Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Saving streaming Quicktime video using iTunes

I potentially found a way of saving streaming Quicktime videos to my own computer using iTunes itself. This started because I stumbled upon the old short film made for Pink Floyd's Final Cut, released on their website as streaming video. I can still remember the hoops I had to jump through as a relatively money-deprived South African in the early eighties to get my hands on the VHS tape of this movie, so naturally I had to have it immediately.

This time I felt more confident: I know you can save Quicktime movies by getting at the embedded file's name, copying that into the URL and saving the page. This did not work, since all that got saved was a 200 byte link to the Quicktime streaming video site. I don't have QT Pro, so in desperation I figured I'll copy the little link video to iTunes, at least for future reference. It copied fine and clicking on it brought up the video well enough, but still streamed from the Quicktime site.

Then I did the potentially cool bit: I right-clicked the file in iTunes and chose: Create Apple TV Version, and -- whaddaya know: iTunes proceeded to convert the streaming video into a massive local copy in .m4v format.

I've tried this with two files and it worked both times. Because of the ridiculous, artificial bandwidth cap in South Africa, I'm going to get hell from the network guy as soon as he checks his logs, but screw it.

I searched around to see if anyone else had ever reported on this and couldn't find anything, so I decided I will.

PS. The Final Cut movie deserves a retrospective review, but not today.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Soleilmavis- The Children of the Cube

"On August 2002, I went to New Zealand . I again had all the symptoms often occurring. On April 2003, I had already spent all my money. I came back China and stayed with my parents. I had more symptoms : such as astriction, gatism, and sex harassment."

Wait, what? Sex harassment... symptom?

Read the rest here: Soleilmavis - mind control abuse and torture

Like Dr Gene Ray (Cubic)'s website, most of Ms Mavis's works are also blocked in China.


Why, yes. That's what "coincidence" means.

Follow the links yourself. No explanation of mine will do this mindwarp any justice.

But what do these people have in common?

Africa China Relations

I've started a new blog to aggregate news about Africa-China relations. There will be very little comments by me, just links as I find them. This is just a collection of items for my own benefit in the future, facilitated by the ease of the Flock browser.

If any Chinese-enabled people find interesting Chinese language items relating to Africa, and especially South Africa, a heads up would be much appreciated.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

One brainfart leads to another: Sharon Stone's bad karma

Yesterday the Chinese Internet exploded in a bubble of hate when Sharon Stone's comments about the earthquake was published. I thought, at first, it was the typical hysterical response of people who can't fully comprehend English.

Today Google News carries 281 English entries, with names like "Sharon Stone blames China's earthquake on karma".

It's one thing when the sensitive Chinese "blogosphere" goes apeshit because of a limited comprehension of English: it's quite another when the "western" media jumps in and ... oh wait. Am I learning something about the western media here? (Nothing new.)

Here's what Sharon Stone said. You can also see it here on YouTube.

"Well you know it was very interesting because at first, you know, I am not happy about the ways the Chinese were treating the Tibetans because I don’t think anyone should be unkind to anyone else. And so I have been very concerned about how to think and what to do about that because I don’t like that.
"And I had been this, you know, concerned about, oh how should we deal with the Olympics because they are not being nice to the Dalai Lama, who is a good friend of mine.
"And all these earthquake and stuff happened and I thought: is that karma? When you are not nice that bad things happen to you.
And then I got a letter, from the Tibetan Foundations that they want to go and be helpful. And that made me cry. And they ask me if I would write a quote about that and I said, “I would.” And it was a big lesson to me, that some times you have to learn to put your head down and be of service even to people who are not nice to you. And that’s a big lesson for me."

So, ostensibly this sentence is the one that pissed everyone off:

And all these earthquake and stuff happened and I thought: is that karma? When you are not nice that bad things happen to you.

Can you see the question mark? Of course, she didn't SAY the question mark, but she inflected pretty efficiently. It's a question.

I can rephrase this sentence:

... I thought: is that the will of God? When you are not nice that bad things happen to you.


... I thought: is that Allah's will? When you are not nice that bad things happen to you.

Or even:

... I thought: are they being punished? When you are not nice that bad things happen to you.

Would she have been lynched if she'd said: I thought, since I'm a Christian and I believe everything that happens is the will of God, that maybe the earthquake too, was the will of God.

As it happens she is a Buddhist. This means she does believe in karma, as do millions of people even inside China. When this kind of thing happens, people from all religions ask themselves if this kind of suffering has a meaning.

The obvious difference that English-challenged people seem to miss, is that she then goes on to criticize her initial train of thought, relating how she was humbled by the Tibetans request for assistance for the victims.

This is like a Christian saying: I thought: Is this the will of God? But then I thought, God teaches us to be kind to everyone, even people we don't agree with, and I learned a valuable lesson.

This thinking, however distasteful to atheists (as I am), is still pretty much part and parcel of what religions do. But leaving that aside, she is actually, however superficially it might be expressed, telling a story of personal enlightenment. "Once I was an idiot, and then I learned to stop being one."

It's like telling the story only halfway, up to the point where the protagonist is a really bad person, stopping just before he learns his lesson and becomes a good person. Then burning the book because he's a bad person somewhere in the beginning.

Actually, this is hard to write, because it's so bloody clear: she didn't do anything wrong. She doesn't have to apologize.

The earthquake might well be seen as karma, by people who believe in karma. It might have been the will of God, for people who believe in God. It might have been the movement of a great, submerged noodley appendage for all we know. But Sharon Stone didn't insult earthquake victims in any way. If you can't get that, it means your English is simply not fluent yet.

She pissed off China because she supports the Dalai Lama.

Why did she piss off the western media, though? Is it because she was a Scientologist? Maybe it's karma for Basic Instinct. Maybe bad things happen to you when you expose your opinions.

Could this also be a clash of legal systems? The way she phrases her comment introduces, in my mind, doubt about her intention of "blaming the earthquake on karma". In other words, it is possible for me to interpret her words as a rhetorical device to eventually refute her initial reaction. Legally, this doubt leads to the legal concept of "Innocent, until proven guilty". I therefore grant her this innocence from a cultural bias in favor of a legal principle.

