“In one way, the church’s

“In one way, the church’s ‘peace at any price’ policy is a historical improvement. The last instance I can find of Rome supporting a war was when it blessed Gen. Franco’s invasion of Spain, at the head of an army of Muslim mercenaries who were armed and trained by Hitler and Mussolini.”

From a savagely funny Hitchens article on the Vatican’s coddling of Iraq.

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Hawkish Liberals

Josh Marshall, as usual, says it better than I ever could. Apologies to my liberal friends, but my scale is still tipped in favor of invasion, no matter how low my respect for Bush and his merry men may be.

My colleagues here in China have it in their minds that the troops march in next Monday. If so, it will be intriguing to see what the world looks like a few weeks later. Utopia or Goetterdaemmerung?

I won’t have time to think about it orblog about it until after this coming Friday. Until I finish my project I’m alotting myself 20 minutes per day to blog, and even that is a luxury. (I know, I said I’d have more thoughts on Andrew Sullivan, but it has to wait until next week.)

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The Decline and Fall of Andrew Sullivan

Reading Andrew Sullivan today as I do every day, I can’t help but wonder what’s happened to him. His Daily Dish inspired me about a year ago to start my own blog, and as tiresome as I found his continuous and cloying praise of George W. Bush, I always felt his site was the best read in town. It’s no accident that his is the first in my list of Favorite Blog links.

But I’m quickly losing my patience as Sullivan’s site deteriorates into a broken record, devoted almost exclusively to scolding, ridiculing and belittling any person or media expressing doubts about the need to invade Iraq.

I used to study his site. Now I glance at it, and usually I see it’s just more of the the same, and I leave as fast as I can. Begala Awards, Sontag Awards, Fisked Journalists — Sullivan is appearing more and more like a megalomaniacal hall monitor gleefully handing out demerits to those who disagree with him. It was funny at first, then it got a little silly, and now it’s plain irritating. And has he no idea how shrill he’s become?

It’s painful for me to write this, because I’m always going to be in Andrew Sullivan’s debt. It was he who “launched” this site when he linked one of my posts on January 18, and that’s probably why, directly or indirectly, you’re reading this now. (Gweilo Diaries and Dave Winer were also big helps in this regard.) This debt has never stopped me from criticizing Sullivan, but it’s always been balanced with a healthy dose of respect. Now, as I read his cranky, near-infantile grumblings, I find it more difficult to maintain this respect.

I have to get to work now, but there’s more I have to say about the decline of Andrew Sullivan’s site. I’ll be back.

[Edits made at 9:19 a.m. China time]

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Orcinus for President

I cannot say strongly enough how urgent it is that you stop what you are doing, right now, and check out what Orcinus has to say about how the conservative media operate.

Ever wonder how they get away with their lies and slander? Ever wonder how their nutty assertions manage to creep into the mainstream conservative mindset? (Remember how Clinton had Vince Foster murdered?) Orcinus reveals it, in all its ugliness, picking apart the media icons — Limbaugh, Coulter, Savage, The Wall Street Journal’s evil editorial page — explaining how they work and how they manage to protect one another and excuse one another for excesses that have no right being excused.

Orcinus’ blog is what a great blog should be — beautifully written, full of great links and always intriguing. I just want to know how he finds the time to do it. This series definitely deserves an award. Now get over there.
[Updated 5:38 p.m. China time]

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Dulce et Decorum Est

On the first two days of the battle of the Somme in 1916, more men were killed than America lost in the entire 12-year Vietnam War. In that one battle, England lost more men than America lost in World Wars I and II combined. (Source.)

In England and much of Europe, even today, when you refer to “the War” it is understood that you mean the Great War, not World War II. (My parents told me how this was driven home to them when they went to a church in England on that country’s Memorial Day, where the focus of the grief and the sermons and the memory was the Great War, still, so many years later.)

An entire generation, erased. Young men, sent in an unending stream into a meat grinder of attrition, year after year, amid conditions so dismal and atrocious we cannot begin to imagine them. And for what? What was “won”?

At my home in the US I have a wall of books on the two World Wars, the Holocaust, the lives of Stalin and Hitler. I have an unquenchable thirst to understand how it all happened, the Gulag, Verdun, Treblinka…. I’m not saying they are equivalent or even similar, except in my inability to conceive them.

