Tuesday, July 29, 2008

UK To Make It Easier For Wives To Kill Husbands

Sherman Oaks, California

Under current Anglo-American laws, a man in a bad marriage can lose his home, his children, his property and his pension. The United Kingdom now wants to make it easier for a man to lose his life.

The Labour Government, acting through the Ministry of Justice, is scheduled to release a "consultation paper" which would redefine as manslaughter various acts which are currently deemed murder, the Telegraph reports.


Those who could show they were responding to a "fear of serious violence" would be punished for manslaughter and escape a mandatory life sentence, under the plans. Proof of having acted spontaneously would not be required.

The reforms, to be unveiled by the Ministry of Justice, would also allow a defence for someone who could show they killed in response to an exceptional case of abusive "words and conduct" over a long period. . . . .

According to the Ministry of Justice the reforms are an attempt to redress a centuries-old disparity in how the laws impact on men and women.

These "reforms" would certainly achieve their goal: the manslaughter laws would tip in favor of women who kill their husbands.

While the new laws probably won't create a corps of murderesses mixing glass shards into hubby's ice cream, the proposals all but guarantee that women would, as a class, be treated more leniently in spousal homocide cases than men. However neutral the statutory language, the "fear of serious violence" and abusive "words and conduct" defenses would obviously be used far more often by women than by men.

The inherent gender bias of the proposed law would be exacerbated by the fact that the English legal system does not allow plea bargaining. Prosecutors bring the highest charge they think will stick, but no higher. In practice, this will mean that female suspects who can immediately make a colorable claim of abuse will be charged at the outset with manslaughter, a massive pre-trial victory for the defense. Men would be charged with murder.

With Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government coming off a series of humiliating defeats in local and special elections, and with the Labour Party running twenty points behind the Conservatives in national opinion polls, and with Brown facing a mounting leadership challenge, a cynic might say that Brown was trying to buy women's votes at the cost of men's lives.

UPDATE: The 64-page consultation paper has been posted.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Exile Is Back, Although Not From Exile

Sherman Oaks, California

The Exile, the irreverent expat magazine which was recently shuttered by the Russian government, has re-launched from "an undisclosed Putin-proof location" as an online publication called The Exiled. As before, it's willing to be juvenile (printing nude photos of nubile FSU ladies) and tasteless (posting a video of a teenager killing himself), but also interesting (the fantastic "pop pop" map of Iraq War casualties) and entertaining ("A Prostitute's Guide To Ulyanovsk").

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5,000 Years of Middle East History In Two Minutes

From Maps of War, which has posted similar maps about the history of religion and the march of democracy and has linked to excellent maps by third parties.

The Parable of the Toast: A Meager Reality of Nationalized Health Care

Sherman Oaks, California

U.S. media coverage of universal health care proposals tends to ignore the day-to-day realities of medicine in countries with socialized systems.

In this excerpt from Boris Johnson’s entertaining Friends, Voters, Countrymen (reviewed here), Boris recounts his explanation to the Henley-on-Thames Conservative Party Association Nominating Committee as to why, if selected as their candidate for Parliament, he would understand voters’ frustrations with the U.K’s National Health Service:

Asked about funding of the NHS, I told a positively glutinous story about toast in the maternity wards.

This homily concerns what happens if you accidentally eat your wife’s toast in the middle of the night, when she has just given birth, and your wife wakes up and says, I say, what happened to that toast? And you say, I’m afraid it’s no longer with us, or not directly with us ha ha ha; and your wife says, Well, what’s the point of you? Why don’t you go out and hunt stroke gather some more toast, as your forefathers did back in the olden days? And you go into the highways and byways of the maternity hospital, and I tell you, Mr Chairman, there are babies popping out all over the place; and then you find the person who is i/c toast, and you ask for some more, and there isn’t any more, of course, Mr Chairman, because you have had your ration, and when you move to open your wallet, you find that this is no good, either. You can’t pay for things on the NHS. It’s a universal service free at the point of delivery, delivery being the operative word, Mr Chairman, ha ha ha. And the whole point of the saga is that it ought to be possible for a well-heeled journalist, who has been so improvident as to eat his wife’s toast in the middle of the night, to pay for some more . . . And this is not as trivial as it sounds, because we need to think about new ways of getting private money into the NHS.

