Wednesday, December 12, 2012 11:00 AM
Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy
Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted
philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and
touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book
Life Is What You Make It
I’ve just returned from China. And now that I have a small
outlet for my thoughts, I might as well write them down and see if they make
As many readers know, I’ve worked on musical projects that
include many expressions of my deep feelings regarding American Indian—as
well as any indigenous—culture.
We all came from a tribe at some point in our past. But
there are few people in the world that survive in the manner that we were once
all accustomed to. As you might expect, I believe that our previous way of life
had a lot of valuable components to it. But please don’t accuse me of
romanticizing the past. I just wish we could have retained some of the
important parts, specifically the parts around us being just a part of a larger
world, a world that we were meant to live in relationship to—not in control of.
On my first trip to China, my “aha” moment was
realizing that the country is, indeed, quite full of the same feeling that I
had when I got to know people in “Indian Country.” I recognized a soul in China that I
didn’t expect. And then it became obvious: the Chinese people are nearly all
indigenous; the land they live on was inhabited by their ancestors for
What I was seeing was that same way of being that Columbus saw when he
first landed. I quoted him in an earlier blog. But the upshot is that he met
people with their hearts open. Ready and willing to listen, learn, share, have
fun, believe in things, and connect.
I don’t go to China for commerce. I go there to
share my story if it’s at all helpful.
My book, has been met with great success in China. There
are a couple of reasons for that, none probably more obvious than the fact
that I am Warren Buffett’s son. But that’s absolutely fine with me. It gives me
a key into a world I would have never seen. Now that I’m in, I’m having a look
I won’t lie: it takes a lot of energy. But it’s an
interesting kind of effort. And I think that’s what happens when any two
Think of it as a pan of water. In its liquid state it’s
very stable. And the same is true when it’s frozen. Those are like two
different cultures. When the two states of being—with all the
meanings and customs that they’re used to—meet, that’s where the energy of
worlds colliding is released.
Here’s the tricky part about this exchange: When that
relationship is forged with either side trying to get the better deal, as
opposed to the better understanding, things can get a little ugly. Obviously,
this can easily happen in any market driven relationship. And of course,
whoever sets the measuring stick usually gets an advantage.
So here’s what I’m so struck by.
my book is entitled Be Yourself. And at first, I was thinking it
was mostly written for the young adults in China that would be curious about
the fact that I followed a very surprising—and, to them, inspiring—life
When I spent more time there, I was so struck by how much
Western advertising for high end products I saw. And as I stepped further back
and also got a little deeper into the experience of being there, I saw how the
measuring stick of Western values was slowly being superimposed everywhere.
It starts simply enough with things like the Gregorian
still uses the Lunar Calendar for important dates. But otherwise, the gridlines
of the West have been put to use on a daily basis.
But I love that the whole country has one time zone (even
though it straddles five). I’ll bet in most of China they still say, “time to get
up ... time to have lunch ...” etc. As opposed to “6:45” or “12:30.”
But when you start to see metrics in fashion, economics,
real estate that all look pretty Western, it feels like putting a square peg in
a round hole.
So I’ve come to learn that my Chinese book, Be Yourself, actually applies to the
country at large. The development of a social system for mankind (I’m including
all elements anyone can think of—politics, markets, medicine, education, etc.) is
a work in progress. Sure China
can learn things from other societies. But clearly, it must Be Itself. If it
loses the centuries upon centuries of soul, the world loses. If the West
insists on addicting the East to its version of growth and prosperity, I call
this no different than the Opium Wars of the past.
I’m really not sure what to do about this other than say it
out loud. Many of the Chinese people I speak to seem to be deeply concerned
will lose something extremely rare and valuable in the rush towards a very
confounding version of growth and happiness. And it’s not just the older
I know the culture still holds a deep sense of balance. It’s
the heartbeat of any indigenous culture. If it stays strong, I believe there
will be a better future for us all.
What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com
to learn more and Change Our Story to
join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping
Tuesday, November 15, 2011 3:07 PM
In the face of drought, humans have tried many methods to make storm clouds release their life-giving payload. Ancient Israelites tried fasting, others tried rain dancing. There’s a long history of precipitation-based prayer, including the fairly recent public exhortation by Texas Governor Rick Perry. But if a higher power isn’t answering, modern science may be the last resort. That’s why China, according to an article in Orion, has turned to cloud seeding to help alleviate its impending water management crisis.
There is some—albeit contentious—evidence that by launching chemicals into pregnant clouds, we can trick the sky into releasing its moisture early. As the theory goes, if you load a cloud with silver iodide—“either by aircraft flying overhead, or on-ground generators that send up plumes of vapor, or, in the case of the Chinese, by decades-old artillery,” explains Orion—the chemical binds to other water molecules in the cloud as ice. The particulate becomes heavy enough to turn into rainfall.
The entire venture is fascinating. Here are seven factoids to store for your next cocktail party. All un-attributed quotes are pulled from the article in Orion (not yet available online).
1. China employs a veritable army to control its weather. According to a dispatch from Asia Times Online, “each of China’s more than 30 provinces and province-level municipalities today boast a weather-modification base, employing more than 32,000 people, 7,100 anti-aircraft guns, 4,991 special rocket launchers and 30-odd aircraft across the country.”
2. “China faces serious water shortages caused primarily by overuse and population density. Shortages are particularly problematic in the north, where half the Chinese population lives with just 15 percent of the country’s water. The water available for each person is one-fourth the global average, and that portion is expected to shrink as China’s population continues to grow.”
3. “From 1967 to 1972, the U.S. even put weather modification to work during wartime, deploying the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron to seed clouds over Laos. With plans to ‘make mud, not war,’ as one officer put it, they hoped that landslides and heavy rain along the Ho Chi Minh Trail would slow the movements of North Vietnamese troops.”
4. Indeed, the gods of weather are fickle. That’s why “the state of Wyoming has pumped more than $10 million over the last five years into trying to figure out whether cloud seeding actually increases precipitation.” Yao Zhanyu, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, has found through statistical analysis that China’s precipitation has shown “an average 10 to 15 percent increase in rainfall over each of the last seven years.”
5. In Colorado, a different type of rain gun is used: a hail cannon. Hail cannons, allegedly, “use shock waves to hamper the formation of hailstones.” Like cloud seeding, the evidence of their efficacy is dubious.
6. Cloud seeding is one manifestation of a techno-scientific array of solutions to climate change called geoengineering. Simply, geoengineering is the human manipulation of natural macro-processes—tides, ocean salinization levels, precipitation—to address trends in climate change. According to the New York Times’ Green blog, everyday people and policy makers are starting to consider geoengineering a viable option.
7. “Silver iodide is considered a hazardous substance and toxic pollutant under the Clean Water Act, but scientists engaged in cloud seeding operations in the U.S. say the substance is used in concentrations low enough to be negligible.” Relieving?
Sources: Asia Times Online, Green, Orion (article not yet available online)
Tuesday, November 08, 2011 11:30 AM
Why did Congress reaffirm our bland, meaningless national motto?
If you’re having trouble finding the right words to say something colossally stupid, you can always lean on The Week’s “Bad Opinion Generator.”
Forget China: the $10 trillion global black market is the world’s fastest growing economy—and its future.
Amos Oz, the author of “Fanatics Attack” (Nov-Dec issue of Utne Reader) talks to The New Republic about the commingling of politics and literature.
What would New York—or, rather, Neu York—look like if Germany had won World War II?
The nighttime light of cities could be a new target in the search for extra-terrestrial life.
The literature of Occupy Wall Street includes visiting writers and a People’s Library.
