Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Wendell's Chinese Adventure

"Soon after nine p.m., as the publisher (Gardiner Cowles, Look magazine) recorded in his privately published memoirs, 'there was a great clatter in the courtyard. The Generalissimo marched in, visibly furious. He was accompanied by three bodyguards, each carrying a little Tommy gun. Trying to restrain his rage, the Generalissimo bowed coldly, and I returned the bow.' Chiang asked where Willkie was. Cowles said he did not know. He then offered Chiang tea. After they had drunk this in silence, the Generalissimo repeated his question, and Cowles repeated that he had no answer. At that, Chiang stormed through the house followed by his bodyguards. He searched every room, peered under the beds and opened cupboards. Not finding what he was looking for, he left without saying anything. Cowles sat up drinking more Scotch. At 4 a.m., he recorded, 'a very buoyant Willkie appeared, cocky as a young college student after a successful night with a girl...Willkie stomped off to bed, but was up a couple of hours later for breakfast. He had a speech to make and asked Cowles to go see Meiling and tell her she could not fly to the U.S. with him. The publisher inquired where he could find her. Willkie suggested an apartment on the top floor of a hospital for women and children. With her own private guards protecting them, that was where they had gone the previous night.

An interesting review of a book on Wendell Willkie in the New York Times. It sounds like a book well worth the read, but what I was looking for was a reference to this incident treated at length in Jonathan Fenby's Chiang Kai-shek bio. Chiang's wife had clearly married him for power, but the limits of Chiang's usefulness were becoming apparent in 1940, and she was clearly looking to move on an even more central stage . Willkie's loss to Roosevelt was clearly a tremendous disappointment to her. It is often said of the three Soong sisters that one loved money, one loved China, and one loved power. Meiling certainly played her part. In New York, later that year, Meiling met with Willkie's man Cowles again:

"She told the publisher that her union with Chiang was a marriage of political convenience, and recounted the story of his having said on their wedding night that they would not have sex - a tale which , as Cowles recorded, he was not sure he believed. Next, she moved into the reason for inviting him. She was sure Willkie could get the Republican presidential nomination, and urged Cowles to do all he could to achieve this. 'I was to spend whatever amont of money I thought necessary,' he wrote in his memoirs. 'She would reimburse me for all my expenditures.' Funding to buy the presidency for Willkie would have come, in part at least, from the residue of U.S. loans sitting in the American bank accounts of the Chungking regime. 'If Wendell could be elected, then he and I would rule the world,' she told Cowles. 'I would rule the Orient and Wendell would rule the Western world.' It was, as Cowles noted, a totally mad proposal, 'but I was so mesmerized by clearly one of the most formidable women of the time that this evening I would not have dismissed anything she said.'"

The Willkie book sounds interesting. I wonder if it includes any more background on this story. At any rate, I suspect we're all better off for old Franklin Roosevelt getting elected in 1940. Roosevelt was reported to have departed from his usual practice of sitting on a sofa with visitors when Meiling visited the White House, insisting that they be seperated by a table, in order "to avoid being vamped." Fooling around with a secretary is one thing, but Willkie's Chongking adventure seems right up there with Kennedy's sharing a girlfriend with a mobster in the annals of irresponsible cheating. Great leaders know when to get out the table.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Google Earth

I only read about the incredible GoogleEarth program after donating to the public my tongue-in-cheek invention (filming the earth from an airplane, etc.) GoogleEarth is not as good as the BetelnutSpyPlane screen installed in your local bar would be, but it's cheaper. Actually, it's one of the coolest things I've seen. The quality, alas, is quite a bit higher for the U.S. than for, say, Taiwan. You can still see plenty, though. I've been playing around with it for hours - an incredible teaching tool, too!

Taiwan's Jack Problem

For some time now, there's been a tremendous exhibition of photos of Taiwan displayed in front of Cave's books, opposite the Science Museum, here in Taichung. The images I can't reproduce here, so you'll just have to go down and see for yourself, but some of the text (very informative) I can share with you:

(Paraphrasing)A professor from Chung Shan University reports that "The degree to which Taiwan's coastline is being done over in cement is shocking." There is an average of one concrete mini-port every 4-6 kilometers. This is especially striking given that the Taiwan fishing industry is in decline. Are all of these ports really necessary? In addition to impedeing coastal currents, "dams built on rivers impede the ability of the shoreline to replenish itself with sand, so it is necessary to provide concrete wave breakers to reinforce the tidal flats. Over half of Taiwan's coastline currently bristles with concrete wave breakers and seawalls." Another reason for these seawalls is apparently the encroaching seawater caused by excessive pumping of groundwater.

When I first arrived in Taiwan, I thought these ubiquitous concrete structures lining the coasts, shaped like jacks, were to deter the impending invasion of the island. H.L. Mencken's account of a train ride through Pennsylvania came to mind: such aesthetic destruction of that which is by default beautiful can only be ascribed to a willful inclination toward that which is unsightly and dispiriting - "a libido for the ugly." It seems the things are there simply on account of the general ecological destruction of the island. It's easy for me to rail against dams, sitting here lit up like a Christmas tree (the apartment, not me). What I do know is that the coasts of other countries are not marred by these things on this scale. Surely, (he asks plaintively), there must be a way to get rid of these jacks, and give us back the coasts?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

KMT - CCP Civil War History I

An article in last Tuesday's Taipei Times ("Re-writers of History Ignore Truth") got my attention and my goat. My eyebrows always rise upon hearing that a professor or two has hold of that truth thang, and sure enough, this is a classic example of historical scholarship in the service of politics. The authors are introduced as Tai Da profs in journalism and political science respectively. Well, at least they're not history professors.

What seems to be bothering them is that the Communist Party in China is modifying its self-serving reading that the CCP had a virtual monopoly on resistance to the Japanese and now is conceding that there was joint cooperation. Having attacked the CCP for politicizing history, they then fall into the trap of feeling compelled to present an equal and opposite politicized version of history. "To this day, Chinese schoolbooks still maintain that the CCP was the main actor in the resistance. But the following facts show that it is possible to clarify the fact that the CCP did not direct the war effort against Japan," (and here’s the overreach) "and even that talk of a 'joint' resistance is a joke." Having adduced their facts, they conclude "Any talk of joint resistance is a shameless lie." They seem to be threatened by the history of joint resistance because they believe it would give credibility to today's KMT-CCP "united front". It's faulty reasoning and even worse history. The tragedy of Chinese modern history is that after the promising start by Sun Yat-sen, neither of the leaders who claimed his mantle presented the Chinese with a viable model of liberalism. Why in the world should it be threatening to democratic Taiwan that these two failed children of Sun's KMT cooperated in the war. Besides, it is simply a historical fact that there was extensive cooperation, albeit in an atmosphere of mutual distrust.

My coming across that article coincides with working my way through Jonathan Fenby's excellent Chiang Kai-shek bio, so I decided to do a little cross checking of facts.

"War histories from both Japan and the Republic of China clearly indicate the scale of the CCP's 'participation'. From 1937 to 1945, there were 23 battles where both sides employed at least a regiment each. The CCP was not a main force in any of these. The only time it participated it sent a mere 1,000 to 1,500 men, and then only as a security detachment on one of the flanks." Ming Chu-cheng, Flora Chang, Taipei Times

Autumn and early winter 1937: "Units of the Communist Eighth Army under the Long March veteran Lin Biao scored the one notable Chinese victory in the north… The Communists riddled the Japanese with gunfire and hurled down hand grenades, killing 3,000 men for some 400 casualties of their own. Bingxingguan went down in Communist history as a triumph for Mao's guerrilla tactics, but was hardly mentioned by the Nationalists." –Jonathan Fenby

"The Japanese seized cities and towns, main roads and railways, and launched regular, murderous expeditions to grab crops and try to pacify the countryside where guerrillas operated. For all their armed strength, however, their forces were badly overextended. One metaphor used was of China as a net with the strings and knots representing Japanese positions around the much larger holes. The parallels with the war in Vietnam are evident, underlined by the reflections of the Red Army commander Zhu De: "They cannot use animal transport, or human labor as our armies can. They cannot take advantage of the hill country, but must follow the easiest and most level route…So we always fight in the hills, not in the open country." –Fenby

The assertion of no CCP participation above regimental level by Ming and Chang seems factually incorrect, but I have no doubt that the accurate statistics would reflect that a vast preponderance of the fighting in major battles was conducted by the KMT. Mao's tactics, which he adhered to pretty consistently, were to live in the hills, attack only when there was a clear numerical advantage, then dissolve back into the country-side. The CCP during most of these eight years was indeed quite a bit weaker than the KMT, which is another reason why the KMT would predominate. There was significant cooperation, but the CCP would never have been the "main force" in most of these operations. Their growth was backloaded to the last years of the war and after. The CCP contribution was not negligible, however.

Prior to 1938, Chiang's (misguided) strategy was to engage the Japanese in major frontal battles in the Chinese urban heartland. KMT troops fought bravely, but it was a strategy which played to Japanese strengths. First Shanghai fell, then (notoriously) Nanjing, finally Wuhan. Only in 1938, forced to retreat to Chongching, did Chiang adopt a strategy that sounds a lot like Mao's: "Calling his principle commanders to a conference in November 1938, Chiang told them that, after sixteen months of war, the first phase was over. Instead of defending each position, they should adopt 'mobile front resistance'using guerrilla tactics to trap the adversary and hit its weak points." Both Mao and Chiang came to the conclusion that this was the best way to fight the Japanese, only Mao knew it from the start, whereas Chiang had to learn it the hard way. Even when Chiang adopted this strategy he was less effective than Mao. The guerrilla strategy required the enthusiastic support of the peasants. Where Mao integrated his military strategy with social policy by implementing land reform in the countryside, Chiang was resolutely against land reform and allowed warlords and local leaders to use coercive methods that alienated the peasants. Surely effectiveness should be a part of the calculus of who contributed to the resistance, not just counting up major battles. As General Patton said in the famous opening of the movie, the object is not to die for your country, but to make the other guy die for his.

