Feb 162015
 

I just got to thinking, “How are the folks in the capital city of Ufa doing today, and…” How’s that? You mean you don’t know where in the world Ufa is? Either did I, until a few minutes ago while I was reading an article about China’s increasing economic and diplomatic forays westward from its borders into Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Those countries along with China form the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or SCO. Their next scheduled meeting is in June 2015 in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan. No little thing. This is a meeting that includes the heavy hitters Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and the heads of the other member countries

But first let’s quickly orient ourselves as to where Ufa, the region of Bashkortostan, and where on the planet this all is.

Ufa map1  Ufa is a city of just over 1 million with a link to the Tran Siberian Railroad. Note that the railroad terminus is Vladivostok, located on this map just above the letter “J” in the word “Japan”. During WWII, Stalin moved much of Russia’s industries eastward to Ufa to keep it out of reach of the invading Germans. Now there is a new invasion.

June 2015 is the next meeting of SCO (see above). With the Russian currency falling, the former Soviet central Asian countries are being hit hard. Meanwhile, China is flexing its economic muscles. China’s aim is to access the mineral and gas resources of the region and also gain a land bridge to the Russian and European markets.

This is all in keeping with Xi Jinping’s “New Silk Road” policy, backed up by a $40 billion commitment. Thus China is encouraging the Asian nations to cooperate in developing road and particularly rail. And there’s more. China is very much concerned with the rising Islamic terrorist threat. China is strengthening its ties to central Asian governments and expanding contacts with Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially as it sees a vacuum being created by American military draw down. Keep in mind also that China has fourteen bordering countries plus not all together happy neighbors in the South China Sea.

Here is a map of the member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, shown in green, and observer countries in blue and purple. It is a lot of land mass, a lot of resources, and a lot of people.

Ufa map 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ufa may be a little dot on a big world map, but the consequences of the agreements to be made there may affect us all.

Charles Dusenbury

Below is a very interesting link to an article on the subject from a Kazakhstan website:

http://www.silkroadreporters.com/2015/02/16/sino-russian-division-labor-keeping-central-asia-stable/

Share
Oct 262014
 

WP_20141026_13_04_07_Pro

An Autumn Sunday morning in Florence. Sleepily, I pad into our crowded little kitchen for a cup of espresso. The air has the vaguely musty smell of wash left on the drying rack mixed with the lingering scent of garlic infused with last night’s Parmesan cheese. I wedge myself between the drying rack, the washing machine and the sink to get to our little vertical slit of a kitchen window. Reaching over the bottles of olive oil and partially consumed table wines, I open the little portal of our own lives, and in floods a whole panorama of Florentine roof tops, historical sites and Italian sounds.

It happens to be the day the clocks are set back an hour, this in a city where the experience of time can be set back centuries. A few blocks over, Giotto’s Campanile and Brunelleschi’s Duomo hold center stage in this piccolo panoramico, yet this Sunday morning it is the even closer bell tower of the Church of San Gaetano that captures attention. Throughout most of the week, the bell sounds emanating from this often under-appreciated baroque edifice reminds one of pots and pans slowly sliding off a shelf. This day however, large bells are being hand-rung by energetic clergy in the tower, their sonorous harmony resonating with those longings for peace and harmony held deep within my heart.

It is silent now. The full cup of espresso remains untouched. My heart is touched to over-flowing.

 

 

 

Share
 Comments Off on Florence; An Autumn Sunday Morning
Sep 052014
 

Ponte vecchio bomb4

 

The man was Gerhard Wolf, a career diplomat who was posted to Florence in 1940, soon after the heady days of Mussolini’s triumphal visit to Florence with his staunch admirer, Adolf Hitler. Consul Wolf was later to become declared an honorary citizen of Florence.

Life had continued along in Florence reasonably well until 1943, when the exasperated German high command occupied Italy. Consul Wolf then became instrumental in preventing the Nazi’s from removing art treasures from the city, while working to save many Jews from deportation, including the famous art historian, Bernard Berenson. Herr Wolf was aided in his efforts by Rudolf Rahn, the deputy ambassador to Rome, and Ludwig Heydenreich, director of the Florentine Kunsthistorisches Institut.