This principle isn't universal, and therefore Chinese cultural bias might favor a position where the responsibility now rests on the accused to prove herself innocent, and she is presumed guilty until such time as she does.

This principle also influences my view of the Jack Cafferty/CNN case: I could conceive of him honestly referring to the Chinese government, and not the Chinese people, therefore my basic instinct (ha. ha.) was to grant him innocence. I also knew immediately that both his and Sharon Stone's comments could be "clarified" by them after the fact, if they wished, to support such an "innocent" reading, and thus hold, in themselves, no basis for legal conviction.

Maybe Chinese culture doesn't grant innocence instinctively. Could we internalize legal traditions to this extent? Or do our legal traditions simply reflect our cultural biases? I think I know the answer to that one, but what do you think?

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Xi'an Red Cross fundraising event

On Wednesday afternoon the Xi'an Red Cross volunteers had a fund raising event in front of the Kaiyuan supermarket, opposite the central Bell Tower. At 14:28 they unfurled a long banner and observed three minutes of silence, then well-wishers could sign the banner and were invited to give donations. Here are some pictures:

You can find out how to donate by following this link.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Earthquake prediction: state of the art

Aftershock rumours are going around and the Seismological Bureau has issued a warning of a possible 6 to 7 magnitude quake. Apparently Chengdu, Chongqing and Xi'an are mostly closed for business. School has been cancelled so I have too much time on my hands.

I found an Eartquake Forecast study presentation (PPT file) on the Chinese Institute of Geophysics website. It gives an interesting look at earthquake forecasting methodology used in China, unfortunately using data from 1990 to 1998.

Firstly, it's important to note the word "forecasting" is used, and not "prediction". The one time in history when an earthquake was successfully "predicted" was in Haicheng, in 1975. A number of precursors led to the evacuation of the city's 1 million residents 5 hours before a Mag. 7.3 earthquake. Prediction is short term, and the author of this presentation, calls this prediction "a lucky (and therefore unrepeatable) successful prediction".

He cites foreshock activity as a significant precursor, but also abnormal animal behaviour and ecological "anomalies". He also implies it was basically very good timing for the earthquake to have come so quickly after the evacuation, when people were still willing to accept waiting around outside. A few hours later they would have become impatient and would have returned to their homes. Not really a factor in the prediction, but it emphasises the good luck on that day.

Apparently seismologists in China have an annual "National Consultative Meeting on Seismic Tendency". Given the impossible task of predicting an earthquake, they tend to focus on three general questions for a specific (1 year) time frame:

1. Will there be any M>7 earthquakes occurring in western China?
2. Will there be any M>6 earthquakes occurring in eastern China?
3. Which areas seem to be likely to have a M>5 earthquake?

The difference in magnitude between Western and Eastern China is based on the quality of infrastructure. Eastern China is more developed and buildings are more likely to withstand a Magnitude 6 quake. Damage will more likely be financial.

In Western China there are still many underdeveloped areas, as the Sichuan earthquake demonstrated, were casualties are more likely to be the predominant concern.

This annual consultation, therefore, has a narrow and manageable focus: probability of destructive seismological activity within the period of one year in the future. Because of this their forecasts are easier to analyse statistically.

The following GIF animation shows the success rate of forecasts in China from 1990 to 1998. The yellow areas are the areas where earthquakes were likely to occur. Every red dot represents an earthquake during that year. The success rate is expressed as a number between -1 and 1, where 1 is complete success.

They use the following formula:
Success rate = successful predictions divided by total number of earthquakes minus false alarm area divided by total aseismic area

(I take "aseismic" to mean dormant.)

Thus: hit rate minus false alarm rate.

An interesting side note, made by the authors, is that OF COURSE if you say China will have an earthquake this year, you can be 100% sure of being correct. This is why the false alarm rate has to be subtracted in the above formula.

According to this formula, the trend has been climbing, albeit very slowly, since 1990.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Xi'an earthquake fatalities and damage

The Xi'an Public Security Bureau (PSB) released details of deaths, injuries and damage in Xi'an from the May 12 Sichuan earthquake.

The quake was felt in Xi'an at 14:28 on Monday, May 12. From that moment, untill 18:00 on the 13th a total of 49 cases were reported, including 19 deaths and 30 injuries, six of whom were seriously injured. Bridges and roads were damaged to different degrees.

Of the 19 fatalities, none were associated with collapsed buildings. "Some" people were killed when a crane collapsed, some were killed by collapsing free-standing walls and some people apparently drowned while swimming in a reservoir. Five people died when jumping out of buildings in panic when the earthquake struck.

One of these was identified as a 30 year old who jumped to his death in the Yanling District. Four others were primary and middle school pupils.

Apparently a total of 4506 meters (I don't trust my translation very much here) of walls collapsed throughout the city. Eight schools were damaged (again with the schools!) At one school a "monument" collapsed, killing two students and injuring another two. At another schools some students were injured when a temporary wall collapsed during the evacuation process.

Some students at the Xi'an University of Arts and Science (西安文理学院) were hurt after jumping from the second floor after the after shock at 04:00 am on May 13. They are being treated for minor injuries.


I have been shown photos of damage at one school, where a staircase was heavily damaged and support beams in the roof fell to the floor. The photographer didn't want to share the pictures and is afraid of being identified. Seems students were ordered to keep this information to themselves.

Another student told me a water tower on top of a building near his house toppled over and fell into a market, killing some people. He had no more information and the area had been cleared of debris by Friday.

[UPDATE 20 May 2008]
Shaanxi Province:
114 killed.
3017 injured.
102696 houses destroyed (I assume this means each apartment in a building counts as one)
597112 houses damaged (ditto)
479668 homeless
Damages amount to: RMB 6 322 270 000. That's 6 billion yuan.