On election day, Mississippians will vote on whether “personhood” starts at the moment of fertilization. If passed, the amendment will outlaw abortion as well as IUDs and other forms of birth control.
The 10 best illustrated children’s books of 2011.
Can’t wait for your next box of Thin Mints? “Girls Scouts Release Lip Balms to Torture Cookie Fans,” reports
Linger on, your pale, laser-enhanced blue eyes. A new medical treatment can permanently turn brown eyes to blue.
A bicycle with records on its wheels lets you spin your favorite vinyl while you pedal.
Earl “Fatha” Hines—perhaps the greatest jazz pianist of all time—gives 11 priceless piano lessons in this video gem.
Image by janoma.cl, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011 3:56 PM
Electric vehicles are creating a lot of promise in the green world, but they don’t necessarily lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Consider the cases of China and Sweden, which have both heavily encouraged electric car ownership among their citizens but have failed to enjoy an attendant drop in transportation-sector carbon emissions.
What’s going on here? Firmin DeBrabander reports in Common Dreams on the Swedish experience, in which greener cars are being driven more miles:
Sweden … leads the world in per capita sales of “green cars.” To everyone’s surprise, however, greenhouse gas emissions from Sweden’s transportation sector are up.
Or perhaps we should not be so surprised after all. What do you expect when you put people in cars they feel good about driving (or at least less guilty), which are also cheap to buy and run? Naturally, they drive them more. So much more, in fact, that they obliterate energy gains made by increased fuel efficiency. … Based on Sweden’s experience with green cars, it’s daunting to imagine their possible impact here. Who can doubt that they’ll likely inspire Americans to make longer commutes to work, live even further out in the exurbs, bringing development, blacktop and increased emissions with them?
China is encountering a different problem: Its huge numbers of electric vehicles aren’t leading to greatly reduced emissions because of their power source, dirty coal. Andrew Revkin reports on the Dot Earth blog at the New York Times that “in all but three grid regions in China, electric vehicles produce more CO2 per mile because of the coal source for the power than the equivalent gasoline-powered car.”
The researcher behind these numbers, Lucia Green-Weiskel, takes care to point out that “electric vehicles are still a key (if not central) part of a low-carbon future in any country” and that her study shouldn’t be seen as anti-EV. But she notes that EV development must be accompanied by a move to cleaner energy sources if it is to make a dent in carbon emissions.
There’s a surefire step both the Swedes and the Chinese—and you and I, for that matter—could take to cut emissions: Drive and consume less. Writes DeBrabander:
In its current state, the green revolution is largely devoted to the effort to provide consumers with the products they have always loved, but now in affordable energy efficient versions. The thinking seems to be that through this gradual exchange, we can reduce our collective carbon footprint. Clearly, however, this approach is doomed if we don’t reform our absurd consumption habits, which are so out-of-whack that they risk undoing any environmental gains we might make.
Sources: Common Dreams, Dot Earth
, licensed under
Wednesday, September 28, 2011 5:16 PM
In the Western world, calligraphy—and handwriting in general—is nearly as dead as the paper it’s written on. But for scribers of many Asian languages, calligraphy is not only a part of everyday communication, it’s considered a pleasurable hobby. In Chinese public parks, for example, many people have taken to brushing beautiful characters onto sidewalks with water instead of ink—creating ephemeral splashes of public art that disappear within minutes.
Beijing-based artist Nicholas Hanna has taken the art of temporary calligraphy to a whole new, digitized level. Hanna strapped big water jugs to the back of a sān lún chē, or tricycle rickshaw, and connected them to about 15 computer-controlled nozzles that are affixed to the back of the vehicle. As he pedals down the street, the contraption dribbles water, leaving temporary characters that look like a hybrid of hanzi and the classic video game Space Invaders.
“It doesn’t have the same kind of grace and beauty, because it’s mechanized and it’s automated,” Hanna concedes in the Danwei-produced video below. “I view it as a sort of Western approach to things, but it a way for me to do it, too. To be in China and to play with them also.”
Monday, September 19, 2011 3:29 PM
Meet Meng Hai Lin. She’s a 29-year-old mobile phone engineer from Beijing, China. She has learned some English and is skeptical of marriage. Meng’s voice is but a small murmur from an unprecedented global generation—one witnessing a dramatic restructuring of traditional relationships between countries, cultures, and people. Advances in communications technologies have made it easier for her voice to be heard—and drowned out. Photographer Adrian Fisk wants to show the world what Meng and the rest of her generation want to get off of their collective chest. Thus, iSpeak was born.
So far, Fisk has taken iSpeak to India and China, traveling widely around each country. He describes his impetus and methodology (specifically for iSpeak China) on his website:
For the last few centuries the West has dominated economics, politics, and culture. But now there is a shift toward the East, in particular China, a country of 1.4 billion people of which we know little about.
It is the young Chinese who will inherit this new found global influence, but who are they and what do they think about life?
I traveled on a 12,500 km journey through China to find an answer to this question. I looked for young Chinese from 16-30 years, gave them a piece of paper, and simply told them they could write whatever they wanted to on the piece of paper. I then photographed them holding the paper.
Fisk’s portraits are occasionally funny and occasionally heartbreaking, but genuinely candid. The messages communicate the hopes, dreams, quibbles, and fears of the crowd that shares our planet’s close quarters. “Understanding is the basis for tolerance towards each other,” said Fisk in an e-mail to Utne Reader, “and this can only come from communication.”
Fisk is currently trying to acquire financial support for iSpeak Global, which would broaden the project’s horizons to 25 more countries.
Abhishek Pandey, 17 years old, Hindu, Calcutta, college student. “Young people are bringing down the ethical culture of India.”
Chow Liang, 17 years old, Gansu province, cosmetology student on his way to see his father who works in another province. “In adult eyes I am a bad person in society, but in fact I am a very obedient person.”
Priyanka Jhanjhariya, 16 years old, Hindu, Haryana, schoolgirl. “I want to be an airforce pilot. Everyone should have high dreams and work hard to fulfill them.”
Saksham Bhatia, 16 years old, Hindu, New Dehli, senior school. “Wake up! Indians are coming!!”
Heng She Dong, 16 years old, Qinghai province, junior high school student. “I want to save people’s lives.”
Hari Chandra Behera, 21 years old, Hindu, Orissa, farmer. “I want our village to have electricity.”
Yang Long Long, 30 years old, Gansu province, farmer, illiterate. “When I go to the big city I feel like I don’t know anything.”
Bharati, 23 years old, Muslim, Bombay, prostitute, has one child and pregnant with another, illiterate. “Like you, we need the same things in life.”
Sarah Yip, 22 years old, Hong Kong, receptionist at an investment bank. “Do whatever you want in life because you might DIE tomorrow.”
Karsang Yarphel, 29 years old, Buddhist, Himachel Pradesh, waiter, Tibetan refugee. “I want to go home but . . .
Vibhuti Singh, 22 years old, Hindu, New Dehli, studying converging journalism with honors. “I want to date somebody and not be frowned upon.”
Wong Jing Yi, 30 years old, Hong Kong, works in a sex shop. “I don’t want children.”
Chan Jie Fang, 28 years old, supervisor in bag making company in Guangdong province, but learning English in Guangxi province. “I’d like to see any supernatural thing, such as alien, UFO, mysterious thing.”
K Mallappa, 27 years old, Hindu, Karnataka, migrant manual laborer. “Without an education, I am doing the work of a manual laborer, but I am happy. Though I would be more happy if I was a bird or an animal.”
