Friday, November 21, 2008

Wake Forest Strategic Conversation

My thoughts after a conversation at the Wake Forest Strategic Vision event in New York last night:

As a former student who grew academically inside the closed-gate academic world of Wake Forest, it was not surprising to learn that ten years later, there is still some uncertainty as to how to be a globally effective, pragmatically focused top-tier university. I mean no disrespect by this: but I have lived overseas for years, as have many former student friends. It seems nobody has ever been contacted to help with outreach in that area. I've often felt like Wake Forest didn't feel I was important after I graduated, except in fund-raising. IT was good to see this strategic outreach. But I don't believe, frankly, that the school is prepared to address the world as it operates at this moment in history. the business school seems incapable of knowing how to engage in full partnerships with foreign partners in Asia. The Law School is trying, but its main preoccupation seems to be scholarships and diversity among African-Americans domestically. Again, a great idea and sustainable, and vital. But the world is not concerned with Wake Forest's diversity. It's more concerned with making connections that establish professional development globally, on the ground.

Only the divinity school seems to have excelled in constant, on the ground international development. But that's divinity, and largely ideological exercises, not business and expansion or growth.

Why does Wake Forest insist on saying it is in outreach mode, when it really seems to have looked inward to craft its vision, building a new enrollment center and dorms, rather than campuses in other countries or partnerships in Asia or the Middle East like its partnerships in Vienna, Venice and London?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Interview with Lung Ying-Tai

this is an old interview. I had tried to sell it to a magazine. They liked it but didn't have room, so I have kept it. I wonder if it is still relevant now.


On the evening of January 23, 2006, as millions of Chinese were packing bags and boarding trains to head for the Lunar New Year holiday, a trim, 54-year old Taiwanese woman sat down at her desk to write a letter.

The woman, Lung Ying-tai, arguably Taiwan's most influential cultural thinker, slammed President Hu Jintao publicly in this letter for furthering a ''nation-building myth [that] contains elements of xenophobia,'' as well as running a system that ruins its people by ''treat[ing] truth as lies and lies as truths.''

Like thousands before her, she angled her complaint against the Chinese government censorship machine and pleaded for civility.

But a few factors make her letter one of the most important documents to affect China's ideology on human rights and the intense drama of the ''Cross-Straits Tensions'' that currently embroil Taiwan and China.

Instead of just documenting rank and file abuses, Lung demanded to know how anyone in China or Taiwan can talk about unification--Hu's most vaunted aspiration for China--if Hu himself could not allow China a free press or accord ''civility'' to the Chinese people and its multi-faceted beliefs.

It was a direct challenge to Hu's power and it did not go unnoticed.

The crimes of the Communist Party against Chinese thinkers and dissidents are well known. They include torture, wrongful imprisonment, banishment and overt surveillance, house arrests. And the punishments are usually brought about after calls for tolerance and justice. Like the June 4 Tiananmen Square crackdown 17 years ago, when the student movement made a brave and life-threatening call for democracy.

But that evening something was happening that infuriated Lung and that would begin a very small change in the way the Communist Party treats its media. Lung, a mother of two young men and Chair Professor of arts and humanities at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, was using her pen like a sword.

Unbeknownst to Freezing Point's chief editor, Li Datong, a directive from the Central Propaganda Department, passed on in phone calls to editors at other media outlets, forbade the printing or discussion of the closure of Freezing Point, issued every week in the Beijing Youth Daily, a party mouthpiece.

After the full scale of the closure had become known, Lung, formerly Taiwan's first cultural minister, called Li. Furious and hurt by the shutdown, Li confirmed the closure.

Knowing she did not have much time, Lung worked on the letter for fifteen hours straight, crashed on her bed and slept for five hours and then was back at the computer, where, after a few changes and a moment of self doubt, she hit the send button at 1 p.m. on January 24, dispatching her letter to five major journals in Greater China and the United States.

''Dissidents have written numerous letters. This one hit the target,'' says Lung.

A few weeks after ''An Open Letter to Hu Jintao'' hit news stands and the Internet, Freezing Point was back in print, although editor Li was reinstalled as a researcher in the news department. And Lung was in Hong Kong, where she has been giving lectures at the University of Hong Kong that are meant to educate the Hong Kong people on how to generate a civil society that operates like a true democracy.

And to prove how popular she is, the day before we meet for lunch, Lung gave a talk at the university during a ''red rainstorm warning.'' There were 400 people there and they had to videolink the conference to outside rooms so that the entire audience could listen to her.

''It took [the Communist Party leadership] by surprise,'' says Lung, sitting at a restaurant eating a Western and Asian buffet of sirloin, sushi and sliced zucchini. She sips orange juice through a pink straw.

