Tag Archives: politics

the ol’ walk’n’talk

The other day I went out walking. It’s spring now, so the sun comes out sometimes and then it’s pleasant to see what there is to see. And for the first time in a long time – maybe even ever when I’ve been out by myself without a more talkative companion – I chatted with a busker for something like ten minutes. I see him at the library all the time so it’s not like he was a complete stranger or anything. We talked about Stalingrad and the shittiness that was WW2’s Eastern Front, topics we knew through History Channel documentaries, wargames and Hollywood movies.

Last week I went to Gold River, and before we started work we stopped for coffee. In the coffeeshop there was another table of four who were talking about someone they all knew who’d hit some ice and then the ditch just last week. It’s weird having a conversation in a small place where you know whatever you say will be clear to everyone around you and that they aren’t anonymous strangers but know who you are, or can find out. This was the day after Hugo Chavez died but I couldn’t draw my coworker into a discussion of South American politics, possibly for that reason. More likely because we didn’t have much interesting to say about Chavez. Though I did try to talk a bit about Chavez’s love of baseball.

I’m looking forward to the BCLA conference this year. I’m going to be on a couple of panels talking about things I find cool (breaking digital locks and indie comics), and interesting people are going to be talking ’bout cool shit on others. I’ve been going to Vancouver more recently, and I think it’s important for me to keep doing it. Just talking with friends and colleagues puts me in a much different (better) mindset for being here. Reading a lot just isn’t the same.

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book review: war powers (dmz volume 7)

War Powers evidently falls somewhere in the second act of Brian Wood’s comic DMZ. The art remains dirty and everything you’d want out of a new american civil war in New York, but I have to admit I feel like Matty Roth (the journalist protagonist) feels like he’s losing his way. This volume he spends doing political work, not being the voice in the wilderness. I don’t know. I’m not saying Mr. Wood is writing it wrong or anything, but I miss the way Matty used to be. In this volume he takes a stand that I don’t agree with, not one bit. It’s still a good story, but I feel like it’s becoming a sad one.

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oh spineless administrations, aren’t you cute and ubiquitous?

Did you hear about the gutless public library administration that didn’t tell the corporate sponsors of a non-library event in their city to fuck right off? I shared it on Vagabondscrawl already today, but it always takes a while to show up there from Google Reader. It also made me mad enough to talk about here. So here you go:

Bookninja says: Libraries in Vancouver should tell Olympics, and spineless bosses, to “fuck off”

The corporate assholes at the Vancouver Olympics, through the spineless leadership of the Vancouver library system, have instructed city librarians to not only not use products and services by competitors of official Olympic sponsors for Olympic-themed events, but also to cover with cloth or tape any existing infrastructure with offending brand names or logos. I’d say I’m speechless but, given the headline, I think I’ve got my response down.

Libraries should not be beholden to that kind of shit. Did you hear about the Sam Katz sponsored idiocy they’re planning to try in Winnipeg? Corporate naming rights to anything and everything, including library books. Maybe if someone wasn’t so fucking horny for a helicopter, the library would be able to get books that qualified librarians chose rather than whatever someone wanted their name in. I don’t know if that will actually affect any sort of buying decisions. How would I possibly know? But I don’t want to see libraries quietly fold and become part of the corporate bullshit pervading our society. That’s why I’m going to library school next year, inshallah.

A while back I read a book (which it appears I didn’t review here) called Revolting Librarians Redux. It’s about how librarians are supposed to change fucking systems. To make things better. Better cataloguing, better service, just betterness, often in spite of administrations. Because really, the idea of having information provided for free, and with people to help you sort through it, is a pretty great idea. Not everyone can afford broadband internet at home and not everyone can get through all the shit that’s out there. I hate the idea that these administrations try to turn libraries into corporate-sponsored zones. Pepsi doesn’t give a shit about giving the citizens a means to be informed, unless it is being informed about Pepsi. Libraries are supposed to be better than that.

Shut up and let me be an idealist.