Akhilesh Kumar, 20 years old, Hindu, Bihar, unemployed. “Because I am unemployed I roam around with other boys, so people call me a vagrant. This makes me sad.”
Avril Liu, 22 years old, Guangxi province, post-grad student. “We are the lost generation. I’m confused about the world.”
Images courtesy of Adrian Fisk.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011 1:01 PM
This article originally appeared at TomDispatch
When my old gang and I were 14 or 15 years old, many centuries ago, we yearned for immortality in the fiery wreck of a bitchin' '40 Ford or '57 Chevy. Our J.K. Rowling was Henry Felsen, the ex-Marine who wrote the bestselling masterpieces Hot Rod (1950), Street Rod (1953), and Crash Club (1958).
Officially, his books -- highly praised by the National Safety Council -- were deterrents, meant to scare my generation straight with huge dollops of teenage gore. In fact, he was our asphalt Homer, exalting doomed teenage heroes and inviting us to emulate their legend.
One of his books ends with an apocalyptic collision at a crossroads that more or less wipes out the entire graduating class of a small Iowa town. We loved this passage so much that we used to read it aloud to each other.
It's hard not to think of the great Felsen, who died in 1995, while browsing the business pages these days. There, after all, are the Tea Party Republicans, accelerator punched to the floor, grinning like demons as they approach Deadman’s Curve. (John Boehner and David Brooks, in the back seat, are of course screaming in fear.)
The Felsen analogy seems even stronger when you leave local turf for a global view. From the air, where those Iowa cornstalks don’t conceal the pattern of blind convergence, the world economic situation looks distinctly like a crash waiting to happen. From three directions, the United States, the European Union, and China are blindly speeding toward the same intersection. The question is: Will anyone survive to attend the prom?
Shaking the Three Pillars of McWorld
Let me reprise the obvious, but seldom discussed. Even if debt-limit doomsday is averted, Obama has already hocked the farm and sold the kids. With breathtaking contempt for the liberal wing of his own party, he’s offered to put the sacrosanct remnant of the New Deal safety net on the auction bloc to appease a hypothetical “center” and win reelection at any price. (Dick Nixon, old socialist, where are you now that we need you?)
As a result, like the Phoenicians in the Bible, we’ll sacrifice our children (and their schoolteachers) to Moloch, now called Deficit. The bloodbath in the public sector, together with an abrupt shutoff of unemployment benefits, will negatively multiply through the demand side of the economy until joblessness is in teenage digits and Lady Gaga is singing “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”
Lest we forget, we also live in a globalized economy where Americans are consumers of the last resort and the dollar is still the safe haven for the planet’s hoarded surplus value. The new recession that the Republicans are engineering with such impunity will instantly put into doubt all three pillars of McWorld, each already shakier than generally imagined: American consumption, European stability, and Chinese growth.
Across the Atlantic, the European Union is demonstrating that it is exclusively a union of big banks and mega-creditors, grimly determined to make the Greeks sell off the Parthenon and the Irish emigrate to Australia. One doesn’t have to be a Keynesian to know that, should this happen, the winds will only blow colder thereafter. (If German jobs have so far been saved, it is only because China and the other BRICs -- Brazil, Russia, and India -- have been buying so many machine tools and Mercedes.)
Boardwalk Empire Times 160
China, of course, now props up the world, but the question is: For how much longer? Officially, the People’s Republic of China is in the midst of an epochal transition from an export-based to a consumer-based economy. The ultimate goal of which is not only to turn the average Chinese into a suburban motorist, but also to break the perverse dependency that ties that country’s growth to an American trade deficit Beijing must, in turn, finance in order to keep the Yuan from appreciating.
Unfortunately for the Chinese, and possibly the world, that country’s planned consumer boom is quickly morphing into a dangerous real-estate bubble. China has caught the Dubai virus and now every city there with more than one million inhabitants (at least 160 at last count) aspires to brand itself with a Rem Koolhaas skyscraper or a destination mega-mall. The result has been an orgy of over-construction.
Despite the reassuring image of omniscient Beijing mandarins in cool control of the financial system, China actually seems to be functioning more like 160 iterations of Boardwalk Empire, where big city political bosses and allied private developers are able to forge their own backdoor deals with giant state banks.
In effect, a shadow banking system has arisen with big banks moving loans off their balance sheets into phony trust companies and thus evading official caps on total lending. Last week, Moody’s Business Service reported that the Chinese banking system was concealing one-half-trillion dollars in problematic loans, mainly for municipal vanity projects. Another rating service warned that non-performing loans could constitute as much as 30% of bank portfolios.
Real-estate speculation, meanwhile, is vacuuming up domestic savings as urban families, faced with soaring home values, rush to invest in property before they are priced out of the market. (Sound familiar?) According to Business Week, residential housing investment now accounts for 9% of the gross domestic product, up from only 3.4% in 2003.
So, will Chengdu become the next Orlando and China Construction Bank the next Lehman Brothers? Odd, the credulity of so many otherwise conservative pundits, who have bought into the idea that the Chinese Communist leadership has discovered the law of perpetual motion, creating a market economy immune to business cycles or speculative manias.
If China has a hard landing, it will also break the bones of leading suppliers like Brazil, Indonesia, and Australia. Japan, already mired in recession after triple mega-disasters, is acutely sensitive to further shocks from its principal markets. And the Arab Spring may turn to winter if new governments cannot grow employment or contain the inflation of food prices.
As the three great economic blocs accelerate toward synchronized depression, I find that I’m no longer as thrilled as I was at 14 by the prospect of a classic Felsen ending -- all tangled metal and young bodies.
Mike Davis teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of California, Riverside. He is the author of
Planet of Slums
, among many other works. He’s currently writing a book about employment, global warming, and urban reconstruction for Metropolitan Books. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Davis discusses a possible Chinese real estate crash and other perils of the global economic system, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
Copyright 2011 Mike Davis
[Note for Readers: A sample passage from Henry Felsen’s 1950 novel Hot Rod:
"The crushed pile of twisted metal that had once been My-Son-Ralph's Chevy was on its back in the ditch, its wheels up like paws of a dead dog. Two of the wheels were smashed, and two were turning slowly. Something that looked like a limp, ripped-open bag of laundry hung halfway out of a rear window. That was Marge.
"The motor of Ralph's car had been driven back through the frame of the car, and its weight had made a fatal spear of the steering column. Somewhere in the mashed tangle of metal, wood and torn upholstery was Ralph. And deeper yet in the pile of mangled steel, wedged in between jagged sheet steel on one side, and red hot metal on the other, was what had been the shapely black head and dainty face of LaVerne.
"Walt's car had spun around after being hit, and had rolled over and along the highway. It had left a trail of shattered glass, metal, and dark, motionless shapes that had been broken open like paper bags before they rolled to a stop. These had been Walt's laughing passengers. Pinned inside his wrecked car, beyond knowing that battery acid ran in his eyes, lay Walt Thomas. Somehow the lower half of his body had been twisted completely around, and hung by a shred of skin."]
Image by Dawidl, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011 9:12 AM
Paula Rabinowitz had no trouble remembering the first or the last time she saw Bob Dylan before his concert last Friday night in Shanghai.
“I was at Newport (Folk Festival) in 1963 when he went electric,” said the Minneapolis woman, a Fulbright Scholar living in Shanghai. “Nobody really booed.”
As for the last time, it was election night in 2008. Rabinowitz accompanied rock critic Greil Marcus to a Dylan performance at the University of Minnesota. Rabinowitz sat in the fourth row with Marcus, whose daughter was her student.
“Dylan came out on the stage and announced that Obama had won. People started dancing,” she said.