''Someone linked what they do behind closed doors to the reunification issue. It was strategy, I knew that,'' says Lung.

The strategy was effective, but it almost didn't happen, she says. Just before she hit ''send'' she paused.

''Should I mail it to the chief editor [Li] in Beijing and one or two good friends, to check what I had written,'' Lung recalls. ''If they told me not to shoot at Hu, if I knew too much [about the repercussions of the letter], I might be persuaded to back down.''

If she had backed down, greater China would have missed out on a major development in China's politics, says a China media expert.

''[Lung's letter] was the most important document outside China on the Freezing Point
affair. She directly related the supplement's shutdown to the issue of cross-straits relations,'' says David Bandurski, a researcher for Hong Kong University's Journalism and Media Studies Center and their China Media Project.

''She said, basically, if you can't talk about democracy and free speech, how can we talk about reunification,'' says Bandurski.

And that is a crucial piece of what may seem to American readers like a basic comment on censorship, but what is in fact a powerful political statement for a Chinese that has implications for Taiwan.

Lung is good friends with the Koumintang's likely 2008 presidential candidate, the very handsome tri-athlete mayor of Taipei, Ma Ying-yeou. Ma set her up as the country's first cultural minister after witnessing her powerful influence in bringing a true democracy to Taiwan politics.

In 1999, Lung was living in Frankfurt finishing her eighth year as a research fellow at Orientalisches Seminar, at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. She had written several scathing essays about former Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui. Those essays and a group of articles about democracy led to the first direct elections of a Democratic Taiwan, in 1996. Many scholars believe that those essays and Lung's work since have created a democratic consciousness for Taiwan.

One day, she received a phone call from Ma's office. The mayor wished to create the post of Minister of Culture. The mayor wished Lung to fill that position. Could she send a CV?

Lung was incredulous and responded arrogantly, she admits. Displaying what she calls today her ''bitch intellectual'' side, she told the secretary that if Ma was interested in Lung, ''He should buy all of my books and read them.''

In July, during an official trip to Rome, Ma snuck away with an assistant on a midnight flight to Frankfurt. His secretary again called Lung, this time from the airport hotel. Would she come meet Ma?

''I was really not being considerate,'' says Lung. After negotiating it, they talked for three hours at Lung's home. Lung accepted the position.

But why was the seemingly ''small potato'' position as Cultural Minister so important? It's because of the discussion that Lung was able to create among political parties and Taiwanese citizens about international values.

In her ''Open Letter to Hu Jintao,'' Lung writes that in addition to growing up being Chinese:

''I have also developed something else, a set of values that are parallel to and are equally as important as 'my identity' [as a Chinese].''

''Whichever system upholds those values I believe in will be my country; whichever functions against those values I will despise and reject,'' she writes.

Intellectual independence; intolerance for inequality; rejection of the abuse of state power; respect for knowledge; empathy for the common people; and tolerance for dissent and contempt for lies. All values that the West assumes are the keystones to a democracy, but in Asia are almost rabidly fought against in public discussions.

The Chinese leadership has claimed that the West and the East are different. Therefore, China should abide by its own rules,born out of a situation that disallows a free and open system.

But values, incidentally, have become the major speaking points for a growing crisis in Taiwan. Ma, speaking in public about a debacle this June that saw President Chen Shui-bian come under fire for his son-in-law's alleged un-ethical stock market purchases, used values as a discussion point to address angry crowds who wanted to impeach Chen.

In this way, Lung is not just a floating world of human rights or a peace-loving Chinese. Her writing has affected the political map of Taiwan and the nation's political and cultural relationship to China.

She has written about the experience of watching Chen manipulate the Taiwanese people by feeding off of China's love-hate relationship with the island.

''I felt myself kidnapped--and I choose that word, kidnapped--because Chen's cause covers his brand of nationalism behind a facade of democracy. This is a kind of bullshit,'' Lung says at lunch.

Lung grew up in a fishing village in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and her intellectual and activist coming of age, earned in American university libraries, has made her a sharp critic of political systems that dehumanize citizens.

''I grew up in the KMT's half-baked dictatorship,'' says Lung. ''The first time I walked into a library [in the United States] and opened books describing how the KMT shot the liberal intellectuals; that was the beginning,'' she says of an experience that set her on a course to speak out against two governments that have created a ''manipulated collective psyche.''

''I'm caught between nationalists for reunification and Taiwanese nationalists who want independence,'' says Lung.

One of her defining moments is her work to bring justice to the ''228 Memorial,'' a huge monument near her hometown that marks a massacre of liberal intellectuals that began on February 28, 1947 and ushered in 40 years of martial law.

According to news reports from the time, the KMT systematically hunted down the country's brightest intellectuals who questioned the KMTs rabid nationalism and fantasy of taking back China from the Communists.

When in 2000 the Taiwanese wished to honor the dead of that massacre, Lung orchestrated more precise language for the plaque, which at first absolved the KMT from wrongdoing. The plaque today names KMT leaders who were behind the effort.

Chinese-Americans should be more involved in this history of addressing wrongs in China, says Lung.

''The Chinese government does care [about scrutiny of its practices], especially about how the United States judges them,'' says Lung. ''I do think that the American Chinese could deepen their understanding of current affairs and the situation in China.''

Google and Yahoo! bow to Chinese leadership. Yahoo! allows the larger Chinese firm Alibaba to operate in its name in China. Recently, Yahoo! allegedly provided Chinese police and security officials with important IP addresses for two Chinese journalists, Shi Tao and Jiang Lijun, according to press advocates Reporters Without Borders. Their crime: showing documents to the world that prove China's censorship policies.

And Google screens ''sensitive'' words from its search engine in China. A user, unless he uses a proxy connection, cannot find topics like ''democracy'' or the famous photography of the ''Tiananmen Square incident.''

''You may not stop some of the practices that Google and Yahoo! are doing, but the more protest you make, at least the government knows they are in the wrong,'' says Lung.

But the fight to encourage Chinese activism is difficult. The Chinese identity is averse to speaking out when it comes to political ideas the Communists hold dear. Lung points to Hong Kong, the focus of some powerful lectures over the past year, as an example.

Hong Kong has a reputation as a world city, ''polished'' and sophisticated, situated outside the party politics because of its ''advanced'' economic situation. And sometimes, it lauds itself for shouting down its own government for not acting benevolent or democratic.

But underneath that autonomy, a ''fragile and confused'' psyche does not stick up for the values that through time keep that political machine at bay and create a consciousness that allows for a greater and truer democratic system to arise.

''If you have these right to say you shouldn't fire on your own people in Beijing, why would you have the right to destroy the cultural heritage at home?'' says Lung.

Monday, September 1, 2008

"Get Out of Harlem" is the Microphrase for the American Macrofear Inhabiting Americans

Ranchers in Abilene assess world affairs in unilateral fashion

Recently, my father, a western businessman who works in Abilene, Texas as a consultant manager for a bottling company, called me on the phone to inquire into my living situation.

I mentioned to him that I was thinking of moving apartments from my current position in Harlem, in the Spanish barrio near 125th and Lexington, to something more leafy and South Manhattan.

I wanted to live somewhere where the girls walked around with blue hair and men wore faux-Western button up shirts and hipster jeans in a post-modern shrug to the traditions of this great frontier-shaping country. The idea of living in a place where bars stayed open till four and you needed code words and special networking connections to get into restaurants intrigued me. There is something very American about access and special privileges. This is the New York City that I had seen from my television in Hong Kong. This is the New York City that I had moved to, but I was not experiencing it up in Harlem.

In Harlem, I am without privilege and exposed to all that is the world in New York.

Harlem is, in general, a nice place to live. Not many people are crowding around in it trying to experience it all. It doesn't have the frenetic hyper-attentive hierarchy of trend-snatching hipsters. Usually the streets are filled with people from all over the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and the Middle East and South Asia, accompanied by their music.

Foreigners and native New Yorkers mix. Migrants, destined to arrive in order to send home all they capture, mill around and work incessant hours in part-time jobs that are easy to capture.

But on any given day, Harlem is dirty and it is dangerous, in relative terms. Almost every morning on the way to work I will literally walk around piles of trash, flying newspapers and at least once a week I will be stumbled into by someone who is in some kind of alcohol-induced or drug-created stupor. In other words, the tourist in New York is likely not sending home postcards with Harlem's realities pasted on them, inscribed with "Wish You Were Here!"

This obviously doesn't please my parents, hard-wired as they are to ascribe success to their three children. Even though I am 33 years old and have lived well on my own for over 15 years, they worry about me more than they ever have, dreaming up improbable terrors that pale in comparison to the riots I have worked in, and the fascist dictatorships that I have traveled to visit.

Offhand, I mentioned to my father that a man had been murdered on my street corner, 33 stories below, only 100 meters from my front door. This unsettled my father, and rightly so. He asked for details. Was it a gun? Yes, it was. What was he doing? I don't know. I thought it had something to do with an argument. But nobody in the building has said anything about it.

My father took the news with barely a second thought. "Get out of Harlem, find somewhere else to live. You represent money to them, and that's not their fault. That's the social conditioning," he said.

This is my father's thinking. I believe that it represents more of the country's thinking, too, when it comes to foreign affairs. It is the same kind of thiking that has framed the federal response to September 11.

Dominique Moisi is a Senior Advisor at the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales, in Paris, and the author of the forthcoming book The Geopolitics of Emotions. He writes in The Land of Hope Again? An Old Dream for a New America:

The United States looks at the outside world with the distance, if not the distrust of a psychologically self-sufficient country. Since World War II, he United States has been aware that its security depends on its ability to interact with the world -- a realization that was reinforced by the Cold War and more brutally by 9/11. But it has, nevertheless, always felt alone in its power.

The ironic, and I might even say hypocritical, mindset of the modern day American living in the post-modern world, is to retreat and to hide behind the walls of its fortress all of the character, personality, possessions and unique traits that the rest of the world wants to share with it, because it feels that it is so unique that other people want to steal and to take from it.

How medieval!

The world that walks around Harlem under my 33rd floor apartment is the greater world that America exists in, to its own self an island.

My father's thinking is the thinking that is running this election in competition against Barack Obama, the world candidate. In a world that is becoming more American, in terms of its cultural sameness and its penchant for the unique and the different, America is becoming more like the Old World. As Moisi writes in this letter to Americans on the verge of their elections for president:

The task facing the United States requires a sort of Copernican revolution of the American mind: it means accepting that although the world will look more and more similar to the United States an even familiar in cultural terms, it will not longer be defined by the United States alone or even by it principally. The first challenge of the next U.S. president will be to adjust Americans to this new world system, whose creation you have accelerated.

I have seen that in Asia. China is not striving to be democratically open and liberal like the United States. No, it took from the United States model the behavior that was most fluid and most easily traded to the rest of the world: the art of making money.

With money comes power. With the need to make money comes innovation. Not in politics, but in the power politics has to make new connections. Welcome to the world where you can go to sleep watching the news and wake up on your couch seeing the buildings you built as a testament to America's unmoving power be sold to the highest bidder, a bidder half a world away.

The truth about China is true for the Middle East.

Chrysler Building now owned by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority

Can Bobby Jindal Pass the Hurricane Test?

Picked this up from Sree Srinavasan's Facebook stream:

So far, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is looking good in the media. He's succeeded in reducing the potential destruction from Hurricane Gustav to Louisiana's coastal areas by getting those people out in a fast and uncomplicated manner. His police and National Guard numbers are way up from the last big hurricane, Katrina.

South Asian Journalist's Association co-founder and all around good guy Sree Srinivasan links to a SAJA blog about Jindal's potential for a future presidential position. In it, an exchange between CNN anchor Rich Sanchez and libertarian Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman.

It reads as follows:

SANCHEZ: Watch this fellow Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana and you almost say to yourself here's a guy who's handling this situation, doing really yeoman's work. He seems composed, he seems organized, he seems to be a very effective communicator. And your are almost wondering and asking yourself, boy here is a guy who would have made a very good vice-presidential choice, wouldn't he?

BARR: And maybe in the years ahead he'll make a good presidential choice for the Republican party. Very, very impressive fellow. Has a tremendous grasp of figures, organization, process, in addition to presenting himself very well. He has a tremendous future, I think.

SANCHEZ: It's not fair to ask the question, it's almost like being a backseat driver... But had the McCain campaign had another week to make this decision and they'd seen this guy's performance, do you think there was the possibility they may have... what's the old... I could have had a V8, (slapping his forehead) I could have a Jindal?

This is not the only time that CNN has been enamored of Jindal.

Probably four years ago, a mainstream media outlet [it may have been CNN] did a future Republican leaders bit and Jindal was all over it.

There was this mention in RedState in August of 2004: They ask him who might be the presidential candidate for 2008. Notable by the absence of a mention is John McCain.

I think we have to step back and realize that the leader in ‘08 may well be someone that we don’t even know today. Obviously there are many known names – Majority Leader Frist, Gov. Bush, Gov. Owens, Mayor Giuliani, Gov. Pataki – who could all reasonably try to fill the role. It really all depends on who emerges from the pack.

And I think a lot of this depends on the nature of the issues. Is the war on terror still the biggest issue we face? Or are domestic issues back at the forefront? One of the reasons that Gov. Bush was able to win in 2000 was that domestic issues were the main discussion, and he clearly had the resume to lead on these issues – on education, health care, taxes and other issues.

