Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I read something very true, very well put but also kinda like common sense in this article The Geopolitics of Football: "...when conflict stops, from Kosovo to Kabul, football is the first sign of a society returning to normal." See what's even more of a common sense is that, good writers, or popular writers, are sometimes just people who are able to put common knowledge really, really well. Anyways, this article appears on Project Syndicate, some site I wish I knew earlier. They feature lots of writings from pretty prominent thinkers, though most of them are economists. I never really studied economics myself, though I'm happy to read articles about it. But the truth is, we are living in a world right now that is dominated by economics and economists' thoughts. Every time when I read about China, I come across some issues on economics. For people who are more left than right, writers on Project Syndicate might not be the cool writers. They are not exactly the Right conservatives, but For myself, since I consider myself neither Left nor Right -- even though I sound/think/write like a left -- I feel good to read about this stuff, cause it makes me think from a new perspective.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Stephen Hawking and Interpretation

Stephen Hawking came to Hong Kong last week, and gave one keynote speech at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). As expected, it created lots of hype surrounding his work, his disease, to a point that all of a sudden, everyone – not just U-students, but politicians, some bankers, housewife and their kids – tries to get a hold of the tickets to one of his talks. They even made some laser-tech based tickets at HKUST just to avoid the fakes trying to get in – have you ever heard of seeing fake admission tickets at the door of an academic lecture???

I will not talk about the interpretation of Stephen Hawking’s work, cause I never really read his work (I guess the most famous one being A brief history of time) and tons of other people can do a better job. But I got to say something about how Hawking himself is interpreted in this amazing city Hong Kong, in which everything can be broken down to one thing -- entertainment.

As most people know, Stephen Hawking is diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a motor neuron disorder with severe retardation of body movements that is eventually fatal. I feel sorry for the man himself, not just because of the disease, but because sometimes he is better known for his disease than for his work. I ain’t saying his work is not famous, because it takes a lot of knowledge (and guts) to come up with something like “the Big Bang” and claim that you have explained to the world what Einstein could not explain in his work. But in Hong Kong (I don’t want to generalize and expand this to other societies/cultures), the hype has it that “oh man, he is the dude with this muscular atrophy thing, and he is physicist with awesome ideas!”, instead of “oh man, he is the scientist who has developed this awesome theory!”. And the reason I say this is not because I think so – some U-students came out of the talk, and I am quoting what I read in the newspaper, “Oh man, the vocal synthesizer he controls with his eyeball was so cool…” as if he went in just to check out his wheelchair; or some woman said “I can now die fulfilled and without regret” because she said goodbye to Hawking at the airport.

The truth is, if Stephen Hawking were not an ALS patient, he could have come to Hong Kong with whatever evidence or even proof for Big Bang theory, and still would not have created the kind of hype that he did. Hong Kong is a city that does not value science, not because we don’t think science is important – we somehow do when it comes to stocks for the biotech corps – but most people don’t give a crap. And I will give you one example to support this: when it comes to laws that involve biotechnology and bioethics, the laws that are supposed to govern experiments, say like, stem cells and fetal germ cells, are at least 15 years (possibly more) behind the technology itself. Why? Because it had never even appeared to the lawmakers that we should set our ethical grounds on these, though it is talked about all over the (developed) world – which is why no matter how “developed” Hong Kong is in the economic sense, it’s never really truly developed. After all, there are not that many research based biotech companies in Hong Kong; academic research is going on among Universities, especially on genomics, but still we are focusing just on the fame that it would bring us as the “Asia’s World City” (by this “we” I ain’t referring to the researchers and the teachers I respect, but people like the vice chancellor, or whoever sitting in the board…etc.), but not the possible implications of the scientific work we are doing in Hong Kong. Because this is the bottom line: as science moves forward, so are our values; when we can’t defend our values, we lose the grounds, the justification, for doing science – because then, if what you create requires destruction of the meanings and values of life in the process, it doesn’t really matter how many lives on earth can be saved by your new biotech invention, cause you have already killed life.

In fact, after studying biology and had a glimpse of what cell bio research is like, I realize that biotech and biopolitics make the perfect new couple – Foucault talked about medicalization, with implications that are still true, but Biotech is pushing these limits of biopolitics everyday at a pace we can’t even keep up with (or to view it a little differently, closing the gap between life and sovereign to a point that has never been so intimate before).