Rabinowitz will likely remember the show at the Shanghai Gymnasium for similarly historic reasons. Dylan was permitted to perform in China for the first time only when he agreed to submit a set list to the National Ministry of Culture. The government had expressed concern that Dylan might “offend the feelings” of the Chinese people with protest songs.
Dylan sang “Desolation Row” Friday night, and the sky didn’t fall. He apparently didn’t hurt the feelings of Chinese fans in attendance.
Dylan sang his 12-minute 1965 anthem midway through the second show of his tour of China. He performed “Desolation Row” in Taiwan on Sunday night but not on Wednesday in Beijing in mainland China.
The audience at the 8,000-seat Shanghai Gymnasium reflected the international population of the city.
“It’s going to be an epic show,” said a Peoria, Illinois, man who identified himself as “Bob Admire” and said he was a Caterpillar employee in town on business. “He’s got a serious band with him.”
Dylan’s band included guitarist Charley Sexton and bassist Tony Garnier, who accompanied him during an appearance at the Iowa State Fair in August 2001.
On the fairgrounds stage that night, the best-song Oscar which Dylan won earlier in the year sat on an amplifier. Almost 10 years later, the statue was here in Shanghai, where “Things Have Changed”—the Oscar-winning third song on Friday’s play list—might have served as the anthem of this historic tour for Dylan.
Something had to serve in place of “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and “Blowin’ in the Wind,” neither of which Dylan sang in Beijing or Shanghai. The earlier show in Taipei closed with an encore of “Blowin’.”
Scalpers bought a considerable number of the tickets available for the concert. At show time, an entire section of seats in front of the stage sat empty.
“I don’t know what to do,” said a young French man named Hugo, who stood outside the concert hall, undecided whether to pay scalpers for a ticket. “If I don’t get a ticket, I’ll go home and cry.”
“That’s Shanghai for you,” said Amy, a Dylan fan from Perth, Australia. “The concert is supposedly sold out, but scalpers bought the tickets and scanned them. You don’t know if they’re real or not.”
A fortyish, Chinese financial analyst, Ray, surmised why the Chinese in the audience appeared mostly young, while westerners, particularly Americans, were likely baby boomers.
“Dylan’s huge impact on American society occurred during our cultural revolution,” he said. “The Chinese didn’t start listening to western folk music until much later.”
Peggy Phillips, who has lived in Shanghai for 10 years, hadn’t attended a Dylan concert since her college years in Boston in the mid-1970s.
“He is an icon from my golden years,” Phillips said.
As Dylan launched into “Like A Rolling Stone,” his next-to-last song, fans streamed down the main-floor aisles and cheered.
“I’m surprised the audience was so passionate,” said Ray about his normally reserved compatriots. “This concert was such a good sign.”
A 16-year-old Chinese girl, Ann, stood on her seat in the last row of the auditorium, singing and waving her arms. A student at a Shanghai international school who came to the concert with her Columbian teacher, Ann most wanted to hear “Like A Rolling Stone.”
“I have had the time of my life,” she said. She began listening to Dylan on the Internet when she read a children’s book that alluded to him. “It is hypocritical and censorship that the government had to review the songs he’d sing.”
Dylan, who turns 70 in May, performed in Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday night. He closed with “Forever Young” and did not return to the stage for an encore.
Monday, April 04, 2011 11:08 AM
It has often seemed a foregone conclusion, but it has finally happened: Dissident Chinese artist and blogger Ai Weiwei has been detained in a Chinese government crackdown, and supporters fear he may be charged with subversion or held indefinitely.
Here at Utne Reader, we have followed Ai’s defiant trajectory with an unsettling sense of foreboding. In 2009, we reprinted an interview with Ai Weiwei from Index on Censorship in which he explained his outspokenness against the Chinese government, which he says is “against humanity”:
“For me this is not a responsibility: It is part of life. If you live in self-punishment or self-imposed ignorance or lack of self-awareness, it genuinely diminishes your existence. Self-censorship is insulting to the self. Timidity is a hopeless way forward.”
By later in 2009 it was clear that Ai was being closely watched, and in January his studio complex was razed in a blatant act of intimidation.
Now he has been held for two days, and signs from the Chinese government and police are troubling: That is, they’ve given no sign at all that they’ve even detained him. Reporters are being hung up on, websites are being scrubbed of references to the incident, and Ai is joining dozens of other activists and critics who have “disappeared” in recent months.
Ai’s very life has often seemed like performance art. But now the narrative arc of the performance is out of his hands, and many fellow Chinese and China watchers worry that his story will become something that his life has never been: routine.
Read Twitter reactions from Ai’s fellow Chinese liberals at Global Voices.
UPDATE 4/10/11: Ai Weiwei has now been held three days. See China Digital Times for numerous links and analysis related to his detention.
Sources: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Global Voices, China Digital Times
Thursday, January 27, 2011 10:20 AM
Want to know what challenges the Internet will face in the near future? Check out the list of the top five over the next five years, according to the judges of the annual Webby Awards.
Does it even make sense to own a house? Well, yes . . . in some places.
Can the excess heat from a crematorium be put to better use? Of course, one town in England says: Heat the community swimming pool with it. Always thinking on the bright side, Good asks, “What better way to cap off a life well-lived than by literally keeping your neighbors warm?”
Need help feeling patriotic? Look up! Bald eagles are on the move.
If your New Year’s resolution involves being more creative, get inspired by some everyday artists who have vowed to make something new each day. Author and creativity guru Noah Scalin made a skull a day for an entire year.
Obsessive, stalkerish fun: Portroids.
Midwest 45s serves up a motherload of obscure soul, funk, and gospel grease from the heartland.
Had your fill of the rat race? Why not buy yourself a firetower? Or a desert island? Or maybe you've always dreamed of owning a used bookstore on wheels; here's your opportunity.
They bury elephants, don't they? Take a tour of the final resting places for a bunch of displaced pachyderms.
While Christians and the “new atheists” go head to head in the culture wars, they’re missing a larger phenomenon: the animistic beliefs that pervade much of the developing world.
China is showing signs of greening up its act, but a legacy of pollution haunts some areas. A powerful 40-minute video report from Yale Environment 360 tells the story of Chinese villagers who band together to fight back against factories that are polluting their town, and government officials who are allowing it.
Source: The Huffington Post, Good, Fast Company, Ready Made, Yale Environment 360, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 12:32 PM
Get out of the way bus rapid transit, you’re moving too slow. Light Rail? Psssh, soooo 21st Century. The radical future of public transportation is coming soon to a Chinese megalopolis near you.
Trying to preempt an unprecedented population boom, China is investing heavily in its urban infrastructure, especially mass transit. The latest, most outlandish transit solution, reports China Hush, is a “straddling bus” (also called a “three-dimensional fast bus”) that travels over the tops of automobiles, like a mobile tunnel. Commuters board from a station one story above the ground, and when the straddling bus parks to pick up riders—as many as 1200 per vehicle—it doesn’t disrupt the flow of traffic.
The project seems almost too good to be true, even though construction of a 115-mile line in Beijing’s Mentougou District is set to begin by the end of the year. The innovating company, Shenzhen Huashi Future Parking Equipment, claims that building the infrastructure for straddling buses is three times faster and much cheaper than a comparable distance of new subways. The wheel-rail-hybrid buses are powered by municipal electricity and solar energy, thus reducing the cost of their operation as well as fuel consumption. They will purportedly reduce traffic jams by 25 percent. There’s even motion-sensing alarm system built into the bus to prevent oversize vehicles from passing through the bus and to warn cars if they swerve too close to the bus’ wheels.