If you look at the countries that do better on cancer survival rates, and on coronary artery disease – countries such as Belgium, Germany or France – they do not rely on a monopoly state provider. They have a variety of systems – employer-based insurance schemes, employee-based insurance schemes, whatever; and they manage to spend more per capita on health, and to achieve better results, because they do not just rely on general taxation and spending – the first being electorally unpopular and the second being inefficient.

And if you want an example of the kind of thing on which we could start to spend our own money, without infringing the principle of universality – then I give you the toast!

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Friday, July 25, 2008

The Death Rattle of a Storied Profession

Sherman Oaks, California

According to Nicholas D. Kristof of The New York Times, only four U.S. newspapers still employ full-time foreign correspondants.

Doctor Who Updates

Sherman Oaks, California

-- David Tennant (pictured), the Tenth Doctor, begins a sold-out four-month run as the title character of Hamlet in the Royal Shakespeare Company's staging of the tragedy in Stratford-upon-Avon, according to the Daily Telegraph.

-- The series finale of Doctor Who was watched by 9.8 million viewers in the United Kingdom, according to the Daily Telegraph, which is an incredible number in light of the fact that the country has a population of about 60 million people. That translates into a 47% share, meaning that almost half of the televisions that were on were tuned to The Doctor.

-- In order to become the program's new executive producer, Steven Moffat has ankled the second half of his $2 million deal with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, in which Moffat was to write the first two Tintin movies, the Daily Telegraph reports. Previous post on the topic here.

One alleged Hollywood insider quoted in the article was not amused: "No one walks away from Spielberg and all that money for a show no one has heard of. I mean, what is this doctor show about? It sounds a little silly."

I wouldn't feel bad for Moffat who, in addition to his wages on Doctor Who, surely banked a few (million) pounds as the creator of the hit Britcom Coupling.

-- I read The Daily Telegraph a lot.

-- Speaking of which, the Telegraph website is in the midst of a re-design. The previous version, with its clean lines and logical layout, was one of the things that drew me into reading the paper daily. Click to compare old with new. Newspaper re-designs are always unpopular at first, but I prefer the older version.

-- Attention All Copy Editors! In the course of researching this post, I learned that the town of Shakespeare's birth is named Stratford-upon-Avon, while the larger district in which the town is located is named Stratford-on-Avon.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Foreigners Excluded From Obama Campaign

Sherman Oaks, California

A piece in yesterday's Washington Post reveals that Senator Barack Obama refuses to be interviewed by foreign journalists. (The op-ed is by Christoph von Marschall, a correspondent for Berlin's Der Tagesspiegel.)

Some thoughts:

-- The argument that "readers of foreign news outlets don't vote in U.S. elections" strikes me as too facile. Candidates regularly speak to journalists from outside their districts, and all news outlets which post to the web can be accessed by U.S. voters.

-- Obama's campaign staffers make a big deal about how popular he is in the rest of the world. Might they be worried that -- like in the United States -- his stratospheric numbers will plummet once Obama stops being an abstraction and starts to become a real person with flaws?

-- The U.S. press corps' knowledge of and interest in foreign affairs is shallow and predictable; Obama can prep himself for their inquiries. But reporters from Haaretz or The Bangkok Post will be masters of their regions and may ask questions which (a) force Obama to take clear stands on devisive issues, or (b), more likely, reveal how little Obama knows about certain subjects.

-- President Bush and Senator John McCain -- the two guys with significant foreign affairs experience -- regularly grant interviews to foreign journalists, according to the piece. This further tips the scales toward a hesitance based on Obama's limited knowledge.

-- If President Bush or Senator McCain were the one refusing to talk to foreign correspondents, the media would press the issue, with insinuations of cowardice and ignorance. Since it's Obama who's hiding, expect the issue to vanish.


Monday, July 21, 2008

The Endlessly Entertaining Boris Johnson

Friends, Voters, Countrymen: Jottings on the stump by Boris Johnson (HarperCollins 2002).

In some countries, politicians are allowed to be fun.

Not in the United States, of course, where a zest for life is an obstacle to high office. As soon as it's revealed that a candidate had an affair, or has a taste for fermented grains, or was at any time seen to be enjoying his finite stay on earth, the forces of priggishness demand ritual abasement. “I'm sorry,” the American office seeker must say, rending his garments and prostrating himself, “I will never again evidence a pulse or an interesting thought or a working set of loins.” Thus is our Republic usually governed by boring, sexless creatures like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. (Yes, one of our recent presidents did not fit this mold, and it caused him a spot of bother.)