Coming back to Hawking: in Hong Kong, he is interpreted as the physicist with that severe disease. It is indeed, very respectable: his courage, his perseverance, the inspiration he gives to the next generation. But my point is: you don’t necessarily have to look at a diseased physicist to get these virtues, ‘cause if you do, you are disrespecting both Stephen Hawking himself, for interpreting him not with his work but his defect, and all other physicists, whose hard work are then not acknowledged equally even though they might have been important in the same field or the other.

This is what I mean by interpretation: sometimes we look at someone, or something, without addressing the real value that it has or deserves, but to go the opposite – we devalue that something, strip it to the last reducible form where we add new values and meanings to it as we please. I can’t say interpretation is wrong, for everyone single one of us interpret various things everyday; in fact, in a truly democratic society, everyone should co-exist peacefully regardless of how different their interpretations might be. But when a group of people in the same environment tends to interpret homogeneously without criticizing the basis for that interpretation, something is wrong. As we see now in Hong Kong, everything is about giving an interpretation that would give you the highest degree of entertainment – entertainment in the sense it would give a common, hot topic of interest as a social happening, the hype: from the Bus Uncle clip that “captures” every bit of our curious slim shady, to both the disease and work of Stephen Hawking, they have all served the same purpose in this tiny Asia City – a city so full of herself that she has forgotten she doesn’t form a dot on the world atlas.

This type of interpretation, is seen as the new form of news in Hong Kong that I call Entertainmentization, a phenomenon that I have hated (and bashed, in my high school composition class) every since I was 16, and it has been going downhill from there.

Wha’mo’can I say?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Common Sense

Malcolm X, Corners -- is Common Sense Common, the Chi-Town rapper formerly known as Common Sense, has done it again. This song, The Corners, first appeared in Common's Album Be last year. The ablum version got hot beats from Kanye, but this remix is even better; this remix by Ro Blvd is just Blues in real Hip Hop. I mean, this song sounds like Jimi Hendrix on the decks man! Malcolm'd be proud. (except one thing: Mr. Dropout K really needs to stop fxxking with the Mic and just concentrate on his beatmaking... no one likes somebody who only likes listening to himself, you know) Another hot remix of this song is by Freddie Joachim. I keep poppin' my head when I listen to it. In fact, he got some free downloads on his site. THIS IS DOPE MUSIC MAN. word.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Remember, Remember the Forth of June

I think I have finally recovered from the congestive brain failure I got from the exam – for the last few days I had a complete brain dysfunction. Got my fingers crossed now.

Today is the 17th commemoration of June Forth. The white candle assembly, as the tradition in goes, is still going on in Victoria Park in Hong Kong – does that ever occur to anyone that is kinda weird that a ceremony that symbolizes the strive for democracy, and possibly the largest among all Chinese communities around the world, happens in to take place every year in a central park named after the queen in a city that was once colonized?

Every year, a group of activists and ex-activists in 1989, some of which by now are even ex-politicians, come back together and hold this reunion, making sure that Chinese people will not forget about June Forth, the Tiananmen Massacre that happened in 1989. And every year these people will still urge the Chinese government to officially acknowledge the wrong decisions that were made in 1989, to ask for a formal readdress of the injustice committed by the government, to ask for the responsible officers, and even apologies or compensations for families of the victims. But these are tough goals, not just because the Chinese Government, as an authoritarian communist party, just would not tell you they had done something wrong (like a Chinese father), but also because the responsibilities for the decisions made back then might go back to one of the greatest leader in the People’s Republic, Dang Xao Peng. And we all know, no one can target and bash our leaders like that, not Deng, not Mao, no one – for if you did that publicly, the next thing would be a charge of treason.

Exactly because of this, this struggle for June Forth has also become a symbol for the democratic struggle in China, for all we know, there would never be a day of a official address of the injustice committed, unless our country is democratic. So ever since 1989, June Forth – or in fact, just the number 6-4 in Chinese – is the symbol of democracy. And every year, you will see articles in Hong Kong saying how we want and need to see a democratic government acknowledging the injustice back then. It’s lucky (and yes, I have to say it’s lucky) that in Hong Kong, because under common law the legal system is still “intact”, and public assembly of June Forth commemoration is still allowed, for any ceremony of the same scale in the Tiananmen Square will probably bring you indefinite imprisonment without a need for trial.