The one time Mao departed from this strategy was explicitly because he was goaded by comments from the KMT Secretary General that the Red Army "has not participated in any great battles." The Hundred Regiments offensive was Mao's answer. The Communists made some initial impressive gains, then were beaten back, taking heavy casualties. "Though it petered out by the end of 1940, Mao sent a cable to the commander at the front pointing out that the publicity it had generated was needed as a weapon against Chiang." The parallel is unavoidable with the Tet offensive: a major military defeat that was undertaken for its propaganda value. Mao hadn't used this approach before, and he didn't use it again,because it was militarily ineffective. But it's hard to see how the sources of Ming and Chang missed the Hundred Regiments Offensive and Bingxingguan. One wonders how many others they may have missed.

KMT - CCP Civil War History II

The article in question seems to ignore entirely the period after the Xian incident, when a genuine "united front" existed in Wuhan. It was not Mao representing the Communists here (he was an ally, but a wary one), but his rival Wang Ming. Mao followed a more Trotskyite strategy of rural peasant rebellion, while Wang Ming found favor with Stalin by pursuing "bourgeois revolution" alongside the KMT. In Wuhan at this time, according to Fenby, "A free press flourished, as did the arts and literature transplanted rom Shanghai. The secret police was restricted to tracking down Japanese collaborators, rather than going after the regime's rivals. In the words of the historian Stephen McKinnon, 'democracy reached a twentieth century zenith'." Besides the Communists, there were many smaller parties present. "This meant that , though the biggest group, the Kuomintang was in the minority." Clearly, the claims of exclusive ownership of the resistance by the KMT arenot founded in fact. "Any talk of joint resistance is a shameless lie," Ming and Chang tell us. Wuhan tells a different story.

"Many KMT soldiers died without understanding why. If they were not able to match Japanese troops on the battlefield, they would raise the KMT flag and move towards the CCP's troops, only to be met by sweeping machine-gun fire. They had enemies front and back. These are facts that have been recorded by the CCP itself." – Ming Chu-cheng and Flora Chang, Taipei Times, July 12.

The Wuhan period of cooperation ended in 1941 with the New Fourth Army Incident. Chiang felt threatened by the growth of this Communist army in the east, a problem exarcerbated by the fact that they were standing astride important opium smuggling routes. He invoked his powers as commander of the united front and ordered them to march north into a Japanese buzzsaw. The Army declined the suicide mission and marched south instead, after Zhou Enlai believed he had negotiated safe passage for them with Chiang.
"Zhou went to see the Generalissimo who dismissed the reports from the battlefield; he had agreed to a safe passage for the Fourth Army, he recalled, so it could not have been attacked…. On January 12 the Nationalists unleashed an intense artillery and bombing attack. Two days later, Mao sent a message saying that Chang had agreed to a ceasefire. By then the battle was over. Estimates of Communist dead ranged from 2,000 to 10,000; Mao said at the time 7,000 had been 'finished off.' Survivors told of women being raped, and captives being marched 400 miles to a camp – 'when they sickened, they were beaten; some were shot and other were buried alive.'"

It is in this context that the incident to which the authors are apparently referring occurred: "The New Fourth Army Incident had broken the united front; in one engagement north of the Yellow River, Communist troops were seen attacking Nationalists fleeing from the Japanese. Not that Mao and his colleagues were immune from assault. The Japanese launched a campaign against their main base area known as the 'Three Alls' – kill all, bun all, destroy all. By the time it ended, the base population was reduced from 40 million to an estimated 25 million, and the party was plunged into its worst period since the Long March."

Excuse me, but invoking the incident in which the Communists fired on retreating Nationalists without mentioning the context of the New Fourth Army Incident is intellectually dishonest.

KMT - CCP Civil War History III

"Peter Vladimirov from the Third International, or the Comintern, who was sent by Moscow to Yan'an as a liason between the Chinese and Soviet Communist parties, kept a detailed record from 1942 to 1945. The CCP refused his requests to visit the frontline. He later found that the CCP and the Japanese never engaged each other in fighting. So what were the CCP doing? "They were planting opium in Shaanxi!" he said. They used the huge profits from the sale of opium to buy arms to strengthen their position and wipe out KMT troops." –Ming and Chang

"Vladimirov was an unquestioning Communist, though, as a patriot, he was alienated by what he saw as Mao's 'organic dislike' of the Soviet Union. This colors his broader ideological verdicts, but, as reportage of what was going on in Yan'an, his diaries leave no doubt of the need for serious revision of the picture propagated after the Communist victory. This cannot be taken as a vindication of Chiang's regime vis-à-vis his major foe, but it does show that, as so often during the Generalissimo's life, the black-and-white picture of events which became conventional wisdom after his defeat in 1949 should be shaded in grey." – Jonathan Fenby

It is instructive to keep in mind what the thesis of the authors is: In response to the CCP's recent admission that the KMT did play a large part in the resistance, the authors maintain that, in fact, the traditional KMT account is entirely vindicated: the CCP not only didn't fight the Japanese much between 1942 and 1945; they not only financed themselves with opium sales in that period; but these things were exclusively so of the CCP, while the KMT had an exemplary record of fighting valiantly with hands clean of opium selling.

Fenby makes it clear that Stalin never believed the Maoists could gain control of the country, and the Soviet leader consistently chose to make alliances with Chiang rather than with the Maoists. Vladimirov's account is historically useful, but with the caveat that, as Stalin's envoy, he was a hostile witness. It is true that after being decimated by the Third Army Incident, the Three Alls campaign and the Hundred Regiments campaign the Red Army didn't do much fighting of the Japanese. The same is true of the Nationalists. Fenby describes a KMT offensive starting in late 1939 and the aftermath:
"Overall the campaign was a considerable failure. By April 1940 it was all over. As a result the Generalissimo and those around him reverted to their belief in a long-term struggle dependent on the United States’ eventually going to war and defeating Tokyo. The failure of his last big offensive further decreased Chiang's authority over the regional power barons, including the Communists. To try to counteract this, he increasingly deployed central army troops to keep regional forces in check and assert Chungking's presence, rather than putting them where they could best fight the Japanese.”

Note the dates: by April 1940, Chiang had mounted his "last offensive" and repositioned his troops to contain the Red Army at the expense of the war against the Japanese. By contrast, the Hundred Regiments offensive took place in late summer of 1940; the New Fourth Army Incident in January 1941 and the Three Alls campaign in 1941. The evidence suggests that the KMT deprioritized the struggle against Japan earlier than the Communists.

The opium charge is similar. The Communists did, in fact, sustain themselves in Yan'an with extensive sales of opium – accounting for 40% of their revenue at the peak – and, yes, this is in stark contrast to the official CCP version. But the implication that the Communists were exclusively financing themselves from opium is outrageously at odds with every objective account of the KMT's history. The Communists, according to Fenby, were clean of opium during the Long March period, and after the war they dealt with the problem conclusively, which the KMT had never done when they were in control of the country. Opium was in the DNA of the KMT. Their very roots were in the notorious Green Gang of Shanghai – an opium syndicate. There was never a time – before the war or during – when opium was not a crucial source of funding for the KMT. To puncture the myth that the CCP never indulged in this business is one thing – to suggest that the KMT was comparatively clean defies belief.

KMT - CCP Civil War History IV

"The CCP's own party history says that from 30,000 troops at the outset of the war, the ranks expanded to 1.2 million regular troops and approximately 2.6 million to 3 million militia by the end of the war, giving it a total of between 3.8 million and 4.2 million troops. Following the Japanese surrender, the CCP launched a civil war which resulted in the KMT army being routed and fleeing to Taiwan." - Ming and Chang

(Speaking of December, 1945, on arrival of Gen. Marshall in China): "The American drive for a coalition government could only help the Communists, and the search for peace inhibit the re-conquest of Manchuria. While Chiang was anxious to fight his domestic enemy as quickly as possible, and on the widest scale, the Communists' interest lay in delay to gain time to build up political and military strength." – Fenby

Fenby does not give figures for the size of the respective armies at the end of the war, but it's clear that the Communists at that time were far weaker than the KMT. General Marshall was slandered in the McCarthy era as a pro-Communist. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The sad truth, however, is that the post-war truce he negotiated in the hope of sparing China a civil war unwittingly gave the CCP time to experience exponential growth between 1945-1949, riding a wave of popular disgust with the way in which the KMT had prosecuted the war. That's a far cry from the authors' contention that the Communists husbanded their resources while the KMT bravely fought the Japanese, then surprise attacked a weakened KMT at the end of the war.

The vast disparities that still maintained at the cessation of hostilities are reflected in the terms of the truce negotiated at the time, "to cut government (KMT) forces to a maximum of 700,000 and the Red Armies to 140,000 in eighteen months. Chiang would remain in supreme command, and the Communists would pull out of their southern base areas. Yan'an regarded the agreement as a success in that it was recognized as a negotiating partner rather than a target for destruction." Neither side had the slightest illusion that a civil war could be averted, but the Communists needed time and the KMT was absolutely dependent on U.S. aid. Within three months, the truce was not holding in Manchuria, but again it is notable just how superior the KMT forces were:
"The Nationalist build-up in Manchuria meant that the Red Army, now renamed the People's Liberation Army (PLA), was outnumbered three-to-one. Against such odds, it retreated from most of its urban centers into the countryside, only fighting when it was sure of winning, and then moving off swiftly after grabbing the enemy's weapons. In a final bid to check the Nationalist offensive which was sabotaging Marshall's mediation efforts, Washington slapped an embargo on military aid.”
This is a completely different account of events than Ming and Chang's fantasy of a rested Red Army gratuitously attacking a weakened KMT force.

