china: year of the fat cats

The Associated Press recently reported  that Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Katy Perry have all been deemed threats to “cultural national security” in China, and that the government is surveilling, reprimanding and controlling content on music websites in a protracted effort to remove songs and control download listings.Its the tiger chasing its tail scenario and can be seen within the context of China’s slowly crumbling economy. Its sham accounting practices, phantom cities and rioters on a weekend entertainment spree. Its shiny successes seem illusory and fleeting since its economic model is based on  growth more than profit, and similar to a Ponzi scheme it crashes under crisis or strain, resulting in a structural response based on the classic model of greater repression.


Read More: ---Chinese artist Chen Wenling critiques the global financial crisis in What You See Might Not Be Real, on display at a Beijing gallery. The bull is said to represent Wall Street, while the man pinned to the wall represents jailed financier Bernard Madoff.

It comes to the distorted and now fragmenting concept of the nation state based on geographic  sovereignty, which reserves the right to assert cultural norms. This is at the heart of the China cultural crisis and what is most under attack from the West, though a similar but different scenario exists within the West. All states seem unable or unwilling to arrive at solutions in which to accommodate the need for diversity and culture at a more profound structural level. …

Leah McLaren:when it occurred to me: Hey, maybe autocratic cultural censorship isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Now, before you sit up, snap your fingers and get all “Born This Way is the greatest gay anthem since Material Girl” on me, pause to consider the following: Scroll farther down the list of recently banned singles in China (past the lengthy Taiwanese and Hong Kong hit parade) and you will notice the inclusion of a certain 12-year-old Backstreet Boys single, I Want it That Way.

The fact that this song made the list gave me serious pause, for two reasons. The first was surprise, as there is nothing in its lyrics that could possibly be construed as politically subversive or even overtly sexual (unless you are so Pollyanna that rhyming “fire” with “desire” makes you blush). The second was relief, due to a very personal scarring memory involving the same track: In the early days of my career, I was made to review a Backstreet Boys concert for this very paper. I don’t want to talk about it further except to say that prolonged exposure to teenage female hysteria combined with synth-heavy boy-band choruses can lead to dizziness, nausea, bleeding ears and suicidal thoughts….

---However, we cannot hold that Veblen has an unfounded point of view, given that he considers the state of the world to be so lost in the business system and the interests that sustain it. Moreover, Veblen’s criticisms of the business system are important, coherent and should be considered, even if his solutions seem unsavory. In looking at a manner to democratize Veblen’s technocracy while retaining faith in education and democracy, the important criticisms Veblen makes of business might be preserved while avoiding the unpleasant possibility of rule by experts, which is at best an aristocracy. To this end, we will employ the democratic theory of John Dewey. The rule of experts is, in Dewey’s thought, a type of “revival of the Platonic notion that philosophers should be kings.”---Read More: image:

…So here’s the interesting thing. I rarely agree with the Chinese government. (In fact, inside my head I’m having a raging argument with Hu Jintao right now, which may account for the sour look on my face.) But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t often wished I could erase I Want it That Way from the culture. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t think it was a good thing for China, and by that measure, a good thing for a fifth of the world. I know censorship is a slippery slope, but we’re talking about 1.3 billion lucky people who never have to risk hearing Nick Carter asking in a falsetto “Tell me why-eee?” ever again! How can any sane person not see the overwhelming good in that?…

Banksy. No Loitering. New Orleans. ---Ms. Napoleoni thus advances the notion that democracy, as we know it in the capitalist West, is neither inherently preferable nor markedly superior to Sino-Marxist democracy, whatever that may be. Indeed, she asserts, China’s single-party democracy works – and works better than “our” democracy. “China’s success confirms that Marx is not the one whom history has proven wrong,” she says. “The Chinese have managed to create a form of communism ... that guarantees more progress than any other...But there is more to capitalism than profits. Maonomics, alas, won’t exempt China from the stern laws of supply and demand. Ms. Napoleoni’s book coincides with a Globe and Mail story of China’s massive New South China Mall, the world’s biggest, bereft of customers (though the McDonald’s and KFC fast-food outlets are doing a brisk business). It coincides with a Stratfor report that China is building homes that no one wants. (“Officially,” the strategic analysis company says, “a mind-boggling 65 million homes in China were vacant in 2010.”) It coincides with China’s huge investment in high-speed trains – that make it more expensive to travel by train than to fly. It coincides with the death of Steve Jobs, whose labours did much to make the world safer for democracy – for “our” democracy. Read More: image:

Presuming the Chinese government is right and this whole democracy/Internet thing is just a passing trend, I think banning terrible pop songs (or movies or TV shows or even, yup, I’ll say it, books) could be the way forward. I say this not because I think the Chinese government is correct in its instinct to quash

sonal freedom and stamp out individual expression, but because I Want it That Way is a dreadful song; and anyone who argues for its right to exist – even purely on principle – has obviously never felt their ears bleed in the third row of the SkyDome at 11 p.m. when they could have been at home on the sofa sipping a full-bodied Barolo with their boyfriend.

I’m not an idiot, folks. I see what the Chinese government is up to here. They’re not banning songs because they’re dangerous. They’re banning songs because they’re lousy. And that, I think, we can all totally get behind.

Yes I know, we in the West are brought up to believe censorship is evil, but wouldn’t it be lovely – and frankly a good thing for the culture – if we could ban a few things ourselves? I’m not talking about cracking down on dissent, but legislating taste….