[UPDATE 25 May 2008]
Death toll in Xi'an city rose to 26.
Number of injured revised to 1108.
We had an aftershock at 16:21 this afternoon. Buildings were again evacuated.
No news of any injury or damage in Xi'an.
AFP reports 1 death and 262 injuries in Chengdu.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

[Updated: NOT fraud] Donation fraud at school in Guangdong

This video, hosted on Chinese portal Paopao (泡泡俱乐部) shows administrators at the No. 3 Middle School in Huizhou, Guangdong, filming their teachers making donations to Sichuan earthquake victims. Then they take out the money and film themselves making rather big donations, using the same wad of cash.
Not finished yet: they then hand out the same money to a batch of students and film them, yet again putting the same money in the box. The video was shot by one of the students from the second floor. He reports that he dare not go back to school now. The administrators (principal, etc.) apparently told him that he could come back to school if he tells everyone his video is fake. Everyone who's seen this video on various Chinese websites, is shocked and disgusted at this cynical behaviour. Expect death threats.

If the first link doesn't work for you, the video can also be seen here at

UPDATE: According to the Southern Metropolis News the school held the donation ceremony on the 15th but then just re-enacted it for the media on the 16th. They did in fact raise RMB112 979 and didn't act against the students who took the video. The school acted very quickly after this video began circulating and posted a notice explaining the event. The students who took the video also posted an apology.

I will follow suit: I should not have jumped to conclusions so quickly. This was a valuable lesson in engaging with China based on misinformed preconceptions. Credit to the Southern Metropolis News for investigating this.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

China Aardbewing

Ek is op die grondvloer van 'n 14-verdieping gebou toe die aardbewing tref. My brein kan dit nie verwerk nie. Eers dog ek iemand werk met 'n lugdrukboor, maar die muur voor my vibreer en die rakke in die DVD winkel skuif oor die grond soos 'n ongebalanseerde wasmasjien.

Dan hardloop mense na buite, arms oor hulle koppe. Op die sypaadjie reën dit potplante en klippe. Almal kyk boontoe. Ek voel duiselig. Die wêreld reageer nie reg nie, asof ek dronk is. Alles beweeg. Die geboue begin kreun. Ek besluit om my kans te vat deur die vallende gemors. Karre stop in die hoofstraat. Duisende mense stroom uit geboue uit en 'n geruis gaan op oor die hele stad van Xi’an. Klein stukkies teëls val neer op die sypaadjie. Die hoogspanningsdrade wieg heen en weer. 'n Hyskraan swaai rond soos 'n skip se mas.

Almal is op hulle selfone. Party mense huil liggies, ander lag van die skrik. Elke oog is boontoe gerig. Die 50-verdieping China Telecom gebou wieg liggies. Dis verbasend stil. Die beweging op die grond is gou verby: miskien 10 sekondes, maar die pale en geboue vat langer om te bedaar. Dit was die Sichuan aardbewing, soos ons dit gevoel het, 630km van die episentrum af, in Xi’an, Shaanxi Provinsie. Dit was die beste dag vir 'n aardbewing: sonskyn, ligte wind, blou lug, en dit was 2:28 in die middag. Vir die volgende uur staan die hele stad in die strate rond. Niemand waag dit in geboue in nie, en meeste mense voel net veilig in die middel van die pad, so ver as moontlik van enigiets wat kan val.

Daar’s 'n ligsinnige atmosfeer. Mense geniet die sonskyn, eet roomys, ruil grappe uit. Dalk was dit die Dalai Lama, sê iemand. Dalk het Amerika aangeval. My hande bewe. Niemand besef teen daardie tyd dat die middelpunt van die aardbewing die grootste natuurlike ramp tot gevolg gehad het wat China in meer as dertig jaar getref het nie. Wat ons betref is dit 'n dag van werk af, en 'n paar oomblikke van vrees word gou vergeet in die algemene gemoedelikheid.Na 'n uur waag ons dit terug in die kantoor in, en die internet begin boodskappe deurstuur. Die eerste berigte sê niks van skade nie.

Chengdu, die naaste groot stad aan die aardbewing, rapporteer eers geen probleme nie. Dieselfde het daar gebeur as hier, neem ons aan: trouens, regoor die enorme gebied van China het mense geboue ontruim. Beijing, 1500km van Chengdu af het dit gevoel. Shanghai, selfs verder het dit gevoel. Selfs in Vietnam en Thailand het die geboue bietjie geswaai. Vyf uur die middag hoor ons van CNN dat vier kinders dood is in die Chongqing megastad, suid van ons. Dis erg, maar klink redelik vir so 'n groot skok. Mense begin hulle ervarings op die Internet en op Youtube versprei. Geen groot kommer onder die gewone mense nie. Meeste mense is onder die indruk die ergste is verbei.

Een ding pla: die regering kondig 'n massiewe reddingspoging aan. Die premier, Wen Jiabao klim persoonlik op 'n vliegtuig na Chengdu om die poging te lei. China Central Television (CCTV) begin 'n spesiale 24-uur program toegewei aan die aardbewing. Lugrederye kanselleer alle vlugte na en van Chengdu. Dan verloor ons TV-seine en selfoon-ontvangs. Die telekommunikasie netwerk word oorweldig. Die internet hou aan werk, maar konneksies is wisselvallig. Nuus kom van 900 skoolkinders, vasgekeer onder 'n vernietigde skoolgebou. Dis 7 nm en mense in Chengdu het nou al 44 na-skokke getel. 3000 soldate word ingevlieg, maar niemand weet presies waarheen nie.Effens onverwags begin die staat se offisiële mondstuk, Xinhua, om byna elke minuut nuwe inligting te versprei.

Kommunikasie is afgesny na die ergste areas, berig hulle. Dis die relatief klein stad van Wenchuan, bevolking ongeveer 120 000. Niemand kan in of uit nie; al die paaie is onbegaanbaar. Dit het begin reën daar en telefone – landlyne en selfone – is afgesny. Die weermag word ingestuur, maar dit lyk asof hulle sal moet loop. Helikopters kan nie ingaan nie weens sterk wind. Planne word gemaak om valskermsoldate in te stuur.Intussen word dit nag. Xi’an se parke loop oor. In die oudste park, gebou op 'n ou Tang dinastie paleis se gronde, sit duisende mense in die naglug en kaart speel of lees.

