘when you can shake someone down, squeeze them until the pips squeak’; or how the Church of England is using an ancient law to suck £200,000 out of a couple.

The Church of England loves to say how we must all be kind and not take advantage of others. Yet it is forcing a couple to sell their house to generate funds due under a law few people know exists.

Make sure to read the whole thing.

Couple face £200,000 bill from ancient church law

A couple who lost a seven-year legal battle against an ecclesiastical law that required them to pay the cost of repairs to an ancient parish church were ordered to meet the final demand for more than £200,000 yesterday. The initial bill presented to Andrew and Gail Wallbank for restoration of St John the Baptist Church in Aston Cantlow, Warwickshire, was about £95,000. After a series of legal challenges, including a hearing at the House of Lords in June 2003, the cost of the work being commissioned by the parish council of Aston Cantlow and Wilmcote with Billesley has more than doubled.

In case you think the Church needs the money, take a look at this.

Can you believe it? This is just ridiculous! And this isn’t just a local organisation acting unilaterally – the Church has praised these legal decisions!! Seriously, if I ever come across the Archbishop of Canterbury or any other Anglican priest, God help him because I will give him such a tongue lashing. This is such a disgusting situation – the Church must be exposed as the money-grubbing bastards they really are! The very people who should put the needs of others above their own are hiding behind an unfair law. It’s just sickening. Even though I am a Catholic, somehow I still feel ashamed….

If I were in that situation, I would refuse to leave my house and if the Police tried to evict me, I would use violence to protect my property – even if it meant I went to jail. Whip up a huge media storm to force them to change their minds. Do anything but give in.

My prayers are with the Wallbanks that they somehow survive this ordeal.


Chinese seek to get rich “the Jewish way”

Those of us who live in China are frequently confronted with…interesting assumptions about other cultures from our Chinese friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. Many Chinese have precious little experience interacting with other cultures and so what cultural knowledge there is tends to be an odd collection of stereotypes, half-truths, and myths.

Witness this report from WaPo (hat tip: Frog in a Well):

SHANGHAI — Showcased in bookstores between biographies of Andrew Carnegie and the newest treatise by China’s president are stacks of works built on a stereotype.

One promises “The Eight Most Valuable Business Secrets of the Jewish.”

Another title teases readers with “The Legend of Jewish Wealth.” A third provides a look at “Jewish People and Business: The Bible of How to Live Their Lives.”…

Several of the books, despite their covers, focus on basic business acumen that has little to do with religion or culture. But others focus on explaining how Judaism has ostensibly helped Jewish people’s success, even quoting extensively from the Talmud.

Practically every book features one or more case studies of the success of the Lehman brothers, the Rothschilds and other Jewish “titans of industry and captains of finance,” as one author put it.

Some works incorrectly refer to J.P. Morgan (an influential Episcopalian leader) and John D. Rockefeller (a devout Baptist) as Jewish businessmen.

The article notes that even “positive” stereotypes of Jews have in the past formed the basis for anti-Semitic propaganda and some in Shanghai’s Jewish community are frankly disturbed by the attention. This doesn’t really seem to bother the Shanghainese too much however.

Positive stereotypes about Jews and their supposed business prowess have given the Jewish community iconic status in the eyes of the Chinese public.

The cover of January’s Shanghai and Hong Kong Economy magazine wonders, “Where does Jewish people’s wisdom come from?”

Jewish entrepreneurs say they are bombarded with invitations to give seminars on how to make money “the Jewish way.”

Last year, a Jewish businessman’s family was featured on a popular TV show. As the husband and wife gave viewers an introduction to the Jewish faith, the cameramen went around filming the family in action as they performed mundane household tasks. Reporters asked them what they ate.

Zhou Guojian, deputy dean of the Center for Jewish Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said people in China may be so fascinated by Jews because they feel both cultures share a strong entrepreneurial spirit.

In his opinion, though, there is one big difference. Many Chinese businessmen have “Chinese restaurant syndrome,” Zhou said. “They are content with small-scale enterprises; they are happy just to make a living. But Jewish people want to be the best and make a huge company.”

Wang Zhen, a researcher at the Center for Jewish Studies, also says he recognizes that the stereotypes can be considered anti-Semitic but thinks it’s important that “even if people in China have the wrong impressions of Jewish people, the Chinese are very kind to them.”

Jonathan Dresner, a Japan historian and brilliant blogger, writes at Frog in a Well: “This kind of stuff has been common currency in Japan for years, where the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are still sold in bookstores…as a model for Japanese admiration and emulation, usually.”

Oy, vey indeed!


A gorgeously mild winter in Beijing – at what cost?

I believe in caution when looking at the day’s or week’s or season’s weather and seeing it as evidence for or against the issue of climate change. So I approach at least one of the claims expressed in this article with a degree of skepticism. Still, the article is important.

China has no plans to radically change its reliance on coal and other dirty fuels despite already feeling the impacts of global warming, according to a leading Chinese meteorologist. In the first official Chinese response to a stark UN report issued last week on climate change, Qin Dahe said China lacked the technology and financial resources for a wholesale conversion to cleaner energy sources.

“To replace 70 percent of China’s energy consumption really takes a lot of money,” Qin, who was one of the main authors of the report, told a press conference.

