Maurizio – Omnologos

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Archive for April 2008

Evidence of Anti-China Reporting Bias in the IHT/NYT

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In “Chinese students shed restraint in America” (IHT, Apr 30, published as “Chinese students in U.S. fight image of their home” on the NYT on Apr 29) Chou Wu, a Chinese doctorate student in the USA, is quoted by Shaila Dewan (in co-operation with Michael Anti) as saying that “Western media is even more biased than Chinese media“.

Ironically, in order to find evidence for his claim, Mr Wu should look no further than Ms Dewan’s article!

In fact, after reporting that Chinese students in America believe to be “still neglected or misunderstood (by Western news media) as either brainwashed or manipulated by the (Chinese) government“, Ms Dewan dutifully proceeds to portray those same students as…brainwashed and/or manipulated.

They are described as authoritarian, zealot nationalist prone to threats against Tibetans, also because “demonstrators couldintend to return home (too)”.

Ms Dewan even leaves the last word to Lionel Jensen, of the University of Notre Dame, IN, stating that Chinese students “dont’ ask” if Tibetans wanted the “aggressive modernization” brought by China to Tibet.

That doesn’t bode well for the impartiality of the article: a feeling that is confirmed when we are told that Chinese students’ “handouts on Tibet and Chinacontained a jumble of abbreviated history, slogans and maps with little context“.

Is “jumble” the appropriate word for a reporting piece? Methinks there is too much contempt for the report’s subject showing there.

We have to take Ms Dewan’s word for her judgements, as the only detail provided concerns “a chart showing infant mortality in Tibet had plummeted since 1951” (a positive thing if there ever was any). Alas, we are told, the students “did not provide any means for comparison with mortality rates in China or other countries“.

Too bad one is left none the wiser, as Ms Dewan herself provides no such a comparison either.

Once upon a time newspapers clearly separated news from news analysis. And journalists tried to report impartially. I know, that may be the stuff of Utopia nowadays, but is nobody trying anymore?

Written by omnologos

2008/Apr/30 at 19:41:44

Is China’s Authoritarian Capitalism Better Than Liberal Democracy?

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(No it isn’t: just like trying to earn a living by gambling is not better than having a salary, even if potential returns are much higher)

Is China’s authoritarian capitalism better than liberal democracy (as “the condition and motor of economic development“)? That’s more or less what Slavoj Žižek, co-Director of the International Centre for Humanities at Birkbeck College, asks in the Letters section of the London Review of Books (Vol. 30 No. 8 · Cover date: 24 April 2008), at the end of a singularly even-handed description of the Tibet-China relationship (that by the way only victims of their respective propaganda machines will believe to be a story of good guys vs. bad guys).

Fareed Zakaria has pointed out that democracy can only ‘catch on’ in economically developed countries: if developing countries are ‘prematurely democratised’, the result is a populism that ends in economic catastrophe and political despotism. No wonder that today’s economically most successful Third World countries (Taiwan, South Korea, Chile) embraced full democracy only after a period of authoritarian rule.

Following this path, the Chinese used unencumbered authoritarian state power to control the social costs of the transition to capitalism. The weird combination of capitalism and Communist rule proved not to be a ridiculous paradox, but a blessing. China has developed so fast not in spite of authoritarian Communist rule, but because of it.

There are a few i’s to dot, and t’s to cross in Mr Žižek’s discourse. First of all, Taiwan, South Korea and Chile became “today’s economically most successful Third World countriesafter getting rid of “authoritarian rule“. So from those examples it appears that dictatorship may gestate a successful economy, but more often than not “Authoritarian Rule” transforms itself into a suffocating mother, if not an evil stepmother.

More importantly, China itself is in a sense only the last manifestation of a truism: an (economically) enlightened dictatorship can be much more efficient than the collection of dirty tricks known as democracy. Voltaire likely believed in that, just as Plato and countless others, and even if it does sound like an elitist concept, it is obvious nevertheless. An intelligent, caring, politically and economically wise Prince can decide for the best of everybody in minutes, rather than wasting months trying to convince, negotiate, win over people, perhaps in interminable parliamentary committees.

Such a Prince can also guarantee decades of good governance, truly a blessing for his (or her) people.

There is a small matter though. Say, your Prince is Octavianus Augustus and peace and prosperity is for everybody. Then comes Tiberius, and things start out ok: only, to worsen with his increasing paranoia.

Then you’re stuck with Caligula. And Nero is not too far away either.

Things haven’t changed much in the intevening 2,000 years. The trouble with authoritarian rule, hence with authoritarian capitalism, is not its ability to generate prosperity: rather, its perfectly equivalent capacity to degenerate, quickly because almost without control, thereby hampering the growth of that prosperity if not killing it off entirely.

Speaking the language of the financial world: just like a new CEO can resurrect or destroy a Company, so a despotic Prince (or committee of Princes, aka the “Communist Party of China Central Committee“) is a recipe for increased earning opportunities and, for the very same reasons, for an increase in risk.