At least I understand why we fought World War II. There was justification. World War I remains the great enigma. Those tens of thousands of men and boys who in a single day would die trying to gain literally a few inches — did they believe their sacrifice was warranted? Did they believe in their hearts it was worth it?

The English poetry of WWI stands, for me at least, as the most wrenching, emotionally jarring works of literature ever. It’s not just the words and their irony and their terror, it’s that the men who wrote them knew, they knew it was all for nothing. They knew it was a matter of some elegantly dressed officials willing to sacrifice all of their sons for the sake of “honor” or whatever.

Achingly, Siegfried Sassoon wrote, “Does it matter, losing your sight? There’s such splendid work for the blind, And people will always be kind….” I remember learning that in junior high school, and I could never forget it, irony at its most ferocious.

But always most maddening, the one that would give me (and still gives me) emotional upheavals, was Wilfred Owens’ Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori (“It is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country”).

Owens, the very greatest of the “war poets,” shot to death on the very last day of the Great War, describes a poor unlucky soldier who breathed in the fatal mustard gas:

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Can a person read those lines and not be viscerally moved? Maybe it’s just me…. I’ve never read anything that so graphically conjures up the horrors of war, the misery, the hellishness, so mercilessly shattering illusions that there is anything, anything at all about war that is valiant, elegant and sweet.

That post was for no reason other than these thoughts were percolating, and I had to capture them before they were gone.


The Suffocating “Lei Feng Spirit”

Does anyone remember Horst Wessel? A young Nazi murdered in 1930, he wrote the maudlin verse for what became the Horst Wessel Lied, second most popular of the Nazi anthems. Goebbel’s seized on his death, which he trumped up and turned into a political assassination, and transformed Wessel into the quintessential martyr. Typical Nazi bollocks.

Now, I am not saying there are any parallels, but anyone living in China will know the name of one Lei Feng. The newspapers are jammed with his photos, with stories about him, the English CCTV station airs breathless, gushy retellings of his greatness.

Here’s how a Singapore journal describes the phenomenon:

His boyish smile beams from the pages of China’s major newspapers. Lately, he has been on the television news every night. But he’s no pop star.

This is Lei Feng, a 1960s propaganda icon, a dead soldier hailed as a model of charity. Dusted off and updated, he’s being promoted as an example of cheerful self-sacrifice by communist leaders who worry economic reform has made Chinese selfish and fed social tensions.

Basically, like his predecessor Horst Wessel, the most interesting thing Lei Feng did was die early. (His highest goal, his raison d’etre, was, in his own words,to be a mere “screw in the machinery of the revolution.”) And like Wessel, Lei too left something behind that the propaganda machine could seize on and milk for decades to come. This was a diary, passages of which schoolchildren are forced to memorize even today. In it, Lei tells us of how happy he was to wash soldiers’ feet, do menial chores to help the Party, and generally to be of service to the revolution.

Does anyone remember Boxer, the loyal and hard-working horse in Orwell’s Animal Farm, whose maxim is “Whatever Napoleon says is right”? (Of course, Boxer’s reward for such devotion was to be sold to the glue factory.) Lei’s diary, the authenticity of which, outside of China, is questionable to say the least, is crammed with such slogans and lugubrious preachings on the importance of loyalty and service.

Okay, it’s not unusual for repressive societies to use such gimmicks to drum up support and strike an emotional chord in the hearts of their subjects. But the sheer scale of this thing boggles the mind. A veritable industry has sprung up around the myth of Lei Feng, complete with books and museums (yes, a museum) and TV shows.

Here’s how one reporter describes his attempted visit to the Lei Feng museum:

One of the promised attractions of the Lei Feng museum in Fushun was the abundance of relics: his simple clothes, copies of his famous diary, photographs of his noble deeds and the socks he darned as his friends slept. Alas, on my visit, the museum was closed. A new, more grandiose museum of granite and marble was being constructed on the same site.

All I saw was Lei Feng’s enormous head resting on the ground, his stony eyes blazing with revolutionary zeal at the surrounding slum of shabby concrete housing and unpaved streets filled with rubbish.

It’s everywhere. This is the type of Lei Feng “art” that we are subjected to:

For more examples of the curiously kitschy creations concocted to keep Lei’s memory alive in all of our hearts and minds, just go here.


