Thursday 26 March 2009

我是一个 ' 愤外 '

I've been following the discussion over in Froogville on what exactly a fenqing is and what they represent. Froog laws down the law with his opening salvo:

I often refer to the fenqing phenomenon as the Chinese Communist Party's 'blowback' from the years of propagandizing it subjects its children to during their schooling. The government occasionally seeks to exploit their hot-headed and xenophobic impulses by whipping up their indignation against a particular country to make a diplomatic point (in an exceedingly undiplomatic way!): the French have been on the receiving end of this a lot over the past year. However, this kind of sentiment is hard to direct and control, and it is more often an embarrassment or an inconvenience to the government than a help; indeed, it could potentially become a threat to the government.

Indeed. What then (ahem) am I to say of those expats (or ex-expats) who wend their way through the nationalist blogs that are the natural home of the fenqing engaging in long and pointless argument? Well, it seems that there is a word for them too:

愤外 fen wai - "angry foreigner" (or, more literally, "angry outsider") - is the term given to foreigners living in China of a self-righteous and excessively cynical tendency. They are mostly middle-aged males with nothing better to do with their time than hang out online. They usually keep their own blogs, and also infest the comment-threads of other more popular foreign China bloggers. Some of the ones with better Mandarin skills will stalk Chinese-language blogs and bulletin boards in search of sources of amusement or indignation, but most will just skulk on other foreigner blogs waiting to pick a fight with any fenqing who happens along. If you visit The Peking Duck, etc., etc.

I often refer to the fenwai phenomenon as the Chinese Communist Party's 'blowback' from years of inviting 'foreign experts' into the country to help with its development.... and then treating them with complete contempt.

Touché. From now on I'm going to try to cut down on the endless arguing.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

The Benefit Trap

An opinionated mother on how government hand-outs combined with high taxes make it uneconomic to work:

. . . when I return to work, I'll only keep 32 pence in the pound for every pound earned over the tax threshold.
22 p for tax 9 p NI and 37p lost from tax credits leaves only 32p. Whilst both of us earned money it was worth me working as I would keep all but the tax and NI. Whilst at the bottom of earnings, it is clear that the Government really makes it difficult for me to take more money home. I haven't even factored in affects on council tax relief and income based- jobseekers allowance yet (the information isn't available to work it out)or indeed the cost of working (transport, clothing etc).

So do not doubt it when people talk about the benefit trap - it's real.

Quote of the year . . . .

"Many people have a false impression that the Chinese government fears the Internet. In fact it is just the opposite."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang

Dolan on Hughes

Simply had to link John Dolan's masterful defence of the much-maligned Ted Hughes over at the eXiled. Money quote:

Odd, then, that they are determined to ignore their best man. It can’t just be the fact that he took the laureateship, because here again we hit that strange double standard, finding hosts of English poets who took the stinking money and kept their reputations. (Everybody thought Andrew Motion’s zippy poem on the wedding of Prince Whatever-His-Name-Is was just Cool Britannia Bananas.) Something else is at work here, and in the best English tradition you don’t have a hope of hearing the real reason. Instead you get their usual display of misdirection plays, the old conjurers. Craig Raine recently published an odd, grannyish un-appreciation of Hughes accusing him of being less than forthcoming about his vile lusts.
It seems Hughes liked to have sex with women. Granted, this places him well outside the main stream of British literary life, but I had not been aware it was actually considered a crime, especially when placed in historical context. Hughes was, after all, the pre-eminent British poet of the 1960s, and there are rumors that during this period, there was a certain amount of sexual license in both American and British literary circles. Surely Mr. Raine has heard of these rumors, in that he himself was one of Hughes’s rivals for poetic prominence during that era? Not that he himself could possibly have been involved in such antics.

The eXiled is now, it seems, in some financial difficulty, and if it were to close I would think it a great pity, because it, and the eXile before it, represent the only remaining wide-ranging independent alternative voice outside of art or academia. John Dolan himself is a highly opinionated author with whom I disagree often, and strongly, but his writing deserves support, as does that of the rest of the eXiled writers - give if you can.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

The European Union and the Chinese Communist Party - twin brothers by different mothers?

With the economic crisis going into full swing, voices of gloom and doom are being raised around the world. Two organisations in particular have been slated for trouble - the EU and the CCP. According to Chinese dissident Minxin Pei, China's elite could soon be at each other's throats:

Rising social discontent may not be enough to force the party out of power, but it might be sufficient to tempt some members of the elite to exploit the situation to their own political advantage. Such political entrepreneurs could use populist appeals to weaken their rivals and, in the process, open up divisions within the party's seemingly unified upper ranks.

At the same time, on the other side of the globe, the EU is beset with increasing protectionism and outright racism. From this brave American reporter who dared to step into the ghetto that is Shepherd's Bush we learn this:

Anger against foreigners in Shepherd's Bush, my slightly seedy neighbourhood of West London, is not hard to find. A late-night visit to a convenience store or a kebab shop often presents the spectacle of angry natives -- usually drunk and probably unemployed -- cursing at the lack of fellow countrymen working in the neighbourhood. Their language is crude, but their analysis is hard to dispute: the store on my corner has Poles behind the cash registers and Pakistanis sweeping the floors.