Source: China Hush
Image courtesy of Umiwi.com.
Thursday, June 03, 2010 11:10 AM
The Los Angeles Times’ book blog Jacket Copy has an update on the imprisonment of Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo:
On Christmas Day last year, Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his part in creating Charter 08, a document calling for greater freedoms and democratic reforms in China. On Tuesday, the international human rights and literary organization PEN announced that it has learned that Liu Xiaobo has been moved from a detention center in Beijing to Jinzhou Prison in Liaoning.
(Thanks, The Rumpus.)
Source: Jacket Copy
Image by waffler, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 01, 2010 12:49 PM
The rainforest is a recurring theme in lots of green-themed children’s literature—yet many publishers of these same books are using paper that contributes to the destruction of rainforests. That’s the upshot of a recent report (pdf) by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which found that nine of the 10 leading publishers of children’s books are selling books manufactured on paper that is unsustainably harvested from Indonesia’s rainforests.
To find this out, RAN went shopping for 30 randomly selected books—three from each of the nation’s top 10 children’s publishers—then submitted them to an independent testing laboratory to determine whether they contained fibers from rainforests or from acacia plantations, which are being grown on razed forest land. Nine of the top 10 publishers were implicated, despite that five of them have publicly stated paper procurement policies.
Part of the problem is China. How is that? According to RAN,
With the rapid growth of book printing and manufacturing being outsourced to China, the U.S. book industry has become increasingly vulnerable to controversial paper sources entering its supply chain. China is the top importer of Indonesian pulp and paper, and much of the Chinese paper industry is linked to or controlled by highly controversial Indonesian pulp and paper suppliers, Asia Pulp and Paper and Asia Pacific Resources International, which together account for 80 percent of Indonesia’s production. From 2000-2008, Chinese sales of children’s picture books to the U.S. ballooned by more than 290 percent, averaging an increase of more than 35 percent per year.
RAN’s sample was admittedly small, but the results are enough to give book buyers pause. What’s a book-loving parent to do? Given the apparently widespread nature of the problem, perhaps it’s best to revisit one of the three R’s in sustainable thinking—reuse—and get our kids’ books secondhand from garage sales, library sales, thrift stores, friends, and relatives. Or else we may have some ’splainin’ to do.
UPDATE 6/10/10: RAN has now released a list of 25 children’s books that are “rainforest-safe,” having been printed on paper that is recycled or certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. See the list of rainforest-safe children’s books here. RAN plans to add more books to the list.
Source: Rainforest Action Network
Image courtesty of Rainforest Action Network.
Monday, April 26, 2010 4:34 PM
Industrial pollution in some Chinese villages is so bad that it’s killing off not just residents but the towns themselves. Environment magazine reports on the bleak-and-bleaker conditions in these “cancer villages” such as Shangba in southern China’s Guangdong province:
The river water in Shangba was reported to be so contaminated that aquatic organisms could not survive in the water for more than 24 hours, even when the water was diluted 10,000 times. The water is still very toxic 50 kilometers downstream from Shangba. About 10 people die of cancer each year in this village, whose 2009 registered population was 3,329. The actual number of residents is much fewer, however, as some villagers, especially young people, have been moving out of the cancer villages to work in other places. Many families are in debt due to cancer treatments and are too poor to relocate. They have given up and are waiting to die.
Chinese media have been reporting about the “cancer villages” for several years, and some of the coverage has bled out to international mainstream media such as People magazine and the BBC. Environment researcher Lee Liu dug deeper on the subject, attempting to confirm the credibility of news reports and the extent of the phenomenon. A geographer who specializes in sustainable development, he concluded that, if anything, it “is likely to be more prevalent than has been previously reported.” Why?
Because Chinese media and academic journals are governmentally controlled, their reports tend to be conservative about politically sensitive and negative subjects. However, there have been no reports disputing the cancer-village phenomenon. There is no known national ban on cancer-village reporting, though new cancer-village reports are rare after May 2009. There are reports that local government agencies and polluting factories threatened, harassed, and assaulted investigators and reporters. The government often disciplines and removes newspaper and journal editors who publish politically sensitive and negative reports. … In addition, the traditional Chinese culture continues to identify people with the particular village where they are from. A personal label of “cancer village” would turn away potential investors, tourists, friends, and spouses.
Liu’s incredible report is worth checking out, covering the environmental, political, social, and cultural dimensions of the cancer-village phenomenon and reminding us that for every story we read about an eager-to-green China, many darker tales are perhaps not being fully told.
Image by High Contrast, licensed under Wikimedia Commons.
Friday, September 04, 2009 12:15 PM
Iranian bloggers who went online to protest the disputed election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad owe a debt of gratitude to the spiritual dissident group, the Falun Gong, according to Eli Lake in The New Republic.
Falun Gong practitioners working with the Global Internet Freedom Consortium were instrumental in developing an anti-censorship tool called Freegate, which was designed to hide internet activity from the watchful eye of the Chinese government. All mentions of the Falun Gong are heavily censored in China, because, Lake reports, “the Chinese government views the Falun Gong almost the way the United States views Al Qaeda.”
Iranian internet users were able to use the software for a short time to protest the disputed election results, until the tool’s popularity in Iran overwhelmed the group’s servers and they were forced to shut it down.
Freegate is not the only tool that dissidents use to skirt censorship on the web. Lake also mentions the software Tor, profiled in the September-October issue of Utne Reader, an anti-censorship program that is funded in part by the U.S. government. The Falun Gong has urged the United States to fund Freegate, too, but support has not been forthcoming.
As good as programs like Freegate and Tor are at stymieing government censorship, China, Iran, Russia, and other countries are working feverishly on technology to fight back. Lake writes, “the race to beat the Internet censors is a central battle in the global struggle for democracy—a cat-and-mouse game where the fate of regimes could rest in no small measure on the work of the Falun Gong and others who write programs to circumvent Web censorship.”
Source: The New Republic
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Thursday, August 20, 2009 12:00 PM
China’s breakneck modernization is running roughshod over some of the most cherished parts of Chinese cities. Before the Olympics in 2008, media outlets published a flood of hand-wringing about the death of the hutongs, the traditional neighborhoods and narrow alleys that run through Beijing. Though story has largely dropped off the media radar, MovingCities reports, “Beijing’s hutongs are still disappearing at rapid pace.”
The government has tried to cover up the destruction of traditional architecture in efforts dubbed “Fake-overs” and “paper preservation.” MovingCities points to an article in the People’s Daily lamenting the loss of traditional businesses, some more than 150 years old, in Beijing’s Qianmen neighborhood. Hu Xinyu, an advisor at the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center, told the paper:
Hundreds and thousands of original residents were expelled from Qianmen before the project began, but the suburban housing they were promised as compensation for moving out has not even begun being built yet.
Organizations, including the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center and the Global Heritage Fund are working to preserve some of Beijing’s most historic vulnerable sites. But as the photos from MovingCities show, many of these historic places have already been lost.
, licensed under
Tuesday, July 21, 2009 5:01 PM
Amid news of a stepped-up Internet clampdown in China, we’ve learned that artist and blogger Ai Weiwei, whom Utne Reader called “China’s most radical dissident” in our recent international issue, has again provoked the ire of Chinese authorities. The Art Newspaper reports that Ai’s popular blog on Sina.com was yanked off the web last month, and several recent incidents indicate that he’s being closely watched.
It’s no secret that Ai is a thorn in the side of the regime, but the Art Newspaper implies that his most recent critique of the government may have hit an especially sensitive nerve:
Ai Weiwei has been running a campaign documenting the death of schoolchildren in the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008, alleging that the number of fatalities was due to local officials siphoning money from school building costs.