I have never been to any ceremony of such in Hong Kong. Not one year, not a single one. I might sound like I only talk the talk but never walk the walk when I say I want democracy in China. But there is a reason why I have never been to one single June Forth assembly: I don’t know how strong this link between June Forth and Democracy should be, therefore every year I will need to take one step back and think about the whole thing.

I was only 6 years old when massacre happened. It was only in Junior high and high school that I got to read more about June Forth and learnt about what happened from my Chinese History teacher (note: not that June Forth has ever been part of the curriculum, but my teacher told us about it). Of course, as a Chinese, I think the government owes us all a formal apology on this matter, but are we at the stage to ask for this? Some politicians in Hong Kong, aka the so-called democrats, had brought it up before when they got the chance to meet up with Beijing’s officials, but it never went further than some pissed off faces.

Speaking of Beijing’s attitude towards the June Forth, I think some interesting parallel could be drawn between this and other atrocities during the WWII such as those by Japan and Nazi Germany. The Germans (and German government today) has formally addressed what happened under Nazi, and, indeed, carried on from there to avoid such atrocity in future with legal and constitutional action. But why can’t the China government do the same? Well, besides things like an authoritarian government, the fact that Nazi regime went down after WWII but Beijing is still Beijing, maybe the Chinese paternalistic ideology plays a role too.

On the contrary, the Japan government has never really acknowledged what wrong they had done to various Asian countries, including China, with the imperialist actions during WWII. Just last year in the ASEAN + 3 meeting, our president Hu decided not to shake hands with Japan’s prime minister for Hu thought Japan had never really apologized for their wrongdoings, even though Japan thinks that such apologies have already been made. It’s just a matter of perspective, you might say, but the truth is that so long as the dominant party in Japan is the right wing, I don’t think any better apology or formal acknowledgement will be made, because this is the Right in Japan relies on for their people’s votes: ambitious imperialist-like conservatism that triggers sadness in every Asian who has gone through WWII.

Funny though, the same time Beijing does not accept Japan’s never-good-enough apology, Beijing would never apologizes to its people for our own wrongdoings – not June Forth, not Cultural Revolution. In fact, neither of these incidents has been given a formal “meaning” or definition to our history by our government. Up till now, it’s still extremely sensitive to mention these events in China, and forget about commenting on the ramifications of the devastation. If I were the Japan government, I wouldn’t be very convinced either when Beijing tells me my apology just wasn’t “good-enough”.

Of course, the issue seems to be different: atrocities during WWII was between countries, while things like June Forth could be accounted as a country’s own-issue, as if walls are built along borders of China and the accurate information will never be released. But political issues put aside, deep down, I think a sincere apology depends on just a few things: courage, retrospection, humility; the refusal to make such an apology then, shows you what one lacks. And if this applies to a man-to-man basis, then why can’t one apply this to a nation-to-nation level as well – after all both Confucius and Socrates thought running a government well is similar to a human being living well, mentally and physically.

I think most people has seen one of the most classic pictures of June Forth: a man with plastic bags on his hands stand right in front of the tank, back straight and arms spread. That picture has been taken to be a symbol of civil disobedience like the portrait of Che Guevara. But to me, just bearing the symbol, even putting it up on your t-shirt, is not enough. We need to think about what happened, why and where to carry on from here. For from what I have read about June Forth, it wasn’t like the students have done everything right either. I ain’t saying we don’t need to remember and educate the next generation about what happened, and ceremonies can certainly serve this purpose, but I think as time goes by, one should add new meanings to June Forth, and see how it’s applied to us in China today. I might sound way too logical to a point of coldness, but if we can’t even do this, we will never move on from the Massacre, never be able to push the democratic movement further, and June Forth will never be addressed officially in China. In fact, it will only be an event of civil disobedience in the History of the People’s Republic, but never a milestone; and it will eventually be forgotten, but never be borne by the future generations.