China will approve gay marriage before the US

Just a prediction based on what I see. (Links via Shanghaiist – in an post that further proves the point.) That’s China Daily. And it’s bolder than what you’ll see in most US dailies.

There’s something to be said for a society that isn’t blinded by the foaming-at-the-mouth intolerance of the fundamentalist religious groups (Muslims, Jews, Christians, fill in the blank). Granted many Chinese have their own customized blinders – party dogma and a culture that makes it all but impossible to tell your parents you are not getting married. But the new generation of Chinese are amazingly tolerant and they simply don’t possess the wild-eyed ideology to make them fall for such hollow nonsense as gay marriage “threatens the sanctity of traditional marriage.”


Finishing River Town

I made the mistake this morning of reading the closing three pages of Peter Hessler’s River Town on a public bus, No. 115, to be precise. I was on my way to work, having in recent weeks finally gathered the courage to take on Beijing’s bus system.

The bus had just passed the Pacific Century mall as I started the final section of the chapter titled “Upstream.” I felt the emotion mounting as Hessler described his farewell to Fuling after having lived and taught there for two years. Like a video camera, Hessler pans across the faces of those who’ve gathered to see him off, his students and colleagues, and each name brings back the memories of their stories, some of them unbearably poignant.

I was doing okay until I got to his description of his students standing in the rain and crying as he boards the boat leaving them, probably forever.

It’s odd enough to see a white man on the 115 bus. But seeing one standing there and being so obviously moved with feeling is probably somewhat less common. Like the students Hessler was describing, I tried to hold back the emotions and keep an even expression. I succeeded, but it wasn’t easy. And I had to put the book down and finish the last two paragraphs after the trip.

As I read the simple sentence that touched the nerve – “Most of them were crying as they stared out at the river” – I looked away from the book, determined to think about something else so I wouldn’t look ridiculous. It was then I saw that, impossibly, the bus had turned onto Tuanjiehu Lu, the street I lived on when I first came to China in 2002. It’s the one spot in all of China that still evokes painful memories and wistful whispers of, “If only….” I remembered saying my own goodbyes to China and those I loved here on that very spot. The coincidence was too much.

I put the book down and looked stern and serious. Maybe nobody on the bus noticed how moved I was (I am good at some things, but hiding emotion has never been one of them).

I had got to the final chapters of River Town weeks ago. I had been holding off finishing it because I didn’t want it to end. I kept it by my bed and read only one or two pages a night as I neared the final chapter. Some things you just want to savor.

Maybe when I get back into blogging mode, which doesn’t seem to be anytime soon, I’ll do a full write-up. In the meantime, if you haven’t read it, now’s the time. I don’t believe you can possibly live in China and read this book without feeling a fundamental shift, a deeper appreciation of everything you see, a greater sadness at some of the nonsense and a more powerful love and appreciation of the people and all they’ve gone through and the miracle that they are where they are today. Hypnotic, merciless, unforgettable, and sublime.


The greatness of Chiang Kai Shek

Rehabilitating one of the world’s most reviled tyrants. It’s no small task but the author’s heart is definitely in it. It’s a fascinating book review, whether you agree with it or not. Loved the last sentence:

Perhaps Chiang has emerged victorious after all. For surely today’s China resembles his vision more closely than it does Mao’s.

It’s especially interesting to read this review now, as CCTV seems practically on the verge of announcing that the long-lost baby is about to return to its mother’s arms. Definitely an interesting time to be watching Chinese media.


My site is back, but I’m not

Due to a server issue, TPD has been down for a couple of days. Which hardly matters, because I’m not posting at the moment. There are some amazing stories going on in China this week that’s I’d love to comment on but can’t right now. So this site may be irrelevant for another few days, sorry.


Quote of the day, far and away

Lay it on the line, why don’t you?

Does anyone believe that if Iran, say, captured an American soldier, kept him awake for eleven days straight, bashed his head and body against plywood walls with a towel around his neck, forced him to stand and sit in stress positions finessed by the Communist Chinese, stuck him in a dark coffin for hours, and then waterboarded him, that the NYT would describe him as a victim of “harsh interrogation techniques”? Do you think Mike Allen would give anonymity to a top Iranian official who defended these techniques as vital to Iran’s national security?