Ai has launched another blog at blog.aiweiwei.com, where he has promised to republish his investigations into the Sichuan disaster. Visit China Digital Times and China Geeks to find occasional translations of, and reports about, his blog entries.
Source: The Art Newspaper, China Digital Times, China Geeks
Image by Hafenbar, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009 3:24 PM
Confucius is helping China spread its new-found influence throughout the world, according Nick Young in the New Internationalist. The ancient philosophy can be interpreted as a justification for China’s authoritarian government control that “emphasizes social stability through rule of virtue rather than rule of law.” The Communist Party once reviled the philosophy, but is now promoting it through Confucian slogans and the more than 300 Confucius Institutes that have been set up throughout the world.
It would be a mistake to think that the Confucian revival is purely a Government conspiracy, however. “China’s government and society reflect each other far more closely than most outsiders believe,” Young writes. But, as with any major religion, not everyone interprets Confucianism the same way. According to Young, “There have always been shifting interpretations and many who see themselves as Confucians today are decidedly anti-Communist.”
Source: New Internationalist
Monday, June 22, 2009 11:16 AM
The distance to Mars is unimaginable to most people. But think about this: a trip to the Red Planet will take an exhausting, mind-numbing six months. And that’s only one way. Between the time spent on Mars and allowing for suitable conditions for the trip back, a mission to Mars will last about two and a half years.
The June issue of IEEE Spectrum features an impressive report on travel to Mars.
“Could China Get to Mars First?” suggests that China’s quickly developing space hardware will allow China to beat the U.S. back to the moon and perhaps even to Mars.
“What to Wear on Mars” gives readers a preview of the sci-fi-esque space suit that may debut on Mars. The clingy, stretchy material of the BioSuit allows for 8 hours of wandering around the Red Planet. Unlike the puffy suits used today, rips are easily repaired and limbs can move more freely. An added bonus: BioSuits costs a tenth of the $20 million price tag of the current suits.
“Space Is Big Business” notes that last year the United States spent four-fifths of the $83 billion 13 countries collectively invested on space. Corporations world-wide spent two dollars for every government dollar. Half of that corporate money went to direct-to-home TV, which depends on satellites in space.
Source: IEEE Spectrum
Monday, June 08, 2009 2:20 PM
On his way home from a bookstore in 2008, Teng Biao was forced into a black sedan by Chinese secret police, a hood was fitted over his head and his hands were tied behind his back. The police threatened, interrogated, and tried to brainwash Teng into denouncing his work as a public intellectual and critic of the Chinese government. He wrote about the experience for the new issue of China Rights Forum (pdf). The circular and changing logic of his interrogators resembled scenes from 1984, and some of the details Teng recalled provide a fascinating look into the police state.
Trying to convince Teng not to criticize the government, an interrogator said, “What country is without shortcomings? The United States is good? A lot more of this goes on in the U.S. than in China.”
He wrote, “The longer I was in there, the more I hated this system. Yet at the same time, the more sympathy I had for those who had to implement the system.” The interrogators, too, had been brainwashed and they believed in the righteousness of their cause. At the same time, they had read nearly every word of Teng's dissident literature, if only to look for evidence. “I felt they couldn’t remain unaffected,” Teng wrote. “If this was the case, my words had not been in vain.”
, licensed under
Source: China Rights Forum
Friday, June 05, 2009 3:51 PM
Yesterday we wrote of Chinese police blocking television cameras with umbrellas at Tiananmen Square. Here's what that hilarious and infuriating low-tech censorship looked like (cheers to the BBC correspondent, who played this one like a pro):
Friday, May 29, 2009 10:01 AM
In a beautiful, troubling photo essay for Search magazine, photojournalist Stephen Voss documents the effects of pollution on inhabitants of China’s Huai River Basin. Most people in the region, Voss notes, must rely on the river—even though they’re well aware that it’s polluted—as a source of drinking water and for crop irrigation. As a result, rates of cancer and other diseases are appallingly high in some villages.
Zi Qing lifts his shirt to reveal a thick red scar on his stomach from a recent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. His older and younger brother died of cancer within a month of each other. He has been a fisherman for most of his sixty years, but is no longer able to make a living or even feed himself from the river. The last time he went fishing, he was able to catch only a few, small fish, their bodies covered in blisters. In front of Zi Qing’s house is a small well that he has dug deeper five times in search of clean water, but still feels the water he drinks is polluted.
Above image: "Waste water comes out of a pipe at a state-owned MSG factory, Linhua Gourmet Powder Company. Linhua (meaning "lotus flower") is the largest producer of MSG in China, and the largest polluter in the Huai River Basin."
The photo essay is here, and Voss has additional photos from the region on his website.
Image courtesy of Stephen Voss.
Monday, April 13, 2009 11:24 AM
How do you mark the 50th anniversary of China taking over Tibet? If you were China, you’d create a national holiday, of course. On March 28 the Chinese government officially forced “Serf Liberation Day” onto the citizens of Tibet, its awkward answer to commemorations of the Dalai Lama’s exile and the Tibetan uprising of 1959.
The government stated through Xinhua that this new holiday would “offer Tibetans an occasion to remember history and remind themselves to cherish the good days they have enjoyed since the democratic reform 50 years ago,” while the website of the Tibetan government-in-exile countered that “Tibetans consider this observance offensive and provocative.”
In the May issue of In These Times, Stephen Asma takes a decidedly middle path on the situation in Tibet (article not available online), and recommends a cooling of the rhetoric on both sides. He cites problematic “doublespeak” from both China and the Tibetan exiles, influencing how the West has framed the debate:
“The Dalai Lama and his own propaganda machine have been effective in setting the parameters of discussion and reflection in the West. Most Americans know one simple story, when it comes to this vexed region: Tibet = mystical, peace-loving, good guys. China = godless, pugnacious, bad guys. The reality is more complicated.”
Asma states that the Dalai Lama’s views on Tibet’s future are more pragmatic than most reports acknowledge: “He wants an ethnically controlled, autonomous region together with the massive benefits of being part of China.”
He then takes the risky position that “If it wasn’t for China, Tibet would have no infrastructure or modern development to speak of. Roads would still be rudimentary; education would be largely theological; drinking water and medical facilities would be closer to the medieval condition they were in during the 1940s.”
Asma illuminates the fraught history between China and Tibet and then recommends that “The two sides could sit down and negotiate an honorable accord, in the spirit of the Seventeen-Point Agreement [which established Chinese sovereignty over Tibet]...The real issue worth working toward is the fair distribution of economic, educational and political opportunities for both the Tibetan people and the more recent immigrant Han population.”
Sources: In These Times, the website for the Central Tibetan Administration, Xinhua
Friday, February 27, 2009 1:29 PM
China may be surpassing the U.S. in its tolerance and acceptance of transgender people, TransGriot author Monica Roberts reports for Racialicious. With an estimated transgender community of 400,000, the Chinese government has adopted policies that grant transgender citizens civil rights under the law, allow them to change their identification cards, and legally recognize their marriages after sex reassignment surgery. Roberts cites popular Chinese transsexual public figures like Jin Xing and Chen Lili as helping to open up public attitudes. Jin is a former colonel in the Chinese army who is now an internationally acclaimed ballet dancer, while Chen was the first transgender contestant to win the Miss China Universe pageant in 2004 before being banned from participating in the international competition.