On the Ponte Vecchio, at mid-span, is a plaque commemorating his achievements, particularly the preservation of this historical bridge.

Wolf 2

By the summer of 1944, the allies were advancing on the outskirts of Florence. The German military commander ordered all the bridges over the Arno to be blown up. Gerhard Wolf succeeded in negotiating for the preservation of the Ponte Vecchio by having the army blow up a stretch of buildings adjacent the bridge along the south bank of the Arno river, thus rendering the bridge itself inaccessible.

Ponte Vecchio bomb

 

Wolf 1

There is a touching side note to these events.

Gerhard Wolf was born in Dresden.

 

The plaque in Italian reads: “Gerhard Wolf (1886–1962). German consul, born at Dresden—subsequently twinned with the city of Florence—in played a decisive role in the salvation of the Ponte Vecchio (1944) from the barbarism of the Second World War and was instrumental in rescuing political prisoners and Jews from persecution at the height of the Nazi occupation. The comune places this plaque on 11 April 2007 in memory of the granting of honorary citizenship.”

 

 

 

Share
Jul 252014
 

Skimming through today’s Wall Street Journal, the word “theremin” caught the eye and stumped the brain. It elicited a letter to the WSJ. Posted below is that letter and some explanatory links.

Dear WSJ Editor:

“Theremin”. Now there’s a word to stop a skim-reader in his tracks (“Our Lady in the Middle East”, Television, WSJ 25-Jul-14). For those of us with a 1950’s childhood, the theremin was an integral part of our growing up. Oh, we didn’t know its name but we knew that all authentic spacecraft and trundling robots from outer space made the same eerie, warbling electronic sound. “The Thing; It came from Outer Space” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” are classics of this early 50’s genre.

I still remember two eerie sounds from that 1951 classic movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. The first of course was the “authentic” otherworldly sound out of the studio’s theremin; the other from the horror-constricted throat of Patricia Neal starring up at the looming earth-destroying robot as we all in our theater seats helped by mouthing those immortal, world-saving words, “Klaatu barada nikto!”

Well, we all had a hand in saving the world during that early 1950’s Saturday matinee. Then, spacecraft only came from outer space. But by 1957, the launch of Sputnik changed all that. Now early spacecraft and early examples of the electronic theremin reside in museums.

For those of us of a certain age, that still feels rather eerie.

And here is the promised link, illustrating and explaining the theremin. One sits in the “Sparks Museum of Electrical Invention” in Bellingham, WA

http://www.sparkmuseum.org/collections/the-golden-age-of-radio-(1928-1950)/rca-theremin-1929/

Bellingham, WA itself deserves, may even require some explanation. Inserted below is an article by this author published in Highways Magazine.

HIGHWAYS

 WASHINGTON’S EXIT LESS TRAVELED

Take a detour off the interstate to explore an unspoiled corner of the Pacific Northwest 

Bellingham

Charles P. Dusenbury

GSC Highways

Tuesday January 1, 2008

Bellingham, Washington, a waterfront community of 180,000 just south of the Canadian border on Interstate 5, is more than just an off-ramp on your journey north or south. Beautiful vistas of the fabled San Juan Islands and towering snowcapped peaks, fascinating shops featuring Northwest artisans and a culture of warmth and welcoming combine to make this a pleasurable respite from the rigors of travel.

Whether you plan to spend a few hours or hunker down for a few days in Bellingham, a good place to start is right where people board the Alaska Ferry at the South Bellingham Alaska Ferry Building.

The best way to get there, either by RV or car, is the southernmost of the seven Bellingham exits off I-5. It’s exit 250: Chuckanut, Old Fairhaven Parkway. Follow the signs west to the Alaska Ferry in the south Bellingham community of Fairhaven. Seattle is 75 miles farther south on I-5. Vancouver, British Columbia, is 45 miles to the north. Long-term parking for recreational vehicles is excellent, and there’s plenty of room for maneuvering your rig.