And that’s something that should definitely be factored in in any judgement about what to choose as “the condition and motor of economic development“. After all, who wants to continuously gamble all of one’s wealth?

Even if the Chinese Government is paranoid…

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…it doesn’t mean nobody is “out to get them”…

Serge Schmemann’s otherwise insightful comments on the parallels between Moscow 1980 and Beijing 2008 (“Olympic flames, then and now“, IHT, Apr 28) lacks balance about the inspiration of so many anti-China protests around the world.

This being the Age of the NGOs, there definitely is no shortage of people determined to use a major media event like the Olympics to support this or that issue. Furthermore, there are many that see economic powerhouse China as the enemy, a threat to their jobs and livelihoods.

And so even if the Chinese leadership is clearly showing signs of obtuse paranoia about the Dalai Lama, Hu Jia and pretty much everything else, they may very well still be right in denouncing the protests as maneuvered by a coalition of “anti-China forces behind the curtain”, hitting the right buttons in order to “stir up genuine anger” in “people in free societies”.

Schnemann casts also doubts on the effectiveness of “quiet diplomacy”. Perhaps he is right. One thing is certain, though: you don’t deal with a paranoid…by going out to get him.

Written by omnologos

2008/Apr/28 at 22:34:17

Censored! (by Anti-Censorship Website…)

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Does the company of dogs inspire one to bark? That’s what looks like happening at anti-China, (allegedly) anti-censorship blog “Under the Jacaranda Tree“.

Months, years perhaps of fighting against the censorship perpetrated by what is after all still a dictatorship, have taught “Jacaranda”‘s authors “Ned Kelly” and “Catherine A Young” that the way to deal with criticism is by censoring the offending text, and by banning its author.

(that is…me!)

With friends like these, the Tibetan and journalist Hu Jia‘s plights are unlikely to get any better for the foreseeable future.

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What has happened then? While researching my “Tibet and the Olympics: Remember Jin Jing” blog on Apr 22, I have stumbled upon Jacaranda’s “Bart Simpson and Jin Jing’s spin-doctors” where Mr Kelly strongly suggests that the whole Jin Jing Olympic torch relay incident has been staged, and promises “further analysis of more evidence surrounding the incident”.

I then added to their blog this comment (visible at “Under the Jacaranda Tree: Bart Simpson and Jin Jing’s spin-doctors“) about such “further analysis”:

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter any longer. The pictures are out there. There are two assaults, not just one. Ms. Jin’s facial expression is that of a person in distress, or an unexpectedly great actress.

So obscure photographic analysis and talks about the behaviour of foreigners marching towards a demo in Paris, won’t do the trick. You may as well try to stop a tsunami with a teaspoon.

Evidently I am unable to read my own words, because they look like a straight and mild statement of personal opinion to me…yet either Mr Kelly or Ms Young took very and grave offence at them. And so despite claims of technical issues with their website, they posted a new blog on Apr 23: “Why we have banned a recent commenter“.

Don’t waste time in looking for that blog now, as it has been deleted: not early enough to disappear from my WordPress dashboard though, with the text

[…] MEANWHILE, we received a comment from this OBVIOUSLY MAINLAND CHINESE W*NK*R! […]

(without the *’s) linking to my “Maurizio’s Testimonials” page. In the meanwhile, my comment did not pass their web site moderation. Still it has not been published on “Jacaranda”, despite a second attempt to submit it.

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Based on the above, this can be said about Ned Kelly and/or Catherine A Young, the authors of the blog “Under the Jacaranda Tree”:

(1) They are so full of anti-Chinese anger, they write blogs of hate with little or zero critical thinking (I mean…leaving aside accusations of autoeroticism 8-), who can even think that I am “obviously mainland Chinese” when my pictures are all over the place?)

(2) They are so full of themselves and of their redeeming crusade to save the world against evil Beijing, they cannot tolerate the mildest form of dissent, launching themselves in verbally violent, frankly unjustified fits against the dissenter, whose words are censored and whose very name is banned from their site (sadly, this is exactly the behaviour of the Chinese government)

(3) At some point, they must have realized the absolute idiocy of their “W*NK*R” blog, removing it in the hope no-one would notice (thus demonstrating little familiarity with the ways of blogging, backtracking and WordPress)

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Mr Kelly and Ms Young know that I know, because I added some reference in my second commenting attempt (remember, they have censored that one too). They also know how to contact me (all it takes is a comment to my website).

A word of apology, and removal of the censorship, will make a huge difference: I am a regular guy expressing his sometimes flawed, other times not-so-flawed thoughts. The “sin”, rather than Onan’s, seems to be my desire for independent thought (independent, that is, from Mr Kelly’s and Ms Young’s…)

Yet it is worrying that either or both of them could so quickly think of me as “obviously mainland Chinese”. In the absence of any reply, one will have to agree with those that believe that behind the pro-Tibet campaign, there lies the spectre of anti-Chinese “post-racist” sentiments.