In the summer of 1948 the "first decisive stage of the civil war" would be fought in Manchuria, and the Reds, enjoying a two-to-one advantage in manpower, would win decisively. What had happened in the intervening period of time was that the house of cards that was the Nationalist regime collapsed, because they'd lost the trust of the Chinese people. When they retook areas that had implemented land reform in their absence, they used brutal methods to reinstitute the old system. Inflation was through the roof. (One of my favorite quotes of the entire book is from the corrupt KMT Finance Minister, the H.H. Kung: "Inflation! Inflation! There is no inflation in China! If people want to pay twenty- five dollars for a fountain pen, that's their business, it's not inflation. They're crazy, that's all. They shouldn't pay it.” In 1940-41, food prices in Chungking increased by 1,400%). The economy was run for the benefit of the top families. The army was politicized. When the people of China turned on the Nationalists, it happened with breathtaking speed.

Some in the Green camp seem to feel that if the KMT and the CCP are invoking the united front it is necessary to deny its existence. The tragedy of China in the twentieth century is that from the promising proto-democratic KMT of the twenties were born the two political parties that would dominate Chinese political life for generations, but neither came close to following through on their rhetorical commitment to democracy. The DDP doesn't need to feel threatened by that. But, most importantly, what some Greens are peddling is just bad, false history.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Typhoon Update

As I suppose everyone reading this knows, we are in the midst of a rather formidable typhoon these days. Taichung tends to be protected by the mountains, and what we get is a faint echo of the mayhem going on over on the east coast. Last night we got plenty of wind, with almost no rain. Early in the morning, I stood on my balcony watching the tin covering of a chimney - like structure on a roof across the way slowly peeling back. "If that thing comes off and falls onto the street, someone's going to get killed." A number of clueless scooter drivers drove by, and the garbage men came on schedule, all unaware of the drama unfolding above their heads. I couldn't watch any more, so I went inside and turned on the T.V. They were interviewing one of the guys who deliver newspapers to convenience stores, who said in that good-natured Taiwanese way: "My boss said we had to do it, so I guess we do." I couldn't help thinking: "Is your boss going to raise your kids if you get chopped in two by a flying piece of tin roofing?"

Things were quiet all day. Just an overcast day. People said there was more to come, but I was doubtful. We'd had our blow, and then it passed. Tonight at three, having only eaten one meal today, I was starving, so I went out to the all-night Teppanyaki place. It was coming down in sheets at the time, but there was very little wind. Bad call. The glass door of the restaurant exploded from the force of a gust while I was eating. No joke. Indeed, the world had changed while I was in there. Very scary fifteen minute ride home. Better to be lucky in this world than wise, it is said - and so, I am lucky yet another day.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Great Ideas

Many people think of Henry David Thoreau as a congenital slacker whose mama brought him lunches in the woods while he wrote. Actually, according to a book I read ages ago (and probably remember spottily) it was Thoreau who invented the now indispensable Pencil With An Eraser Attached To The Latter Tip. Told that he should patent it and set up a factory to make a pile of money, he said something appropriately lapidary like: "I would not do again and again what I have already done once." Whoah. That blew me away when I was twenty. I've pretty much lived my life subsequently on that model, coming up with brilliant ideas and scattering them over the land in spasms of insouciant fecundity, while holding down a modest Taiwan English teacher's job. I'm not really talking about the idea I had immediately in the wake of reading the Thoreau anecdote – although I still think the can opener with an eraser on the tip is a keeper.

My latest great idea (and I'm actually half-serious about this one) came to me on a flight last year from L.A. to Austin. I was sitting there in my uncomfortable window seat, looking down as all these fascinating topographical features scrolled by, with occasional nameless urban outbreaks, and I had this brainstorm - a kind of braintyphoon, actually: what if you had a camera on the underside of the plane and filmed the entire stretch from L.A. to Austin; then, when you put it on film, you provided a streamer with a constant strand of information telling people just what they were looking at? They could watch it in their own homes, instead of in a cramped airplane seat! Or how about in a bar? (Marketing note - People who own bars are more likely to invest in something like this, because they're usually heavy drinkers.) Instead of watching some lame sit-com, you'd pop in "Chicago to Phoenix". Unlike a show, it doesn't interrupt conversation – it moves at its own pace, in real time, and you can sip your beer and talk about Manicheanism or whatever and kind of check in now and then at your leisure and see just where you are.

Pretty cool, huh? Just attribute it to Betelnutblogger when you're making your initial investment, and give me a symbolic ten percent cut of all profits, and I think we're still friends. There was this gunner on the Brazilian basketball team years ago who, after scoring about fifty points one night when his team lost, was asked by a reporter if he thought his teammates resented his taking so many shots and never passing the ball. His response was: "Some people are meant to play the piano; some people are meant to carry the piano up the stairs." No offense, amigo, but that's kind of my approach: you do the bricks and mortar work, here, all right? I'm an idea man. Just give me a little something to wet my beak when you get rich, eh?

Saturday, July 16, 2005

New Olympic Sports

On the subject of Olympic sports, I've been giving some consideration to the question of which sports should replace baseball. This is a topic which should should be approached with a certain amount of gravity, since the games come from Greece, were founded by a Baron and have all that slow motion footage of athletes in agony and stuff. I have two sports, admittedly close cousins to each other: okay, you need to construct a special pool, but it's worth it. You have two diving boards facing each other, five meters up and about ten feet apart. The object is to have two guys (or two gals - even better!) dive off at the same time and grapple with each other in mid-air on the way down to the pool. Whoever is on top wins. I think the Bulgarians would be very good at this. A related sport: you know that contraption from down at the old swimming hole where you grab on and go sliding down a rope into the water? How about attaching a trapeze bar to the rope and suspending it above a diving tower? You with me? It would be high, so that only international -class divers with the best altitude could just grab on as they spring off; then they grab the bar and as the bar is sliding down into the pool they do amazing gymnastics flips and turns. Entries are important! If you know somebody on the appropriate committee, tell them quick! Just give attribution to Betelnutblogger and everything's cool.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Baseball Scotched from Olympics

"Baseball's biggest problem is that it's American.
Yet baseball is going to be just fine here without the Olympics. As Brewers pitcher and 2000 Olympian Ben Sheets noted, no baseball player grows up in the U.S. dreaming of playing in the Olympics.
But they do in Cuba. It means something in South Korea and Mexico. It's the other countries that will be most hurt."

Baseball and women's softball have become the first sports voted out of the Olympics in sixty-nine years, in a secret ballot, and with no explanation given. The reaction from the heartland was that this was a European dominated group slapping around the Yanks, which I must say, seems plausible. Of course, the people who will be hurt most are the Taiwanese Koreans, Japanese, Cubans, etc. who have taken so enthusiastically to the game, and follow Olympics' baseball a lot more enthusiastically than the Americans do. Collateral damage. Living in Asia, I can't quite join in the derision heaped on ping-pong, badminton and judo by the Whittier paper, because I know those sports have real followings. That doesn't mean I have to desist from snorking at synchronized swimming, or - how about that one where they go cross-country skiing and then shoot? Ping-pong I can muster respect for; but a sport where people played ping-pong, then jumped into a luge wouldn't make the straight face cut. It appears the voters took the line that they weren't anti-American but, after all, the American Big Leagues don't let the best players in the world compete, so... Then they gave the game away by kicking out women's softball, where the best players in the world do compete, but the U.S. has dominated competition.

This is a great opportunity for Major League Baseball to get together with the other leagues around the world and do something for the international game. The Olympics' format would not be very credible for providing a test for the games best players, anyway. There ought to be a Baseball World Cup every four years. A credible format would be three weeks - two groups with eight teams each, playing each team two games a piece, for a total of fourteen games. The winners of the two groups then play each other in a best of five series. Baseball needs to adapt to the intenationalization of the game, but that does not have to mean being supplicants at the Court of Weenies. How about a U.S. - Dominican five-game finale, in Kaohsiung, with a Clements versus Pedro kick-off game?

Saturday, July 02, 2005

China Unocal Bid

"'If we were to say no to [CNOOC's bid], it would likely stimulate just the sort of nationalist reaction in China that we should want to discourage,' said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. 'We have a national security interest in integrating China into the global economy, and this [permitting the Chinese takeover of Unocal] seems to me one way to do it.'"

A subject like this should induce an unwonted spasm of humility and deference to experts in most of us commentators. Whether this is something to be alarmed about is essentially a question involving a level of expertise far above my head, but I tend to agree with Richard Haase. A warning flag goes up for me when I see that both of the legislators legislators mentioned as opposing this are from Texas. Despite what Chinese nationalists maintain, the U.S. is not in a containment mode with China, nor should it be. An invasion or embargo of Taiwan would be a trip-wire for such a policy, but we are not there yet, and I hope we never will. We can't be scolding China about its values-free energy grabbing policy in Africa, then forbid them from obtaining energy in legitimate ways such as this. My impression of the textiles debate is similar: it seems to be driven by U.S. domestic politics more than anything. But it is a technical issue - have the appropriate international trade organizations adjudicate it and abide by the judgement. The politicians in America who are suggesting that textiles are indispensible to America's economic heath are as out of it as Jacques Chirac and his assertion that agricultrue is the key to Europe's economic future.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Singapore Dream I

“The anti-Americanism that surged through much of the world over the U.S. war in Iraq shows modest signs of abating, although distinctly negative views persist in the Muslim world, and many Europeans now have a more favorable view of China than of the United States, according to a major new international poll.”
- International Herald Tribune, Friday June 24

In Bali for five days of vacation, I had a chance to read the International Herald Tribune, which used to be a staple of my Taiwan reading, but has largely given way to online reading in recent years. Still an excellent paper. Friday's edition, virtually side-by-side, ran three stories interesting for their juxtaposition. The first, "Anti-U.S. Sentiment Abates Yet Still Lingers", reported the results of a poll documenting attitudes toward the U.S.