Studente begin 'n impromptu opvoering wat draak steek met popsterre. Mense dra stoele buitentoe en begin kamp opsit vir die nag. Vriende bel en vra of ek 'n tent het want hulle woonstel is nie veilig nie. Almal is onseker of dit offisieël is, en of mense net bang is. Stories doen die rondte van na-skokke. Op 'n stadium stuur die weermag-hospitaal teksboodskappe wat waarsku van 'n na-skok, net om dit minute later op radio te onttrek. Maandagnag is vreemd, maar niemand het nog 'n idee van die volle nagevolge nie. By die kantoor sit ek en vertaal nuusbrokkies van Engelse bronne vir angstige Chinese kolegas. Hulle is verbaas dat ek soveel inligting, so gou kan kry.

Ek vind later uit, meeste van my bronne kry hulle inligting van ander Chinese mense en vertaal dit dan, en ek bring die nuus volle sirkel.

Ek besluit om tog in my woonstel te slaap die aand. Mens moet so gou as moontlik weer op die perd klim, al is die perd in hierdie geval 'n hele planeet.Die res is geskiedenis, of gaan binnekort wees.

Die Sichuan aardbewing was 7.9 op die Richterskaal, groter as die 1976 Tangshan aardbewing wat 240 000 mense gedood het. Op daardie stadium was China besig om uit die as van die Kulturele Revolusie te kruip, en het hulle vir maande die omvang van skade ontken en buitelandse hulp weggewys. Eers sewe jaar later het hulle buitelandse joernaliste in die gebied toegelaat. Vandag se China is anders.

'n Reeks gebeure het die huidige regering laat besef hulle sal hierdie een anders moet hanteer. George Bush se trae reaksie op orkaan Katrina is nog vars in die politieke geheue, tesame met die negatiewe effek op sy populariteit. Onruste in Tibet, en die instinktiewe geheimhouding wat daarmee saam gaan, het China 'n lelike diplomatieke blou-oog gegee, en hulle wil verdere reaksie vermy. Burma se belaglike Junta is juis besig om die wêreld se veragting te wek met hulle weiering van internasionale welsyn. China sal angstig wees om 'n meer grasieuse indruk te skep. Maar dis nie hierdie buitelandse oorwegings wat die Chinese regering se grootste motivering is om nou so vinnig en kragdadig op te tree om hierdie tragedie te verlig nie.

Ten spyte van populêre opinie in die Weste, speel buitelandse opinie 'n amper weglaatbare rol in Chinese politiek. Sonder 'n demokratiese mandaat werk hierdie regering van dag tot dag in 'n stimulus-respons houding teenoor die 1.4 biljoen mense wat deur hulle stille aanvaarding die huidige leierskap duld. Met die spoed van informasie oor die internet, en die konnektiwiteit van Chinese burgers, kan die regering nie bekostig om in 'n noodsituasie soos hierdie te lyk of hulle laks is om te reageer nie.

Onlangse gebeure het gewys hoe sterk Chinese nasionalisme kan wees, en as dit ooit teen die regering draai, is hulle dae getel. Die geskiedenis wys dit keer op keer. Mense misverstaan China geweldig in die Weste: deels oor hulle eie onwilligheid om oop kaarte te speel, en deels as gevolg van ons eie vorm van breinspoeling. Wat ons vandag in China sien is 'n soortvan direkte demokrasie: daar’s nie tyd om te wag vir 'n verkiesing elke vyf jaar nie. Daar’s nie enige ideologiese gehegtheid aan langtermyn doelwitte nie.

Hier moet die regering oombliklik reageer om die mense se verwagtings na te kom, of -- andersinds -- dan om hulle aspirasies te deflekteer. Laasgenoemde was die norm vir dekades. As dinge sleg lyk, blameer Japan, Taiwan of die Weste. Die nuwe generasie Chinese word nie so maklik gekul nie. Hulle verwag opregte, onmiddelike optrede.En hulle kry dit.

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, tegnies nommer twee in die land, na President Hu Jintao, is konstant op CCTV met 'n luidspreker in die hand, in die middel van die rommel, besig om mense moed in te praat. Sy gewoonlik saggesproke stem reeds rou van emosie, terwyl hy kinders troos en met 'n hardehoed op self aanmoedigings in die oorblyfsels van geboue inskree. "Kinders," sê hy, "dis julle oupa. Hoe moed." Daar na is hy te sien in gesprek met 'n snikkende dogtertjie. Hy praat saggies met haar en sy bedaar. Hy kry dit reg om die fotograwe en bystaanders te ignoreer. Dis net hy en die meisie hier. Hy ryk uit na 'n huilende baba, in sy ma se arms. Die kind hou op huil. Die ma sê dankie. 'n Politieke droom vir 'n westerse gehoor, maar daar's geen stemme op die spel hier nie.

As China môre stembus toe moes gaan, sal hierdie selfde regering met 99% van die stem wegstap. Daar’s 'n les hierin vir ons. Vir een ding: demokrasie is aansienlik meer as net 'n verkiesing.

Ten spyte van die regering se massiewe poging is daar tog berigte van bitterheid. Party mense wonder hoekom regeringsgeboue in die ergste beskadigde areas nog staan, maar soveel skole het inmekaar gesak. Ander beweer 'n geoloog, wat die regering wou waarsku, is stilgemaak. Mense wys selfs na 'n massa migrasie van paddas en vlinders weke voor die aardbewing, as profetiese tekens wat geïgnoreer is. Dis egter normale menslike reaksie, na so 'n ontstellende ervaring. Dié keer is dit almal se ervaring. Mense regoor die land het dit gevoel. Almal gaan vir jare nog onthou presies waar hulle was om 2:30 op 12 Mei 2008. Intussen het die publiek hulle harte en sakke oopgemaak. Kollekteringsbokse is oral in die stad te sien, en bloedskenkingsvoertuie het lang rye mense wat gereed is om by te dra. Geld strooom in van regoor die land en almal volg die nuus obsessief om te hoor wat die situasie is.