Written by omnologos

2008/Apr/24 at 20:44:39

USA 2008: Four-to-One Reasons to Vote McCain

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Four reasons to vote McCain on Nov 4, 2008

(1) Obama has said McCain is not as bad as George W Bush

(2) Hillary Clinton has said McCain is ready to be Commander-in-Chief

(3) Considerable numbers of Obama supporters say that will vote for McCain rather than for hated Hillary Clinton

(4) Considerable numbers of Hillary Clinton supporters say that will vote for McCain rather than for hated Obama

One reason not to vote McCain on Nov 4, 2008

(1) Considerable numbers of Republican supporters are as warm as liquid helium about “their” Candidate

At the rate things are going, a Gus Polinski Tribute Band will have to be recruited to provide some excitement on Election Day…

Written by omnologos

2008/Apr/23 at 20:35:59

Tibet and the Olympics: Remember Jin Jing

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The author of EastWestSouthNorth asks: whose PR have been a disaster in these times of Olympic torch protests?

Well, the answer is easy: not the Chinese Government’s, steadily growing in self-confidence and basking in the reflected glory of Jin Jing, a wheelchair-bound smiling Chinese Paralympic girl athlete and cancer survivor, holding on to the torch “for dear life” against not just one, but two physical assaults in Paris.

Whatever the “cause” behind, I have felt uneasy from the beginning, seeing the Olympic torch relays become occasions for violent confrontations, even if in the form of “peacefully” crossing the path of the bearers. These pictures have convinced me further:

Protests may and will continue: but after the Jin Jing’s incident, they have become worse than pointless. For all intents and purposes, all future linkage of the Tibet problem with the Beijing Olympics will more likely than not simply further the cause of Chinese nationalism against the rest of the world, Tibetans included.

NOTE: There are people out there claiming to possess evidence demonstrating that the incidents have been staged. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter any longer. The pictures are out there. There are two assaults, not just one. Ms. Jin’s facial expression is that of a person in distress, or an unexpectedly great actress.

So obscure photographic analysis and talks about the behaviour of foreigners marching towards a demo in Paris, won’t do the trick. Anybody not believing in Ms. Jin’s ordeal, may as well try to stop a tsunami with a teaspoon.

Written by omnologos

2008/Apr/22 at 22:11:56

Phil Plait’s Moon Hoax London Speech – Report

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I had the honour to attend tonight in London a speech by Phil Plait “The Bad Astronomer” on the “Moon Hoax Hoax” (i.e. the hoax perpetrated by those that believe the Apollo manned lunar landings were a fake).

The presentation was organized by the UK’s Skeptic Magazine as part of their Skeptics in the Pub‘s monhtly gathering, taking advantage of Plait’s schedule in-between his Colorado home and a visit to the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.

In front of a large crowd downstairs at the Penderel’s Oak in Holborn, Plait chose to wear a hat after dazzling us with an impressive hairdo (or lack thereof).

So how to respond to people still clinging to the odd notion that NASA has been able to pull off a multi-decadal hoax involving tens of thousands of people, something much more difficult that actually landing on the Moon itself? The Bad Astronomer went through familiar questions and answers, here summarized:

(1) No stars in Moon photographs? Obviously not. Those are pictures of bright spacesuits and a bright terrain directly hit by the Sun’s rays.

(2) Shadows are not parallel, “demonstrating” multiple light sources? First of all, multiple light sources cause multiple shadows, and there is none of that in the Apollo pictures. Furthermore, shadows are not parallel on Earth either: it’s called perspective!!!

(3) Astronaut’s suits in the dark shadows on the Moon are not black? Of course not, they are illuminated by the surrounding, bright lunar surface.

(4) Waving flags on the Moon? Sure, with nothing much to dampen any vibration, that’s exactly what to expect.

(5) No crater from the LEM’s landing engine? Large thrust, over  a large surface, means low pressure, hence…

(6) No flames from departing LEM’s upper half in Apollo 17 video? Flames are only visible for certain types of rocket fuel. Even the Space Shuttle’s main engines produce a barely visible blue flame at take-off.

There are two main problems with “moon hoaxers”: one, as Plait pointed out, is that they choose to tell only that part of the truth that suits them. The second, if I may add, is that they invariably never ever reveal what evidence would convince them to change their mind.

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I have only one remark for the Bad Astronomer: sometimes he goes too hard for it. All Moon-hoaxers’ claims I have seen so far are already ridiculous enough. Is it really necessary to build jokes around stuff that is already laughable on its own?

Anyway…it’s been great to meet somebody that enrolled me some time ago as one of his minions. Here some pictures from the evening…

Written by omnologos

2008/Apr/21 at 21:45:35