Countries with the lowest opinion of the U.S. were Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey, with 21%, 23% and 21% respectively. India had the highest positive rating, at 71% Other positives were Poland (62%) and Britain (55%). Notable ratings were Russia (52%), France (43%) and China (43%). Comparing China and the U.S., in France the pro-China spread was 53%/43%, in Germany 46%/41%. Pakistan had the largest pro-China tilt, 79% for China, only 23% regarding the U.S. favorably. Poland, on the other hand, was 62%/36% pro-U.S. The single country where a majority believed the Iraq War had made the world a safer place was India, by 45% to 26%. Most others were lopsidedly against the war. In a poll asking "Which country is your land of opportunity?", only one country named the U.S. - you guessed it: India. The single country to name China as the land of opportunity was Pakistan. Most Europeans expressed support for the idea that the world would be a safer place if there was another power to balance the U.S., but even those who had a more favorable view of China did not want China to play this role. Lamentably, results for Taiwan, Japan and Singapore were not reported.

Singapore Dream II

“Promoters of democracy in the Middle East will doubtless shudder at the idea of autocratic Arab states finding solace and refuge in soft-authoritarian Asia. Shaaban's (Muhammad Shaaban, advisor to the Egyptian foreign minister) belief that the process of democracy 'should take root through evolution and not through revolution' resonates strongly in Asia, where democracy has been slow to evolve. Shaaban thinks the time has come to look east for peace solutions. 'Asia is qualified to play a role', he told me. 'We are the East, be it the Far East, the Near East or the Middle East. Our common experience with the West was colonialism, so we have more in common than we have with the West.'"
- Herald Tribune, "Why the Middle East is Turning to Asia"

It is hard to know where to start responding to the second article, an opinion column by Michael Vatikiotis, "a visiting research fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies in Singapore". The essence of the argument being made here is that with the U.S. renouncing its "constructive engagement" mode of dealing with Middle East autocratic regimes in the wake of 9/11, there is an opportunity for the "Asian values" countries, led by Singapore, to cozy up to the alienated Baraks and Sauds. A rather cynical and opportunistic undertaking. Building on their tremendous success in helping Burma evolve toward democracy, the ASEAN nations seem to have decided to take their act on the road. A supporter of U.S. foreign policy might be tempted to ask: "Who are the idealists now?"

Painting countries as diverse as Singapore, Egypt, Saudi Arabia - or for that matter a true colonial trauma case like Congo - all with the same brush and indicating that they have some sort of common experience of colonialism is just not convincing. Egypt's encounter with western colonialism was primarily from about 1880 to 1945, not including the brief invasion by Napoleon in the previous century. That's a pretty brief time frame compared to, say, the centuries they were colonized by the Ottomans. Ten percent of Egypt's population is Copt Christian, and as recently as a hundred years ago a full one quarter of Egypt's population was non-Muslim. For those older populations, the last fourteen hundred years have been an experience of colonialization and marginalization. India, which had a far more protracted and profound experience of colonialism, is today the world's largest democracy and seems to be getting about the business of making their way in the world. The real problem for Egypt is not colonization but the encounter with the modern world, and the inability to adapt to it.

Arabia was under British suzerainty during the interregnum between the wars, but the Brits were mostly interested in controlling the coasts and sea lanes, protecting the routes to India. The interior was "controlled" by paying subsidies to the tribes – about 12,000 pounds to the Hashemites and 5,000 to the Wahabi- Sauds in 1919. The fact that the junior partners drove the favored patrons of the British off the peninsula hardly conforms to the idea that this was a conventional or heavy-handed colonial yoke. The western powers did traduce the tribes into rising against the Ottomons during World War I, and then broke their promise to grant them independence after the war. The colonialists, however, did not leave a deep mark on the culture and mores of the indigenous population. If anything, given the phenomenon of T.E. Lawrence and other "sand mad Englishmen", it was the English who were culturally infatuated. If the British had been more assertive colonialists, the more moderate Hashemites, and not the Wahabis, would be in control of all that oil and the sacred places of Islam, and the world would be a better place today.

Singapore Dream III

“More interesting was a speech by Tommy Koh before the play ('Viva Viagra!') began. He spoke in English about his pride in being Asian. He pointed out that bureaucrats were not always 'bad guys'; they could be 'good guys', too. This splendid new theatre was made possible, was it not, by the active support of the Singaporean government. The audience applauded. A blue spotlight, bouncing off Koh's glasses and the grey-blue highlights in his perfectly coiffed hair, gave him a weird shine, as though he were polished with wax. Many people, he continued, perhaps a bit incongruously, said that it would take many years to recover from the Asian economic crisis. But he didn't share that pessimistic view. The Asians were clever and industrious, and they had pulled off miracles in the past. A new economic miracle was just around the corner. However, the next step in the Asian miracle would surely be cultural. After Asian economic power, there would be Asian cultural power and, so Koh was happy to tell us, the whole world would sit up and take notice. Indeed, it was already happening now in Singapore. More applause. Ekachai, the ACTION Theatre's director, professed how moved he was, thanked Koh for all his help, and said there was a surprise in store. The lights dimmed, Koh blinked, and from the back of the theatre about fifteen actors and actresses came in, carrying a huge cake and singing, 'Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Tommy…' I thought here was an example of what was wrong with Singapore.”
Ian Buruma, "Bad Elements"

"'Moderate voices are in danger of being drowned out by extremist voices,' said Tommy Koh, a veteran diplomat who chaired the Singapore meeting."

Singapore, of course, has had a very different colonial experience from Egypt or Saudi Arabia. It was not colonized so much as it was a creature of colonization. The people who live there are the descendants of people who chose to live there because they found it more desirable than the places they were from. They learned the ways of the modern world under the (often insufferable) tutelage of the British, and graduated with top marks to become the peers of their teachers. There's a rather breathtaking lack of gratitude in Singapore's leaders ascribing all the positive things about Singapore to their own enlightened leadership, then joining the Egypts and Saudi Arabias in excoriating colonialism. Lee Kwan Yew, the city's patriarch, was an English schoolboy first, then discovered his Chinese identity as an adult. If a person from the Middle East was given to ascribing to colonialism all the troubles of the world, they would not necessarily be a friend or ally of Singapore. Singapore is colonialism, or at least one face of colonialism- a highly distilled essence of the thing itself.

For me, the way in which a state like Singapore infantilizes citizens (described devastatingly above by Ian Buruma) is enough to discredit it is a potential residence. I've got lots of gratuitous opinions, which is why I blog, and I'm also afflicted with the idea that if a million of us are all throwing our ideas around it actually (strangely enough) has a salubrious effect on society as a whole. But I have to admit, many of the people in Singapore don't seem to be put together the way I am, and seem pretty content. So is the Singapore model exportable?

The greatest danger of authoritarian government is the temptation of the oligarchy in charge to use their position to engage in corruption. The primary reason why Singapore has some claim to be taken seriously intellectually is that they've combined an authoritarian government with low levels of corruption. The question for people like Tommy Koh is 'Can you teach governments in the Middle East and Asia how to replicate this, or is the lack of corruption simply a product of social conditions specific to Singapore?' The Singaporean model is clearly widely admired by the leadership of China, and the cult has spread to leaderships in places like Burma and Egypt. Anti-corruption campaigns featuring executions and draconian penalties are a regular feature of life in China, but corruption continues to be a persistent and debilitating problem there. It is corruption in Saudi Arabia that has radicalized their population and sent them to the mosques for lack of any other outlet for their rage. An article in the Atlantic magazine last year documented how, among other abuses, restauranteurs who build up a successful business at a certain location are apt to get a visit from a Saudi prince, who will give them an offer for their restaurant at well below market price. If the offer is not taken, the restaurant starts getting a lot of unwelcome attention from government inspectors of fire regulations and zoning, as well as tax audits and the like. The restaurant doesn't last long. When such behavior becomes pervasive, and there's no political outlet, the link with radical Islamism is clear.

There's a guilty little secret behind the soaring American rhetoric about democracy:if the Singaporeans could really teach the Egyptians and the Saudis some magic formula by which those societies could become prosperous and corruption-free while retaining an authoritarian structure, most of us would heave an enormous sigh of relief, express fulsome thanks to Singapore's leaders and nominate Lee Kwan Yew for the Nobel Peace Prize. When I read Tommy Koh's remark about moderate voices being drowned out, it took me some time to figure out that he was referring to Barak and the Saudi princes. Oh. In Arabia, the principle constituency fighting corruption are the Islamists, who often adhere to a strict ascetic code while trying to deliver the world back to the seventh century. In Egypt there are genuinely progressive voices pressing for change, but many of them are in jail. Those are the moderate voices being drowned out, and Singapore has no intention of engaging with them.

The U.S. no doubt would prefer to see a genuine democracy in Singapore, but in truth, the U.S. is not really leaning very heavily on Singapore to "evolve" faster; but then, Singapore is not spewing terrorists out into the world like a pulsar, either. What makes me suspicious is that I didn't see the word "corruption" appear even once in the Herald Tribune account of this conference. If the formula can't be exported, Singapore is just an anomoly as a non-corrupt authoritarian city-state - one that is enabling and supporting a whole flotilla of authoritarian states that are very corrupt indeed.