Die weermag het Dinsdagnag ongeveer elfuur eers Wenchuan bereik. Na 'n paar uur het hulle reeds 500 sterftes aangemeld, maar in 'n stad waar 80% van geboue totaal vernietig is, verwag hulle nou dat daar ten minste nog 12 000 mense vasgekeer of dood is.Ons het nounet berig ontvang dat die reddingswerkers vandag, Woensdag, vir die eerste keer sekere dorpe in die bergagtige gebied in sentraal Sichuan kon bereik, waar dit lyk asof meeste totaal en al vernietig is. Selfs hier in Xi’an, 630 km weg, is daar 22 mense dood. Die nuusberig sê nie hoe nie. Miskien het 'n gebou inmekaargesak, miskien was hulle minder gelukkig toe die teëls begin reën het. Maar, vir nou, gaan lewe weer aan soos normaalweg.

Skole is weer oop en die strate is nie meer so vol kampeerders nie. China Telecom het mobiele selfoon stasies opgestel en Starbucks, oorkant die straat, is oop. Mense vertrou al klaar weer die grond onder hulle voete. Want hoe kan mens anders? Die foto’s van dooie kinders raak meer op die internet. Die regering laat dit toe. Mense soek inligting, en niemand word verbied om foto’s te neem nie. Hulle lyk nes my studente, met hulle rooi serpies, maar hulle oë is toe. En elkeen van hulle is hulle ouers se enigste kind.

Help asseblief. Donasies kan hier gemaak word.

Please help. Donations can be made here.

Monday, 12 May 2008


This just in: just had the weirdest experience. We felt the earthquake, centred near Chengdu, all the way over here in Xi'an. People poured from buildings after being rocked for only about a minute, with small pieces of debris falling down momentarily. After waiting around outside for an hour or so, we've now begun going back inside.
Reports indicate it was a 7.8 magnitude quake, 57 miles northwest of Chengdu, Sichuan, and was felt in Beijing, Bangkok, Thailand and Hanoi, Vietnam. No reports of damage or casualties yet, but it's very early.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Darfur and Olympics linked

Nothing much happening these days. The Olympic torch is on safe ground, and we're not likely to see much action on the Tibetan issue. So here's my senseless contribution for the day: a clear link between Darfur and the Olympic Games. Not so futile now, is it, Chu Maoming?

I tried in vain to find a link between edible condoms and Hu Jintao.

In other news, I compiled a quick list of what I like to think of as "Myths Chinese People Tell Themselves", inspired by a description of the new exhibition in Beijing at the "Cultural Palace of Nationalities" on the "history" of "Tibet".

Here's a quick, top-of-my-head, list:
  1. 1.3 Billion people are too many to govern democratically
  2. China has never invaded any country
  3. Chinese will never work without the characters
  4. Cantonese, and others, are just dialects of Mandarin
  5. Japan has never apologised for the war
  6. Tibet has always been part of China
  7. Taiwan has always been part of China
  8. Chinese is easy
  9. 1.3 billion people speak Chinese
  10. If Hawaii (or Wales or California etc.) declare independence there will be BLOOD
  11. Western media is biased
  12. 5000 years of history is a good thing
  13. Westerners don't have a 5000 year history
  14. Ice cream was invented in China
Some of these are just plain wrong, while others -- like "Western media is biased" -- isn't telling the whole story. If anyone can think of more, let me know. Oh, I just remembered #15:

15. Warm water can cure anything. Cold water is positively bad for you.
16. A drip can cure anything hot water can't.
17. Chinese people are friendly.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Blogspot blocked again

Blogspot URLs are blocked again in China. Sinobyte reports it is blocked in Beijing and Shanghai, and I can confirm being blocked in Xi'an, too. addresses still work, so I can manage the blog, but can't view it. If only they could publish their criteria, so we could omit certain keywords. This is their psychological triumph, though, to keep everyone guessing all the time. Half the Chinese people don't know about this internet blocking because there's no rhyme or reason, and no message that comes up to tell you you are being blocked. Many people must just think there's something wrong with the computer or their ISP. Psychological warfare that shows the great Han chauvinism's arrogant condescension.

Thursday, 1 May 2008


Olympic construction workers exploitedAthletes silencedTiananmenGreat Firewall of ChinaEr. Who knows? The backlash has started: this is exactly what the Chinese government feared when they began reining in the patriotic fervour of the last few weeks.

According to Global Voices, (which is an excellent source of grassroots opinion, btw) these posters are twittering around in China.


断指工人, 支持奥运
支持奥运, 唔使讲野

Construction workers support the Olympics. (This is about rushed construction projects in Beijing that has cost a few lives and caused many injuries so far.)

Don't talk, just support the Olympics. (Athletes silenced.)

Forget the massacre for the Olympics. (Tiananmen. My Chinese friends for some reason thought it was about Nanjing.)

Block the Internet for the Olympics. (Great Firewall of China.)

Disrespect? the people for the Olympics. (I suppose human rights in general, and the idea of enriching yourself through the Olympics: like having a hard-on for the Olympics. I can't find a direct translation for 民渎 in my dictionary.)

Global Voices also gathered a few opinions from Chinese people on
"patriotism" that seem to show that the agitation is slowly turning against the CPC.

I love this one:

Let me put it simple: Our impression of China is harmonic, and we think
foreigners have good impression on us. When these events occurred, we found not
everything is as perfect as we think, and this cognitive conflict makes our
anger more furious.

Spot on.

(Upate:) I saw the posters being used in the Hong Kong torch relay, here:

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Brainwashed Chinese

It's a ridiculous refrain coming from Chinese students as they protest around the world against media bias: Your media lies to you! Tell the truth CNN! Et fucking cetera.