The UN report blamed human activities for global warming and warned that the Earth’s average surface temperatures could rise by between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees by 2100. China is the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind the United States.

As press reports said Beijing was experiencing its warmest February on record, Qin said unseasonably warm temperatures and other weather phenomena in China looked like evidence of climate change.

“We can say this winter has been a very warm one (in Beijing). This is clearly related to the tendency of global warming,” said Qin, the head of the China Meteorological Association. Qin said a recent severe drought in southwestern China and lower water levels on the Yangtze River also bore the hallmarks of climate change

Whether this year’s warm winter weather and southwestern drought actually back up arguments of global warming I can’t say. What I can say is that it’s a pity to learn the air and water will remain as polluted as ever, and the soot stains adorning many walls, many human faces and even entire cities aren’t going away anytime soon. I have to wonder about China lacking the resources and the technology. One thing I’m convinced of is that the government can somehow find whatever funding is necessary when it truly wants to do something (like design satellite-zapping missiles or host the Olympics).

And, as usual, the same goes for the US. While we somehow can come up with endless streams of cash to support our beloved war in Iraq, there never seems to be much left over (relatively) to invest in alternative energy. As usual, it’ll only be when the problem is life-threateningly acute that they’ll somehow, as if by magic, find the money for a solution, though by then it may be too late.


Beijing on the Potomac

Neil King, Jr. in the Washingtonian (via CDT) has a longish piece on China’s curious position among the Washington establishment and what the Chinese are doing to improve their image and to lobby lawmakers more effectively on issues important to the PRC.

Across the nation’s capital a debate rages, and has for years, over the true nature of China. Friend or foe? Embraceable or best hedged against? Land of opportunity or long-term threat? No other country has loosely arrayed ‘teams’ in Washington that in the simplest of terms are for or against it. In one corner you have the Blue Team, the threat crowd, pessimists at the Pentagon or within Washington’s think tanks-or newspapers-who argue that China looms as the one power determined to take America down a notch both economically and militarily. In the other corner you have the Red Team, derided by the Blues as ‘panda huggers’: certain businessmen, scholars, and State Department types who say that China is mainly about self-advancement and means the United States no harm.

And while the Reds may be on the rise at the moment-witness the ascent at Treasury of a true China-embracer, ex-Goldman Sachs chief executive Hank Paulson-one never knows when sentiment will swing back the other way. ‘The one thing all sides can agree on is that we are missing the definitive empirical proof that either side has figured China out-has divined its innermost nature-and can declare victory.’ That from Michael Pillsbury, a longtime Pentagon adviser on China who is claimed by the Blues, largely loathed by the Reds, but who insists he’s a mix of both-a Purple, let’s say. President Bush himself appears to be a Purple, as does his top diplomat, Condoleezza Rice. Both praise China as a potential partner but look warily at its growing strength.

Working like a madman to tip the balance in China’s favor is the PRC ambassador to the United States, Zhou Wenzhong. The article portrays Ambassador Zhou as a smooth and canny operator for Chinese interests, a smart dresser with a dry wit, and somebody who seems to enjoy the Washington game.

Moving critics into the ‘friend’ column is of course the job of any ambassador. Zhou has overseen an expansion of the embassy’s congressional-affairs office, now at about a dozen diplomats, and has urged his deputies to get out more, be seen, mix it up. China, in turn, has begun to send a much higher caliber of diplomat to Washington, including, most recently, the foreign-policy and Washington expert Su Ge, who ran the congressional shop until he became the ambassador to Suriname last fall.

One result is the fact that Chu Maoming, the embassy’s latest laconic spokesman, actually calls reporters back from time to time or responds to an e-mail. Both are startling developments in the evolution of an embassy long known for its studious silence. Chu has even been known to do lunch and to put forward other embassy officials to do the same. I went on the road with Ambassador Zhou for two days in Iowa in 2005, cruising around in his van, sitting in on meetings. His astonished staff said, without offering clear proof, that it was the first time in the history of China that a foreign reporter had gotten inside a Chinese delegation. Now that’s a long time.

Other signs of the charm offensive aren’t tough to find. Bonnie Glaser, a longtime China scholar at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, marvels at how Chinese diplomats are now taking think-tank types out to lunch;’at places like the St. Regis and the Mayflower,’ she says, adding that the Chinese ‘are becoming much more discriminating in their tastes.’ Glaser has her own principal contact at the embassy, as do most scholars in Washington who specialize in China. ‘He took my whole family out to dinner with his wife and daughter,’ she says. “Completely unprecedented.”

These are just a few excerpts, the whole piece is worth reading in its entirety. The article also includes a down-and-dirty summary of “key” China people in Washington. All things said and done, I’m not really sure what to make of Ambassador Zhou. Is it just more of the same rhetoric but with a nicer tie? Is China developing a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of American policymaking? If so, what does this mean for US-China relations especially with the new congress?


The princess of darkness loses it

You have to see the clip and see the comments to believe it. You have to remember that this is a pundit who has advocated a gulag of concentration camps in America, a racist witch who has been proven wrong countless times and never takes anything back, who is so quick to smear as an “unhinged liberal” anyone who questions our war on brown people – and who is, bewilderingly, a brown person herself – and here she is screeching like a harpie on crack about what she sees as a prejudiced blogger. As the blogger linked above succinctly puts it, “The worst piece of shit we have ever seen.” And then some.