As convincing as these tales of woe are, I beg to differ, and I think the arguments for saying that the EU is here to stay are very similar to those which show us why the CCP is not going anywhere soon. However, before I go any further I would like to say that, in comparing the two, I am in no way implying that that wonderful organisation brought about to unite, enrich, and harmonise a people previously separated by conflict is in anyway similar to the other undemocratic and byzantine institution*. No, but the reasons why they're both going to outlast that Kindle 2 you may be reading this on are similar. Let's turn to Wan Runnan's now famous six reasons "Why The Chinese Communists Are Not Doomed To Finish Yet":

"1. From the lessons of the former Soviet Russia and eastern Europe, the Communist Party is more firm and clear about suppressing the opposition;

At first glance the EU has no lessons to learn from the Soviet Union (indeed, they could teach them a thing or two), so you would think this one can be skipped over. However, a brief review of recent history shows how unwilling EU officials have been to concede any of their jurisdiction to other bodies. The history of the European Patent Litigation Agreement being a case in point.

2. After forming alliances, the Communist Party has established a relatively stable international environment;

The EU is one of the essential guarantors of peace within Europe, not only this, but the EU now allows collective bargaining through a single representative on the world stage at organisation like the WTO. More than this, although stresses were brought about through the siding of 'New Europe' with the USA in the war on terror, this devide is now largely healed, not least because of the perceived failure of that war.

3. The continuous economic development has provided adequate resources for improving their ability to govern;

EU membership has brought growth to southern and central European countries. No economic miracles have taken place, but the fact that the EU regulates the single market, which millions of jobs now rely on, is another reason why we have not seen the end of it.

4. Under the pretext of "we won't argue," the Communist Party has actually totally abandoned their former ideology;

Despite much of the rhetoric surrounding it, even a casual reading of the Lisbon treaty shows it to be, as Sussex University's very own Prof. Malcolm Ross describes it, "The most Eurosceptic treaty ever". The requirement for liaison with national parliaments, the reservation of powers to the member states, is a world away from the talk of the sharing of sovereignty over an ever-widening array of areas that was heard during the negotiations surrounding the European Constitution. The only conclusion can be that radical European unionism is no longer the driving force behind the EU.

5. The Communist Party has become a political party that represents wealthy people and the social elite. This newly created middle class is the foundation of stability in Chinese society today;

In two months time I, like millions of other European law and politics students, will walk into an exam hall and do battle with words like subsidiarity, horizontal direct effect, direct applicability, negative harmonisation, proportionality, indistinct discriminatory measures and a myriad other such vague and ill-defined concepts. Not only that, but I'm writing a dissertation on the interaction between European competition law and the abusive use of IP rights. Presuming I survive this ordeal, I will have joined the ranks of those with an interest in seeing that the current structure of the EU is not done away with. Whatever my private view of the EU, my economic interest will most likely lie with its continued existence.

Add to this the farmers, migrant workers, holiday-makers, shippers, hauliers, trademark and design agent whose businesses rely in part or in whole upon the EU, and you have an ever-widening group of people likely to support it.

6. The confirmation of their model for power succession has eliminated the concerns about their ability to maintain government.

The EU also has regular succession, with the added advantage that so few ordinary people either know or care who is in charge that there is little chance of public outcry sweeping an EU official from power.

In conclusion, whilst protectionism in Europe will raise challenges, these problems are no greater than those raised in the Factortame case. Whilst the bottom may have fallen out of the EU's driving ideology, it is already too late for its disappearance to mean the end of the EU. With every community trademark registered, with every EU decision against a national government, with every person who makes use of the four freedoms, the EU reaffirms its right to exist. Just as with the Chinese communist party, despite the widespread and powerfully convincing criticism which is levelled against it, there is no other force which can step into the vacuum and perform the same purpose even half as well.

*Which is which? Answers on a postcard to 'Wish I Knew' 999 Acacia Avenue

Wednesday 4 March 2009

I'm shorting Alkbonds, are you with me?

Just had this emailed to me by a friend:

this is plain explanation of the credit crunch. This is a clear explanation in a layman's terms.

Linda is the proprietor of a bar in Cork . In order to increase sales, she decides to allow her loyal customers - most of whom are unemployed alcoholics - to drink now but pay later. She keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers loans).

Word gets around and as a result increasing numbers of customers flood into Linda's bar.

Taking advantage of her customers' freedom from immediate payment constraints, Linda increases her prices for wine and beer, the most-consumed beverages. Her sales volume increases massively.

A young and dynamic customer service consultant at the local bank recognizes these customer debts as valuable future assets and increases Linda's borrowing limit.

He sees no reason for undue concern since he has the debts of the alcoholics as collateral.

At the bank's corporate headquarters, expert bankers transform these customer assets into DRINKBONDS, ALKBONDS and PUKEBONDS. These securities are then traded on markets worldwide. No one really understands what these abbreviations mean and how the securities are guaranteed. Nevertheless, as their prices continuously climb, the securities become top-selling items.

One day, although the prices are still climbing, a risk manager (subsequently of course fired due to his negativity) of the bank decides that slowly the time has come to demand payment of the debts incurred by the drinkers at Linda's bar.

However they cannot pay back the debts. Linda cannot fulfil her loan obligations and claims bankruptcy.

DRINKBOND and ALKBOND drop in price by 95 %. PUKEBOND performs better, stabilizing in price after dropping by 80 %.

The suppliers of Linda's bar, having granted her generous payment due dates and having invested in the securities are faced with a new situation. Her wine supplier claims bankruptcy, her beer supplier is taken over by a competitor.

The bank is saved by the Government following dramatic round-the-clock consultation by leaders from the governing political parties (and vested interests).

The funds required for this purpose are obtained by a tax levied on the non-drinkers.

Now I understand!