As much as they insist we try to understand them, they could bloody well try and understand us. It's natural to project your own frame of reference onto other people. That's why I walk around in China and say holy shit, that's weird a lot. Of course to them it's not weird.

Well, to us media bias is not weird. We simply know from an early age that all media is biased. Mostly because it's written by that most fallible of creatures, the human. We learn in school that history is a story written by people and that we should read between the lines, compare, do differential diagnoses, etc. The average 4 year old Western kid has more media savvy than a mainland Chinese.

Sure, some people just read one newspaper, or watch just one channel, but that guy is a cranky old coot anyway. I tend to ignore him.

Most other normal people these days have the advantage that the news comes to them. Here in China, with my somewhat limited literacy, I can attest to feeling media-deprived all the time. There's no serendipity. Back home you overhear people in restaurants, you see the paperboy holding up a headline, you see the picture on the media rack at Seven Eleven... whatever. The news gets to you. And it comes from a wild variety of sides, with a wild variety of contradicting biases and we know by the age of 12 that Die Burger talks shit and The Citizen is a bunch of rascists and Vrye Weekblad (RIP) is ueber-cool, and Rapport has naked chicks on the back and the Mail & Guardian is larney and CNN and SKY will do anything to create catchy graphics... et fucking cetera.

But, I recently realised, it's also about timing. The news reaches us more-or-less when it possibly can. When the Twin Towers were hit it was lunchtime in Zaland and I was watching the planes coming in live. I stayed up late to watch the beginning of the first Iraq War. (We kinda knew when it was gonna go down.) Nelson Mandela freed from prison... live. Live. Live!

What a difference that makes, even now, to my perception of the world, and the flow of events in my head.

I watched the torch relays in London and Paris, and even Buenos Aires, live on my computer via direct feed from local TV stations (channeled through CNN.) CNN, you say. Well, they only channeled local stations, so don't worry, there was only local bias. At the same time I could monitor the representation on CCTV and Chinese news websites. The difference was... well... vive le difference! Massive. On CCTV nothing much happened. For London, they showed the first runner get under way and then cut to the Grand Prix. Later that night they showed a "highlights" package that repeated the start of the run, then cut to tourism brochure shots of London scenery. The next day Paris happened and even though I could see in front of my eyes that things were going south rather quickly, the CCTV version again only showed a quick panorama of Paris and the first runner getting on his way.

Of course by that time expat Chinese have been blogging and phoning home like ET with a Blackberry. (Oh, God, forgive my analogies.) So the news had actually reached China, but only the few who cared. Only the few who had a mind to dig it up. And it was eight hours later that CCTV made any mention of things possibly going a little bit rough. Then, of course, the dam wall broke. Sure enough, suddenly China was way informed.

The next day students in my class were visibly confused: why in God's name are they so angry, these evil western splittist running dogs?

For, aye, here the rub: if the news could come to them there would have been no surprise. If they could have known about the Tibetan issue from the start, and could have been kept informed by the serendipitous media machinations of elsewhere, they would have known by now something was going down out there. The disconnect between the blatant bogwater they get fed on a daily basis and the reality out there proved too big for their "harmonised" minds to compute. Result: nazifest.

Now, you'd say something like: duh, you're in China and you can read the news. Well, yeah, duh-sayer, but I can also read ye olde Englishe. There's this myth going about that the Chinese are "disappointed" with CNN and BBC because they've always relied on these sources to be accurate and truthful. What bollox! Who in the ordinary Chinese citizenry EVER watches CNN or BBC? You get it in 5 star hotels if you're lucky. They could go on the web, you say. Well, yes they could, but again: they don't so much read English. Believe me, I teach it.

And then back to the serendipity: I don't suppose most people understand what I have to go through to GET THE NEWS over here. I have to freakin' proxy jump like a crazy person. Sometimes the actual proxies are blocked. Sometimes there's a keyword trap and whatever I type in Google just times it out. Sometimes the bloody proxies get so overloaded by Chinese users they block the whole country for periods of time... from outside China.

Tonight, for example, any page one link deep on the Guardian's website is blocked (in the China section). This is a first: except for a short while around 14 March, the Guardian has remained relatively open. So, idiot netnanny, if I see you're blocking something I WILL FIND IT. I will not sleep. I will resolutely continue my search until I get a new, unblocked proxy, or someone on Yahoo messenger can copy and paste it for me.

But that's me: I get obsessed with knowing what happened. It's an illness. It must be, since not even my non-Chinese friends over here share the same drive. If I don't leave every stone unturned I wouldn't get at the news. It's a constant game of cat and mouse button. (God help me.)

The average, well-educated, well-informed Chinese guy or gal out there is never going to go through this much trouble. If you add up the hoops you have to jump through, the high levels of motivation required, the ability to comfortably understand long pieces of written English AND the fact that I get hints of specific happenings that I want to search for... then the obstacles are just too many.

Factor into that the overwhelmingly biased mass of Chinese media out there, that would direct attention to specific areas to begin with, and the only conclusion I can come to is that the Chinese are incurably brainwashed to a psychotic degree.

And the only reason they think we are brainwashed too is because they can't step outside of their own shoes. They have no experience with anything different. In fact, their culture... yes, I'll say it: their 5000 old culture is an albatross around their collective necks; an unstoppable weight of inertia propelling them blindly into the future. I think Mao Zedong himself said that. [citation needed]

I am constantly wrestling with the question of my right to criticise another culture. I've been told I don't have that right. I've just been wondering who exactly grants rights. If I don't have the right, then nobody has. Therefore, and here's the clever bit, everyone has. But of course no one decides who has which rights. I am simply taking this one for myself. I'm looking in on the Chinese culture and I can see its naughty bits, even if they can't. And I'll tell them about it until they kick me out of their piece of Earth. Fair enough?

Especially now that their naughty bits are sending weapons to my piece of Earth.