Europeans, by contrast, allow their leaders to be made of flesh and blood. The 2007 French presidential elections pitted a woman who lived with her mate without benefit of clergy against a man who, once elected, greatly enjoyed the priapic perks of power. The mayors of Berlin and Hamburg are openly gay. As for former London mayor Ken Livingstone, no one is certain (except for himself, presumably) how many children he has sired by how many women.

All of which leads to Boris Johnson, the current Mayor of London, the most entertaining politician in the world.

Boris' shtick – everybody calls him “Boris” – is that he's an Eton- and Oxford-educated Classics scholar (true) who charms people by playing the fool (true if you're a fan). His ill-fitting suits, portly body and never-combed shock of yellow hair give him the air of a mischievous school boy. He has a dry but ringing sense of humor – another disqualification for American office.

Boris was – and, on top of his mayoral duties, still is – a fantastically readable columnist. He opines for the Daily Telegraph newspaper, edited the venerable conservative magazine The Spectator and, perhaps most importantly, wrote automobile reviews for the U.K. edition of GQ. A series of hilarious guest spots on British television made him a popular after-dinner speaker. Along the way, he had two headline-grabbing extramarital affairs, one of which was with upper crust culture columnist Petronella Wyatt, but, my God, how can you not throw yourself at a woman who can successfully carry the name “Petronella Wyatt”? He's admitted to trying cocaine, bicycles to work, asks the occasional intemperate question in Parliament and has written nine books.

One of those books is Friends, Voters, Countrymen, the diary of his successful campaign as a Conservative Party candidate for Parliament in the 2001 general elections. From the moment (on Page 17) when Boris is selected by the local Conservative association – in the U.K., local party committees choose the candidates -- his election to Parliament is certain. His South Oxfordshire constituency, Henley-on-Thames, had returned a Tory M.P. in every election since the mid-nineteenth century. Come to think of it, the lack of real competition might be how Boris found the time to keep a diary.

Whatever the odds of election, campaigning can be grueling, but you meet interesting people. “Another sweltering day, so hot that one voter has taken her clothes off and is lying in the back garden,” Boris writes of door-to-door canvassing. “She eventually appears, looking blonde, brown and cheerful. Will she vote for us? You betcha. She even lets her towel slip a little at the front. It is such small acts of kindness that keep us going.”

Imagine what would happen to the male American politician who acknowledged the invigorating effect of a female nipple.

Tony Blair's attempt to ban hunting was the large cultural issue of the campaign. Voters “come to meetings, and they listen patiently to my babble about Europe, and health, and public services, and then they come up to me afterwards, in their woolen ties and their check shirts, and say quietly, 'You'll be all right on hunting, won't you?' Oh yes, I say, don't worry. I am a sympathiser. 'But are you a supporter?' they say quickly, detecting a wishy-washy word. Yes, I say. I will never vote to ban hunting. It is a piece of spite that has nothing to do with animal welfare, and everything to do with Blair's manipulation of rank-and-file Labour chippiness and class hatred,” Boris writes.

“In the imagination of rural Britain, Blair is a metropolitan flippertigibbet who knows and cares nothing about their pains,” he continues. “His ministers would rather be chowing down in some Conran super-brasserie than finding out the troubles of those who actually put the food on the table. They don't want to risk getting mud on their trouser-legs, the nancy-boys.”

On this side of the Atlantic, it's an impeachable offense to use the term “nancy-boys.”

Or “flippertigibbet.”


Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Mental Recession

Sherman Oaks, California

I purchased four towels this afternoon at the Bed, Bath & Beyond at Ventura and Whitsett, and the place was packed with people shopping. That is all.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Friday Follies

A light-hearted romp through the nanny state, hosted by Drew Carey.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Demonstrations in Bangkok Demonstrate The Craft of Still Photography

And some people say photojournalim is dead, the one perfect moment unable to compete with hand-held camcorders and multimedia displays.

Hats off to photojournalist Chaiwat Subprasom for nailing the photo of this week's demonstrations in Thailand, and hats off to the Reuters editors who had the nerve to put an unconventional photo on the wire.

News is not dead.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Matt The (Well-Traveled) Dancing Fool

Sherman Oaks, California

You've seen the video.

Now read the New York Times article.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The New Spiritualized Album: When Are We Too Old For Rock'n'Roll?