Singapore Dream IV

“China's rhetoric about third world solidarity has an almost antiquated ring to it, with quaint echoes of the 1960s that are questionable on at least two grounds. The country is pushing for membership in the club of industrialized countries – the Group of 8 – where it will attend its first summit meeting next month in Scotland as a special invitee. At the same time, China's awesome performance in many basic industries, like textiles, which is achieved in part through overinvestment, comes at the expense of many of the world's poorest countries, which simply cannot compete. So far, the Chinese bargain offered to these countries has been all about natural resources, starting with energy. Search as one might for a broader, more uplifting theme, but the essence of China's approach was best put by the deputy foreign minister, Zhou Wenzhong, when he was asked in an interview last year about how Beijing justifies its position as the biggest foreign investor in Sudanese oil in the midst of an ongoing genocide in that country. 'Business is business,' Zhou shot back."
--Friday's Herald Tribune, “Is See No Evil A Stone in Beijing's Global Path?”

“A Saudi delegate said there was a need for genuinely neutral and disinterested parties to join the quest for peace and called Singapore's effort brave and timely. But an Asian contribution to the single most important conflict confronting the world would require a significant rewiring of the diplomatic grid. China would need to weigh in with its newfound global clout. The United Nations would have to play a bigger role….”
-Michael Vatikiotis, “Why the Middle East is Turning to Asia.”

It's rare that absurd statements made in one article in a paper are so expeditiously rebutted simply by turning the page. The Asian values crowd has decided to join hands with the U.N. and offer their services to help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Shaaban, a former ambassador to Europe and at the United Nations, says a fresh approach to making peace will need to start dealing with the problem without regarding all the players as security risks – without seeing everything through the lense of counterterrorism.” So, the way to bring the Singapore gospel to the Middle East is for Singapore to extend the hand of friendship in speeches, without even addressing the issue of corruption; then, building on that momentum, the way to solve the Middle East crisis is to ignore the terrorism that the unaddressed corruption breeds. And, of course we need to get China more involved in resolving the "world's most important conflict." This would be the China whose entire policy in Africa seems to be predicated on allying itself with governments like those in Sudan and Zimbabwe in order to gain access to energy resources? We can get some idea of the flavor of their neutral and disinterested mediation by examining the work of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which is a virtual Who's Who of China's new friends: in addition to China – Sudan, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Pakistan. Not surprisingly, 26% of this neutral and disinterested commission's condemnations have referred to Israel alone. Sounds like at the U.N., the Asian values crowd has already teamed up with the Middle East to make the world a better place.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Joe Strauss to Joe Six-Pack - New York Times

"The middlebrow impulse in America dates at least to Ralph Waldo Emerson and the belief that how one spends one's leisure time is intensely important. Time spent with consequential art uplifts character, and time spent with dross debases it.
It's true there was a great mood of take-your-vitamins earnestness about the middlebrow enterprise. But it led to high levels of mass cultural literacy, to Great Books volumes on parlor shelves and to a great deal of accessible but reasonably serious work, like Will and Ariel Durant's 'The Story of Civilization.'
Middlebrow culture was killed in the late 50's and 60's, and the mortal blows came from opposite directions. The intellectuals launched assaults on what they took to be middlebrow institutions, attacks that are so vicious they take your breath away. "

The New York Times is planning to make people pay for the op-ed page starting in September, and I'm really going to miss David Brooks. His recent column is on the reduction in circumstances of middlebrow culture these days. Reading the article, I kept thinking about Matthew Arnold. Arnold was a poet, until at some point he realized he was never going to be a truly great poet. From that point on, he wrote literary criticism. He believed that no truly great poetry could be produced except from a generally high level of understanding of and discussion of poetry in the society at large, and henceforth this would be his role. It seems to me that in a field like fiction writing, something like this has happened: writing has lost its hinterlands of middlebrow readers, so that more and more it seems that the only people who read fiction are other writers of fiction. It's hard to produce great artists that way.

The column hit home in another way. Hey, let's be honest - it takes a hundred blogs like this to create the kind of intellectual ferment out of which emerges a single great mainstream journalist like, say, Geraldo Rivera. Lately, I am aware, I've been letting the side down - it's been a sparse ten days. It's mostly a matter of better time-management. There's been a lot of ranting during that time to the effect that "The modern world just isn't made to let people read a book, much less do some writing!" This is true. The modern world has promised to make my views under consideration and it will try to do better in the future.

May Chin Attacks I

The Japanese treated aborigines as subhumans, the lawmaker said. "We were victims," she pointed out, "how could we tolerate the victims being honored together with their persecutors?"

I once had a non-salacious proposition for a close female friend, back in college days: "Okay, there's an angel, see, comes down from heaven and has a proposition for you: You can go down to Wrigley Field on a Sunday and have the entire three hours of the game to wander through the crowd – tens of thousands of handsome strangers sweating and cheering –and you're told by the angel that at the end of those three hours you can choose any one person from the crowd who will magically be made to fall in love with you and be willing to marry you on the spot. The only catch is, you must choose someone- a stranger whom you've only observed briefly - and you must get married to that person. Would you take the angel up on it?” She immediately said "No way", whereas I was, like, "DUDE, bring on the angel!”She then said, a bit too wearily, "Yeah, I know. I think most guys would say that. It's a fundamental gender difference.”I think of that conversation when I see aboriginal legislator and former actress May Chin (高金素美) in the news again. This is a woman of whom I can honestly say that, upon seeing her in "The Wedding Banquet", I would have been ready to make a life-long commitment then and there. All I can say is that every day's news brings home to me what a fool I would have been. And still, I have to say, at a convention of fools, she'd be the one that turned my head and made me nudge my buddies -“Damn, did you see that,bud? That was one good-lookin' fool!”

To generalize about the political inclinations of Aborigines on the island is tricky business, but it's probably not inaccurate to say that while there are plenty of exceptions, Aboriginals do seem to tend toward the pan-Blue KMT camp. As far as I can figure, this seems to be on account of the "the enemy of enemy is my friend" school of politics. The Japanese encountered resistance from both Aboriginals and Hokkenese on arrival in 1895, and dealt with both communities with the efficiency and ruthlessness characteristic of the Japanese government of the time. But Taiwanese seem to have learned to work – sometimes uneasily – with the occupiers, while the Aboriginals maintained a largely rejectionist posture.

When the KMT came along in the late forties, many Taiwanese had feelings of nostalgia for the Japanese reinforced as they realized that the Mainlanders were a rough and untutored bunch from a society that was at a distinctly lower stage of development than Taiwan. The 2-28 incident and the White Terror alienated Taiwanese further. Mainland soldiers often found it difficult to find Taiwanese brides, and a large number of them seem to have taken Aboriginals for wives (including May Chin's father). Perhaps the Aborigines thought that they could play the role minorities in so many colonized countries have played - the field bosses lording it over an oppressed native population. It didn't turn out that way for them. The loyalty the Aboriginals have shown to the KMT over decades of martial law has mostly gone unreciprocated. It doesn't seem to have improved their economic situation at all, for whatever reason, while the Taiwanese landed quite nimbly on their feet.

May Chin Attacks II

Our friends at Zmagazine have an article on the earliest conflict between the aborigines and Japanese, the Mudan incident, proving that Zmag can be perfectly reasonable and informative as long as the subject doesn't involve the U.S. Mudan is located in Pingtung County, on the road cutting east from Che Cheng, and is near and dear to my heart. It's one of my favorite places to cruise on the scooter, and you can pull up in Shi Men, the main village, around dinner time in the summer and play volleyball with some of the friendliest people you will ever meet until the sun goes down. I have lots of friends there, as well as a former girlfriend.

She used to tell me about her grandfather. He was a chief, and one of the fiercest of the fighters against the Japanese. As the Japanese gradually got the upper hand, he was forced to take refuge up in the mountains with even less domesticated Paiwans. As a result, although their chiefs usually do not hunt, the grandfather became that rare anomaly – a chief who was well-versed in all aspects of survival in the mountains. After some years, he was allowed to come down into the village, and even was drafted into the Japanese army. For the rest of his life, she said, he would periodically get the itch and disappear into the mountains for weeks, living the old way, hunting by day, sleeping in trees at night. Later- an image that makes me think of Ike McCaslin in Faulkner's story "The Bear" - when he got old, he would just go and sleep in the tree outside their house - among the last custodians of a consciousness that was attenuating and disappearing forever. In a strange twist suggesting that there were complicated feelings unhinted at by someone like May Chin, my friend said that in his old age he used have a drink or two, dress up in his old Japanese uniform and march up and down the street, with the kids of the village trailing merrily behind him trying to march in time.

An editorial in the Taipei Times, which for some reason can't be gotten online, made some excellent points:

“May Chin's visit to Japan is controversial in Taiwan because everyone knows she is simply a pro-unification politician who often hides beneath the cloak of her Aboriginal status. Since May Chin's father is a Mainlander, it's not surprising that she never fails to echo the pan-blue camp's political arguments, but she does this as though she is representing the Aboriginal community….The absurdity of the situation is that many Aborigines are unaware that their ethnic identity is in danger of being usurped. For example, the Paiwan and Rukai tribes in Pingtung take the hundred-pace snake as their totem. The offspring of Mainlander veterans often opt for Aboriginal status, but when they return home for tribal festivals, the hundred-pace snake has been replaced with the Chinese dragon in their ceremonial regalia. This makes us think of Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan's recent remark that Shanghai women should marry foreigners to help spread Chinese culture around the world. That Chinese are able to advocate interracial marriage as a tool of cultural conquest is really quite frightening.”

