Archive for May 4th, 2009
I just watched the movie Soapdish again, and I really believe that it’s a perfect farce. A wonderful farcical plot, which—since it involves the production of a TV soap opera—occurs in a milieu with which all the cast are familiar. And, of course, the plot and resolution of the movie itself are soap operatic. And the cast is superb. Altogether, a movie to treasure.
Provoked in part by China’s reaction to the world flu threat, a rich flow of responses about the country’s sensitivity to outside criticism, its responsibilities as a major world power, the current state of its public morals, and the rest. In response to this recent message asking for greater Western "understanding" of China and saying that outsiders go much easier on Indian than on China, an eloquent reply from Xiaoxiao Huang:
I am also an overseas Chinese, but I don’t share the sentiment the Chinese reader has shown in his two messages to you. I’d like to share with you my opinion of his take on the role of the media, and China’s human rights issue.
I am always suspicious of the whole concept of a united "Western Media" against China as if Fox News, Le Monde, and Süddeutsche Zeitung were controlled by a multi-national Central Propaganda Department. As a Communications major, my understanding of the news media is that they should truthfully report and inform to the best of their knowledge. It is not the job of the Western media (or media of any origin) to "encourage" and babysit a foreign country. Maybe it’s time that the Chinese try getting used to the fact that every Western country is "unique" as well, some of them believe in things that we do not believe, and it’s OK.
The reader suggest that the Western media "tolerate the minor human rights problems and individual sufferings". I’ll bet that this reader’s rights have never been violated before. Based on the message of the reader (that he was financially able to support himself to go to the West and has stay "several years" so far), my guesses are that he’s from a comparatively well-heeded family; he lived in a secured environment when he was in China; and he’s not even remotely close to anyone who had been beaten to death because of police brutality (or any other kind of human rights violation). It’s very ironic to see such comment shortly after push-ups became suicide-inducive in Guizhou, and the game of "Eluding the Cat" became lethal in Yunnan. I wonder how many people have to die for ridiculous reasons before the reader could realize that the real problem is not that human rights issues are "minor" in China, but that they are too remote to have an impact on him.
We’re used to talk about what "the Chinese" think based on what we see on the Internet. A recent study by CNNIC shows that China has 300,000,000 netizens. A lot. But China also has a huge population of 1.3 billion. So those who can afford to access the Internet were less than a quarter of the population in the first place. And of those who do have access, the majority of them live in urban area, hence, in general much well-off than the rest of China (and pretty indifferent to the rest of China as well).
Since China has a huge population, tightly controlled domestic media, and usually very successful propaganda schemes, it’s very easy to be completely ignorant of the suffering of many fellow citizens and call a big issue "minor" simply because one is not personally affected by it. I see that the U.S has some human rights issues of her own. But no concerned American citizens would think that the "minor" problem of sexually abuse an Iraqi prisoner (not even a "fellow citizen"!) in Guantanamo is "tolerable".
On the India analogy. India has two things that China desperately needs: democracy and transparency. It’ll be very strange for the Western media to "misunderstand" China and be "hostile" toward her, if China happens to have either.
I don’t get this. Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent:
Lotta good that did.
The Obama administration last Friday issued an official statement in support of mortgage lending reforms that would allow some struggling homeowners to avoid foreclosures by filing for bankruptcy — an option that’s prohibited under current law. Too bad for housing advocates and imminent foreclosure victims, the statement arrived a day after the Senate voted to kill a bill — sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) — that would have provided the bankruptcy changes the White House endorses.
The oddly timed statement is just the latest evidence that the Obama White House, while claiming to support the bankruptcy reforms, also hasn’t gone out of its way to see that they’re passed. A New York Times editorial calls out the administration today:
The Obama administration sat by last week as 12 Senate Democrats joined 39 Senate Republicans to block a vote on an amendment that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to modify troubled mortgages.
Senator Obama campaigned on the provision. And President Obama made its passage part of his antiforeclosure plan. It would have been a very useful prod to get lenders to rework bad loans rather than leaving the modification to a judge.
But when the time came to stand up to the banking lobbies and cajole yes votes from reluctant senators — the White House didn’t. When the measure failed, there wasn’t even a statement of regret.
And then there’s the White House statement itself, which makes a carefully phrased endorsement of “appropriately tailored bankruptcy language,” but leaves open the possibility that it’s not including the Durbin proposal in that description.
The Administration also supports appropriately tailored bankruptcy legislation to provide a mechanism for homeowners who are out of other options to file for bankruptcy and implement a responsible plan to pay the debts that they are able to pay. Notwithstanding the Senate vote on the Durbin Amendment, the Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to address this issue.
This statement makes the most sense if you replace “notwithstanding” with “after spurning.”
James Fallows has a good post that begins:
The Atlantic has been your one-stop site for all aspects of the "F-22 question" — the decision on whether to buy more copies of the Air Force’s latest fighter plane. Mark Bowden’s article in the magazine here; various perspective from me here, here, and here; SecDef Robert Gates’s rationale in calling off purchases discussed here and here.
Apart from the F-22, the other fighter in gestation over the past decade has been the "Joint Strike Fighter," known as the F-35, shown here in vertical take-off mode for use by the Marine Corps. (Photo via Discovery channel). It is also designed to take off and land "normally," from a runway, for the Air Force version, and a from an aircraft carrier deck for the Navy’s…
The exclusive 4 minute extended version of the moment 13,500 people spontaneously sang Hey Jude together in Trafalgar Square. Everyone involved arrived thinking they could be dancing – no-one had any idea how the event would unfold.