These stupid policies get in the way of what competent librarian folk do. And these Vancouver Olympic policies were written by a City communications flack on her own initiative. Nobody said the Olympics weren’t going to happen unless a Wendy’s logo got covered up. There is nothing at stake beyond the freedom of information to be represented at the library. She was just worried about offending the money and wanted to tell her offensive colleagues down at the library to tone it down while the adults were in town. Rolling over preemptively in case of trouble. Just in case someone might be offended by the “wrong” symbol. Which is exactly what libraries shouldn’t be doing. Moral of the story: people in offices suck.

Unrelated to anything, I heard people talking about the movie The Warriors yesterday, and I (not being involved directly in the conversation) got to say “Caaan youuu diggiiiiit?” and only one of the people involved look at me like I was insane. The other was all over that shit, and we chatted about the movie and the videogame that brought the movie to my attention. Which was pretty satisfying.

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book review: the crazed

Ha Jin writes in English, but about China. I’ve talked about a few of his books before. The Crazed is about a literature student at a shitty Chinese college in 1989. He’s studying for his PhD exams so he can go to Beijing with his fiancee when his adviser has a stroke. The student has to take care of his teacher and listening to the babyish madman in his hospital bed makes him think about things differently. It’s quite good. That same understated kind of tone I’ve felt in the rest of his books. You keep on waiting for the big melodramatic thing to happen but for the most part it doesn’t, making it all feel much more real.

That it’s 1989 is significant to the story and Chinese politics are around, though not as prominent as university politics. I kind of feel like if I didn’t know modern Chinese students and how universities out there worked I might not have liked this as much as I did, but I feel like I knew how accurate all this stuff was.

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So Salman Rushdie came to Winnipeg to give a lecture. I went. I lost the little green notebook I’ve been taking notes in for the past few months. Including the lecture tonight. Selah.

Here’s what I remember:

He talked a lot about literature. Moreso than I thought he would. I’d have thought it would be a more political kind of thing considering the title (which I can’t remember and am not going to go look up just now), but it was about the importance of surrealism in our non-real world. He talked about our world being odd. He talked about the financial crisis in “this country” (no one corrected him on that, though someone did when he was talking about the collapse of newspapers and he was discussing the Boston Globe and the Washington Post – “You’re in Canada!” and he got flustered and embarrassed and was a bit more conscious of it afterwards) and made casual shots about Dubya and Dan Brown (who my mom had never heard of), and the Ayatollah. That was weird actually. After talking a bit about his “little problem” he ended it by saying something like “but now only one of us is dead” and everyone laughed and applauded. “Woo! Death to the Ayatollah!” Yeah. Weird.

He took issue with people labelling his work magical realism, because so often it stresses the magical and forgets about the realism. He spoke of how “The world isn’t journalistic anymore. It’s fictional.” He talked a lot about Dickens and how novels used to be the media people learned the news. He talked about language and being able to tell your own story. Of artists as rememberers. He made reference to Kundera there, and to Joseph Heller and Jane Austen and Bono. I felt like I was in the right place since I knew 90% of the writers he was talking about. But I also felt like I learned something about what my job as a writer is. And that’s important. If I’m going to try do this thing.

And afterwards I met up with James and LeAnn and we got our books signed after chatting in line. I told Sir Rushdie when he was signing The Ground Beneath Her Feet how it was the book I always give to my musician-type friends. He told me how his musician friends appreciate it too. “‘Yes!'” he said they say “‘That’s how it is!’ And what better review can a person get?” I didn’t tell him how much one of my musician friends hated it. James got Haroun and the Sea of Stories signed and told him how he’s taught it in grade nine for years. SR told James that the companion volume will be coming out in the next few months. It’s about Haroun’s little brother.

Yeah. I had a wonderful time.

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book review: a storm of swords

You’ll be pleased to know I’ll soon be done with this series, as A Storm of Swords is book three of four that exist so far in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. And things continued apace with war and the politics of kings. This book saw a bit more magic showing up and weddings that went really badly. Martin has no compunction against fucking up best-laid plans. It’s gotten to the point where I hate to read any characters coming up with a plan because you know that nothing good will come of it. Not because the plans are bad but because other people are already making plans. There’s also more religion showing up, and good things happened to a couple of characters, which means I’m kind of scared to read the next book.

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americans may have demagogues but we’re toppling our government this week

I must say I loves me the day to day uncertainty of a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Our federal election began a year later than the American presidential race, finished three weeks earlier so Harper could welcome Obama as neighbouring leader, and now the NDP and Liberals reach a deal to topple the minority Tory government next week but they haven’t decided who the new leader of the Liberal party is yet, so who knows who the Prime Minister will be when Obama stops being the president-elect? Will protocol demand that Bush leave a congratulatory message for someone? When we aren’t even having an election over this? I love these flurries of activity. What’s going on in the states? A whole lotta waiting for 1/20/09. We could have three more leaders by then.

(For my American reader(s?), our NDP and Liberal parties are our Centre-Left and Business-Centre parties. The Conservative Party is currently in power but don’t have enough members in parliament to do what they want with impunity, which is why this is possible. We’ve talked about this before.)

Note that I am not by any means an expert on the actual non-trivial implications of any of this, so please excuse any misinformation you might feel is part of my commentary.

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22 politics

At the Nanjing Massacre memorial… Well, I think I should head back there and read everything in the exhibition hall, so maybe I’ll refrain from too much commenting on that just yet [I never did get back -JJU]. But outside the hall we wandered the grounds where stones are placed for specific massacre sites and the ground is scattered with stones to represent the 300,000 dead. Cheryl says that was a number specifically and politically chosen. Because they can’t tell exactly how many people died. There’s the Grave of 10,000 Corpses but it doesn’t have that many bodies identified (all through that hall they’ve got scattered femurs and humeri broken beside the walkways). The 300,000 was chosen to be a larger number than the atomic blasts killed in Hiroshima (and Nagasaki?). To ensure that Chinese suffering could be quantitatively higher than that of their enemies. So people wouldn’t have to say “Sure fewer died but it was more horrible.” More died and it was more horrible. No wiggle room for the devils. I should be fair. I only saw the Japanese called devils outside the museum by the statues with their quotes and poems.

Cheryl talked a lot about Japan and her time at the Hiroshima memorial. She’s heard people speak on the topic of this whole ugly history. Japanese pastors saying “Our salvation lies in your (Chinese) forgiveness.” Japanese civilians saying “Yes it’s true we didn’t know what was happening but we can’t get away from our guilt that way. It’s our responsibility to know what our government is doing in our name.” (I know that one chilled me with responsibility. We live in a democracy. My government represents me far moreso than the CCP represents an ordinary Chinese person. And what are they doing in my name? Well, at least I’m not an American.) Chinese Christians saying that one of the great obstacles to faith was the idea that god even loved the Japanese. How could that be?

Later in the evening we were at Wang Xuefu’s house and were talking politics. He speaks of the Nanjing Massacre and the Cultural Revolution as psychologically traumatizing events for the nation. As a country “Chinese are very good at forgetting” he said (something I think needs a bit more explanation or at least some speculation) but that means the wounds get buried deeper. The government isn’t interested in healing. All they care for is other things: Economics. Power. And if they can harness the wounds and use them for their own purposes then that’s exactly perfect. Healing would only hurt that agenda.

We got into the story of a prof at Nan Da who is a member of a minority political party. He submitted an open letter to the CCP asking for open elections. On Xuefu’s couch we all sat back with mouths agape, laughing at the audacity. What happened? He was forced to resign from his party and is no longer allowed to teach classes.

In the last couple of weeks there’ve been protests in Lhasa. Monks and civilians in Jokhang Square marching angrily. And this has been shown on CCTV which probably means a forceful clampdown is forthcoming. But not too forceful since the eyes of the world are starting to focus on the country. There was a 19-year-old woman from Xinjiang who supposedly smuggled gasoline onto a plane to try and hijack it in an attack on Beijing. In the media reports the focus is on outside separatist forces using these Chinese people to make revolting statements. “And they’re such monsters they’d even use an innocent teenaged girl to try hurting China.” All these outsiders giving the government excuses for support from the people.

One of Xuefu’s friends is a professor and former journalist and he says that his greatest regret is being part of the propaganda machine for so many years. He’s the one who taught Xuefu about proxies and tunnelling through the Great Firewall. We talked about how there are no rules in China anymore, how classrooms are set up as dictatorships just to satisfy the teacher’s desire to feel important.

Korean respect for age and authority was held up as a kind of model for integrating Confucian values with Western freedoms. Cheryl talked about her Korean friend who won’t talk politics with his family because then his father would demand to be listened to, and “I don’t want to vote for who my father wants people to vote for.” By not discussing it the son isn’t forced to disobey when it comes to the ballot box.

We talked about how in China the people in power have no ideology any more, no ideals beyond staying in power and keeping the good life all that money affords. Supposedly people had thought maybe Hu Jintao would be someone who’d start the process toward democracy but once he got in it was all the same old thing. If a transition to a democratic society were to happen many people say it would be chaos. On these couches in the nicest Chinese living room I’ve ever been in, that chaos was limited if the transition was led from above. Sure a revolution would be chaotic but so much of that is because it would be a fight between the people and the government. If the government were to gradually institute more local-level elections and work its way up, there wouldn’t have to be blood. But how could that happen? It won’t as long as people have the feeling that things could be worse.

The top and middle these days have more and more to protect and the bottom can only steam and maybe have an occasional anti-Japanese riot/three minutes of hate. People are gradually getting better off (“Materially,” I interject. “In every way,” Holly corrects me, “There’s more free speech and better health care available and yeah.” I sit back chastened like the dumb westerner I happen to be.) and a lot of them see that as enough.

All this talking was happening out at Wang Xuefu’s house in the suburbs. Now my idea of suburbs is shaped by the small city I grew up in. Basically anything that’s not downtown is a suburb to me. Places with trees and lawns and such. This suburb is an hour and a half outside the city (by bus. Car or taxi mabe half an hour to 45 minutes) off shitty dirt roads and freeways. It’s more like living in Connecticut when you work in New York, or at least it seemed like that to me. One of the roads we got into a traffic jam on is the state road to Hangzhou. They’re building the subway out there so it’ll be more connected in a year or two.

Inside their subdivision though I thought I’d gone to hell. There are some little hills and a manmade lake his house backs (fronts?) onto. And it’s surrounded by these birthday cake tiered townhousey things just piled on each other. The definition of prefabbed nicety. White Ridge on the Pack ’em In scale. The other side of their house faces a row of identical buildings across a cement tiled lawnspace. Xuefu stressed very insistently that he wasn’t a rich man, though his house was beautifully upper middle class. Three storeys, heated floors on the main and top levels. Dark stained wood staircase and dining room table. High ceilings with recessed lighting, space for a huge entertainment unit but holding a 24″ old TV. A beautiful office with skylight attached to the master bedroom. Everything very clean and relatively elegant. Lacking in art for the space but whatever. A whiteboard hung in the dining room which was a bit tacky or something but in general it made you forget you were in a townhouse. He bought out there a few years ago when there was nothing, so it was cheap. He’d “had a feeling it would soon be developed” from what he’d seen in the US. So he got in at the base and it’s already quadrupled in value. Good for them and all that.

He also has a silver Buick parked in the driveway. And really, to live out there now you need to have a car. He learned to drive in the States I think, but this winter in a snowstorm (not the big one, a couple of weeks before it) they’d been driving home from some town where they were doing some training and it was icy and shitty and he spun out in a 360. They decided to take safety as a priority over the law and Holly took the wheel. She had greater experience and got them home safely in the end.

Earlier this year the car got keyed when they were out somewhere and Holly was impressed that he didn’t flip out (he really loves this car). He did complain about the ignorance of whoever did it though. “Why does he have to take out his aggression on his fellow man?” Maybe the term he used was “common man.” In any case, Holly thought “You aren’t the guy’s fellow man; you have a car.” And a nice house in suburban hell.

The day after all this discussion Zhang Guo Xian was asking Holly about different countries. “What is your view on…Mexico?” kind of stuff. She said she likes all countries. “Even Japan?” asked Xiao Meng. “Yup.” And then with obvious practice Xiao Meng launched into “Well if you really loved China…” and Holly stormed away. I don’t blame her one bit. I absolutely detest that kind of narrow party-line view of Xiao Meng’s. Holly says she’s a very good and loving friend but she just can’t talk to her about what China is like. I know that since I don’t see (or at least understand) her being a loving good friend I really don’t like Xiao Meng. All I get is the cartoon villain snickering and this narrow narrow view of the world and the TV watching and stuff. If my Chinese were better… but it’s not. So I’m stuck here seeing and hearing what I can and what is explained to me. This is really a very useless document when I think clearly about it. All that humble bullshit up front is really true. Don’t think there’s any insight here.

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13 getting along

Mao was a horrible cock. I think that’s a fair way to describe someone who kills all sorts of people to cement his own hold on power and then using that power to kill even more.

Yesterday I read a book about The Long March and while it wasn’t as inflammatory as the Jung Chang Mao Blows Goats book I read a while back [in 2006 -JJU], it did nothing to dispel the notion that goats were animals Mao could fellate given enough hoorayishness as incentive.

When Holly was reading it she mentioned a purge of 20,000 people to Xiao Meng sort of casually but knowing the kind of reaction she’d get. That reaction was: “Mao was a perfect leader. He may have had a few flaws but there would be no China without him.” Obviously(?) I disagree.

I wonder what the country would be like if there’d been no Mao, or if he’d remained a marginalized figure in the Communist Party. A China without a cult of personality, what would it have changed? Would it have been harder to stop being communist? As it was there was a good opportunity for this gradual break to begin once he died. If it had been more of a movement and less the “will of one man” there might have been more inertia? Although I suppose the catholic church has kept going through hagiography.

But would there be the same celebration of that guy who won the 110m hurdles in 2004 if the country didn’t have this saint-making tradition? The hurdler is in a pile of ads with a young black athlete. They are accepting awards or running (in competition, not casually) or (Holly says) there’s one with the black guy sitting in a chair rubbing his chin and dreaming about the Chinese hurdler. Holly didn’t recognize the black guy and neither did I. We wondered for a while if he was the guy the hurdler beat, and if so how much he was being paid to appear in all these ads. It turns out he’s the guy who won the 100m dash that year (we think, this is taken from deciphering fine print on the ads). Since that’s traditionally the event that determines the “fastest man in the world” it makes sense for a Chinese ad to lump the two together.

Supposedly Yao Ming has a fracture in his foot or ankle and there’s a lot of fear that he won’t be able to play basketball for his country in Beijing this year. That would sure suck for him. And it would be inauspicious for Team China in general. Jo was saying that even with the recent snowstorm disaster the weather was clear and sunny on the two days it needed to be for the soothsayers to say it would be an auspicious 2008. Even if it weren’t the Olympic year Holly thinks it would be an important one. Something to do with the 8? I don’t know. What year is it in the lunar calendar? Rat but I don’t know where that sits in the cycle of years. Maybe we’re beginning a new 12-year cycle now. I mean, we’re always beginning a new 12-year sequence, tis the nature of these systems that repeat.

I started this section talking about Mao though. It’s funny how he doesn’t get taken seriously on the list of World’s Worst Dudes. I mean, not to trivialize the Japanese atrocities in China (haven’t been to the Nanjing Massacre memorial yet), but Mao’s purges and famines and such killed thousands of people for no crime too. They were meant to get rid of people who weren’t loyal to him. Ordering 20,000 people dead that way is a lot different from… okay, well. No they didn’t rape purged people with bayonets. Man, I hope Xiao Meng doesn’t read this. But no one was worse to his own people than Mao and Stalin (who, sayeth the book, learned about purges on that scale from Mao. Or at least hadn’t done them on that scale till Mao did them first).

I really don’t understand politics like that. I’m too democratically indoctrinated. All this “kill any dissident” stuff seems so primitive. Like fighting a war for territory. I felt this at the Kun Qu too. “Oh our armies have to go conquer this land.” Why? Why not just figure out a place of your own to be? Fit in somewhere life will let you instead of all the death. Trying to make a better life doesn’t cut it once you’re not hungry sick and cold. Not for me at least.

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nothing says long weekend like heretical rebels

I like that while other provinces have namby pamby Family Day, Manitoba gets Louis Riel Day. And on Presidents’ Day no less.

I’ve just been rereading up a storm here. Finished 1984 this morning, and there’s a lot less to it than I remember from reading it in grade 12. Now I’m into Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972 by the good Doctor. This is a much more interesting read this time (as opposed to 2001 or so the last time I read it) because I’ve got a better sense of what US primaries are about.

And tonight I’m finally going to see No Country for Old Men. Pretty good day. Maybe I should shoot a man named Scott just to get in the holiday spirit.

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