In America, when Big Business wants to push through legislation favorable to themselves, they know they really can't lobby for the legislation on those terms, since Big Business has some image problems. The solution to the problem is so-called "white hat" lobbyists –fronting the lobbying effort with groups that are more palatable. Small business owners paraded in to testify on behalf of legislation that primarily benefits large businesses are a common form of"white hat"lobbyist. The drama queen in May Chin, of course, finds irresistable the colorful costumes and opportunity to invoke the perennial cry of victimhood. Opportunities to dress up and give speeches through a bullhorn, tears running down face, voice cracking with indignation, are not to be passed up. Transparently, this classic"white hat" imagery is being put in the service of the political residue of one of the nastiest martial law regimes of the post-war era.

I want a divorce. But that Parminder Nagra - the one in“Bend It Like Beckham"? Do I hear wedding bells? In a second, dude, a millisecond. Let it not be said of me that I'm afraid of commitment to women I have never met.

May Chin Attacks III

The Japan War-Bereaved Families Association is a powerful vote-gathering machine of the LDP. Traditionally, it has campaigned for state protection of the shrine and urged successive prime ministers to pay homage to the shrine in their official capacity. Koizumi admitted that during the LDP presidential election campaign four years ago, he asked senior members of the association for their support on condition that he would visit the shrine. But now, the association's head has urged Koizumi to refrain from visiting the shrine.

The Japanese Asahi Shimbun injects a note of reasonableness that is rare in these precincts lately in an editorial. They take note of the likelihood that at least some of those upset about the visits are not manipulating the issue cynically for political gain. The organization representing the dead soldiers, after initially getting a commitment from the Prime Minister to visit the shrine, has released him from the pledge. The possibility is being discussed of a new shrine being built that would avoid the loaded issue of the class A war criminals buried at Yasukuni. One feels on entering into this editorial: this is the way people in liberal societies go about the process of resolving difficult issues. It is a world away from the machinations of May Chin, a legislator who represents only a portion of the aboriginal community in Taiwan, but purports to speak for them all; who disdains going through the Taiwanese governmental department designated to represent that community's issues in negotiations with foreign governments; who stages a loud, emotional demonstration in another country; then accuses the Taiwan government of not backing her up.

It puts me in mind of another demonstration held recently by yet another old line KMT constituency: teachers, specifically intern teachers. Historically, teaching has been a classic government "iron rice bowl" profession, with the KMT requiring most teachers to be politically loyal in return for lifetime job security. The DPP has been trying to rationalize and mainstream the profession, getting them to accommodate the dramatically falling birth rates on the island and, who knows, maybe one day getting them to pay taxes like everyone else. The former policies assured the loyalty to the KMT from the older cohort; the latter policies seem to be doing a good job of alienating the teacher interns. Me, I believe in public schools. I'm mostly a free markets kind of guy, but I tend to make an exception for education and health care, which I believe help knit a society together. Reasonable people can disagree about whether the DPP reforms are being implemented properly or not. What I would insist on is that the goal of the public education system is to provide education to the island's children,not to be a jobs program. The people demonstrating need to make their case on those terms – how is giving them jobs going to make the system better at acheiving its goal? What I saw were an awful lot of signs saying that the government is spending so much money on the military and they should be spending that money on education instead. Well, the government is not spending a great deal of money on defense, considering the threat to Taiwan - only the KMT views the government as a defense spendthrift. This line of reasoning only reinforces the suspicion that this is just another KMT constituency digging in its heels against the evolution of the society away from the old single party, machine politics and patronage days. At the very least – bad P.R. move, guys.

It's sad to see some aboriginal leaders trying to hold their constituents in the old dependent relationship with the KMT. Did all those decades of condescending Confucian patriarchalism really benefit their community? The DPP may pay them the respect of challenging them - in somewhat the way Clinton challenged America's poor with his welfare reform - to join the modern world. It shouldn't follow automatically that Chen's party is their enemy. As for the future, as the KMT cozies up to the CCP, they might ask themselves: "Is life for the poor, minorities and labor likely to get better if unification comes about?"

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Crime Over Courage In Iraq

"Sordid details of thugs and kidnappers such as these cannot compete with the romantic images of Iraqi 'insurgents' taking desperate measures in desperate times, so don't expect to see Hayssam's story on the evening news here or on al-Jazeera's Arabic broadcasts."

An excellent examination of the people Michael Moore has described as modern-day Minutemen in today's Washington Post by Jim Hoagland. I can't imagine why, but George Galloway also came to mind as I was reading.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Early 70's Nostlagia Time

I don't have any real deep thoughts to add to the revelation that Mark Felt, FBI Hoover loyalist, was the storied Deep Throat of the Watergate era. Nixon was a politico who, in the espionage unsavvy world of politicians, fashioned himself as a kind of worldly Big Fish dirty trickster in a pond full of Small Fish dirty tricksters. His problem was a bit reminiscent of a cliched scene from a dozen gangster movies: a thug tells the respectable citizen who'd always idolized gangsters and finally kills somebody "Now you've crossed the line. Now you're one of us, and we'll see how you do." Nixon played the tough guy who knew all the angles at the expense of people like Helen Gahagan Douglas for so many years that he seems to have convinced himself that he was a real graduate of spook culture, out of the Wild Bill Donovan School that so many tough guy wannabe's of his generation idolized. When Hoover died, he took on the Hoover loyalists at the FBI and, despite the huge institutional advantage of the presidency, they outspied him, outleaked him, out dirty-tricked him. He didn't (and doesn't) get the sympathy other politicians might, precisely because he'd eroded the fire-wall between politicians and sleuths that ultimately protects politicians. He was one of them now. Playing against the big boys.

Of course the Hoover loyalists were, if anything, an even nastier bunch. These are the people who taped Martin Luther King cheating on his wife, then threw a brick with the tape onto his front porch to try to get him to stop marching. Their fingerprints are all over the Malcom X murder. Elijah Muhammad's people were the ones looking for Malcolm to kill him, but no matter how much Malcolm tried to hide, they always seemed to know where he was, which was way beyond their espionage resources. It was Hoover with whom Robert Kennedy had to battle over the priorities of the FBI and the Justice Department. Hoover insisted on beating the dead horse of anti-Communist subversion, even as Kennedy made a credible case that the threat of organized crime was far more pressing. This is why Kennedy ultimately had to form his Justice Department team against organized crime outside the Bureau. Taylor Branch wrote in "Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years": "Like the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, the FBI's clandestine political arm (called COINTELPRO for 'counterintelligence program') adopted the premise that the civil rights movement was a disguised arm of Communist conspiracy. COINTELPRO grew into active use just as the actual threat of Cold War subversion diminished, expanding into new territory against the connective alliances of the civil rights movement." Nixon was completely correct in wanting to break the grip of the Hooverites on the Bureau. In a lot of ways, they remind one of the KMT old guard. He just didn't realize that he wasn't positioned to do so, which is the kind of thing politicians have to know. In the end, Nixon had to resign, the Hoover loyalists were brought to heel, and people like Mark Felt were convicted in court for at least a bit of their illegal wiretapping. Mostly, the system worked, but it was a rough ride.

Mostly, the re-emergence of the Watergate story evoked a wave of nostlagia for me, on account of my having been raised in Washington and, at twelve in 1972, just at the age of starting to read newspapers just as that story hit big. Of course, my family didn't get the Post, much as I'd like to report that the earliest stories I read were the Woodward and Bernstein classics. No, we were loyalists of the Washington Star, the Republican-leaning paper delivered in the evening. The Star was the older and more established paper, but evening papers were going the way of the dodo, and the Star, alas, failed to adapt. It was a great writer's paper, though, and a far more worthy counterpoint to the Post in the nation's capital than today's Washington Times.

It's remarkable how evocative these old pictures can be of a certain time and place. The hairstyles, the Never-Wear-Cotton sartorial preferences, and the before-the-deluge whiteness of the world in these photos all amaze me: "I was there!" More than any of the specifics, the very texture of life that comes through the photos is recognizable to me as from the stage of development when one has first arrived at the "age of reason", but the mind still retains much of the pliancy and retention of childhood. I don't mind confessing to a bit of pride at having made the long and far journey from there to here, with enough energy left intact so that- even if I don't have quite the horsepower I used to- like Curious George, you probably don't want to leave me unattended for too long.

My dad was a civil servant in the State Department, part of the security detail for the Secretary of State. He served as a bodyguard for both Dean Rusk and William Rogers, but he said Rogers was a cold fish. Rusk he worshipped. Rusk, a protege of George Marshall, was for my father everything a statesman and a man should be. Nothing I've read about Rusk in subsequent years has lead me to believe otherwise. On winter nights, in those sleepy days before Munich woke everybody up, my dad would take a blanket and a thermos to work the midnight shift. Mrs. Rusk would bring hot drinks out to him. Among my childhood brushes with great power, I can boast of having been taken in one night to see the desk of the Secretary; we also had a weekend at Camp David, as a treat to State Department staffers. It was puzzling to me why it was so terribly important to my parents that I play nicely with a particular little boy, but it was the only son of the Camp Commandant and apparently it was a rare thing for him to have a child his own age to play with.