The last seven years have revealed that almost the entire American establishment views itself as immune to the moral and ethical rules it applies to every other country in the world. Now we know, at least. And you can be sure they will protecting each other to the bitter end.

And you wonder why it’s more difficult for us to challenge China from a moral high ground?

Be sure to see that extraordinary post for the jpeg that says it all: we are doing exactly what the State Department has called “torture” when other countries do it. When it’s America doing it, it gets dressed up in euphemisms. There is only one thing to do: Prosecute.


“The crisis is over”

I felt it coming last week – a wave of positive stories about US banks doing better, with the icing on the cake arriving today with news of Citigroup’s record quarter. The markets have soared and gold has plunged.

I’m not the only one who sees this as a classic sucker’s rally. The Times’ smartest columnist looks at the breaking news and sees irrational exuberance aplenty.

Wells Fargo, for example, announced its best quarterly earnings ever. But a bank’s reported earnings aren’t a hard number, like sales; for example, they depend a lot on the amount the bank sets aside to cover expected future losses on its loans. And some analysts expressed considerable doubt about Wells Fargo’s assumptions, as well as other accounting issues.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs announced a huge jump in profits from fourth-quarter 2008 to first-quarter 2009. But as analysts quickly noticed, Goldman changed its definition of “quarter” (in response to a change in its legal status), so that — I kid you not — the month of December, which happened to be a bad one for the bank, disappeared from this comparison.

I don’t want to go overboard here. Maybe the banks really have swung from deep losses to hefty profits in record time. But skepticism comes naturally in this age of Madoff.

Read the Krugman piece to see why the most that can be said at the moment is that things have been deteriorating a little less dramatically than in previous months. The economy is worse, not better, and all those factory closings and bankruptcies and high unemployment rolls are still looming. This holds for China too, where the propaganda wave insisting that China is back and has emerged from the crisis unscathed, if not stronger than ever, is deafening. The shock waves of GM disintegrating, along with a number of malls and real estate companies, have yet to hit. And again, we see parallel situation in China.

It seems that thinking happy thoughts can actually convince people we’re okay. I wish we were so I wouldn’t have to worry about my family and my mortgage. But I have to think we’re still at the beginning, not the end. We’ve still got two wars to fight on top of all our other miseries, and in case no one’s noticing, another looming hotspot is now a tinderbox that will almost inevitably suck us in.

Thinking happy thoughts is made possible by obfuscation of information. Behind the propaganda wave is a treasure trove of information the powers that be do not want you or me to know. It would spoil all the fun.

U.S. taxpayers need to know the risks behind the Federal Reserve’s $2 trillion in lending to financial institutions because the public is now an “involuntary investor” in the nation’s banks, according to a court filing by Bloomberg LP.

The Fed refuses to name the borrowers, the amounts of loans or assets banks put up as collateral under 11 programs, arguing that doing so might set off a run by depositors and unsettle shareholders. Bloomberg, the New York-based company majority- owned by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, sued Nov. 7 under the Freedom of Information Act on behalf of its Bloomberg News unit. It made the new filing yesterday.

“The Board’s arguments are based on wispy speculation, lack evidentiary support and are contradicted by economic theory,” said Thomas Golden and Jared Cohen, lawyers with New York-based Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, in a motion asking the judge to require disclosure.

“These government actions, which have been shrouded in secrecy, are at the heart of Bloomberg’s FOIA requests,” the attorneys said.

Why the shroud of secrecy, the omerta among the boys behind the curtain? It’s pretty obvious to me: they know if we know what they know there will be a stampede out of the dollar like we’ve never seen before. If you choose only to look at the warm and fuzzy reports the banks are putting out to make things look happy you’re only fooling yourself.

I think this will go on for a couple more months, maybe even through the summer. But as the reports come in from the big companies revealing a devastating recession that is only getting worse, the floodgates will have to open and hell will have to break loose. China may escape some of that because they can control information better and keep propping things up with more cash. But it’s got to get uglier for both of us. Domestic consumption is not going to save China. The bottom line is, too many Chinese consumers are simply too poor.

