Monday, September 29, 2008

The New Imperialists?

Provocative, disturbing article on China's investments in Africa. The title of author Peter Hitchens' piece: "How China Has Created a New Slave Empire in Africa."

Obviously you are not going to find a lot of positives here.

After recounting an incident in which he and his companions were nearly killed, Hitchens sums the up Chinese presence in Africa:
Out of desperation, much of the continent is selling itself into a new era of corruption and virtual slavery as China seeks to buy up all the metals, minerals and oil she can lay her hands on: copper for electric and telephone cables, cobalt for mobile phones and jet engines - the basic raw materials of modern life.

It is crude rapacity, but to Africans and many of their leaders it is better than the alternative, which is slow starvation.
One of more interesting points raised is Chinese attitudes towards worker safety and how these have carried over to their activities in Africa:
Denis Lukwesa, deputy general secretary of the Zambian Mineworkers' Union, also backed up Sata's view, saying: 'They just don't understand about safety. They are more interested in profit.'...
Hitchens quotes a Zambian worker who collected the remains of workers who died in an explosion at a Chinese-run mine:
'A Chinese supervisor said to me in broken English, "In China, 5,000 people die, and there is nothing. In Zambia, 50 people die and everyone is weeping." To them, 50 people are nothing.'
It's telling that Chinese workers are treated hardly better than the Africans (in fact the article speculates that many Chinese laborers in Africa are convicts off-loaded from China's vast penal system) — suggesting that the problem here is not so much Chinese attitudes towards Africans, but Chinese attitudes towards themselves.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Milk Scandal Satire

If you're not familiar with the fenqing "angry youth" strain of Chinese nationalism, you may not find this pitch-perfect parody as funny as I did. But here's a sample from a post at, thanks to China Digital Times:
Don’t forget the fact that the milk powder industry has developed for hundreds of years in other countries but for only a few decades in China. Chinese-made milk powder has made progress in recent years. Don’t expect to achieve perfection in one step. Untainted production systems can only be achieved gradually. Only a gradual process can serve China’s unique characteristics.

Boycotting or confronting Sanlu will only complicate the problem. We should take the approach of dialogue, taking time to communicate while drinking Sanlu milk powder. Only stability can ensure the development of the milk powder production. If we bankrupt Sanlu, China’s milk powder market will go into chaos, and Western milk powder will have a chance to take over China’s market.

As we can see from the history of the development of other countries’ milk powder industries, without exception there has got to be a gradual purification process to decontaminate tainted milk powder. It is the conspiracy of the west to indoctrinate Chinese to drink untainted milk powder form youth in order to destroy China’s milk powder industries. China’s milk powder industries are still very feeble, and the decontamination should still take a long time. If we adopt Western standards, every year, even the recall of 7000 tons of tainted milk powder won’t suffice; can the Chinese milk powder industry still have a chance to grow strong?

Chinese should have a long-term perspective and first drink tainted milk powder for another few decades sacrificing one or two generations; after Sanlu later promptly becomes strong so that it can compete with western production, then we can start to produce infants untainted milk powder step by step, given the assumption that there still remain some infants at that time.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Modest Proposal

This article on the Chinese baby formula scandal by a well-known Shanghai TV host really cracked me up:
I have been asking myself the following questions: Why did it happen? Why did so many brand-name companies disregard the health and lives of infants? How could their products pass quality inspections, and why was it that some of them were even given inspection-free status by government agencies? ...

...I’m sure the scandal would not have happened if government officials inspected baby formula as strictly as they inspect films.

Not a single film in China has been given an “inspection-free” status. Film directors are treated equally regardless of whether they are internationally renowned or if they’re just starting their career. Even films from top-notch directors are trimmed, revised, or pulled from distribution completely if there are any problems.

Censoring a film starts with inspecting its script. The government prohibits any changes to be made to the original script and inspects each step of the film’s production. Do officials do similar things with dairy products? Do they check our milk supply? A film would be revised again and again until it satisfies the censors. As for milk powder, there is an inspection-free policy which allows unqualified products to be sold directly to consumers. By contrast, there is a strict film recall system. Take the film Apple(苹果) as an example, it was pulled from all movie theaters across the country as soon as officials detected something wrong with it, and subsequently the company that produced the film had its license revoked. However, the dairy product company Sanlu still holds a production license even after the damage it’s caused.
You gotta love the way this guy takes the government's own logic and turns it on its head.

There's more at China Digital Times. Check it out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Idiocracy" — Satire or Prescient Documentary?