The Alaska Ferry Terminal isn’t just a roll-on/roll-off spot near I-5, so park that rig and, like Captain Vancouver before you, do some exploring. The terminal’s vaulted steel, brick and glass lobby gives the sense that you’ve just stepped off the Orient Express from Istanbul. If the weather’s good, you’ll have sweeping views of Bellingham Bay, downtown Bellingham and the North Cascades’ peak of Mount Baker. Catch it on the right day, and you’ll get a glimpse of the Alaska Ferry with its Jonah-like appetite for boarding vehicles.

Stroll around the interior to find a series of educational displays and informational brochures that’ll help you plan your activities. At the ticket windows near the entrance, you can arrange for excursions such as whale watching, bay tours, evening dinner cruises and passenger ferries to Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands and Victoria on Vancouver Island. Oh yes, and there’s a double-masted wooden sailboat charter for those wishing to relive Washington’s maritime history.

It’s worth repeating that this is a ferry building for vehicles with passage to Alaska. The other vessels here are strictly for passengers. But that’s the whole point: you can take in all that the neighboring islands have to offer without the hassle of transporting your RV there.

The ferry terminal’s Old World ambience extends up several cobblestone-and-brick blocks into the artsy enclave of Fairhaven, brimming with Victorian charm and Northwestern friendliness. Browse the shops and galleries that line the streets for the best from regional artisans. Grab a bite at the converted double-decker bus, smell the roses at the little garden shop across the way or have a quiche and a local Chardonnay. Wine? In Washington? You bet. The state is second only to California in wine production.

Stay out on a summer evening to witness the emergence of a local nocturnal species shepherding their young. They’re easily identified by their fleece blankets, seat cushions, picnic baskets and happy chattering. Follow them as they flock to the central Fairhaven Village Green where the evening’s movie feature projects on a wall. The kid hanging out the window next to the movie is a very realistic painting. That man and woman toasting you from the alfresco restaurant upstairs are happily very alive and all part of the congenial nature of this waterfront village.

On the Waterfront

Fairhaven’s plainer older sister, downtown Bellingham, resides a few miles north around the bay. She’s not a heartthrob at first glance, but dance with her a few blocks and her charms are revealed.

Bellingham’s waterfront has developed into a first-class destination with curving paths among the 1,400 pleasure boats and fishing vessels at the Squallicum Harbor Marina. The Hotel Bellwether, with its distinctive bridal-suite lighthouse tower, serves up fine dining along with two other bay-view restaurants.

A Saturday must-do is the farmers market around Bellingham’s new indoor/outdoor marketplace. Some of the garden-fresh produce and local wines on sale here come from the San Juan Islands. Savor a full-meal crepe as you stroll past local handicrafts while listening to a fine string quartet or a surprisingly mellow bagpipe.

A real find—though it’s seldom found—is the American Museum of Radio and Electricity on Bay Street. On the outside it resembles an old-fashioned radio- and TV-repair shop.

The inside tells a different story. This museum features a detailed recreation of Titanic’s radio room, complete with authentic period communication equipment. Be sure to see the near-priceless original Edison light bulb. Confederate General George E. Pickett’s 1857 wood-framed house still stands just a few blocks away.

Dazzling views are found on Chuckanut Drive, a coastal road heading south out of Fairhaven. A cathedral of overarching trees opens into vistas of the islands. Several turnouts with stunning panoramas lure you to stop and take off your lens cap.

Since the 1920s, a favorite stop on Chuckanut Drive has been the Oyster Bar restaurant. You can’t get shellfish any fresher than this; the oyster farm is just down the lane. The road itself is a bit twisty, but it makes for a charming return to the high-speed straightaways of Interstate 5.