So as we enter a phase of increased optimism and hope, I am gloomier than ever. In case you’re feeling a deluge of optimism, please start reading this guy on a regular basis. He’s saying what I’m saying, only better.


Mao Condoms

Celebrities and condoms seem to go together, from Bill and Monica to the Olympic fuwa. So when I first saw a tweet about condoms bearing a likeness to Osama Bin Laden, Mao Zedong and Adolf Hitler I didn’t think it was anything worth blogging about. The condoms are ugly and silly anyway and I didn’t think they were funny.

Now however, it seems the German condoms have irritated China’s “netizens,” who are not at all amused. And I can’t really say I blame them. While placing Mao in the same category as Hitler and Bin Laden is debatable, it is not debatable that this was an insane marketing decision, at least if the ad agency (Grey Worldwide) and their client (Doc Morris Pharmaceuticals) want to do business in China.

Something about the whole thing just seems “off.”



And again, whether the comparison is valid or not, you don’t throw sand in the face of one of your most important markets. To discuss this from a perspective of morality and history is one thing. From a marketing perspective, it’s plainly idiotic.


Anniversaries and Tea Parties

Today is not only “tea party” day and income tax day, it’s also an anniversary of a most important occasion, one that, although unnoticed in the West at the time, would soon lead to a series of jaw-dropping events that drove us to sit around our TV sets transfixed and incredulous for many weeks. It’s a good reminder that the bigger anniversary, the one for the non-event that can still scarcely be acknowledged looms but a few weeks away. Please rush to that site now, and follow the links. And fasten your seatbelts for what’s to follow in a few weeks.

Back in the motherland, I’ve been watching in amusement and amazement as the “tea party” nonsense titillates the right into paroxysms of ecstasy. All I’ll say is this: The tea parties are code. They have nothing to do with taxes. They are all about anti-Obama rage, racism, fundamentalism and the Limbaugh-Rove-Malkin axis-of-sleazels’ wet dream of imitating the Nuremberg rallies in America. The astroturfed, Fox-news-sponsored orgies of faux outrage are simply a continuation of the 2008 campaign’s insistence that Obama was a socialist Muslim terrorist born in Kenya and out to plunder the US treasury and turn the US of A into a Caliphate.

Not sure that Fox News was a sponsor? Go here; ignore Olberman but watch the Fox compliation. Priceless. And here’s my quote of the day on this topic:

[T]he teabaggers are full-throated about their goals: they want to give President Obama a strong tongue-lashing, and lick government spending — spending they did not oppose when they were under Presidents Bush and Reagan. They oppose Mr. Obama’s tax rates, which will be lower for most of them, and they oppose the tax increases Mr. Obama is imposing on the rich, whose taxes will skyrocket to a rate about ten percent less than it was under Reagan. That’s teabagging in a nutshell…

I have lots to say about lots of things but can’t muster the energy after work at the new job. I’ll aim for the weekend. Sorry to under-perform here this month, but transitioning to a whole new life is a challenge.

Update: Excellent update and great perspective on these pseudo events by a smart China blogger.


“A toothpick is still a toothpick”

I’m not saying another word. Go over to China Geeks to read more. Headline is semi-not-work-safe.


Chinese names too difficult for Americans to handle


A North Texas legislator during House testimony on voter identification legislation said Asian-descent voters should adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.”

The comments caused the Texas Democratic Party on Wednesday to demand an apology from state Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell. But a spokesman for Brown said her comments were only an attempt to overcome problems with identifying Asian names for voting purposes. […] “Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown said.

Matthew Yglesias responds:

As it happens, it seems to me that people of Chinese ancestry tend to have very “easy” names as things stand—lots of monosyllables and so forth. The big culprits in terms of “difficult” names, I would say, are Eastern Europeans, South Asians, upper-class WASPs, and of course those of us with Galician names like “Yglesias” that combined foreign origin with unorthodox spelling.

Which do you find easier “to deal with,” Li or Wu, or Yglesias?