Bo Yang died yesterday. He's worthy of a look-see. Taiwanese writer, best known for The Ugly Chinaman, in which he kinda does what I did here, only better cause he's actually Chinese and has the right. They're also making this book into a graphic novel, in Taiwan. Can't wait.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

We are fighting for China

I just read a story in China Daily where they quote a German sinologist, Dr. Ingo Nentwig, who did research in Tibet. He says there is no cultural genocide happening in Tibet.

"The Tibetan culture flourishes and prospers in China," including "language, literature, study of oral literature, everyday life and traditional architecture," he said.

Have we framed this issue so badly? Was there a cultural genocide happening in Northern Ireland under British control? Was there genocide under Apartheid? (Hold that thought... there's a PS) Is there genocide in Zimbabwe? Was there genocide in East Germany, or the Soviet Union? Is that really why we want the CCP to improve their human rights record in Tibet and China?

Is this about genocide?

Firstly, on genocide:

1948 United Nations Genocide Convention
Article 2

[G]enocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such;

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

(Poole, S. Unspeak, ABACUS, 2006)

The convention is concerned with preventing genocide, hence the "in whole or in part". In the case of Tibet, (a) and (b) have definitely happened. (c) is arguable. (d) and (e) are rumours at best. That's two out of "any" five. That would meet the international criteria for genocide.

I found an interview in German with Ingo Nentwig. My German is both rusty and rustic, but here's an excerpt:

Was mich in den letzten Wochen sehr bewegt hat, ist die Unverhältnismäßigkeit in der medialen Darstellung. Kein seriöser Mensch bestreitet, dass es in China Menschenrechtsverletzungen gibt. Niemand bestreitet, dass auch die Tibet-Politik Chinas verbesserungswürdig ist, und zwar in großem Maße. Aber wenn ich mir die Lage in Tibet realistisch anschaue, die Mythen der Exiltibeter beiseite schiebe und die Lage mit der Situation in anderen Ländern vergleiche - schauen wir doch einfach nur mal ganz wahllos über die Grenze nach Indien. Ich würde wagen zu sagen, dass Indien jeden Monat in Kaschmir mehr Menschenrechtsverletzungen begeht als China in den letzten zehn Jahren in Tibet. Sie brauchen nur in die Zeitung zu schauen, wie unterschiedlich die Darstellung ist. Das rechtfertigt natürlich nichts von dem, was in China passiert, und ich kritisiere das scharf. Aber die Verhältnismäßigkeit ist in der medialen Darstellung überhaupt nicht mehr gegeben. Da kann ich dann auch die chinesische Regierung verstehen, dass sie sich unfair behandelt fühlt, weil der Westen auf ihr in einem Ausmaß rumhackt, das sie wirklich nicht verdient hat.

In short (correct me if I'm wrong) he says:

Paraquotes: "No serious person would deny there are human rights abuses in China, and that China's Tibet-policy could be better... but one only has to look across the border, to India, and Kashmir specifically, where there were probably more human rights problems in the last month than in Tibet in the last ten years."

(Of course, China Daily didn't report this part of his opinion.)

I don't doubt he's right. But this brings me to the title of my post: clearly Dr. Nentwig didn't intend to support the Chinese government's propaganda about Tibet. He's just as forthcoming in his criticism of the Chinese government, as his criticism of our media-influenced views of Tibet. This seems to me a normal sequence of events in the Western polemics. We over-react, get all hot-headed about some issue, jump to conclusions, get all biased, and then, after a few weeks, we calm down and the liberal press starts bringing out comment pieces and in-depth analyses where we start talking to ourselves, discussing where we went wrong and why and generally compromising on some middle ground between left and right.

This is a discourse the "west" has with itself. It isn't perfect, and we usually end up getting it wrong again, but we do it anyway and eventually we reach a position of self-critical awareness. (We still get it wrong though, but we talk about it, is my point.) We don't just keep on insisting we are always right forever.

Unfortunately China (I mean the goons and thugs in the government, of course) know this and pounce on this. I don't doubt they're scouring the web for pro-China Westerners as we speak. (So to speak.) This week they've come up with Dr. Nentwig, who, because he's a decent fellow, felt culturally compelled to do an interview with China Daily, but ended up being abused by them to offer legitimacy to their cause.

Last week it was Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail in Canada, who woke up to find himself a hero in China. In that case the China Daily simply manufactured what they needed.

In Dr. Nentwig's case, he just handed it to them. Well-meaning, I'm sure, but missing the point by a lightyear.

The point, you might ask, is what exactly? It is this: why are the Tibetans so angry?

Here's how China Daily ends his interview:

Nentwig criticized some Western media for only reporting the voices of the former ruling class, namely, representatives of the old theocracy, the clerical and feudal aristocrats, who lost their power and can "no longer exploit the people at will," while ignoring the voices of the ordinary Tibetan people who "have a totally different story to tell."

Absolutely. Couldn't have said it better myself. I think we should go into Tibet right now and ask the ordinary Tibetans what story they want to tell. I'm packing my bags right now. Oh, right. Damn. Can't get into Tibet. Forgot about that.

PS. According to the Genocide Convention I'd say there was a genocide in South Africa.

Monday, 21 April 2008

The End... in case you haven't noticed

It might be worthwhile to mention that this blog ceased to exist from a publishing point-of-view... approximately one year ago. It has not ceased to exist, however. It will probably float around in the digital nothingness, there but not there, until the day that day when that cluster on that server in the google farm decides it's time to prematurely go, and blows its silicon bits out.

Because it can.

Those will be the days...

Until then, it seems there might still be life out there. Welcome back Cerebus.

Chinese Language Acquisition and Intellectual Development

Kids who grow up in a country with a phonetic alphabet can sit in a restaurant, or a mall, or a kindergarten, or in front of the TV, and will be expossed to the written language constantly. At some point they would become aware that these little lines represent words. How that happens can surely vary: perhaps someone simply tells them. From that point on, I'm sure, kids would often try their hand at it. Seeing a sign, like a STOP sign, they'd ask their parents what it meant. Dad would say "stop", and the kid would remember the little snakey thing. Next day they might be in a restaurant and the kid might see a picture of a sandwich, and the word "sandwich" and knowing the word they might be able to correctly guess that the snakey thing makes a ssss-sound.