(Editor's Note: Today's guest blogger is Chris Nagi, 41, a managing editor at Bloomberg L.P. He has worked at TheStreet.com and Dow Jones and authored the international affairs column Lexington 125, which once detailed Asian austerity programs of the late 1980s at length.)

Songs In A & E by Spiritualized (Sanctuary Records Group 2008).

It has been five years since I cared about rock'n'roll. The end of my interest is traceable to a date: Aug. 23, 2003, the last show I attended where my credentials were intact (Clinic at Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey). Since then I have given the music up. I keep the customary iPod with 7,552 songs and have learned that it is no berm to the fact of my passing years, and when the people at work discuss music, I feign ignorance. It is unbecoming to be a rock'n'roll fan at 41. It is far less becoming to be a fan of the music that oversaw my life for 20 years and particularly in the '90s, rock's fourth and greatest decade. "Post-punk" is the entirely accurate term for this period, rock issuing from the Sex Pistols in spirit but barred from their primitivism, left to search much harder than rock previously had for its relevance. Post-punk bands had to be musician enough not to sound like musicians and poet enough not to sound like poets. Because that is at essence a pose, tasteful people discarded it at 35 or 36.

In addition to Pavement, the Pixies, Happy Mondays, Belle & Sebastian and Guided by Voices, two bands fronted by Jason Pierce had significant success within the strictures described above. Spacemen 3 (Spacemen, for fuck sake, not "-man"), his first, which was brought to the attention of Americans by the great post-punk critic Byron Coley of Forced Exposure magazine, recorded a song titled "Ode to Street Hassle" using a flanged organ to recreate Lou Reed's album-long riff and changed the lyrics from "Waltzing Matilda whipped out her wallet/Sexy boy smiled in dismay/She took out four twenties 'cause she liked round numbers/Everybody's queen for a day" to "I've been to far-out places/I've seen the writing on the wall/But today I walk with Jesus/And together we walk tall." They titled another song "Walking With Jesus" and recorded a version of the traditional spiritual "Amen" called "Hey Man." Many of Spacemen 3's songs lasted seven minutes. There is a live version of something called "Suicide" that goes on for 12, the highlight being when Pierce informs the audience at the beginning that "this song is dedicated to Alan Vega and Martin Rev."

In reviewing Spacemen 3's ouvre it is customary to note that much of their music seemed to be drug influenced. They recorded songs called "Losing Touch With My Mind" and "Baby Call the Doctor," one of their albums is titled The Perfect Prescription, and the band is called Spacemen 3. But Spacemen 3 are not drug influenced. At the simplest level, what Spacemen 3 were influenced by was the idea of being drug-influenced, more interesting than being on drugs and an ingenious way of coping with the Sex Pistols' legacy through enforced atavism. Indeed, I have long wondered whether Jason Pierce was a serious drug user at all. He virtually could not have been given his output, and the quantities implied by his recordings would probably be fatal. Whatever the case, Spacemen 3 were no more "drug influenced" than they were "God influenced," even though, in addition to the many references to Jesus, they recorded a song called "Lord Can You Hear Me?" Drugs and religion provided Spacemen 3 with a rich post-punk vocabulary that Pierce has mined for two decades, a sophisticated pose for sophisticated times.

Spacemen 3 broke up in 1991. I will state here a personal judgment that they were a respectable band that existed outside of grunge at a time when grunge dominated everything, and recorded two tracks, "Lord Can You Hear Me?" and "Come Down Softly to My Soul" on 1989's Playing With Fire that are among the best songs of the '80s. This is an unpopular opinion among the band's stauncher advocates, who prefer the band's more amped up offerings such as 1989's "Revolution" and the aforementioned "Suicide." But those songs -- while sonically unique -- are not as good.

Pierce's second act, Spiritualized, is a band upon which I would be forced to render an identical judgment but for two things. One is the second track on the 1995 album Pure Phase called "The Slide Song" which by any reasonable reckoning is one of the most beautiful rock recordings ever made. The other is 1997's Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, a record made in the aftermath of Pierce's breakup with musician Kate Radley that has to be considered along with Pavement's Wowee Zowee and GBV's Mag Earwhig! as the finest work of the post-punk era. Ladies and Gentlemen... is mood music in its highest form, combining choir, distortion and orchestra and featuring lyrics like "I sometimes get my breakfast/Right off of a mirror/And sometimes I drink it/Right out of a bottle" in a manner that suddenly seemed less abstracted image-mongering than autobiography. There are no truly great songs on Ladies and Gentlemen... to match "The Slide Song," but, taken as a whole, its synthesis of dark lyricism with sonic symphony took rock down too many new roads to be considered anything other than a masterpiece.

Ladies and Gentlemen... meant an awful lot to the reviewer, whose romantic and spiritual mood matched the record's to an alarming degree, and to loads of other people. Live shows around the time were a cross between vespers and the apartment scene in "Sister Ray," even as the challenges of concert arrangement laid bare some of the songs' shortcomings. Given the album's place in the hearts of so many fans, it was inevitable that Pierce's ensuing work be viewed less charitably. The next record Let it Come Down featured a song whose melody was stolen from "It Never Rains in Southern California"; perhaps because of the album's anemia, Pierce included an extended whigged-out version of "Lord Can You Hear Me?" at the end. I lost track of the band at that point. Apparently, since then, Pierce nearly died from a form of pneumonia, and now has recorded a new album of songs inspired by Harmony Korine. I listened to the album several times this morning. Unfortunately, I have grown out of rock'n'roll.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Scott McClellan's Tell All: When Bad Books Happen To Boring People

(Editor’s Note: Todays’s guest blogger is television producer Rob Rosen, who you may have seen reporting for Extra and Celebrity Justice. Rob is a graduate of Boston University, a former denizen of San Diego and a profound believer in the desirability of governmental gridlock.)

What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception by Scott McClellan (PublicAffairs 2008).

There is one major revelation in Scott McClellan’s tell-all What Happened which up until now has been largely ignored: boring people should not write books.

From 2003 to 2006, McClellan, a Bush loyalist from Texas, served as the mouthpiece for the Administration. If his function was to bore the media into submission and reveal as little information as possible, he excelled at his work. Now, he feels guilty about all of his tedious news conferences and has decided to make amends by writing a tedious book.

The first thing you need to know about What Happened is that at least half of its 323 pages is complete filler. McClellan spends a great deal of time regaling us with stories from his preppy, church-going, frat boy childhood. It’s as banal as it sounds. We are treated to gems like, “Grandmother McClellan, who volunteered at the church thrift store and taught Spanish to Kindergartners in San Antonio, liked to spoil us and let us have fun.”

Hmmm, that may explain why Scotty was only able to get a $75,000 advance for his book. Of course, a lack of navel-gazing served him well with his former boss, who views self reflection as an activity best left to feckless, liberal intelligentsia types. This leads us to the two major revelations in McClellan’s book, the two which have caused him to be permanently exiled from the neo-con inner circle.

The Permanent Campaign

It may seem like a lifetime ago, but, in 2000, then-Governor Bush was positioning himself as an Obama-like candidate, a Washington outsider who would refuse to play “politics as usual.” McClellan, and a shade under half of the American voters, found this message to be enormously appealing. Fatigue had set in after eight years of watching the Clinton war machine at work.

To the former press secretary’s dismay, this promise turned out to be nothing more than campaign rhetoric. McClellan argues that President Bush went into the permanent campaign mode the day he took office and has never stopped spinning and manipulating public opinion. Of course, with approval ratings hovering in the high 20s, Bush's efforts have been in vain.

McClellan argues that it didn’t have to be this way. Take the war in Iraq, which started the Administration on its credibility freefall. McClellan, who had access to inner circle staff meetings, claims the decision to invade was a foregone conclusion after 9/11, and that involving the UN was nothing more than a public relations charade.

“The permanent campaign mentality bears some of the blame. Throughout the campaign, building public support by making the strongest possible case for war was the top priority, regardless of whether or not it was the most intellectually honest approach to the issue of war and peace,” McClellan writes. “In the end, of course, President Bush bears ultimate responsibility for the invasion of Iraq. He made the decision to invade, and he signed off on a strategy for selling the war that was less than candid and honest.”

McClellan even tries to provide a solution to Washington’s permanent campaign crisis. He believes a new White House staff position should be created called the Deputy Chief of Staff for Governing. This person’s job would be to ensure the president rises above partisan politics and is “consistently committed to a high level of openness and forthrightness and transcending partisanship to achieve unity.” You know the political world has spun on its axis when Republican solutions to problems consist of creating new paper-shuffling bureaucracies. What’s next? A Deputy Chief of Staff for Kindness to make sure the ruling party treats the opposition with sensitivity and respect?

The Valerie Plame Scandal

McClellan goes into great length filling pages -- I mean, filling us in on the Valerie Plame scandal from his perspective. Let me boil 70 pages into one sentence: He claims Karl Rove and Scooter Libby lied to him about their involvement in outing the former CIA covert agent.

Make of that what you will, but what’s curious is how McClellan seems so pained about how this affected his credibility with the media. This is the same guy who admitted to being a mouthpiece for a dishonest war. He was a White House spokesman, an advocate, yet he acts as though he was seen as such a source of truth and impartiality that, by repeating Rove and Libby’s denials, he was compromised the way Colin Powell was by presenting false evidence to the United Nations. News flash to McClellan: Nobody really believes anything White House spokespeople say.

McClellan, the insider, doesn’t have a lot of new information on the Plame scandal so McClellan, the writer, tries to make small incidents seem far bigger than they are.

“There is only one moment during the leak episode I am reluctant to discuss,” McClellan writes. “However, since I am committed to telling the truth as I know it, and since the moment seems to be of some relevance given its timing and nature, I feel that full disclosure is the only option.”

Sounds juicy, right? Turns out this paragraph leads up to Rove asking Libby to come into his office after the scandal broke. The two closed the door, and McClellan has no idea what was discussed. I reread this passage three times to make sure I hadn’t missed something. This is what McClellan’s so “reluctant to discuss.” Really?

McClellan has taken a lot of heat, from the left and right, for his book. If he believed the White House was running a con job on the American people, why didn’t he speak out back then? Far be it from me to look deep into his soul, a la Bush with Russian president Vladimir Putin, but I don’t think credibility is at issue here. McClellan was a true believer who, like many of Bush’s original die-hard supporters, wanted to believe the best until overwhelming evidence forced him to reconsider his position. His book is also not a one-sided bashing of the president. For example, he makes a convincing defense of the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

The bigger problem with What Happened is McClellan’s mind. He is simply not a deep thinker, and, since he apparently lacked access to much sensational inside information, his book reads like one of those superficial, instant autobiographies from athletes.

The news here is not what McClellan reveals, but that yet another member of the inner circle has turned on the Administration. But you knew that from reading the headlines. Unfortunately, reading the book will give you no greater depth and insight.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Ambitions and Lies: Etymology of the Word "Bachelor"

As explained by YouTube star Marlina Orlovo, allegedly a Russian student of modern languages.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

China: Criticism Empowers Nationalism Empowers Communist Party

Sherman Oaks, California

April Rabkin argues in The New York Times that what seems to the free world to be China's ham-fisted bungling of its pre-Olympics public relations is actually an internal propaganda success.

"By September, it is conceivable that China’s global standing could plummet while China’s citizens see the Olympics as an astounding success. Despite the Internet and the lifting of some restrictions on journalism, there’s still an ocean-wide gap between the international and domestic news media. During the torch relay in Paris this spring, for instance, Chinese TV viewers saw mainly the heroic efforts of the wheelchair-bound amputee who used her upper body to shield the flame from a lunging protester and not the mass of pro-Tibet demonstrators.

"In junior high and high school here, two semesters of history instruction focus on the humiliation of China by Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and the United States during the last centuries. International criticism is described as a continuation of this legacy, and for other countries to condemn the regime is to disparage the Chinese people. Foreign criticism strengthens domestic loyalty to the regime, so the threat of a boycott of the Olympics in August only bolsters nationalism."

Read the whole thing, as the say on the blogs.

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Better Picture, Better Explanation, Still Ridiculous

Anti-terrorist training, according to China Daily.

(Flash of the Knife in thanks to Erin Conway-Smith.)


Another Data Point

Sherman Oaks, California

China banned the June issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review, one of Knife Tricks' favorite magazines. The ban may have something to do with the fact that the May issue of FEER published an article by Michael Leeden titled "Beijing Embraces Classical Fascism."


"If the fascist model is correct, we should not be at all surprised by the recent rhetoric or mass demonstrations. Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy were every bit as sensitive to any sign of foreign criticism as the Chinese today, both because victimhood is always part of the definition of such states, and because it’s an essential technique of mass control. The violent denunciations of Westerners who criticize Chinese repression may not be a sign of internal anxiety or weakness. They may instead be a sign of strength, a demonstration of the regime’s popularity. Remember that European fascism did not fall as the result of internal crisis — it took a bloody world war to bring it down. Fascism was so alarmingly popular neither Italians not Germans produced more than token resistance until the war began to be lost. It may well be that the mass condemnation of Western calls for greater political tolerance is in fact a sign of political success."