I’ve actually received a few

I’ve actually received a few emails asking me why I’m posting so little nowadays. (Someone actually reads my blog!) It’s all because of work, and it’s going to get worse right through next Friday, at which time my company should give me a week off. (They won’t.) I’ll be at my desk through the weekend but will try to post now and again.

I also tried to speed up this site’s load time after hearing it was taking forever. Hopefully it’s a bit better now.

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Dan Gillmore sums it up:

Dan Gillmore sums it up:

It’s incredible how clumsy the administration has been in its rush to war, taking what still seems like a reasonable goal — ridding the world of a murderous thug like Saddam Hussein and promoting democracy in the Middle East — and turning it so sour.

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Inevitable I knew it was


I knew it was only a matter of time before the snakes in my industry started focusing aggressively on bloggers to get their messages out and sell their products. If blogging, as Andrew Sullivan proclaimed, is indeed going to make editors “defunct,” bloggers are a natural target for the flacks.

Last week I actually started writing an article about this topic but got so busy I abandoned it. Well, my rival Glenn Reynolds has beaten me to the punch with a great piece about this insidious practice. It’s just getting started; wherever you have “influencers,” you have PR flacks hawking their wares, whispering in their ears, offering their “help.” Like flies to flypaper.

And blogging has generated an entirely new generation of influencers. And the PR companies are drooling.

Case in point: Reynolds writes, “According to press reports, Dr. Pepper plans to recruit ‘key influence bloggers’ who will ‘spread the word'” about the joys of drinking its new pop, Raging Cow. Reynolds quotes from a Dr. Pepper press release:

Beginning with an initial group of six people in their late teens and early 20s — flown to Dallas with their parents for an induction session — Dr Pepper hopes to develop a “blogging network” to hype Raging Cow and “be part of the ‘in the know’ crowd,” says its brand-marketing honcho Andrew Springate. Those spreading the news via their blogs won’t disclose their flackitude, says Springate, because officially they’re not paid Dr Pepper employees; they only get promo items like hats and T shirts.

I read this, and I feel ashamed of being in the PR business. I want to say to people, echoing the Elephant Man, “I am not a PR person — I am a human being.” Because a lot of people see us as the lowest of the low. Even lower than lawyers. (Go here if you want to know why.) So I urge all bloggers who receive “tips” and “advice” and “pointers” to know their source and be wary of the PR vulture poised to win some free cyberink for his fat-walleted client.

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rrt@wagged.com [Short for MS’s PR firm, Waggoner Edstrom]

Dear rrt,

I am wondering if you are aware of the dangers posed to Microsoft’s reputation by MSNBC’s decision to give air time to one of America’s most xenophobic, hateful, race-baiting and foul-mouthed liars.

I refer, as you proabably know, to MSNBC’s recent announcement that Michael Savage will have his own TV show on Saturday afternoons.

As a PR practitioner myself, I am prepared for the usual canned response: MSNBC is a separate entity under separate management and the views of its hosts in no way reflect our own and blah blah blah blah. The bottom line remains that this is Microsoft-NBC that is perpetrating this misdeed, and to believe there will be no fallout up there in Redmond is to swim in a sea of delusion.

Can Microsoft truly be at ease knowing that it, directly or indirectly, is hiring a man who says of immigrants, “You open the door to them and the next thing you know, they are defecating on your country and breeding out of control”? Do you really want this type of slanderer receiving a paycheck that has the Microsoft name on it?

Savage has made it quite clear what he thinks of “the degenerates on the left who want to sell Americans on the idea that homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, even sex with animals is normal.” I can’t believe that Microsoft, a company with many gay employees, could want to be associated with this insanity. Do you see something good about this, something positive? Am I missing something — is there a way this kind of publicity might be of some benefit?

Never one to keep his prejudices and loathings to himself, Savage’s litany of crimes is long and detailed. And now he’ll be spouting his poison with the MSNBC logo over his head. That’s half Microsoft, half NBC.

Please take a moment to think about it. Microsoft has had its ups and its down when it comes to PR. Does it really need this rotting albatross tied around its neck?

Warmest regards,

Richard (aka, The Peking Duck)

[quotes courtesy of Eschaton]