Thanks, people: Canadian health officials have found the new H1N1 flu virus in a swine herd in Alberta. They apparently caught it from a human who recently traveled to Mexico. (Reuters) The USDA says in a hasty statement, Not to worry, the virus is still not in our swine, but um, stay away from pigs if you’re sneezing. We don’t want them to catch this bug made from their genetic material that definitely didn’t come from them in the first place.
It ain’t no hamthrax: The Times reports that the WHO said Saturday that there was no evidence of sustained spread in communities outside North America, which would fit the definition of a pandemic. New Scientist concludes that it spreads barely well enough to keep itself going, so we may not be headed for a repeat of 1918. Or are we? Turns out the 1918 flu pandemic, caused by another H1N1 virus, started with a mild, early wave that exploded with a much deadlier second phase.
H1N1 virus tied to hogs, from unimpeachable source : In accessible scientific prose even this English major can follow, pandemic flu reporter Debora MacKenzie outlines the genealogy of our little un-friend H1N1, explains how and when the swine variants mixed with human and avian ones, and lays the blame squarely but restrainedly at the feet of the livestock health industry, which knew about its potential danger but didn’t communicate much with its human-monitoring colleagues. “The evidence suggests that swine flu was a disaster waiting to happen,” she writes. (New Scientist) Meanwhile over at Grist, Tom Philpott rolls up the New Scientist article and uses it to swat Big Pork, whose representative keeps on insisting that “it’s not swine flu, it’s human flu,” as if that’s going to resuscitate pork chop sales.
H1N1 virus tied to hogs, from a source no one will listen to : In a dense, heavily footnoted piece, Michael Greger, MD, cites numerous cases of mutated swine-flu outbreaks in pig factories around the U.S. and explains why they are perfect breeding grounds for ever-newer forms of deadly viruses. But since he’s also the director of public health for the Humane Society, you will probably not be seeing him on Fox News. (HSUS.org)
Caught in a pig lie : Don’t miss Debora MacKenzie’s accompanying, far more outraged blog post about how everyone’s closing ranks to keep this from harming the pork industry. “So if you cross your fingers behind your back and keep a straight face you can state baldly that this virus has not been seen in pigs before,” she writes. “Well, obviously this virus is different – its siblings have never spread readily in people before either. But the people making these statements know perfectly well that the Mexican flu virus is the very recent descendant of one of the triple reassortants that have been circulating in the US for a decade.” (New Scientist)
Pope-ularity contest : CNBC’s Erin Burnett sat down with Smithfield CEO Larry Pope today for a friendly nuzzle, apparently designed to help the pork industry get the message out that you can’t catch influenza from your bacon. Which is true (as far as we know). Pity that message had to be delivered with a nice juicy helping of lies, aided and abetted by the USDA, about how there is “No tie-in between this influenza and any pigs” and “absolutely no evidence that ties influenza back to our industry.” (Uh, guys? Meet Ms. MacKenzie and lots of science-y types, above.) Other Pope statements that had us gagging: “I’m extremely proud of how we are from a corporate social responsibility standpoint.…We do something in all the communities that we do business.” Related: Pope also sent a letter to all employees reassuring them that the company was doing everything it can to prop up its share price combat the “sensationaliz[ation] of this serious illness.” Because, Pope assured them — articles like “Boss Hog,” Rolling Stone’s searing indictment of the company’s environmental, animal welfare, and labor record notwithstanding — “our first priority as a company is to ensure the health and safety of our herds and our employees so that consumers can trust our products.” (Smithfield Foods)
The other fright meat: The National Pork Board will launch a national media campaign next week to assure consumers that pork is safe. (Brownfield) This one will be paid, we assume, versus the volunteer one going on right now.
Pork industry squealing like a stuck pig: Swine flu, which caused hog prices to drop 10% this week, could not have come at a worse time for the pork industry, staggering since late 2007 from record high feed prices and suffering from the same recession as the rest of us. Reuters reporter Bob Burgdorfer regurgitates whole, without attribution, the Big Pork party line that the “flu…has no connection to pigs other than containing swine flu genetic sequences.” (Reuters) Related: HuffPo writer David Kirby, author of a forthcoming book on CAFOs, blasts Reuters for editorializing about the “wild theories” of swine flu’s origin in “evil factory farming” (kinda like we do, but hey, we’re a blog, not an international news agency).
This little piggy: Hog farmer and most frequent Ethicurean commenter Walter Jeffries writes about how H1N1 is affecting his pork sales. As he told Fox44 News in a TV interview, it’s not. (Sugar Mtn Farm)
Tick tock pig clock: Good, detective-show-style rundown of how U.S. and Mexican germ sleuths first realized they faced a new type of disease and began racing to isolate its earliest origins. (Wall Street Journal) The L.A. Times has its own version (which, by the way, also says the virus originated in pigs).
Healthcare reform, STAT!: Nicholas Kristof beats the drum for national healthcare, saying “The flu crisis should be a wake-up call, a reminder that one of our vulnerabilities to the possible pandemic is our deeply flawed medical system.” Sounds like all the makings of a blockbuster movie: millions of Americans without access to health care, a severe recession, overextended hospitals, and a nasty new killer virus. (NY Times.com)