---On the contrary, it is because they are wealthy that they consume so much energy.26 It is their wealth, grounded ultimately in their labour productivity, that allows Americans to outbid others when it comes to buying this energy. The problem cannot be fixed by redistributing energy, it can only be fixed by eliminating the underlying productivity gap. To take just one example, in 1999 the average steel worker in China produced 41 tonnes of steel. Meanwhile, just across the border, the average worker at South Korea’s largest steel manufacturer produced 1,362 tonnes per year.27 This statistic says pretty much everything that needs to be said about why workers in China are poor and workers in South Korea are rich. Is it then any wonder that, when it comes to buying heating oil for his house, the South Korean worker can outbid the Chinese? Read More: image:

…For instance, my university dorm would have been a much more bearable and academically fruitful environment minus Sarah McLachlan’s weepy hymn In the Arms of An Angel. And just think of what a better place the world would be without the Transformers series. Or anything starring Kate Hudson. Or The King of Queens.

Maybe Canada’s grassroots funding of the arts is the wrong approach, and what we should be doing is censoring culture from the top down – not based on threats to our national security of course, but the (equally dangerous) threat to our intelligence, taste and sanity.

You probably think I’m joking, but I’m not. At least not about the bleeding ears part. Or Kate Hudson. As soon as China gets around to banning Bride Wars and Something Borrowed, I’m moving there. Hu Jintao, stock up on the Barolo, baby. Here I come.Read More:

Al Weiwei. ---In recent months, Ai has been fairly inconsistent in obeying the conditions of his June release. While he is strictly prohibited to use the Internet and to be interviewed by journalists, the artist has been an active Twitter user, with the most recent tweet posted on Oct. 3. And on Thursday, he spoke about the new title of most powerful. "I don't feel powerful at all. I'm still under this detention," Ai told BBC News. "Maybe being powerful means to be fragile . . . this kind of conversation today I am doing is a violation. I think it may bring me very big trouble," he later added.Read More:


Neil Reynolds:Ms. Napoleoni’s arguments are historical fiction. Go back to Tiananmen Square. Ask the student demonstrators directly what democracy meant to them. Did it mean fidelity to Mao, whose Marxist democracy took 40 million lives? (Or was it 70 million?) Or did it evoke a more universal sentiment? And what are we to make of the famous plaster statue of a lady, 30 feet high, holding aloft a flaming lamp – the statue the demonstrators themselves called the Goddess of Democracy?

Lest we forget: The arts students who built the statue read a declaration to the 300,000 protesters when the goddess arrived at Tiananmen Square. In part, the declaration said: “[This] is the Goddess of Democracy. [She] is the symbol of every student in the square … A consciousness of democracy has awakened among the Chinese people. The new era has begun. [This statue] is made of plaster and cannot, of course, stand here forever. But, as a symbol, she is divine and inviolate. Chinese people, arise! Long live freedom. Long live democracy.”…

Image: Read More: Yue Minjun Art. Krugman:Ask yourself: Why is it so hard to restore full employment? ... The answer is that we used to run much smaller trade deficits. A return to economic health would look much more achievable if we weren’t spending $500 billion more each year on imported goods and services than foreigners spent on our exports. To get our trade deficit down, however, we need to make American products more competitive, which in practice means that we need the dollar’s value to fall in terms of other currencies. ... The United States, given its special global role, can’t and shouldn’t be equally aggressive. But given our economy’s desperate need for more jobs, a weaker dollar is very much in our national interest — and we can and should take action against countries that are keeping their currencies undervalued, and thereby standing in the way of a much-needed decline in our trade deficit. That, above all, means China. ... And the reality of the unemployment disaster is also my answer to those who warn that getting tough with China might unleash a trade war or damage world commercial diplomacy. Those are real risks, although I think they’re exaggerated. But they need to be set against the fact — not the mere possibility — that high unemployment is inflicting tremendous cumulative damage as we speak.

…Chinese army tanks cut down and silenced the Goddess of Democracy. But it is preposterous now to argue that the students of Tiananmen Square were merely calling on the spirit of Mao, were simply trying to nudge the single-party State. And it is offensive to say that the communist regime did the right thing when it turned the army on the students in Tiananmen Square. (“Looking back on the decision to suppress the Tiananmen uprisings,” she writes, “it is only honest to make an extremely painful admission: Maybe that sacrifice saved us all from catastrophe.”) The massacre, in other words, helped the Party survive until it had more fully learned the importance of profits.

The Party will undoubtedly experience more difficult times ahead. China has not heard the last from the Goddess of Democracy. Read More:

Read More: ---the New York Times looks at the enduring allure of Qianlong among China’s newly wealthy — many of whom are just now joining the ranks of China’s burgeoning new collectors — and concludes that the global pursuit of particular historical items at auction comes down to the perception among wealthy Chinese that these pieces are more than just valuable investments but also “glamorous badges of identity.” From the article: The most surprising displays of extravaganza took place in Hong Kong, where Sotheby’s was selling works of art carefully selected to appeal to the new wave of super-rich Chinese buyers whose eagerness for objects made for past emperors knows no financial limits. Art is not really the issue. Objects that would hardly have caused a stir three decades ago are fought over with the kind of fervor that the faithful showed when going after relics in another age. …

Avner Mandelman: But second, and more crucial, as the West buys less of China’s more fully priced products, and as China’s cash needs escalate, its government, to feed the peasants and to maintain its power, will sell state assets – including gold. This, plus inflation, could push gold much lower than anyone thinks, perhaps to half its current price. How’s that for a real contrary opinion? Read More:

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