Share
 Comments Off on THEREMIN; a Fast-reader stopper
Nov 162013
 

A late autumn sun angled in and warmed a young Florentine couple seated opposite each other at a little sidewalk café on Piazza dei Ciompi. As they talked, it was clear that the young woman felt an affection for her companion. So how could he remain hunched over a bowl of rigatoni, elbows firmly planted on the table, and not look up at her? Was he really so lacking in the common graces, or merely unable to remain long in her warm admiration?

Piazza dei Ciompi

Piazza dei Ciompi

The clatterings and smells of the nearby open market continued as the couple conversed, he with his head low over the bowl, she seemingly unperturbed. Their conversation continued thus for a while. Softly, without interruption, she placed her left elbow on the small table, then lowered her arm so she could touch his right hand. Soon they were gently caressing each other’s arms almost in rhythm to the conversation. Presently, he had moved around the corner of the table, sitting now very close to her, their hands meeting under the table, still moving slightly as if to emphasize a word or a phrase.

It was only as they began to gather up their belongings and rise from the table that this little vignette of life took on its full meaning; the young man was totally blind. A chair began to tip as his coat brushed by. A kindly patron quietly and unobtrusively moved it out of the way as the couple stepped onto the sidewalk and into the flow of pedestrians. Arm in arm they walked on up the street; he now switching sides with her, in a gentleman’s position on the curbside of her, and always the two were touching, they were smiling, they were happy.

And then it struck me: what would it be like, blind, Italian, and in Florence? So much of what Italians say is communicated with their hands. Florence itself is the very celebration of the arts and architecture, of sweeping panoramas of a skyline made famous by countless old etchings, fading postcards, and gigabytes of cellphone pixels.  What kind of purgatory out of Dante’s imaginings must it be like to be in Florence and be blind to its beauty.

I remained seated at my table, not ten feet from where this little scene had played out. Sipping my glass of the house red wine but not really tasting, I closed my eyes for a moment. Much of what I have not been seeing, not have been sensing here in Florence began to come to me. Bit by bit, the individual sounds and scents from a busy marketplace began to reach my senses: merchants announcing their fresh produce, steel-wheeled carts moving over ancient cobble stones, the scent of frying tomatoes and garlic.

What lies in those courtyards, glimpsed only through a decorative iron gate. What gardens of delight are hidden by that high stone wall, only hinted at by those higher branches, now beginning to shed the autumn-tinged leaves on the sidewalk below?

Florence is far more than just the beauty of its arts and edifices. Florence is a dream, a vision of how life can be, how life is to those who would open and explore what life has to offer, to sense so much that is really here.

EPILOGUE:

There is, in the Piazza della Republica, a remarkable bronze sculpture, this in a city known for its bronzes and marbles. My attention was drawn to it one evening when I saw a lady with a boy, leaning over a tall bronze rectangle, a seeming pedestal awaiting another work of art. The woman was placing the boys hands on various parts of the tectured surface. My curiosity aroused, I waited a few discreet moments after they had left, to exam the source of their interest.

There on the one yard square surface were a cluster of squares, rectangles and rounded shapes. Upon closer examination, it suddenly became clear there was a high bas relief of an aerial view of the Centro Istorico, the historic center of Florence. Each street and building were there as if erected by some master Lilliputan architect. The Duomo, the Palazzo Vecchio, even a Ponte Vecchio, crossing over the River Arno, now frozen into hardened bronze.

Piazza della Republica

Piazza della Republica

Each major landmark building had a polished bronze highlight, its comapritive brightness in relationship to its prominence of importance to generations past and of present day admirers. But this architectural rating was not made by the makers of this interesting little bronze map, but by the many hands of the blind, gaining a better appreciation of the wonders surrounding them, and all of us.

Share
Nov 162013
 

    The “Up Front” commentary by AW&ST Senior Business Editor Joseph Anselmo (April 2,2012) got this senior citizen to thinking: Was the “space business” ever really meant to be a place for “we” to stay in? Growing up in Southern California during the halcyon days of the aerospace industry, my friends and I were raised on the “Promise of Tomorrow” as portrayed in the newly constructed Disneyland, and on the Sputnik-induced fear as spoofed in the movie “The Russian’s are coming”.