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of working on Mike Judge's film, "Idiocracy." It's easy to have missed this film, because like "Office Space," it was unceremoniously dumped by the studio. So here's the basic premise: totally average guy is put in suspended animation, wakes up hundreds of years in the future, where the stupid people people have out-bred the smart ones, and society is so dumbed down that the number one TV show is something called, "Oww! My Balls!"

The hit film is "Ass."

I won't say that "Idiocracy" is without flaws, but it's pretty damn funny (I am particularly fond of the Extreme Court and the Fox News take-off).

Here's the thing: I'm having trouble distinguishing "Idiocracy" from America 2008.

Case in point: three new TV reality shows.

"Hole in the Wall" is a show where contestants try to, um, leap through a hole in the wall (IMDB's description if you are curious, is: "Contestants are required to try and fit through holes in a polystyrene wall, which is moving towards them").

"Wipe Out" seems to be about people crawling on top of giant rubber balls and falling into mud.

Then there's "Hurl." Yes, it's exactly what you think it is.

Well, okay. There's a lot of smart stuff on TV too. "Mad Men" and "Dexter" to name two, and there are plenty more.

Besides, it's not like we've plunged to the depths of "Idiocracy," where the future Starbucks features "Gentlemen's Lattes — with extra Foam."

And then I heard this NPR piece.

Brondo! It has electrolytes!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

What They Said...

"China watches U.S. elections with bemusement"
"A lot of people think Western-style democracy is a joke -- it's more like a pop idol contest or a beauty pageant," said Pan Xiaoli, an anchorwoman for International Channel Shanghai, an English-language TV station. "I think the Chinese watch with a sense of inherent superiority, saying, 'This is not the way for us.' "...

..."People think the capitalist way of campaigning is all about making up fake stories to slander your opponent, that it's just a political show," Shen said.

Another reason for the negativity is that many Chinese don't like either candidate.

Perhaps from nostalgia for her husband, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had been the clear favorite here.

Sen. Barack Obama has alienated some Chinese by criticizing Chinese-made products. And Sen. John McCain infuriated many more by meeting with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader who is reviled by the Chinese government.

"For ordinary Chinese observers, it is hard for them to differentiate between the platforms or understand the anxieties. They've seen it mostly as a competition between a woman, a black man and an old man," said Wang Jisi, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, speaking at a seminar of journalists this week in Seoul.

DISCLAIMER: Yes, there are genuine differences between the candidates. Yes, it matters who wins. I'm just in a very cranky mood about the whole thing.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Rage Against the (Wine) Machine

For years here in Venice, we've had a disappointing mini-mall at the corner of Rose and Lincoln Avenues. Lincoln is the big north/south thoroughfare that is officially Highway 1 in places, Rose is one of Venice's main streets that goes west to the beach.

Years ago, we had an actual supermarket there, along with a drug store. The supermarket went under and a succession of discount stores followed: Pic 'N Saves and Big Lots and 99 Cents. As a shopping destination, it was a great place to buy crack. I will never forget the very sad encounter I had with a young woman in that parking lot, when I first moved up here. Actually, I don't remember most of the conversation, just how sad she was, how desperate, living in her car, addicted, abused. I was young myself, and naive, and sort of stunned by the drama of it all - I hadn't had that many encounters with homeless crack addicts up till then.

A few years in Venice, and that became pretty mundane.

Well, crack addicts and people living in their cars will have to find a new place to hang out, because Whole Foods is here, on Lincoln and Rose. With Taqueria, Wine Bar, gelato counter, and "Community Artisans Corner."

Wait, stop. Did you say, "Wine Bar"?

Why yes, I did!

In the middle of this huge yupscale market - and it is huge, taking over what used to be two full store spaces - is a little counter with bar stools and artisanal cheese plates, where you can sit and sip wine from an Enomatic wine dispenser and eat "tapas." And have political discussions, about Obama and Sarah Palin. Which strikes me as deeply ironic on a level that I can't even begin to articulate.

Well, you know, Venice has been gentrifying for years. I used to say that I gentrified along with it, working my way up from being a salesclerk to the exalted position of Mid-Level Film Studio Bureaucrat Shack-By-the-Sea Homeowner. Now that I'm unemployed, I'm not sure where I stand in the scale of yuppie striver/homeless crack addict. I do know that I will be doing some shopping at Whole Foods, after I get my little old lady wheeled cart so I never have to drive my car there and compete with the hordes of Prius for parking. Or would that be "Priuii"? They've got some good food, good deals, and hey, that taqueria is really tempting.

But I will continue to buy my wine at Lincoln Fine Wines, whose prices and selections are much superior.