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.