The Watergate stuff made me nostalgic about my teacher, Willie Studevent. I was in sixth grade that year, and I'd accumulated a singularly colorful rap sheet in the previous five years as a hell-raiser and tantrum thrower. Of a staff of about twenty at our suburban school, Willie was one of only two black teachers (the other a woman), and one of only two male teachers. He was the only teacher who sat with the kids and ate with us at lunch. He told us "They just sit in there and talk about you guys every afternoon and I don't want to hear it. When kids come into my class in September I want to form my own impressions." He had a highly ritualized way of eating - just so many chews on one side of the mouth and just so many on the other - and he shared that with us, too. When he fought with his wife on the weekend, we heard all about it on Monday morning. Called us all by our last names, which was a new one on us - "Get your anatomy over here, Carlton!", he'd bellow at demure Jenny Carlton, who'd never in her life been called anything but Jenny, much less had reference made to her anatomy. But his language was infectious. You'd hear kids out on the playground yelling "Don't give me any of that shuckin' and jivin', Davis. Throw me the ball!"

Willie went to the same college in North Carolina as Earl Monroe - I think it was Winston-Salem College - and used to hang with the Pearl back in the day. He told how he stood by the tunnel one day after a Bullets game and extended his hand and said "Hey, Earl, it's me Willie Studevent!" and the Pearl just kept on going without a glance. He misted up when he told us that and I thought he was going to lose it, but that's the way it was with Willie - he shared everything with his class, uncensored and unguarded. Willie was on the football team and told us apochryphal stories about how, for instance, his coach made them not take a bath for a week before a big game they were underdogs in, and they stunk so bad they won going away. We believed every word - the boys, at least. Forced us to diagram sentences on the board, old school. When a whole world of fathers were commuting in to town, Willie was commuting the other way every day, and I don't think the teachers in that school ever really recovered. His protection was the white male principal of the school, who loved him. When that principal died in a car crash a couple of years later, Willie was toast. They wanted diversification, and that's what they got - and most of them didn't handle it very well at all.

That was a year of great opening up for me. I started reading the paper. Willie said he always started with the back of the paper, because the editorials was where all the action was. I still read the paper that way today. He'd tell us "J. Edgar Hoover's got files on every one of those senators and congressmen. The president, too. He knows every one who stepped out, who with, and when they did it. He sends them a letter telling them that in the course of routine surveillance his agents inadvertantly came across this image of the senator with his secretary. He tells them as a friend that they need to be more discreet, because the papers might get wind of it. Then they know Hoover's got the goods on them." Nobody'd talked to us like that before - like we were equals, who should know what was really going on. I didn't read the original Woodstein articles, but I know Willie did and, believe me, we got the synopsis and the free editorials for no extra charge on a regular basis. Circa-1972 blogging, and it was like a spoonful of wasabe shooting up my nose and into my brain and it woke up things there that haven't been able to be put back to sleep ever since.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Chinese Students' Top Ten Heroes


In a poll of Chinese Junior High students' Top Ten Heroes", Mao Ze Dong won first place. "Parents" were in second place. Of course it was Mao who told children to inform on their parents, and parade their elders about in the "airplane" posture. Good to see Chinese young people are still putting the Chairman first, in front of their parents. Parents were followed by Zhou En-lai, who used all his ormidable skills to try to mitigate the effects of Mao's madness. Third for him. Fourth place went to Cultural Revolution-era "model worker" Lei Feng. (I'm not sure if it was Lei Feng or some other model worker who, when the cement mixer down at the plant broke down, jumped into the vat of wet cement and began to flail around wildly in order to mix the cement. I love that story.) In fifth place, and the first contemporary - the first mortal, really - was Olympic hurdler Liu Hsiang. Sixth place was 成龍 himself, Jackie Chan.

Liu Hsiang, who seems like a nice young man, was interviewed for the article, and is quoted above. He says "Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou go without saying. They are both our Party's and our country's leaders. I have revered them as well my whole life." I think it's notable what an enormous shadow the Cultural Revolution still casts over this country, even over those who were too young to experience it. And because people's access to information about it has been managed and politicized by the CCP we can see the warping effect in that two of the three "heroes" exemplify the idea that this was a great and glorious time in Chinese history. The Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward are huge, undigested chunks of experience that this traumatized society is far from having digested.

"Liu Hsiang said 'As for Lei Feng, I have to admit I wouldn't have expected him to make the list. I would have expected today's Junior High students to have forgotten him. I think it's great, though. Whether it's today or in the future, we all need more of the Lei Feng spirit'....Brother Chan's inclusion also elucidates a problem: It seems to me that in the past a movie star could never have been included in the top ten list, but Brother Chan's movies have become all the rage. His movies exhibit the elegant bearing and panache of the Chinese. Actually, I think this is a great thing."

Jackie ("Taiwan's election was a joke") Chan is rapidly becoming the poster boy for the CCP's New China. Lyndon Johnson famously commented that he sometimes wondered if Gerald Ford hadn't played a few too many football games without his helmet on, and I'm beginning to wonder if Jackie hasn't done his own stunts a few too many times. We know what Jackie thinks because he has unfettered access to the media, but Zhao Ziyang, even posthumously, seems to be having a harder time getting his views on democracy out. Jackie's embrace of Chinese nationalism is a good career move, but the career of Ching Cheong, the Singaporean journalist who wanted to let Chinese young people read the words of Zhang, seems to stalled. As for Chan's native Hong Kong, I wonder if he thinks
their elections are a joke? I haven't seem him comment on it, but we can surmise that Jackie's not going to be making any bad career moves any time soon.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

KMT Land I

Bait them with the prospect of gain, bewilder and mystify them
Use anger to disrupt them, humility to make them arrogant
Tire them by running away, cause them to quarrel among themselves.
Attack them when they do not expect it, when they are least prepared
Be so subtle that you are invisible.
Be so mysterious thaat you are intangible.
Then you will control your rival's fate.
Use espionage and mystification in every enterprise.
All life is based on deception.

I've never really had much patience for the Sun-Tzu cult. I'm sure he's worth reading as an academic pursuit, on account of his having influenced countless generations of Chinese imperial courtiers and emperors,the same way you could spend your time reading through the works of Ptolemy because the idea that the planets revolve around the sun held sway for 1,500 years. Most people who passionately recommend that I read Sun-Tzu assure me his thinking is of blinding relevance to navigating the modern world. I remain a sceptic. One of the secrets of the success of the Western financial system that ultimately became the international system is that, whereas many business deals in the past had to be done based on trust,or faith, today there are elaborate and rather effective mechanisms to detect liars and cheaters. There's still a fair amount of the old school kind of trust-building around today, of course. Let's just say that if I were at a KTV doing the kind of trust-building socializing businessmen do, if my counterpart were to tell me he was a big fan of Sun-Tzu he would not be moving closer to sealing the deal. Most people who are convinced they are far more subtle, facile and clever than those around them are just frauds, usually shielded by privilege of one kind or another, with limited awareness of how transparent they are to others. In egalitarian situations, people get disabused pretty quickly of the conceit that they're masters of deception.

For people who've been vacationing on Mars, the KMT, as political parties are wont to do, has been trying to have a primary election to determine the next party chairman. Lien is the incumbent, having served as losing candidate for the party in two general elections. Now, flush from his handshake with Hu Jin-tao, he's back to preside over the ascension of a new generation of KMT leaders, with Ma Ying-jeou and Wang Jin-ping as contenders. Straightforward enough – for most parties. But the Kuo Min Tang is not most parties. There's an enormous weight of history, thousands of years deep, of mostly unedifying precedents imported from across the Straits, that keeps this party awake late into the night howling at the moon. The KMT's Old World is a world of imperial palace court intrigues, of thick-face-black-heartery, of feints and deceptions and an understanding of transitional politics as a show performed on a stage while knives are quietly unsheathed backstage. So it appears that, no, the KMT is not yet ready to conduct a normal democratic party primary.

For weeks, getting any sense of what was going on from news reports was like the old profession of kremlinology. The papers announced that Lien had said he was not going to run. He was going to hold a press conference in which he would announce his plans, and when it was held he informed the world that he did not intend to run for party chair. He sent a KMT spokesman out to say "Candidates should state clearly how they would like to lead the party, as well as the future development of it." Okay. Straightforwardness and clarity- good things. Lien then said – again- that he was not running. Hmm. "I'm not interested in joining the race," he reiterated on May 25. Okay. Godspeed to ya on yer way to the pantheon of whatever, oh noble knight! Good-bye. Good-bye. Wang Jin-ping offered that if Lien did run- which of course he had no intention of doing- he (Wang) would renounce his candidacy in deference to Lien, "to avoid splitting the party." When asked by the press if he, too, would fall on his sword, Ma made it clear that he intended to forgo that option and he would run for the position of KMT party chair. Full stop. Which part of I-intend-to-run don't you understand?

KMT leaders (Lien loyalists) announced a debate format that consisted of a thirty minute "report" by each of the candidates, followed by a question-and-answer session in which members of the Standing Committee (read Lien loyalists) would ask the questions. Enigmatically, so subtle that he was invisible, a black-clad ninja shadow on the rooftop, Lien stated once more for the record "I'm not interested in joining the chairmanship race.” But wait - a twist! (That Volkov – wasn't he third from the right of Stalin on last year's May Day viewing platform? And now, he's fifth from the right? What could it possibly mean?) Lien added "There is room for discussion if people still harbor doubts about he candidates" after the "debates". "The reports," the Taipei Times reported, "were arranged based on a proposal by KMT Chairman Lien Chan, who reiterated on Wednesday that he had no interest in seeking re-election."


Meanwhile, a KMT legislator, one Wu Den-yi, also reiterated that Lien had no interest in seeking re-election, suggesting that there was no implied disloyalty to Lien in Ma's running. "Arriving at KMT headquarters yesterday, Lien was tight-lipped when asked to comment on Wu's remark," the Times reported (wasn't Karamovski wearing a hat last year? Why isn't he wearing a hat?) "Wu also said that Lien had told him personally that he would not seek another term as party chairman." But then there were media reports that Lien (so mysterious that he was intangible) had called Wu in and rebuked him for saying these things. This was not denied by the KMT. "Commenting on the report, KMT spokewoman Cheng Li-wen said Lien made the move because he did not want the public to think he is siding with either Wang or Ma in the race." Huh? Wang gave further credibility to the idea that rebuking Wu was in the name of impartiality by enthusiastically endorsing it.