Sources: Racialicious, TransGriot
Image by ernop, licensed under Creative Commons
Thursday, February 26, 2009 4:12 PM
Thousands of Africans have flocked to China in recent years, seeking to tap into the country’s meteoric economic rise. With the United States and Europe stifling immigration, many Africans see China as a more promising alternative. That’s beginning to change, Tom Mackenzie and Mitch Moxley write for Global Post, as the global economic downturn is hurting business and Chinese immigration officials have begun cracking down on African immigrants.
The epicenter of this tension may be the city of Guangzhou, China, where an area filled with African markets known as “Little Africa,” or “Chocolate City” has become the target for immigration raids. According to Evan Osnos in the New Yorker, local newspapers have estimated that there are some 10,000 immigrants in the city known to police as “Triple Illegal Persons,” who entered, live, and work illegally. Osnos profiles one such immigrant, a Nigerian business man he calls Joseph Nwaosu, as he navigates the culture of commerce, religion, and illegality.
Sources: Global Post, the New Yorker
Image by Eric Chan, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, February 23, 2009 3:48 PM
Blame for China’s soaring carbon emissions is being tossed between East and West like a political hot potato in a debate that illustrates just how tricky international climate negotiations can be.
The Guardian reports on a new study that found that manufacturing of exports, many of which are shipped off to developed countries, is responsible for approximately one-third of China’s overall emissions and half of their recent spike in emissions.
So whose footprint should these emissions be tacked-on to—China’s, the producer, or nations like the U.S. and the U.K., the consumers? Under the Kyoto treaty, they go to the producer, but China doesn’t think it should be held accountable for emissions generated by the demands of foreign markets, and others agree.
“Focusing on consumption rather than production of emissions is the only intellectually and ethically sound solution,” Dieter Helm, an Oxford economics professor told the Guardian. “We've simply outsourced our production.”
Indeed, the map of liability generated by the Kyoto system doesn’t seem to tell an entirely truthful story. “By these rules, the UK can claim to have reduced emissions by about 18% since 1990—more than sufficient to meet its Kyoto target,” according to the Guardian. “But research published last year by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) suggests that, once imports, exports and international transport are accounted for, the real change for the UK has been a rise in emissions of more than 20%.”
Business Green points out that this latest study follows similar reports published last year, and could give China greater bargaining power in climate talks to be held in Copenhagen later this year.
Sources: Guardian, Business Green
Wednesday, January 21, 2009 11:32 AM
The state-run station China Central Television surprised viewers on Inauguration Day by broadcasting President Obama’s speech live and without the usual delay—a cushion for censors to clip offensive words before they go out over the airwaves. Viewers were not surprised, however, when Obama’s use of two sensitive words: “communism” and “dissent” triggered something of a panic among CCTV broadcasters. The Times Online has a play by play:
“The simultaneous interpreter proceeded smoothly with her translation but her voice faded out with the rest of the President’s sentence. The picture cut from the Capitol to an awkwardly smiling news anchor unprepared for the camera to return to her and apparently awaiting instructions in her earpiece. She turned to a reporter in the studio for comment on Mr Obama’s economic challenges. Yet more confusion as the flustered young woman sought refuge in the notes on her desk. The cutaway seemed to misfire. While many Chinese may not have noticed, the more alert were soon commenting on internet chatrooms.”
Here’s a video of the CCTV cutaway:
China's print media also took liberties with Obama's speech. The People’s Daily completely omitted an entire sentence of the speech: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.’”
One hopeful note: Times Online correspondent Jane Macartney notes that “China is finding it increasingly difficult to police the internet given its enormous population and a mounting demand for freedom of expression. On one major Chinese language portal, NetEase, a user posted their own translation of the cut sections in English and Chinese. Online comments were often angry. One writer in the eastern city of Qingdao said: 'Why did domestic media produce a castrated version to fool people! Why can’t we see a real world now!'”
Friday, January 16, 2009 4:25 PM
A new form of censorship has quietly crept over the internet. Though governments continue to pursue old-school forms of prior restraint, technology is quickly making the blackened-ink style of censorship obsolete. The new ways to restrict free speech don’t require killing information entirely, governments and private companies simply inconvenience and frustrate people away from information they want to keep under wraps.
The internet was meant to foster communication, and it still creates opportunities for vibrant free speech. At the same time, computer science professor Harry Lewis writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education that the internet’s “rapid and ubiquitous adoption has created a flexible and effective mechanism for thought control.” As people increasingly rely on the internet for their news and information, banishing something from the web means effectively striking it from the public consciousness.
Governments have already begun to influence internet usage inside of their countries to enforce social and political norms. Lewis writes that on the internet, there is already “no sex in Saudi Arabia, no Holocaust denials in Australia, no shocking images of war dead in Germany, no insults to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Turkey.”
China sits at the vanguard of this new form of censorship. The country’s famed “Great Firewall” is one of the most advanced information blocking tools in the world. Every savvy netizen, however, knows of proxy servers, encryption services, and other ways to skirt the firewall and find information that China doesn’t want its citizens to see. “The Great Firewall of China isn't impenetrable, “Jacqui Cheng reported for Ars Technica in 2007, “it just takes a little elbow grease and high Internet traffic to squeeze a few banned terms through.” That requirement of elbow grease constitutes the cornerstone of the new censorship.
Governments don’t have to censor all the information that comes into their country anymore, either. Censorship increasingly relies on one information bottleneck: Google. Jeffrey Rosen wrote for the New York Times that Google and its subsidiaries, including YouTube, “arguably have more influence over the contours of online expression than anyone else on the planet.” Governments and businesses now realize that banning information from Google means effectively censoring it from a massive audience of people, and they are developing strategies accordingly.
“To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king,” technology expert Tim Wu told the New York Times. After the Turkish government successfully lobbied YouTube to take down videos inside of Turkey that were deemed offensive, the Government tried to ban the videos worldwide to protect Turks living outside the country. These videos would all be available on websites other than YouTube, but with one website eclipsing all others for web videos, really, who would know?
In the United States, copyright laws are often invoked to frighten people into censorship. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that the McCain-Palin campaign, an unlikely advocate for internet freedom, claimed that YouTube “silenced political speech” after it took down campaign ads due to copyright violation claims.
YouTube general council Zahavah Levine responded saying, “YouTube does not possess the requisite information about the content in user-uploaded videos to make a determination as to whether a particular takedown notice includes a valid claim of infringement.” Because of that lack of information, the site often takes down videos first and examines the validity of copyright claims later. By the time videos are restored, especially in a fast-moving political campaign setting, the damage has already been done.
The website Chilling Effects documents many of these cease-and-desist letters in an attempt to combat some of the unnecessary censorship. The site was created in partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a number of universities to help people understand their First Amendment rights and protect legal online speech. But with governments and businesses exchanging and learning from each other’s censorship tactics, the strategies to restrict free speech will likely grow more sophisticated.
Friday, December 12, 2008 10:40 AM
Searching for an appropriate cover for their recent China-themed issue, the editors of the German MaxPlanckForschung magazine agreed that a Chinese poem would set the right mood. Unfortunately, the Chinese script they chose didn’t quite mean what they thought it meant.
Here’s a translation of the magazine’s cover, according to Language Log:
With high salaries, we have cordially invited for an extended series of matinees
KK and Jiamei as directors, who will personally lead jade-like girls in the spring of youth,
Beauties from the north who have a distinguished air of elegance and allure,
Young housewives having figures that will turn you on;
Their enchanting and coquettish performance will begin within the next few days.
The magazine later apologized to its readers, claiming that a German sinologist had been consulted and had incorrectly signed off on the text before publication. Now the Chinese will have some fodder to fight the always funny Engrish blog, and other jokes about bad Chinese English.
