The Quintessential China-US Debate

I’ll start the week by pointing you to a very excellent edition of On the Media, one of my absolute required-listening podcasts each week – Journalism with Chinese Characteristics. And the subtext of the post reads as follows:

There is real investigative reporting in China, its just not done under a free press flag. Instead, practitioners mind an unstated set of rules, keeping themselves safe by employing tactics like using excessive jargon and exploiting government rivalries…

The program itself doesn’t present particularly new facts or opinions about China. If anything, in the last few years, there is no shortage of Chinese voices in international media talking about how China isn’t what you might remember from the movies or old stereotypes. That the country is modernizing fast and people have alot of new freedoms that are comparable to whatever you have in the west. That said, OTM provides a nice group of voices who communicate their experiences and opinions in a manner worthy of listening to.

What gets me about the interviewees in this podcast is that they come back to the classic China-US comparison talking point: The freedom criticism. So they point out how strange it is that there are “free Tibet” protests on the streets of the US, and yet the US occupies Iraq and has guantanamo bay. To which there are no protests on the streets of China saying “Free Iraq.” The arguement brushes over the well known hypocracy and goes right for some kind of lack of reciprocity.

My response would simply be as follows, once and for all let it be said, that it is our right and responsibility as human beings on this earth, to protest and engage in some form of acknowledgement whenever and wherever human lives are being destroyed and opressed. Moreover, that you might be American and on the streets protesting what takes place in Tibet, does not mean you automatically believe your own government is doing just fine and you support the occupation of Iraq. Hell, you probably attend those demonstrations as well. But protesting human rights violations in another country does not require that you live in a country where human rights are perfectly respected and it shouldn’t result in silencing dissent anywhere in the world.

Just because you have the capacity to repeat all the terrible mistakes and crimes of the western world, dear China, does not mean you should.

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Farming On Either Side of Pond

The theme this season on the blog continues to be food; the cost, growing, and politics of food.  Recently, while preparing for my journey to Thailand (next week), I’ve noticed 2 big changes coming to the agricultural policies of both the US government and the European Union.  Which could spell a change in how our food is raised and from who and how we get that food.

On the US side there’s the Farm Bill, which was vetoed by GWBush but that veto was overturned by congress. An imperfect text which, as EWG analyists explain it:

throws a couple of small bones to a few grassroots causes but mainly ensures that the big dogs will continue to run agriculture – courtesy of the U.S. Treasury.

chartThe only potentially positive development with this farm bill is that meat will have to be labelled for orgin in the US. Otherwise as indicated by the quote above, the bill will continue to pour money on big agribusinesses who, unfortunately, also play a roll in the nation’s obescity epidemic (through pushing big products like high fructose corn syrup).

Meanwhile in the EU, new policies are being rolled out in relation to farming.  Among their decisions, they’ve increased the size of what kind of farm qualifies as small and therefore deserving of EU funds to protect and preserve such farms.  They also reduced the amount of subsidies to be paid to large farms.

For all the buzz about food prices, it is of interest to see what these two governments decide when it comes to agriculture. Especially in a situation where so many farmers on both sides are paid to NOT farm, despite a global food shortage.

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Economies and Plants

During my lunch break on Myesonday I made my way over to a plant store near Olympic Stadium, here in Amsterdam.  Usually working past the time places stay open, I thought it best to buy my spring plants during my work day, plus I’d seen this shop several times since starting my new job, seemed like a good place.

CentrumI choose my spring flowers and bring them inside to pay the extremely tall, grey haired gentleman with the glasses. As I pay him I look down at the pansies and ask (in Dutch), I’m from the New York area, where normally pansies don’t make it once the weather gets warm; I’ve always wondered, does that work the same way here, or do they last longer since its slightly cooler weather here?

The man looks down at the little plants and begins to explain using alot of hand motions: We’re on a very similar level compared to New York, on the globe relatively speaking.  So the same, technically, applies, you only get flowers for a few months and its over.

From there the man seemed to jump into a larger conversation:

It is all related. Plants in the US, plants in the Netherlands. Mortgage crisis in the US, mortgage crisis here.  Whatever happens, his tone gets louder, in the US, we will always feel the effects here. Then he looks at the ground, although, I think we’re better equipped to survive the crisis, as people don’t use credit to but things the way they do over there. But mortgages, oh the mortgages, these prices in this country have been out of control for too long, it had to stop. Again he returned to his earlier statement, I think we can survive it, we are a small country and people can be very smart about not borrowing and not getting into debt schemes, I hope we survive it with minimal damage.  But again, it is all relative. Pansies, economic crisis….. US, Netherlands.

Have a nice day and good luck with the planting, he waved to me as I stepped out of the shop.

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Fabrication Yet Factual

While it has already made the rounds in much of the mainstream media, I wanted to look back today on the issue of the book by author Susan B. Jones called Love and Consequences. You may have heard about this author, as it was discovered that her book, which she presented as stories of her life growing up as a corner-kid in south central LA, turns out to have been made up. She actually grew up in a nice suburb of LA, according to the account I heard on NPR’s On Point, she later had a job counseling people who were involved in gang violence or shared related stories with her, which she used to make the stories in her book.

As the mainstream media will tell you, before critics and audiences knew the truth, they loved the book and the story; a gang member turned author… a half White/half Native American girl who made it out of the ‘hood.

South Central LABut once her sister made the call exposing the fact that the story isn’t true, audiences went nuts. NEwspapers ran stories about how Susan Seltzer was her real name and that she had duped everyone. It was as if there was a collective cry of “poor us, we trusted you!” from across the US. The publisher pulled the book, pulled the money, cancelled the tour and chastised her for putting one over them.

As I listened to the episode of On Point Radio I found myself yelling at host Tom Ashbrooke as he went on and on about how sorry he was to his audience and how disappointing it is to hear about authors lying about their experiences in order to sell books. In his mind he seemed to have this noble idea that in the world of books we can trust the author and the publishing industry and the media can also be counted on to verify what is true and what is not. An idea that any student of history, media, and business, could discredit quite easily.

During the radio program there are callers who express their anger at the author, for writing about life in gangs and on the streets, that she never actually experienced. But eventually a few calls came in that support the final point I want to make today; just because it isn’t completely factual doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of being read or thought about. She may not have lived it, but her stories can still have value to different people for different reasons. For the lover of literature, perhaps because it is well written. For the person interested in examining society and that world which she writes about, there is still plenty within her stories based on reality and an important reminder about the many people in America, especially children, who live and struggle everyday on the streets.

The cries of “foul” remind me of when blogging started almost a decade ago. Critics pointed to anonymous bloggers, like BitchPhD, or bloggers who claimed nothing here is true like Tony Pierce, and said that blogging could never be worth anything if people used false names or told stories that were only half true. All these years later most of those critics have gone quiet and are probably reading blogs, as good bloggers have proven that there can still be plenty of value on a blog regardless of how factual or fictional it is.

Of course I don’t want the whole world inventing stories and publishing them as factual accounts of life. But I won’t expect the type of media and publishing system that we have in this world to garuntee truthiness. Myself I hope that somehow, one day, I end up with a copy of Love and Consequences in my hands. I’ll give it a read and perhaps even enjoy it, without feeling betrayed.

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