No, it isn’t clearly “someone’s turn” to take the leadership role – but we don’t want it to be someone’s turn. Few would’ve predicted that President Bush or President Clinton would’ve been the leaders of their parties four years in advance of their victories… and I think that’s a healthy thing – we want to determine who leads based on the challenges we face, based on external events.

And here is the Bobby Jindal blog with no mention of the current Hurricane proceedings. Perhaps they are too busy.

But has the US$1 billion in levee reconstruction money and low-lying lands refurbishment arrived too late? There was this in an August 19th blog post:

As we are now in the middle of hurricane season, we are constantly reminded of how important our hurricane and flood protection systems are. Last week, I announced more than $1 billion in funding for hurricane protection and coastal restoration, the largest single investment in these areas in our state’s history. As the New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote, “there are hardly more important goals for Louisiana’s long-term future than rebuilding our coast and improving hurricane protection.”

As I have said before, the time for studies and research has long passed. It is time to start breaking ground and digging dirt on these projects, and with this announcement we are ready to do just that. The money will go towards building stronger and safer levees, reinforcing existing levees, and helping rebuild our coast. While our levee systems are generally the focus of news coverage, rebuilding our coast is just as important to our state’s future. One study estimates that for every two miles of coastline we reduce storm surges by one foot, vastly improving the safety of our coastal cities and habitats.

As environmental groups said in the Thibodaux Daily Comet, “Louisiana’s spending plan is good news… [as] the plan includes a healthy balance of hurricane-protection and wetlands-restoration work.” These projects, along with nearly $15 billion in ongoing coastal restoration and hurricane protection projects in New Orleans and other areas of the state, represent one of the largest public works efforts in the world, showing our commitment to ensuring the safety of our gulf coast communities.

The post is found here: after a brief mention that Louisiana is conversations with General Motors to support the expansion and presence of an assembly plant in Shreveport.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Supernatural Thriller Set During Tsunami in 2004 Makes Europeans Angry

Vinyan, a story about a white European family that loses their baby during the tsunami has enraged some members of the European community. They believe that films staged during the context of horrendous events, should not be made.

Other people think that it is the role of art to look at things in a new light.

I think that people who have a memory of something horrible are afraid to deal with the fact that those feelings feed the ego, and they are unwilling to let go of them and let other feelings take over. It's an issue they have, emotionally, with control. I respect that disaster has struck these people's lives. But it is the purpose of art to help us move along in our lives, at the expense of our egos.

Bernard-Henri Levy Discusses Why Daniel Pearl Was Killed

His thesis:

Daniel Pearl was on the verge of discovering three things about Pakistan, al-Qaeda and the Pakistan secret service / intelligence services ISI.

Danield Pearl was on the verge of finding "a link between ISI and al-Qaeda, or the jihadists around al-Qaeda."

Levy discusses the second point is that Pearl was finding out the role the Gilliani, the guru to the Shoebomber, "is also the man who inspires bin Laden to fight the war. He has very short ideas, and there are men who have the ideas for him."

And the third point: "I think he was inquiring on the very sensible point of nuclear weapons in Pakistan. Could have been, that there were some contacts between Pakistani scientists and bin Laden. The point is to find out if it goes further than that.

He also, frighteningly points out that "the next step in this war of terrorism could involved nuclear weapons. This is the idea of al-Qaeda today."

Because of this, and because of his work walking in the footsteps of the murdered journalist Pearl, Levy, very importantly, believes the real war is in Pakistan.

"There has been a mistake of calculation. [The war in Iraq] was not the right goal," he tells Charlie Rose.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Uyghur Attacking Uyghur in Xinjiang Province, Western China

One of the most intriguing situations to happen in China is not an economics miracle story, but a "simmering" violent situation that many have linked to terrorism sponsored by the East Turkestan Liberation Movement.

There are, however, a few details about the latest incident which has caught my attention. First of all is the surprising and most obvious detail of violence by Uyghurs against Uyghurs. This situation is gaining new dimensions… or perhaps it is more appropriate to say that the conflict has always been far more nuanced than the “simmering Uyghurs” summary that is most often put forward by Western media outlets touching base with the region. The fact of the matter is, the Uyghurs’ involvement in Han develoment/colonization on one hand and East Turkestan freedom fighting/terrorism on the other hand is far from black and white. In an area is remote as this one we can expect both a strong anti-Han sentiment, as rural areas tend to be predominantly Uyghur and mostly more traditional, and a local party/government structure that is mostly Uyghur, since, well, there are less Han around to run things. So we see loyal Uyghur police officers falling in the line of duty, and who I believe inevitably will be put forward by the CCP as model minorities and to further reinforce the “extremists on the fringes” model of Uyghur discontent.

Victims of latest Western China violence all Uyghurs