(Thanks, FP Passport.)
Monday, August 04, 2008 1:00 PM
While the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing have the Western media focusing on China’s human rights violations, we should not lose sight of the discord surrounding the 2010 Winter Games slated for Vancouver.
An in-depth article in Briarpatch magazine describes the numerous ways in which the poor and homeless populations of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside have been shoved aside during the seven-year ramp-up to the Games, focusing on a series of missed opportunities by the city to prepare for 2010 while honoring its low-income inhabitants. Instead, Briarpatch reports, Mayor Sam Sullivan, the city’s Non-Partisan Association, various real estate developers, and the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation made a number of empty promises, pledging to build low-income housing (only to delay construction) and to eliminate homelessness (without specifying quite how that would be achieved).
Sullivan also enacted the euphemistically named Project Civil City, which is cracking down on Vancouver’s homeless population by removing Dumpsters from alleys, conducting anti-panhandling public awareness campaigns, increasing tickets and fines targeting the homeless, and installing more public security cameras. Already, low-income hotels have been shut down to make way for the construction of upsclae hotels, convention centers, and condominiums, casting thousands of evictees out onto the streets.
By the time the Vancouver Games commence, Briarpatch suggests they will represent a raft of broken promises disguised as progress and burnished with forced goodwill. While the Games’ planners hope to emulate Vancouver’s legendary Expo ’86, the Games will more closely resemble the 2000 Sydney Olympics, another contentious undertaking that drowned out an embittered citizenry with overhyped Olympic spirit.
(It's a long shot, but there may still be an opportunity for Vancouver to redeem itself. After the 2004 Summer Games, Athens took an unusual step by converting the apartments in its Olympic Village into low-income housing.)
Image courtesy of sillygwailo, licensed by Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008 5:16 PM
When the 73-year-old Dalai Lama dies, his successor as Buddhism’s leading voice is likely to be the Karmapa Lama, a 23-year-old with a fondness for X-Men comic books. PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly profiled the Karmapa Lama, who holds the unique position of being “the only high lama to have been officially recognized by both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government.” At the age of 14, he escaped from the Chinese Government, over the Himalayas, to join the Dalai Lama in India, and the two have studied and meditated together since.
In the profile, the Karmapa Lama shows an understanding of the huge responsibility being placed upon him, and an awareness of the effect that technology is having on the Buddhist faith. He said:
Because of the Internet, we live in an age in which information can travel very rapidly to different places. Before, it used to be the case that just having a karmapa alive was good enough for everyone. People didn't need a lot of information about who the karmapa was or what the karmapa was doing.
Judging by the official blog from his recent U.S. visit, this Karmapa Lama is taking every opportunity to use the new technology to make his voice heard.
Image by PrinceRoy, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, June 30, 2008 2:10 PM
What makes an English town so, well, English? It could be the bright red phone booths, the black taxicabs, or the Tudor architecture housing fish-and-chips shops. If that’s so, then travelers can find their dose of classic England in a new city outside of Shanghai, China. Thames Town, which opened in 2006, is the spitting image of a small English town, right down to exact replicas of neighborhood eating establishments.
Though 95 percent of the real estate has been sold, the town that should hold 10,000 people is eerily dead. With prices reaching $800,000 for a villa, locals have shied away, and the owners who have purchased the lots as investments don’t reside in their counterfeited properties. Maybe it really does take more than cobblestones and fancy facades to build a community.
(Thanks, Next American City.)
Image by eiro, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008 11:33 AM
Over the last 30 years, U.S. cities and states have taken up various smoking bans
. No smoking in bars, for example, has become commonplace. But what about other countries? According to a list over at Foreign Policy
,plenty of foreign governments
are aggressively campaigning against smoking, and controversial legislation is on the way. Fact of note: The smoking rate among Chinese men is 61 percent.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008 2:56 PM
To ensure good weather for the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese national Weather Modification Office (yes, it does exist) is preparing for war with the weather. An immense military array is being deployed to fire silver iodide at the atmosphere, MIT’s Technology Review reports, to prevent rain from falling on Beijing during the Olympic games. According to the article, China’s national weather modification program has some “1,500 weather modification professionals directing 30 aircraft and their crews, as well as 37,000 part-time workers—mostly peasant farmers—who are on call to blast away at clouds with 7,113 anti-aircraft guns and 4,991 rocket launchers.”
For more on cloud seeding and weather modification, read “Climate Changers” from the September/October issue of Utne Reader.
Thursday, February 14, 2008 11:46 AM
Buddhists intent on reincarnation had better fill out the appropriate forms. An article from the China Post has announced that reincarnation by senior Tibetan Buddhist monks, also known as “living Buddhas” is now regulated by the government of China. It’s thought that the regulation is an effort to crack down on the Dalai Lama and his supporters. Although officially an atheistic entity, the Chinese government has decreed, “The reincarnation of living Buddhas must undergo application and approval procedures.”
Thursday, February 14, 2008 9:53 AM
The Chinese authorities have never been terribly vigilant about policing their country’s thriving market of pirated goods. But with the Olympics closing in, China has been mercilessly tracking the unsanctioned sale of products bearing the 2008 Beijing Olympics logo. As reported in Reason, the government owns the logo and in 2002, anticipating its successful bid to host the Olympics, passed a law extensively outlining its proprietary rights. As a result, “exactly 24 stores” are able to sell Olympics merchandise.
Now, if only the Chinese black market could produce cleaner air for the international athletic community to breathe.
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Tuesday, February 05, 2008 3:20 PM
Energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs may be lighting all of our homes within 10 years, but by next fall, they will cause the lights to turn out in six Cleveland-area General Electric plants.
Hundreds of union light bulb makers will lose their jobs, reports Lisa Rab in the Cleveland Scene, because it’s cheaper to make CFLs in countries with an abundance of cheap labor, like China or Hungary. Due to China’s careful strategic insights and planning in the 1990s, Rab reports that this notorious polluter now “produces an estimated 80 percent of the world’s CFLs.”
Rab’s report puts a wrinkle in the typical feel-good environmental interest story by highlighting the competing toll on fairly paid, union labor. In response to the layoffs, the union began a “Screw That Bulb” campaign to get the word out that GE was shipping its light-bulb jobs overseas. Union official David Raleigh told Rab, “The facilities are here….[GE owns] the buildings. You have a trained work force that can be adapted. It really is a shame.”
Tuesday, February 05, 2008 2:50 PM
China’s exporters are increasingly cornering markets on ingredients in prepared foods, some of which will go on to be labeled “local,” reports Wayne Roberts in Toronto’s Now magazine.
Such foods can be deemed local because their packing and packaging costs as much as their ingredients. Customs limitations, however, make it difficult to gauge the quality of Chinese ingredients and the environmental standards under which they were grown.
Chinese ingredients that dominate the prepared foods market, Roberts reports, include apples, apple juice, dried berries, organic frozen broccoli, cinnamon, fish, garlic, honey, vanilla, and xanthum gum.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008 1:54 PM
Finally, news about a product from China that isn’t poisoning small children: Researchers have invented what’s being dubbed “super wine.” According to an article in the New Scientist, a new, genetically modified wine could help to increase lifespan. The wine is made from grapes containing six times the standard amount of resveratrol, a compound found in red wine that is thought to help stave off heart disease.
Consumers might not want to start buying super wine by the case, however. Some scientists doubt the benefits of resveratrol, David Biello writes for the Scientific American. Researchers maintain that humans would need to consume the compound in much higher doses than red wine, even the modified wine, can provide. And all health bets may disappear if the wine is paired with lead-based cheese.
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