Maurizio – Omnologos

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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?

Practical Consequences of Climate Worries

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(comment to the IHT’s “Welcome to the new nuclear era”)

Let me understand…so far, the only practical consequences of all the climate change brouhaha have been:

(1) The transfer of billions of euros from European taxpayers to Big Oil/Big Energy firms, under the emission trading scheme

(2) The ballooning of agriculture subsidies to farmers to push them into cultivating corn (despite everybody well knowing the environmental impact from corn fuel will be worse)

(3) A substantial increase in food prices especially for very poor people in many parts of the world

(4) The return of a nuclear industry that will prosper on State guarantees and produce large amounts of radioactive garbage nobody has found as yet a good way to dispose of

???

If that’s what a cleaner, greener world looks like, I’d rather have it brown and dirty, thank you!

Written by omnologos

2008/Jan/10 at 23:54:40

On Nuclear Hypocrisy

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Letter published on the International Herald Tribune, Dec 14, 2007

Regarding “Get Tehran inside the tent” by Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh (Views, Dec. 7): The one underlying issue that the writers do not mention, and that does not appear in the article by Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin (“In Tehran we trust?” Views, Dec. 7), is that Iran is alone in a sea of hostile neighbors.

Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb is as logical as Israel’s or Pakistan’s. For the current Iranian regime, and perhaps even for a hypothetical Iranian democracy, it would be extremely foolish to leave the fortunes of the state to the whims of the United States, Europe, Russia, or the Sunni Arab states, especially with troubled neighbors like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It is obvious that the West needs a new policy for Iran. Perhaps once – just once – the powers that be will pay attention to the basic needs of Iran, starting by ruling out an invasion.

Isn’t it telling that Nasr and Takeyh repeat the old fairy tale that during the Cold War “confronting Communism meant promoting capitalism and democracy,” forgetting to mention an egregiously contrary example? In a most tragic decision 54 years ago, the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh was toppled and an autocratic monarch reintroduced, all in the name of fighting world Communism.

Maurizio Morabito, England

Written by omnologos

2007/Dec/26 at 21:41:45

The Economist: Does Charlemagne Speak Any French?

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Perhaps it would be better for commentators in European matters to travel and live a bit more around Europe

Letter to The Economist:

Dear Editors

The author of the “Charlemagne” column makes quite a fuss about the alleged ability in EU documents for fish to “fish themselves” (“A fishy tale“, Dec 13).

The incipit and a lot of the sarcasm in the article are about “a daring, if grammatically correct, use of reflexive verbs, so that a ministerial statement blamed undersized hake that se pêchaient et se vendaient, suggesting the fish had fished and sold themselves.”

The actual ploy though appears to be based on “Charlemagne“‘s own challenged relationship with the French language.

Far from being “daring“, “passive impersonal” (or “passive reflexive”) is a very common construct in French and in other languages, with the reflexive pronoun “se” used to avoid the seldom-liked standard passive voice.

No French speaker, and nobody but a person with plenty of negative prejudices against the European Union, would have imagined that anybody had ever suggested that “the fish had fished and sold themselves“.

If you have something to criticise about the EU (and there is plenty of material in that respect!) could you please at least make an effort not to concoct baseless innuendos.

Written by omnologos

2007/Dec/17 at 22:18:58

Posted in Economics, Economist, EU, Letters

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Iran: Security, Not Insults

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Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh’s op-ed on the IHT (“Get Tehran inside the tent“, Dec 7) may be finally pointing to the obvious: provide stability to the Middle East by realizing that Iran is not going to move elsewhere any time soon.

But for that be achieved, a better vocabulary wouldn’t hurt. In fact, what would any Nation make if not insults of words such as “opportunistic“, “seeking predominance“, “to be contained“?

The one underlying issue that Nasr and Takeyh don’t mention, and does not even appear in Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin’s other op-ed in the same newspaper about Iranian nuclear activities (“In Tehran we trust?“) is that the former Persian state is alone in a sea of neighbours all of whom are hostile to various degrees.

Its pursuit of a nuclear bomb capability is as logical as Israel’s or Pakistan’s. For the current Iranian religious regime, and perhaps even for a hypothetical fully-fledged liberal Iranian democracy, it would be extremely foolish to leave the fortunes of the State to the whims of the USA, Europe or Russia, or of the Sunni Arab states, especially with troubled places like Iraq immediately to the West, and Afghanistan and Pakistan just to the East.

With the recent collapse of years of strong-armed American attempts at isolating Iran, it is obvious that there is a need for “a new policy now for going forward“, as one European official is quoted saying. Perhaps once, just once, the Powers will pay attention to the basic needs of Iran, starting from the elemental security of not risking any invasion, war, or foreign-concocted “regime change“.

Isn’t it telling that Nasr and Takeyh repeat the old fairy tale that during the Cold War, “confronting communism meant promoting capitalism and democracy“? Forgetting therefore to mention an egregiously contrary example.

In a most tragic decision 54 years ago by the CIA, the democratically elected government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh was toppled and an autocratic monarch reintroduced, all in the name of fighting world communism.

And where did that happen? Why, in Iran.

Written by omnologos

2007/Dec/08 at 00:43:41

Did We Just Miss George W Bush’s Election as President of Venezuela?

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Roger Cohen’s thoughtful piece on Venezuela (“The limits of 21st-century revolution“, IHT, Dec 3) may have missed some important news coming from Caracas…

In fact, President Hugo Chavez said on the eve of the recent Venezuelan referendum that “Anyone who votes ‘No’ is voting for George W. Bush“.

Now, since the majority of people actually did vote “No”, doesn’t that mean George W Bush has just been elected President of Venezuela?

One wonders…

Written by omnologos

2007/Dec/04 at 21:12:36