Yup, that'll get you banned from the Mainland.

I should also point out that FEER is owned by Dow Jones which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch. When Murdoch moved on Dow, media watchers were apoplectic about the possibility that Sinophile Murdoch would stanch criticism of China within Dow publications. Doesn't seem to have happened.

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Almost As Bad As Cops On Bicycles

How To Convince The Chinese Government To Shut Down Or Take Over Your Business

Sherman Oaks, California

Dan Harris at China Law Blog follows up on my earlier posts about the closure of Time Out Beijing. He explains that the illegality of a business is not, in and of itself, a reason for the Chinese government to confiscate or close it. But watch out if: (1) you're working in a sensitive area (like media), (2) your business starts to make big bucks, or (3) you piss off the wrong employee, supplier, etc.

Thanks also to Rich Kuslan of Asiabizblog for his insightful comment.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Chinese Dig Themselves Further Into A PR Hole

Sherman Oaks, California

Tom Cruise's sister could do a better job of protecting China's image than its government is doing.

Two U.S. congressmen who nobody ever heard of decided to visit China and have dinner with a group of Chinese lawyers that nobody ever heard of. If the Chinese government had simply let the dinner proceed as planned, the lawyers would have vented in private, the congressmen would have issued ineffectual press releases and nobody, but nobody, would have heard of this dinner.

Instead, it's currently on the home page of the Washington Post.

The Chinese government decided that the way to prevent any bad press from the dinner was to: (1) forcibly drive two of the lawyers to a suburb, preventing them from returning to Beijing, (2) block another lawyer from leaving his home, and (3) warn others not to attend.

According to the Post, the spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry "criticized the congressmen for not respecting China's laws and regulations, but then refused to discuss what law prevented foreign officials from meeting with Chinese citizens." That sounds like standard operating procedure; years ago, former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten complained about a Chinese penchant for refusing to specify what laws or treaty provisions had been broken.

"The two U.S. congressmen came to China as guests of the United States Embassy to engage in internal communications and consultations," said Liu. "They should not engage in activities incompatible with the objective of their visit and with their status."

Putting aside the careening logic of that statement -- a congressman could consult an embassy official by making a phone call, and one of the objectives of visiting a country is to talk to locals -- the Chinese response to the planned dinner is simply dunderheaded as a P.R. tactic.

But the Chinese approach tells a lot about the psychology of the Chinese Communist Party. It knows its rule is illegitimate and that, at the end of the day, it has power because it controls the world's largest standing army. Yet, with more than two million troops at its disposal as well as the many Public Security Bureaus, some members of the Chinese leadership are terrified of a dozen lawyers talking to two no-name foreign parliamentarians for an evening. It's quite a compliment to the power of ideas.

So, even though many of the Party officials are well aware that each clamp down will yield negative headlines around the free world, they simply can't stop themselves. They're too nervous about their grip on power.

And no one wants to be the official who lets bloom that one hundred and first flower which causes the next revolution.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Eleven Years Ago Today

The British leave Hong Kong.

Tony Blair, two months into office, looks like a kid. Prince Charles acts gracious and confident, not knowing that his children would lose their mother two months later. Christopher Patten, the Last Governor, does his ceremonial duty, knowing the Empire is now well and truly over.

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Chinese Law Relating To Publishing By Foreigners: No

Sherman Oaks, California

"Just to be clear, foreigners are prohibited from publishing in China. Chinese law could not be any clearer on this."

So says Chinese law expert Dan Harris on his blog.

Using the example of the closure of Time Out Beijing, Harris explains that many foreign firms operate illegally in China, a practice which is tolerated until the day it's not.

"The problem with operating a business illegally in China is that past history is simply not a good indicator of future performance. We know foreign businesses that have operated illegally in China for 15 years without a problem and we know other businesses in the very same industry that have been shut down within six months of beginning operations. And that is the problem with an illegal business: you just never know when the knock on the door is going to come and when it does, saying that you have gotten away with it for x number of years is no defense at all. There is little that can be done when you are on the wrong side of China's law," he writes.

Harris also notes that it's easy in China to come in out of the cold. Illegal businesses, he writes, begin the application and formalization process, and no one asks about the past.

In any event, Harris' bottom line is that, from the information in the public record, Time Out Beijing seems to have been a completely illegal enterprise under Chinese "law."

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