Seems all very straightforward. The kid would feel pleased with herself and try it out in different settings, sometimes getting it wrong, but, more often than not, getting it right. After all, we only have around 26 of these little squiggles to memorize and then we're all set. Some phonetic alphabets have more, some less, but on the whole they tend to be less than fifty: manageable even for "pygmy chimpanzees" (more accurately bonobos) who can be trained to recognize far more hand symbols than fifty.

My guess is that this little kid gets some kind of positive feedback every time she solves one of these puzzles. Her world becomes more understandable and she gains confidence in her own powers of reasoning. She becomes empowered. We all went through this, presumably, unless you're listening to this with a screenreader, in which case you've had it slightly harder than the rest of us, so more power to you.

I could certainly read and write before I went to school, and I can not remember ever having been taught to do it. (I do remember having to write out cursive letters because my handwriting was, and is to this day, a bit like a donkey doing surgery with an axe.) I don't think we should underestimate this little feat of mental deduction we went through during the most formative of our intellectual years. As far as I can remember, psychologists and pediatricians feel very strongly about the first four years of life, although the latter might have to do so by definition.

So now lets spare a thought for the child who grows up in a world without a phonetic alphabet. Imagine walking the streets, or paging through comics, or watching TV, and imagine all of these media completely devoid of any signage that a healthy young brain could puzzle over and connect into one big sequence of sounds that make up a word. Welcome to China.

You go to a restaurant and see a new character and there is one way, and one way only, to figure out what it means: ask someone. You see a picture of a sandwich, and three squiggles meaning "three", "famous" and "government". (三明治) Good luck with that. You have to ask. You read a comic book, and find a new word: you have to ask. You meet a new friend and she introduces herself, but the sounds mean nothing: you have to ask what pictures they are. You. Have. To. Ask.

Of course, you'd have to be brain-dead to NOT pick up a few characters along the wayside: but those are easy, frequent ones. They would number less than fifty. I know I can recognise around 800 characters, because that's what my Chinese book promises: two volumes with 400 characters each. Do you think I can read even one sentence in a newspaper? Well, I'd be really lucky. It would have to something like: What's your name? Or, which way to the nearest bank, my good man? Newspapers are hardly that polite, not to mention sympathetic of Chinese learners. To comfortably read a newspaper you'd need, apparently, around 3000 characters. That's all very well, and doesn't sound like so many, but of course they combine to form new words, and the Chinese don't use spaces between words! This means that I can often read a whole sentence, i.e. make the sounds but can't figure out, for the life of me, what the heck it means.

I never did take learning Chinese seriously, so it's my own fault. I've been here about seven years, and very early on I decided my life simply isn't long enough to learn Chinese. Don't get me wrong: many other foreigners pick it up quite nicely, but they try very hard. It's doable, but at too high a cost for me, personally.

But my concern here is this: Chinese kids have to learn it. They have to learn how to read it and write it. And they have to memorize about 8000 characters to be considered normal. What is the cost for them?

What happens in their brains when they figure out, smart kids that they are, that there is no way in hell they can just try to figure out the meaning or pronunciation of a character? What do they think when they ALWAYS have to ask? Don't their brains reach a point where the feedback loop goes something like: why think about it? Why try? Why use your brain? You know it's useless. Just ask someone. That's the only way. (Might even explain Confucianism, if you take it to extremes.)

Unfortunately I see the symptoms of this in my classes, and many English teachers would confirm: the kids hate taking intellectual chances. It's not that "losing face" bollox that everyone always goes on about. If they cared about losing face they wouldn't spit so loudly, or have so many arguments in the streets or walk around singing aloud to themselves. No. They just don't seem to want to think. And if you listen to the stories about Chinese state schools then you could understand why: spoonfeeding. They literally have to memorize whole books. Just memorize. There's no call for their own opinion.

And I don't, now, think it's all about culture. I feel there's something in their language acquisition that pre-empts all this. They never learn that they can engage with the world around them in a meaningful way -- make it their own, think about it, puzzle about it, ask questions about it, wonder about it. And the little urge that's left after reaching about age 6 gets stifled the hell out of them at school. That's why so many of them can do the pen-twirling trick: that's what 12 hours of school a day would do to you.

The language is to blame. Historians of the future will prove me right. Unless we all have to adopt the Chinese script, in which case historians of the future will also prove me right.

I even have a solution. Very simple. I don't think the Roman alphabet is well suited for Chinese, so, no, Pinyin is not the way to go. They have all these characters, so they can use them: but only use the ones they need. That is: count the number of discreet syllables you can make in Chinese and choose the easiest characters, from the existing ones, for them. The number happens to be around 1580. That includes all the tones, and the neutral tone, for every single Chinese initial and final combination. It's still a lot, but it's a darn sight less than 8000.

Then, to make the usage consistent, they only need to leave spaces between words, and underline names.

It means they will have to start reading phonetically, and they will also need to write phonetically and ditch the millions of crazy homonyms that have proliferated exactly because of the use of characters as a writing system.

Chinese people will say it's impossible. They will say there are simply too many words that sound the same and that can only be distinguished because they have different characters. To them I say bullshit. If that was the case, how do Chinese people speak to each other on the telephone? How could they be comprehensible without constant subtitles? No, that simply doesn't wash. Of course writers will have to be more careful, but isn't it a good thing to force out a little of the ambiguity in the language? And if there's really such confusion over different characters, it would simply mean they have to create new words, just like everyone else. That'll get the creative juices flowing.

You might gasp in amazement and awe at my incredible arrogance in holding an opinion on a language I couldn't even master. Well, gasp away. There it is: that's my theory, and until you shoot down my theory it might console you to know I have absolutely no influence anywhere in the world, so ... there.

Reading acquisition links:

Chinese Pinyin: