Uncategorized

Nuclear standoff and that appalling United flight incident

At times, it may seem as if the world is a farce, what with all the crazy political developments and societal mishaps. Except the problem is that this has long stopped being funny and people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake.

The latest crisis in Asia is the ongoing standoff between North Korea and the US that hopefully will remain just that, without breaking out into nuclear war. While I really don’t believe that could happen, despite North Korea’s warning of “thermonuclear war” and a U.S. fleet deployed in nearby waters, it is still possible violent conflict can break out. Especially as the two key actors are a callous buffonish tycoon who leads the world’s most powerful country going up against a rotund tyrant whose cartoonish appearance masks the fact he heads one of the world’s most despicable regimes.

Meanwhile, I know it is kind of old (last week) news but I’m still trying to get over the shocking scene from of an Asian-American doctor being dragged off a United Airlines plane bloodied and unconscious. When I first saw the news and hadn’t read all the details, I thought maybe it was a case of excessive force being used on a passenger who had done something violent. Instead, it turned out he did nothing wrong  but had merely been chosen at random to get off because the airline had messed up and needed to squeeze four of its crew onto the flight. Because he refused, he earned the right to be forced from his seat, pulled violently towards the ground, thus knocking himself unconscious after his head hit a seat armrest, and dragged like a corpse through the aisle.

What made it worse was that despite the clear video footage and multiple witnesses, the United CEO came out and made some boldfaced lies about the customer having been “disruptive” and “belligerent.” It took growing outrage from the public before the CEO was able to admit anything, in what were his third and fourth statements after the incident.
Frankly, this is one situation where everyone involved from the security personnel who forced the victim out of his seat and pulled him out violently, rendering him unconscious in the process, to the airline crew to the CEO was wrong. You have to wonder what was going through the minds of those security men, who seem to have escaped blame given all the attention on the airline, when they did all that. “Just doing their job” isn’t a good-enough excuse.

I don’t know, there’s an enormous lack of decency in society today in how we treat each other and what is scary is how much it permeates all levels, from top to bottom.

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China

A little more turmoil in the world

Just came back on the weekend from a short holiday to find the world has become a bit more turbulent.

On Sunday evening, China suffered a ghastly terrorist attack when alleged Uighur separatists attacked civilians in a train station, killing 29 and injuring about 130. This attack took place in Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, which is far from Xinjiang, and represents a disturbing escalation (assuming the perpetrators are indeed Uighur terrorists) in tensions involving Uighurs and the state, in terms of both the victims (innocent civilians), the place (train station) and the location (another province). The suddenness and the body count seems to have stunned the authorities and people enough that for now, there’s actually been some sort of reasonable approach to coping with the tragedy and a lack of calls for revenge or repression.

Ukraine had been going through a crazy set of events where its Russia-leaning former president was forced from power by mass protests in the capital. Suddenly this was upstaged by an even crazier development where Russia decided enough was enough and sent in troops, supported by local pro-Russian militia, to seize government and military installations all across the Crimea, an autonomous coastal region which has a lot of Russian speakers and houses a Russian naval base. Besides occupying the Crimea, Russia might move on further into Ukraine, which will almost certainly trigger war with Ukraine, and by extension the US and maybe the European Union.

In Beijing, no violence and turmoil, but the weather has been terrible lately, to the point where day after day seems to be apocalyptic gray and hazy from morning till evening and the PM2.5 reading (which measures the amount of polluted particles less than 2.5mm in the air that can get into your bloodstream) has soared to over 400. The weather has been bad before, in the past half-year I’ve been here, but only say one or a few days per week. For the past two weeks, it seems like it’s been continuous. This was one week ago and it hasn’t gotten much better.

Africa · Uncategorized

Dangers of trivialized war reporting

Not that long ago, the US was engaged in a staredown with Russia over launching an attack Syria to punish it for allegedly using chemical weapons to kill civilians. Russia refused to back down and made some strong counterpoints to the US’ supposedly solid evidence. I don’t want to be callous but I’d strongly advise against accepting the Western “evidence” about the chemical attacks and to be skeptical of the reporting done on that attack and on the conflict so far, which in my view has been skewed towards the anti-regime rebels.

