Saturday, February 28, 2009

Out of Mao's Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China

I read Out of Mao's Shadow a couple of months ago, and I've been meaning to blog about it since.

Philip Pan was on The Daily Show promoting this book sometime last spring, and it sounded pretty interesting at the time. I'm pretty bad at actually reading the books I put on my book list, though. Fast forward to November, and I noticed it prominently on display in the library, so I picked it up. Then it sat in my room for a few weeks as I read a biography on Hillary Clinton. Eventually I got around to it, and am I ever glad that I did! I tore through it in about two days.

The book is organized into three parts, or eleven chapters. Each one discusses a separate story, focusing on a specific person and their experiences in dealing with the Chinese system. For instance, there's a chapter about a doctor who broke the story of SARS as the Chinese govt tried to keep the epidemic under wraps as it escaped China. There's another chapter about the editor of a newspaper that struggled to maintain its voice and duty to report honestly in a climate of censorship. One of the most fascinating was the chapter about Lin Zhao, a young revolutionary woman in the fifties who turned against Communism with the same fervour that she felt when she first ran away from home to support it. She was imprisoned and wrote hundreds of pages assailing the Party with her own blood before her execution.

I'm not very well-versed in Chinese history, but Pan's book provides a fascinating primer. He places all the stories in their historical context, giving a basic background to events like the Cultural Revolution, and the extreme violence that took place in cities like Chongqing, as well as the role the Communist Party played in trying to suppress the populace's memory of these events and the people who struggled to reveal the truth and seek justice. Part of Pan's analysis is that in many of the cases, the dissidents were able to get the Party to make small changes, such as finally being open about SARS, enabling the medical field to fight and contain it. However, this did not result in more openness and a path to democracy in China, but rather the opposite. By showing a small amount of flexibility, the Communist Party was, in fact, able to strengthen its hold on power. They were basically able to take credit for taking action rather than being vilified for hedging and taking not action for so long.

I highly recommend it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Obama's in Ottawa! (GOP serves pork tenderloin for dinner in his absence.)

I was just browsing Jezebel and came across this post. Of course, I had to read even more about Obama's visit to Ottawa, and squee about how I've appreciated the same bakery as Obama. I spent part of the morning reading about it in the National Post, even though I felt a little dirty even touching the Post. I couldn't help myself! There were so many pictures! He looked so cute with our esteemed Governor-General Michaƫlle Jean. Apparently, they discussed how awesome it is that they're both black. (That was not meant to be condescending. I'm totally sincere.)

There was also a press conference with Stephen Harper. He didn't look as cute with Obama. The whole relationship is still brand spanking new, so I don't feel like commenting on US-Canada relations at this time.

I read on and then clicked over to this blog post at Politico, where some of the commenters seem to be confused about why exactly it's hypocritical for Republicans to be lining up for stimulus money now, after delaying it for weeks with their incessant whiny brattiness. The argument seems to be that they have to pay for it, so they might as well partake in the pork chops.

First of all, let's get the snark out of the way by making fun of an idiotic comment.

wow the democrat who was whining about bush spending a trillion on the war in iraq your wrong it was 600 billion over seven years and Obama the great dictator spent that within 100 days !!!

Posted By: Garret | February 19, 2009 at 10:45 PM

Only 600 billion? Oh, ok then. I didn't realize that it was such a bargain! All criticisms withdrawn. Thank you for showing me the light, Garret. It's really too bad that I read this article in the New York Times right after reading your comment: Obama Bans Gimmicks, and Deficit Will Rise

For his first annual budget next week, President Obama has banned four accounting gimmicks that President George W. Bush used to make deficit projections look smaller. The price of more honest bookkeeping: A budget that is $2.7 trillion deeper in the red over the next decade than it would otherwise appear, according to administration officials.

It seems that the second Bush was even less honest than the first about the actual size of the budget shortfall. Lying about the state of the govt is kind of a dictator thing to do, though, isn't it? I don't want to block your righteous outrage with petty facts, though, so moving on.

As a public service, allow me to demonstrate why the Republicans are being hypocritical:

House Republican: "This stimulus package will not do anything to help and is a complete and utter waste of money! I must stand against it!"

The bill then passes, as House Republicans knew that it would.

House Republican: "So, can we get some of that stimulus money? It would totally help us out."

Simply put, the Republicans voted against this bill insisting that it was a waste of money and would not do anything useful. There were even suggestions that it might make things worse by breeding a population that depends on govt bailout money instead of working really hard to become Wall Street execs and make obscene amount of money bleeding society dry.

Now that it has passed, as they knew that it would despite their grand-standing, they're lining up to get that money because they KNEW ALL ALONG that the bill was not a waste of money, and in fact, was incredibly useful. I guess you could say that a lot of stuff in the bill was good, but not necessarily economically useful, and I would disagree and then concede the point. But that's not the tack that they're taking, as evidenced by this quote:

“This critical funding is vital to protecting our schools from budget cuts and teacher layoffs. Because Florida has been hit especially hard by a rise in foreclosures, unemployment, and recent natural disasters, we are experiencing a crippling budget crisis. Now more than ever, we must invest in our state’s future,” said the letter.

It's very clearly talking about economic disasters and the economic fallout of natural disasters. It is shameful that for the purposes of political partisanship they voted against a bill that was necessary for the economic well-being of their constituents.

That is why it is hypocritical.