Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The 90's

I'm listening to weezer right now because I still think it's good. Their first record I mean. In fact, a lot of music from the early 90's is regularly coursed through my brain. Nirvana is still a weekly listen for me as well. Crap I have class.

Monday, 23 November 2009

I'm Not Sayin He's an Oil Digger, but...

I read an article about China detaining Xue Feng, an American-Chinese geologist. Click the link for the article.

He's a U.S. citizen detained for spying but it seems a bit sketchy. The charges are murky and there doesn't seem to be any evidence. At least none provided to the U.S. embassy by Chinese authorities. He might be guilty but his former company is keeping their distance and China is operating under the usual vague and opaque prerogatives for dictatorships.

A similar case happened recently with Stern Hu, an Australian Chinese in charge of mining company Rio Tinto. He was jailed for charges of stealing state secrets that were changed to bribery and infringing on state secrets.

The article is pretty biased against China and assumes Xue Feng's innocence. None the less, it was an interesting read. It has some good info on the possibility of China manipulating laws about espionage and state secrets. But like I said, Mr. Feng could be guilty. His case is a bit different from Stern Hu's.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Have you been there?

Recently, China has been receiving a lot of attention in the media. Usually as the poster child for industrial and economic development or as a drab dictatorship filled with unhappy people. Too often, after reading or watching a piece about China I ask myself, "have you been there?"

Today I read two articles on China. One was on China's rise and the other was about heavy snow storms in northern China. The New York Times piece by David Barboza about "Rising China", a buzz word thrown around way too much, focused on Barack Obama's first trip to the country and about the changing dynamics in our relationship with China. In it, Barboza talks about China's growth and impressive modernization which no doubt is amazing. However, like most articles and books about China it doesn't really put China into perspective.

David Barboza talks about China having the fastest growing number of billionaires but doesn't mention most of those billionaires are party members and government officials. Thanks to the state owned corporation business model, the Chinese government can pretty much control the economy and who runs state companies. Ultimately, this amounts to a crippling amount of corruption and a source of unhappiness amongst the Chinese population. If you've ever been to Shanghai you can see how police and government take payoffs and allow "barbershops" that display young women in lingerie in front of their shop windows at night. Needless to say, I have never seen anyone getting a hair cut inside, only men waiting with hands full of breasts.

Barboza also mentions China having the most web surfers for a country at 338 million. CIA fact book states 298 million but it's a year old. Either way you look at it, China should have the most web surfers because it is the largest population in the world. Put it into perspective by looking at the percentages. What percentage of the population in China is using the Internet? Just over 25%, or 1/4 of the population. Then ask about its quality. Internet use in China is pretty slow, at least everywhere I went in 2005, 2006, and 2007. The internet is incredibly censored and monitored causing its turtle pace. Websites are blocked, searches are censored, and blogs and email accounts are hacked or monitored and that adds to the sluggishness. The turtle taught us that slow and steady wins the race but unfortunately for China that's not applicable to internet use.

Internet usage is low because China is still incredibly poor with a per capita income of $3200 U.S, as Barboza states, but also because China lacks so much infrastructure. Poor people lack the money to own a computer and the government lacks the man power to feed the internetpolice as well as build missing infrastructure to expand internet service. If you've ever been to China you have seen probably seen the state of infrastructure. Garbage is usually overflowing from a community waste site and piled up on the street being sifted through by either an employee or a person collecting recyclable materials to turn into money. It's hard to tell because there isn't a standard sanitation uniform. Water ways are obviously polluted and water is undrinkable. Sewage is not very good not to mention its ability to choke the air. Traffic is chaotic in cities. I don't even know if everybody ignores the traffic laws or if there are none. Once I was in a bad traffic accident in Chengdu, Sichuan and a police officer just drove by and gawked. If you haven't been to China then just remember the tainted food from a year or two ago. Poor fido.

The lack of infrastructure requires the question "where has the money gone?" to be asked? The answer, I can only guess, are things like health care, education, unsafe buildings, officials' pockets and of course the military.Health care and education have improved and the Chinese military has grown and modernized rapidly. However, to be fair, China is a huge country with a lot of people. Therefore, money doesn't go as far there. On the other hand, I don't think there has been enough development of public infrastructure and instead growth has only benefitted those in power and a few business folks who are party members. The two are usually connected.

When I read about the heavy snow storms on ABC's news page it pointed out all the problems with China's growth and the lack of infrastructure. 9,000 buildings collapsed because of snow. How do 9,000 buildings collapse? They were poorly built because they were built too fast for anyone to inspect them which means bribes were probably paid so no one had to inspect them. This is modernization; Big buildings. Transportation stood still, people became stranded for days and there was no plan for snow removal. 1.8 feet of snow was the heaviest accumulation from the storm. 1.8 feet is a lot of snow but should it cause such serious problems? I am relating it to Virginia, which may be unfair since it is in the industrialized U.S. But Virginia rarely sees that much snow and when it does buildings don't collapse and there is a plan for snow removal/road management albeit strained and seemingly inadequate when snow is so heavy.

The point is that although China has been claiming to grow at 10% for more than 25 years it has not managed it very well. They don't spend money on infrastructure, a huge amount of people have made a fortune from the boom and left poor, and corruption is a huge problem for China. Buildings are approved and built so fast that they could not have been checked properly to ensure safety standards were being met. Even still, the people of China are very nationalistic and proud of their country. The majority are also content with their government and are happy to have a chance to make money. This is the best it's been for them in a very long time.

If we are going to talk about China becoming a super-power and taking on more responsibilities in the world then China needs to start taking responsibility for itself by first acknowledging it has problems (corruption, black jails, poor safety standards, etc...) and second, spending the money trying to fix them. In addition, if the U.S. wants China to step onto the world power stage then the U.S. will have to let China run party of the show China's way according to China's political values and interests.


A Waking Moment

This is my ordinary morning. I wake up to my cell phone's alarm clock. The noise is a thousand bouncing springs and one large, cartoon, dancing ostrich playing an equally absurd instrument directing the springs in a musical cacophony. When I turn the alarm off I begin making breakfast. This almost always is a banana, oatmeal with brown sugar, one protein shake and coffee.

By the time my oatmeal is ready, without fail I have a song in my head. I never know how the song got there only that I haven't heard it for a very long time. Sometimes I don't even know the name of the song only the lyrics and melody. For example, "Dr. my eyes have seen the years and the slow parade of fears..." who sings this? why am I singing this? Today's song was "born in the U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen. Here are the problems: Not only do I not like these songs, I have no idea where they came from or the last time I heard them. This started a couple of months ago when I woke up, got out of bed, and started singing Journey's "don't stop believing". Luckily, I put this song on an ipod while I was in the U.S. when I went back for my sisters wedding and have been able to get it out of my head.

What I want to know is what does this mean? Am I secretly addicted to bad American "classics"? Will I become an overweight conservative who, while claiming to be a Christian, just finished a sentence that started with "Did you see that girl's ass?" Or does it simply mean I subconsciously miss the subtleties of American culture? Whatever the deeper meaning, if any, I know that when I wake up with 'Like a Virgin" in my head it's time to panic. (apologies to all those people wrapped up in the recent return of the 80's trend but I can't stand most pop-80's songs no matter how fun a dance party is.)

Is this a common phenomenon? Does anybody else have this problem? You probably do if you were"born! in the U.S.A"