This LRB article takes a wider look and gives a sound criticism of war reporting especially in the last few major conflicts. What’s especially pertinent and harmful is the simplification of these conflicts by media, often describing conflicts as between oppressive evil regimes/dictators and heroic opposition rebels. What’s also relevant is how Western powers (US, Britain, France etc) have been involved in these conflicts and taken advantage of faulty media reporting to influence public perceptions. In addition, the opposition in Libya or Egypt (anti-Mubarak protesters) has often been rather media-savvy, taking advantage of social media like Youtube videos and Twitter to press their cause, which often generates sympathetic coverage and propagation from Western media -sometimes along the lines of “these people use Twitter, they’re just like us, they’re the good guys blah blah.” Hence when the general public, for instance you and me, reads and views these reports, it’s easy to be taken in and believe the general simplified narrative of the conflicts.

Instead of just criticisms, the writer gives actual examples. The “victories” over the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and over Iraq in 2003 by the US were not real military wins, which would explain why so much fighting and instability occurred, even to the present day. Much more recently, Libya presents a good example of a conflict becoming the hot topic for a period of time, before being bypassed for the next conflict or controversy or whatever passes as the story of the day. The country was easily rid of Muammar Gaddafi, but since then it’s descended into chaos and violence. Even the killing of the US ambassador last September hasn’t been solved as yet. Coming back to the current conflict hotspot –
What’s been happening in Syria for the past two years is terrible, but the US has been right to not intervene. Let’s hope it stays that way.

“Conviction that a toxic government is the root of all evil is the public position of most oppositions, but it’s damaging to trust one’s own propaganda. The Iraqi opposition genuinely believed that Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic problems stemmed from Saddam and that once he was gone all would be well. The opposition in Libya and Syria believed that the regimes of Gaddafi and Assad were so demonstrably bad that it was counter-revolutionary to question whether what came after them would be much better. Foreign reporters have by and large shared these opinions.” 

China · Sports · Taiwan

Assorted China and (1) Taiwan reads

There’s been an epidemic of public shootings in the US recently, with the latest being a gunman who was shot dead in the middle of New York City by police (who also shot 8 bystanders by accident) after having killed a former colleague (not to mention a rash of murder-butcheries in Canada recently). So does this really mean that the United States is full of guncrazy lunatics who love to buy and use weapons without any shred of responsibility or accountability, and idiots who fully support these rights even if it means crimes like the one above and the Colorado Batman cinema massacre are easier to commit? Probably there are quite a lot of people in the US like that, but it still wouldn’t be just to accuse all Americans of being gun nuts. The US is a nation of 300 million, the fourth biggest in the world, and it’s kind of pointless to paint it with simple stereotypes.
This goes the same for China, a nation of one point three billion (1,300,000,000), and the world’s third largest nation, and with subregions and subidentities. A lot of media coverage and public perceptions of China portray it as a giant, monolithic entity with articles proclaiming bold statements like China’s in trouble, China is booming, China is a land of great opportunity, China is a ticking time bomb, foreigners are all leaving China,  and so on. Foreign Policy magazine has a new article on China in which Minxin Pei declares that “everything you know about China is wrong.” What if China isn’t rising, but is falling, Pei states and warns about the danger to the US of overestimating China. The article might be interesting to some people (so do take a look at it), but one problem with this is that it’s not just the US government who might be overestimating China, but the media, who often hype anything about China and in the process paint China as a single broad monochrome canvas.

On slightly more upbeat news about China’s global relations, here’s Der Spiegel about China’s positive relationship with Germany. Trade is booming between these two economic giants, though not everything is rosy. Still, the Germans seem to have a pragmatic approach that bodes well for future relations. Germany’s leader Angela Merkel knows that it’s essential to have a strong economic relationship with China, who is Europe’s main trading partner and vice versa. Also to avoid a unipolar US-dominated or a bipolar US-China world, it’s necessary to have China on board, who would be a much more reliable partner than Russia as Merkel seems to realize, from what the article says. Conversely for China, it’s smart to boost relations with Europe’s top power and ensure this relationship grows stronger.

On to football, while Japan’s Shinji Kagawa has played very well for Manchester United as the new season begins, it’s sad to remember at one point United had signed a young Chinese star. It’s quite obvious that Dong Fangzhuo wasn’t quite ready for the opportunity and that he was mainly signed to give United a presence in the Chinese market, in other words, to sell shirts and win fans.

Finally, if there’s one really charming historical place in Taiwan, that would be the old capital of Tainan. I only went there once but the southern city has a number of interesting and well-preserved historical sights and still has a laidback atmosphere to it. One could liken it to Nanjing, China’s southern former capital city, which also has a nice charm and peaceful atmosphere. Of course Nanjing is not as sleepy and its historical sights have a more rugged and damaged condition due to the wars it’s suffered.