"But Wang also repeated his commitment that if Lien decided to seek another term he would quit the race for the chairmanship. 'We should allow Mr. Lien to think about this and make his own mind up,' he said. Wang also said that he could not understand why a senior party member (Wu) had accused party leaders of impeding democratic reform within the party. 'The spirit of democracy is diversity. If someone has made such an accusation he has probably failed to comprehend the spirit of democracy,' he said. Got that? Diversity is the spirit of democracy, which is why if the incumbent lets it be known through winks and nods that he wishes to run again, all other candidates should voluntarily remove themselves from the race and allow him to run unopposed.

The effect of Ma's not removing himself from the race has been to flush to the surface the palace intriguers; at least some of the palace intriguers. Lien continues to be subtle as the wind, a spectre moving in the twilight. But 22 members of the party's Central Committee (would this be the same "impartial" Central Committee that Lien designated to shoot impartial questions at the candidates in the format he insisted on instead of a normal debate format?) signed a petition "begging" him to serve another term. Then a group of elderly supporters with the words "support Lien to save the nation" on their caps got down on their knees to dramatize the request. Ma's father,Ma Ho Ling, an old KMT warhorse whose connections gave Ma his start in the KMT so many years ago, weighed in with the opinion that his son should not run if Lien wished to run. Then, as if to underline that we are not dealing with people here who have the slightest inkling of what democratic, modern societies are about, he offered helpfully that he would consider killing himself if his son did not withdraw. Now, my first thought on hearing this was that we may be dealing with an Alzheimer's patient here. The truly scary thing is that, on closer inspection, this does not appear to be the case. Ma Ho Ling appears to be, in the medical if not the colloquial sense, entirely in his right mind. He's just, like so many of the KMT old guard, from another time, another world altogether. As I was beginning this essay, I was watching on the news a Taipei City Councilwoman named Lu roundly lighting into Ma for his lack of filial piety and for not caring whether his father lived or died. Ma, deadpan, kept replying throughout the tirade "Thank you. Thank you for your concern. My whole family thanks you for your concern about my father's well-being." Ma's sister later showed up at one of his campaign events to make clear that he was by no means isolated within his family. Amazing.


A Taipei Times article says what needs to be said: "Similar charades from imperial times can be read in history textbooks. After a power struggle the victor would say that 'The support of so many people left him no choice but to take the throne.' It was a hackneyed ploy even back then, but Lien has never been one to avoid a cliché. It is time to say enough is enough and put an end to this soap opera, this comedy of horrors. By putting on such an outmoded spectacle, the KMT has once again demonstrated that it is out of touch with reality and with the democratic era." The Times's editorial on the most recent developments can be found here.

Credit does need to be given to Ma, however. The rap on him has always been that he was a bit to soft to be an effective administrator, too soft and deferential to the elders to represent a new generation of leadership for the KMT. He is fighting the good fight now, though. Taiwan does need a credible, modern opposition to the DPP to continue to develop democratically. The question is whether what Ma's fighting to save is worth saving. The constituency will still be there and will reform under some new banner, with the influence ofthe Old Guard vastly reduced. The KMT, with its vast, ill-gotten wealth acquired during the martial law era, and its control of a media empire, may not be worth saving.

The two most important cross-currents in Taiwan political life are: attitudes towards cross-straits relations and attitudes toward democratization. Of all the main players in Taiwan politics, Ma is unique in the degree to which he's wind-sheared by these two currents. Brought up by a father with a characteristically feudal way of thinking, he was then sent to Harvard Law School. He conducts himself as a man who understands and respects democratic processes, yet he believes, against all evidence, that Beijing would genuinely honor a one country, two-systems arrangement. He also believed in the KMT Old Guard. It's easy to jeer now that the incompatibility of these ideas is being brought home to him by his own father. But we might remember that Ma had another mentor/father-figure, Chiang Ching-kuo. Chiang was a classic henchman of the party through the darkest years of the White Terror period, but I believe he also did more to break the momentum of the authoritarian state in the last years of his life than any other figure. The late life evolution of Ching-kuo into a proto-democrat is one of the most implausible turn-abouts in Taiwan history and also one of Ma's most important early formative experiences. He'll wait a long time and cut an increasingly plaintive figure waiting for the others in Chiang's cohort to grow and evolve similarly, but he seems to be sincere.

An article from the Chinese-language Dong Lin News Service (which I apologize, I lost the link to) made a number of good points. First, Ma could probably not win a general election without the endorsement of Lien Chan, so he is in a very delicate position. On the other hand, what level of support could possibly be expected from people like Wu Den-ying if Lien were to actually run for a third time? We saw in the days following the visits to Hu Jin-tao that there was a crisis of limited duration and intensity for Chen Shui-bian in the wake of those visits. What we are seeing now is that the implications for the KMT are far more ominous, and the crisis deeper. The Dong Lin article concludes:

“Wang Jin-ping has also received a severe blow to his reputation. He has not had the ability to steer his own course in the wake of the meetings of Lien and Song with Hu Jin-tao. Ma has also had to struggle to find a viable path in the wake of the meetings. An example of the kind of dilemma that could become routine for the party in the wake of the rapprochement with the communists will come on June 4. Will Ma attend the commemorations of the Tian An Men massacre on that date, as he has every year previously, or will he not risk offending his party's new allies and stay away? The tectonic plates are shifting under the feet of the KMT, having received the kiss of death from Hu. Who would have thought that the fate of the KMT would rest in the hands of the Communist Party? It begins to appear as if the imprecation of Hsu Hsin Liang, uttered so many years ago, could turn out to be prophecy: “Let the Kuo Min Tang vanish from the face of the earth.”

Friday, May 27, 2005

Congressional Daydream

"In a frosty exchange, NBA Commissioner David Stern bristled at a suggestion from Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) that last fall's brawl between Indiana Pacer Ron Artest and Detroit Piston fans should have triggered a test for steroids, which Lynch said are known to cause aggressive behavior."

Is it just me, or does it seem that the more off the wall the U.S. Congress gets on things like filibusters and end-of-life plug -pulling cases, the more they seem to be spending time on lecturing professional sports on the subject of steroids. In an interesting juxtaposition, last week a certain Mr. George Galloway visited the Senate from across the pond, which you may have heard about. Now Galloway appears to be a truly odious fellow, who's been in a particularly sour mood since the prospect of being held accountable as an enthusiastic supporter of Saddam Hussein has loomed. But that's not what I wanted to talk about, either. (What, you're in a hurry?) What's interesting is that virtually everybody, including people who consider Galloway untouchable without long tongs, agreed that Galloway slapped off their baseball caps and stole their lunch money in the joust, and everybody seemed to take pleasure in the spectacle. Characteristic was this passage from Christopher Hitchens:

In a small way--an exceedingly small way--this had the paradoxical effect of making me proud to be British. Parliament trains its sons in a hard school of debate and unscripted exchange, and so does the British Labour movement. You get your retaliation in first, you rise to a point of order, you heckle and you watch out for hecklers. The torpid majesty of a Senate proceeding does nothing to prepare you for a Galloway, who is in addition a man without embarrassment who has stayed just on the right side of many inquiries into his character and his accounting methods.

As it happened this morning I was all out of coffee and in need of something to get my capillaries open and my blood pumping, and I started to conjure this day-dream in which Ron Artest is being grilled by Rep. Lynch's committee, only now he is standing up, having had quite enough. Pointing a finger, he bellows "You have accused me of taking steroids without a shred of evidence in the most public of forums, Representative Lynch. You, sir, are a liar - and we've seen a lot more evidence here for that charge than you've ever presented to support your charges against me. As for the rest of you, you summon me here to testify,and smear up my name by doing so, just like you did when you brought Raf Palmeiro here, but you don't even have the cojones to admit what you're doing. You're not even made of the stuff to be principled, straightforward liars, like Mr. Lynch here.

I want to say emphatically for the public record that I have never taken steroids, and that I believe taking steroids is wrong because it is cheating. But I want to say one more thing" - and at this point, improbably, Ron Artest begins speaking in a booming, righteous, thespian Scottish brogue - "I recently did a bit of research on you fellows while you were so assiduously researching us. Did you know -but I bet you did - that in the 2002 elections, 96% of incumbents in this body won re-election? 96%! That in '98 and 2000 the number was 99%? Were you aware - but I bet you were - that in 2002, the average winning share of the vote was 68%? What a terribly popular group we are! No, no, Mr. Chairman, I'm not ready to sit down yet. I'm not finished.

And what I'd like to say is that what you are doing is wrong, and harmful to the nation. It is wrong for the same reason that taking steroids is wrong. GERRYMANDERING IS WRONG BECAUSE IT IS CHEATING,LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! And the only reason why gerrymandering is legal and steroids are illegal is that people like you use the former form of cheating and some people like me use the latter. Now, what I do for a living is not as important as what you do, but I'm proud to be a member of the NBA. A lot of people who are smarter than you or me both say that we do what we do a good deal better than you in Congress do what you do. I'm proud to be part of a genuine meritocracy. Truth is, if I had only a 2 or 3 percent chance of losing every time I took the floor, it could only be because the game was rigged, and pretty soon I'd be a fat and flabby and gassed out basketball player. Then there'd have to be a congressional investigation. And now, Mr. Chairman, I will sit down and you may speak."

That was my daydream as I was shaving today. Almost cut myself.