In those days, going into space was called the “Space Race”, not going into the “Business of Space”.  To win the space race against the Russians, there was a plan. Goals were set, objectives were achieved, and national pride was bolstered by being first on the moon. Mission accomplished. But what about the “business” of space?

Maintaining a manned presence in space never really had a business plan, certainly not in the sense that your local banker would expect if you came in for a loan. Rather, the public was assured of the “promise” of tomorrow’s unimagined benefits such as new technologies, new materials, perhaps even new or improved medicines manufactured in the weightlessness of space. All this to be achieved as our nation “invested” more and more into an hopeful results that lay just over the horizon.

Well, the public has since learned that government investment means spending our tax dollars, and that  hope is not a plan you can count on, certainly not in the costly business of space.

Charles Dusenbury

Share
 Comments Off on The “Business” of Space
Dec 042012
 

    Okay, let’s play a little game of “Pin the tail on the donkey.” Here are a small handful of pins. They represent your nation’s limited military and economic resources. No blind folds here. Bring all your knowledge and information about the world to bear. Now where the map will you allocate our finite strengths? One, two, maybe several Middle Eastern countries? Iran? Yemen?

How about Africa with so many challenges such as Nigeria, Sudan, or Somalia? Maybe even some Latin American countries such as Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, Manuel Ortega’s Sandinista suppressed Nicaragua or even America’s trouble border with ITS NAFTA neighbor, Mexico. Are you concerned about the Russian bear that is sniffing around more again?

Now who would have imagined that one’s national security might well depend on the successful outcome of just such a game? It does of course, and in a very real way. For those men and women tasked with securing our nation’s future, losing is definitely not an option.

Probably you would find that most people and most maps have unrecognized cultural orientations and assumptions in them. Take that big wall map of the world for instance. There is a good chance it is centered on America, or even more likely, the Prime Meridian, running smack dab through the center of Her Majesty’s Royal Naval College. Most likely the extra pins were in your left hand, and you reached with your right hand…to the right…to the east, the Orient by any other name. Indeed, do we not refer to the Middle, Near, and Far East? The Anglo-European mind is, so to speak, oriented to view the world that way. And therein lays an interesting phenomenon.

Had you noticed the irony? While our attention tends to be drawn geographically and geopolitically towards the east, the East itself is actually less noticed behind us there in the west.

If given just one pin to stick in a map to indicate one of the most likely places for serious future conflict to arise, where would this author place it? Having spent some considerable time and research and discussions with military planners, that pin would pass right over the seas that lap onto the shores of China and right into the heart of Southeast Asia:

The South China Sea.

Share
Dec 042012
 

As has been alluded to in earlier postings, there is an understandable tendency for us in America to have our attention drawn eastward over the Atlantic, towards our founding cultures and beyond to the trouble spots of the Middle East and Africa. But as we are looking east, The East is coming up on us from the west, from across what was once the wide, exotically isolating expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

The Chinese have a salutation, actually a curse of sorts: “May you live in interesting times.” It might be hard to agree on just one term to describe the global socioeconomic times in which we live, but certainly “interesting times” would have to be at the top the list. And nowhere would “interesting times” apply more than in China itself.

2012 is the year of the once-in-ten-years handing over of power at the very top ruling positions in China. Ten years ago it all went smoothly and secretly. This year the process has all the subtlety of a Chinese New Year’s festival. One blind man has opened the eyes of the world to China’s appalling state of human rights violations. Disturbing, but not necessarily a surprisingly new revelation. More telling and much more revealing has been the recent episode of the public fall from grace of the prominent (now former) governor of Chongqing, Bo Xilai.

It is not this brief essay’s intent to cause your eyes to glaze over with all “Those faraway places, with the strange soundin’ names.”[1] But stick with this for a moment. By tracing the threads associated with just this one name, Bo Xilai, the endemic corruption of the entire Chinese ruling and economic system will become apparent and why you and your friends should be aware and concerned.

Bo Xilai is a prince among princelings: those born of the original members of Mao’s inner circle. With such nobility, much was given by way of elite education and financial advantage, and much was expected in the realm of leadership and of the keeping close the reins of power. This year he was due to be lifted up to that holy of holies, the living pantheon of the ruling Permanent Committee of Nine. But Aeschylus could not have written a better Greek tragedy.

You can imagine the American council’s surprise when, in early February, a Mr. Wang, of late a close associate of Mr. Bo, sought asylum. It turns out Mr. Wang was in charge of the police force in Bo Xilai’s megacity of Chongqing and was implicating Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, in the death of the British Neil Heywood. She, a “princeling” (a derogatory term used by ordinary Chinese citizens) in her own right, along with her sisters and Harvard-student son have economic, political, and military connections (they’re all the same, by the way), but let’s just stick to Bo Xilai for now.

Mr. Bo’s claim to fame was his attack on corruption (thousands were arrested among the 30 million residents of Chongqing) and encouraging (actually demanding) the singing of the good old classics from those happy days of Mao’s farm collectivization, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution, which claimed little more than 30 to 50 million lives. Bo’s “Chongqing Way” drew many accolades and admiring visitors from the top Nine ruling committee, not the least were the head of Internal Security,  along with the presumptive new president, Xi Jinping. Thus in a corrupt system, power and influence is respected, and feared. So when Bo Xilai was able to muscle his way into Chongqing’s famously corrupt environment and replace it with his own system of corrupt cronies, his star was clearly on the ascendency…until that mysterious British citizen’s death (Neil Heywood had ties to Bo and his wife and son).

The house of chop sticks quickly began to crumble with the unsuccessful asylum attempt of the Bo’s second in command, Mr. Wang. This turned on the high beams of interest by the American and British governments and the world’s press. In Beijing, the Politburo and its secretive Committee of Nine, unaccustomed to bright lights in their cloistered lives, quickly slammed the door on Mr. Bo. But it didn’t stop there. Attention was drawn to Bo’s older brother, Bo Xiyong who resigned from the company called China Everbright International in Hong Kong. It took this humble blogger less than 30 seconds to determine that China Everbright International is located at the Hong Kong address of 88 Queensway. It is an address well known to American intelligence agencies and the “U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission”[2] as a hotbed for the Chinese Army and intelligence agencies. Operating from front companies, the People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese government and wealthy Chinese citizens (again, pretty much all the same people) are investing in and controlling assets and governments around the world. It is also through these dummy corporations that Chinese Intelligence operatives deal in illegal arms trades and money laundering through the likes of billionaires Lev Leviev (Israel), Pierre Falcone (France), Helder Battaglia (Portugal), and Arcadi Gaydamak (Russia-Israel). They and others have been variously charged with international arms smuggling into the Congo-Brazzaville, Guinea, Zambia, Nigeria, and most particularly, Angola. It is also through the 88 Queensway Group that China has gained considerable control of oil, again particularly in Angola. China has had no qualms dealing with civil rights abusers around the world so long as China can secure oil and mineral rights.

[UPDATE , May 17, 2012;   Here is a perfect example of how fluid and fast moving events are now on the Chinese political power scene. Within 24 hours of this blog posting, a whole bunch more about the Bo Xilai intrigues have come out. (see WSJ link below). It is reported that the Politburo became very concerned (read “threatened”) by Bo’s increasing links to the military, in particular the regiment which had been headed up by Bo’s late father under Mao Zedong. Recall that after the brutal put-down of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, The military secured the various Chinese provinces by roadblocks and restricting trade and communications. This gave the PLA (the army) economic and political control which has only been dialed back in the last ten or twelve years. So the Central Permanent Committee, which was already in the midst of dicey negotiations over the transition of power, feels particularly vulnerable and defensive about such palace intrigues. Note also that the military is again increasing its own economic base through real estate and manufacturing.]

At first glance, and maybe even after the second and third, China’s economy and governance may appear to be too complicated, too foreign, too, as we often used to say about the Chinese, too inscrutable. Not so.

Corruption. That’s the key. Once it is understood that China is a one-party monopoly, with all its conniving, back-biting, power-clinging ruthlessness and wealth hoarding, it all become like watching a rerun of “The Godfather”. The trouble is, this is no movie; and there are no outside enforcers of the law to contend with. So why have we as Americans allowed ourselves to be drawn into this den of iniquity? Our nation’s morals and sense of fair play have been severely compromised…perhaps irretrievably. Case in point: the very recent ruling by the federal banking system to allow at least two of the only four major Chinese banks to buy into banks here in America. Are our people in government oblivious to the fact that the banks are majority owned and totally controlled by the Chinese Central Government? Are they not aware that the only reason these Chinese banks look so good on paper is that some years ago four parallel “bad” banks were formed into which the massive amounts of nonperforming previously government-mandated loans were offloaded and that now these four banks have been ordered…mind you “ordered”… to make a whole bunch of new “stimulus” loans into an already inflated building and infrastructure construction environment? Are our folks in Washington unaware of the over 18000 people who have fled China while absconding with millions upon millions of dollars from the banking and industrial sectors of China?

Of late this writer has been researching the topic of modern China’s socioeconomic environment. An unpleasant situation has arisen quite often: In the midst of reading about governmental manipulation of the banking sectors and its choosing of industrial winners and losers, it is many times impossible to distinguish between what has gone on in China and is now going on in America. To see where the United States is heading, one has only to read where China is now. It all looks flashy on the surface, but as the bloggers in Beijing allude to, the “one safe place” in China is the American Embassy. So consider, do you really feel safe about what’s going on in Washington?

Yes, we now all “live in interesting times”. The sooner we take a real interest in that seemingly “far away country” and get used to “those strange soundin’ names”, the sooner we will be able to respond appropriately to the challenges of a corrupt Middle Kingdom in this 2012 Chinese Year of the Dragon.

 

[Here are a couple of very useful and very readable books on the subject of modern rule and economics in China. Modesty insists that the last suggested one is this blogger’s]

“The Party”  Richard McGregor

http://www.amazon.com/The-Party-Secret-Chinas-Communist/dp/0061708771/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337120470&sr=1-1

“Red Capitalism”  Carl E. Waters and Fraser J.T. Howe

http://www.amazon.com/Red-Capitalism-Financial-Foundation-Extraordinary/dp/0470825863/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337120803&sr=1-3

“Eastworld”  Dr. Charles Dusenbury

http://www.amazon.com/EASTWORLD-Collapsing-Economic-Miracle-ebook/dp/B005R82HKQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337121124&sr=1-1

Also, “The Economist Magazine” has man articles on China, as does the “Wall Street Journal”. Just type in “China” in the search box and the screen will light up with fascinating and well written articles.

Here is the WSJ link regards Bo Xilai and the army:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304203604577398034072800836.html?KEYWORDS=bo+xilai

Share
Dec 042012
 

Where is it written that the natural result of democracy is freedom? Not so very long ago, seems like just a year or so, there was a general assumption, a belief really, that the global reach of the internet would be a democratizing tool that would lead to the rise of universal freedom. By reaching a wide audience with a focus of ideas and a plan for mass participation, fundamental changes could be affected. Cell phones and social media sites would leap over balky land lines and government intrusion, to energize and coalesce whole populations into action. The so-called Arab Spring best exemplified by Cairo’s Tahrir Square is a case in point. And always through these mass demonstrations the commentary from journalists and high American officials alike was the idea that we were witness to a transformative event. Democracy was taking root in the politically barren deserts of despotism. And surely peace and freedom shall follow them all of their days.

Oh really?

Democracy necessarily equates to freedom? Certainly America’s founding fathers didn’t think so. Just look at the pledge of allegiance, “And to the Republic, for which it stands…” These sons of the Age of Enlightenment went to great pains to establish a representative republic, not a democracy. The representatives themselves were to be democratically elected, but the important deliberations of the day were to be made by these representatives in quiet deliberations, remote from the whims of a fickle populace. But now that dynamic is changing and under considerable stress.

By the 1990’s, the binary genie had escaped the labs of academia and granted the wish of instant global communication to an internetted world. In the twinkling of a computer’s cursor, information, be it accurate or fabricated, commentary of all political and religious strips, and personal or organizational communications are instantly disseminated. Democracy may be viewed as the unbridled participation of the populace and the exercise of the will of the majority. One cannot but wonder if, in this age of flash-mob democracy, if freedom per se is really being served.

Permit me to doubt.

Permit the former participants at Tahrir Square to doubt; and the Tunisians, the Libyans, the Syrians, and yes, the Iranians too see no freedom from the results of this internet democracy. The Chinese are fearful and continue to take aggressive steps to limit this internet democracy, but not necessarily for all the reasons one might imagine. Freedom as such is, in their long history, another word for social unrest and rioting. They have seen how loss of a central governing control has led to regionalism and power struggles among a divided populace

And America? Has the legislative process as a spectator sport lead to a greater sense of freedom? In this age of mass media reporting of a legislator’s every move, and mass digital petitioning of them by every special interest group in the phone book really allowing room for calm deliberation among the representatives’ peers? All this mass internet participation in the democratic process is ironically actually eroding the freedom of the individual. Rather than gathering “in order to form a better union”, computer programs are segmenting “we the people” back into more and more disparate groups of race, creed, religion, scale of politically held beliefs, and wealth and class envy; a type of attitudinal regionalism if you will. The term “polarization” is now bandied about and generally accepted as if such a psychotic characterization of a free people’s was normal. Like some horror sci-fi movie, we as individuals are in danger of becoming mere digitized packets, sorted and recombined into a society unrecognizable to the founding fathers, or even our own.

And so, in the spirit of those sci-fi movies of yore:

                      DEMOCRACY, the INTERNET, and the Death of FREEDOM                     

                                                                       The END

……or is this just the BEGINNING?

 

 

 

 

Share
Dec 042012
 

As a general public reader of the WSJ, I seldom wander into depths of the Corporate News section. Thankfully this day I did. It brought to the surface a concern that really ought to be making the headlines: “Ship Accidents Sever Data Cables Off East Africa” (WSJ, Feb 28, 2012).

As reported in the article, a ship off the coast of Kenya dragged its anchor and severed a crucial fiber optic data transmission line between Djibouti and Zimbabwe. In itself this is an internet inconvenience. However it warrants more attention when this happens on the heels of the simultaneous severing at a depth of 650 feet of three even more important lines coming out of Djibouti that connects the middle east to much of the world.  It has been almost three years to the day that two of the world’s largest capacity cables, FLAG EUROPE ASIA and SEA-ME-WE-4[1] were severed near Alexandria, Egypt.[2]

The term “cloud computing” may instill the comfort of a “Beam me up, Scotty” satellite technology. The reality is that essentially the entire information highway consists of the “anchors aweigh” technology of over 500,000 miles of undersea fiber optic cables[3]. Its strategic vulnerability exhibited by this, as a spokesman for the affected lines said, “…very unusual situation,” is not lost on our military. Djibouti is a main transmission link for the global choke point of the massive undersea cables running right through the tough neighborhood of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Those serving with the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa[4] there in Djibouti are well aware that the threat of terrorism and piracy exists not only upon the seas, but under it as well.

While globally we have our high-tech computing heads in the clouds, the down-to-earth concerns of a low-tech threat to the very cable web that links our world is very real.



[1] Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western Europe

[3] The demand is growing very fast for long distance communication.

Over 800,000 km (500,000 miles) of fibre optic cable have already been laid on the seabed, and this number is increasing rapidly. International Cable Protection Committee, 2009

http://cil.nus.edu.sg/wp/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/ICPC-Fishing-Booklet-090223.pdf

Share