Africa

I might not read most of these but I’m sure anyone would find something good here in this (near) Top 100 list of American nonfiction for 2010. You can never go wrong with long nonfiction journalism.

One of these reads like Apocalypse Now meets National Geographic – a New Yorker investigative piece on a wildlife activist couple who may have gone over the edge in protecting elephants in Zambia. Having written books and been featured on American TV, the couple (both Americans) created a program in a remote area in Zambia to train rangers to patrol and capture poachers. The allegations are they crossed the line by directing their rangers to kill poachers, among other things. It would not be a surprise if they did, when I was in South Africa last year, I heard about how rangers do this in Zimbabwe and SA – kill poachers on sight and leave their bodies in the wild- and there wasn’t much sympathy for the poachers. It’s a tough issue because on one hand, are animals’ lives worth more than human’s but on the other hand, when humans purposefully and illegally hunt and kill magnificent creatures, do they deserve much sympathy if they die? I don’t think I can give a clear answer but I definitely find poaching of large rare animals reprehensible, especially for non-food purposes. The article comes with a dark twist towards the end, pertaining towards a controversial event during a live ABC broadcast.

Uncategorized

Michael Hastings is the reporter who wrote a Rolling Stone article that featured then-US Afghanistan military head Stanley McChrystal dissing his own president, who not surprisingly, got sacked for that. Guernica has an interview with him where he dishes out some interesting takes on the dirty side of the US military leadership including conducting psy-ops on the public and even US senators, the futility of the war in Afghanistan and whether military intervention for humanitarian purposes in countries is really feasible. Hastings, who will have a book out on Afghanistan later this year , takes an admirable stance on the journalistic questions of war reporting.

Uncategorized

As everybody knows by now, the world’s biggest villain, and one-time Time Man of the Year candidate, or was it decade, was killed by American SEALs in a daring secret strike in Pakistan. The guy who’s the alleged mastermind of the 9-11 terrorist attacks had been on the run for so long that he had become like a legend. Bin Laden was living in a compound in a military town close to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, and obviously this raises suspicions of how tight Pakistan was to bin Laden, given their already known connections with the Taliban. It was a gutsy call by Barack Obama and it is impressive how efficiently or deadly this mission went off, though not without a hitch as they lost one helicopter. Still I find it raises a few questions. One, the US carried out this mission to capture/assassinate somebody directly within another country without notifying the country’s authorities beforehand. I understand Pakistan hasn’t been a very trustworthy “ally” for the US during their War on Terror, but still what if bin Laden had been in another country? How would people feel if the US went into their country and carried out a hit just like that? One could speculate that if it was a more trusted nation like say, Canada, then they would have gotten notified. Of course, the question would be what if bin Laden had been in a far more dubious nation, like North Korea or Iran? It’d be interesting to see if the US would have risked going into a hostile country or would have been even bolder. Secondly, bin Laden was shot dead, with a direct shot to the head being the likely killshot. Apparently he was unarmed, but was putting up a resistance and allegedly holding his wife as a shield. In that case, the question is couldn’t he have been taken down by a shot to somewhere else? I wouldn’t be surprised though if the soldiers (or SEALs operatives because they are Navy) didn’t give a damn about getting him out alive and were just itching to find a reason to kill him. Third, sure the guy was like the idol of Islamic fundamentalists everywhere. His name was linked to a lot of attacks and he kept coming out with videos taunting the US and the West and “inspiring” and inciting Islamic fundamentalists. However how significant was his role in al-Qaida and carrying out terror attacks in the past few years? Given the sheer amount of effort he had to put into just staying alive and undetected, how likely was it he was still leading strategy or driving goals and giving orders? I think killing him may have brought some emotional closure to the US but in the end was it just a symbolic and empty victory? I hope he won’t become a martyr. The world is better off without him and those like him, but I’m not buying into the mass euphoria over his death.

Uncategorized

A Hollywood star arrives in a ravaged, destitute country with a load of supplies and starts up a charity whilst ordering people around, blackmailing and pretending to know what he’s doing in a bid to try to look like some kind of hero. It sounds like something that wouldn’t be surprising, except that that’s not exactly what happened with Sean Penn and his work in Haiti. The NY Times has a decent piece about him and while I’m no fan, it does suggest he’s got some steel to back up his idealism and Latin American-leftist sympathizing. There are some questionable details about him (the parts in the description I wrote in my first sentence about him blackmailing and pretending to know what he was doing, he said it himself). He has been in Haiti for over a year and seems to have gained some respect from military figures and aid workers. The article also has one of the best phrases I’ve ever read- “In moments of great displeasure, Penn’s lip actually curls and his eyelids droop so low that he begins to look stoned on his own contempt.” The word “stoned” seems kind of apt in a witty way concerning Penn’s past. Penn himself gives a great quote of his own. Talking about why he’s doing relief work in Haiti, he says “But you sit here in a situation like this, and you feel part of the history of the world. The world is out of its mind with stupidity and the worship of stupidity.” Yeah, I think so too sometimes, Sean Penn.

China

This is a cool list that compares China’s provinces and municipalities with countries around the world in terms of the size of their economies. For instance, China’s 2nd largest provincial economy Jiangsu (Guangdong is the largest) matches up with Turkey at US$620 bil. to US$614 bil., while the poorest province Tibet matches up with Papual New Guinea. However while it’s cool to think that each province in China has a larger economy than several countries, California  by itself has the world’s 8th largest economy. And tiny Hong Kong, with a population of just 7 million has a GDP of US$226.5 billion.

China · Taiwan

We like your government but hate your kind

It’s not common, according to accounts I’ve read or heard, for Americans traveling abroad to meet people and hear things like “I hate your government but I have nothing against you or your people,” or similar words to that effect. Mostly heard in the Arab world and Middle East (they overlap but are not totally the same), those words reflect the ardent anger and even hate that many regular citizens in those and other places bear towards the US, whether for its actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, its support for Israel in its struggles and treatment of Palestinians and the perceived stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims as terrorists by US media and government officials. Yet many of these US “haters” are also careful to differentiate between their feelings for the US government and regular US citizens. Reciprocally, you’ve also got some Americans and other Westerners who feel the same way towards “enemy” nations which their own nations have problems with.

Unfortunately, this same distinction doesn’t apply to a lot of people here in Taiwan (nor Hong Kong for that matter but that’s another story). In fact, it’s like the opposite of the above scenario exists. There’s a lot of grudging respect, or at least acknowledgment of China’s might and progress, but there’s a lot of disdain and disgust with regular Chinese people or dah-loo yrun (in my own phonetic representation and not real pinyin). Apparently to many locals, “dah-loo yrun” are a lower category, or to put it more starkly, an entirely lower race of people, who have bad manners, unhygienic habits, scruffy appearances and are all liars, crooks, murderers and despicable villains. Yes, China, as a nation, may be strong and on the verge of becoming a world superpower, and the best place to do business, work, study and travel for many Taiwanese. But oh, the people of China- well, that’s another matter altogether.

Many people here are polite and gracious, and like other East Asians, act in a restrained manner in terms of behavior. I don’t think there’s lot of malice or true hatred concerning the negative perceptions of mainland Chinese by Taiwanese, but still it is ignorant and sometimes verges on racism, not that they are separate races, but by virtue of the fact one group sees themselves as superior just by virtue of being from a different place from the other group who they feel are inferior. Another thing is that I’m quite sure that some whites in the American South or even South Africa may not have malice in their hearts when they say offensive or discriminatory things against blacks, things that aren’t back up by concrete facts but are based on emotions; but it doesn’t make their statements any less offensive. So for instance, the recent anti-South Korean sentiments that ran rampant briefly in Taiwan a few weeks ago over the supposed unfair suspension of a Taiwan athlete in a taekwondo match in the Guangzhou Asian Games weren’t exactly hateful. However, to see front-page newspaper photos of Taiwan shopowners standing proudly, and smiling broadly, outside their stores with signs plastered proclaiming that no Koreans were allowed inside reeked of a blatant racism, made all the more worse by the utter childishness and immaturity of those shopowners, which probably reflect the attitude of many locals.

I know that things may be more complex than I could ever adequately describe or understand when it comes to cross-Taiwan Strait social and personal perceptions, but people here need to wisen up and be more open-minded when it comes to understanding their “cousins” across the Strait. Whether they be students, office workers, scientists or even peasant-cum-manual laborers, the dah-loo yrun are a more hardier, hard-working and resourceful people than Taiwanese (and Hong Kongers) understand.