Category Archives for "Uncategorized"

Jun 19

NBA Finals in China: Why this ex-Clevelander hopes LeBron James loses

By Mitchell Blatt | Uncategorized

Tomorrow morning, sports bars in China will be full of basketball fans sipping bloody maries and watching LeBron James try to win the Cavaliers’ first NBA championship. I was there before, watching LeBron lose to the same team in the championship series the year before at a hostel in Shanghai—watching basketball while the hostel bar played terrible country music.

I have watched LeBron James play basketball since he was drafted by my hometown team. I watched the Cavs night after night in primary school, hoping with every possession they would start a comeback, believing, like a good Clevelander, that they just might. I remember the names of the unfortunate prospects to be picked by the Cavs and had their careers ruined from day one. Andre Miller (8th pick of the 1999 draft), Trajan Langdon (11th pick, 1999), Chris Mihm (7th pick by the Bulls in 2000, traded to Cleveland before the season started), Dajuan Wagner (6th pick, 2002). I remember dreaming of LeBron for four years, to the point where us Clevelanders eventually began cheering every loss, hoping to be put in the place to draft him. I remember celebrating winning the lottery. I remember watching LeBron in his first season, being happy just to break .500 for the first time since 1998, and watching from a hotel room in Chicago when he played in his first NBA Finals, cheering him on in vain, as he got swept.

Tomorrow, I will be rooting against LeBron James.

For the sake of my Cleveland friends who are still blindly following the cult, I hope a Cavs win gives them some solace. Maybe it will wake them up out of their Cleveland sports-induced stupor and let them stop staring at the icons on their TV, hoping a miracle will happen, and do something more worthwhile than watching the Cavs, Browns, and Indians. But on the other hand, it could also give them false hope that Cleveland sports really are worth their prayers and offerings. Years of disappointment have done crazy things to the city that hasn’t won a professional championship since 1964 and to its people.

I got out while I could. In 2008, I went to Indiana University for college, then I went to study abroad in China during the 2010-11 school year. While LeBron was losing the NBA Finals with the Heat for the first time that spring, I was blessedly removed from the agony of seeing the ex-Cavalier compete for what should have rightfully been the Cavs’. By then I had already stopped caring about the Cavs and Cleveland sports in general. James Quotes Interposed

“The Decision” did it. Maybe I should thank LeBron for it. If I hadn’t had to sit through months of his politicking, followed by anguishing weeks and days as the free agency period heated up, all culminating in his self-aggrandizing “Decision,” then maybe I wouldn’t have resented him as much. If he just said, “Fuck it, I’m going to win a title with Bosh and Wade,” the day he decided, there would be no pretend drama, no make-believe debate, no pretense of “loyalty” for naive sports fans to sop up. The reality TV special broke everything wide open, leaving me with no cares left to give.

I had seen Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome leave. I had been angry and annoyed. But there’s nothing like a basketball star leaving. It did to the Cavs what Nabisco, Carrier, and Apple all announcing on the same day that they were moving to Mexico did to Donald Trump’s fantasy version of the United States. Their win total dropped from 61 to 19. They just barely broke 20 wins the next two years. In no other sport is a team really just one player. Cheering for the Cavaliers is cheering for LeBron James.

And LeBron James isn’t very cheer-worthy. Clevelanders only started admitting that fact after he left. All the unsavory things about James that were pushed under the rug only became problems when he wasn’t a Cav. When he came back—after Cavs fans had burnt their jerseys, after the owner had posted a hilariously embarrassing letter written in Comic Sans that promised (all caps original), “I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE”—Cleveland welcomed him back in open arms, like the metaphorical victim or Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.

By that time, I was already in China. I don’t watch sports much here. It’s hard to, and I have more interesting things to do every day. But I will be watching the NBA Finals tomorrow, and I hope LeBron loses.

I urge Clevelanders, too, to give up on the failed sports enterprises, led by fantasy sports millionaires, swindling gas station moguls who cheer for their team’s biggest rival, or the ones who are too distracted by their European soccer teams to care and the ones who are planning to move the whole team, not just the top player, away so they can win a championship elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong with leaving the cult before they drink the Kool Aid and jumping on the bandwagon of another team whose management and players have just as much connection to your hometown as your hometown team does. Just ask your lord and savior; the Chosen One wore the Yankees hat to an Indians vs Yankees playoff game.

Go Warriors!

Where to Watch the Finals in Shanghai
Big Bamboo has locations in Jing’an, Hongqiao, and Pudong, all of which will be broadcasting the finals, starting at 8 am (and which broadcast other events, including NFL, MLB, Australian rugby, soccer, UFC, US Open golf). The Jing’an location is most central, at #132 Nanyang Lu.

Where to Watch the Finals in Beijing
Sanlitun bar district would have multiple bars showing the Finals.

Aug 31

The Vietnam War Remnants Museum: Full of Tragedy and Propaganda

By Mitchell Blatt | Uncategorized

The Vietnam War Remnants Museum is full of gruesome displays. Children in the room on Agent Orange are pictured without arms, without eyes, with stubs for feet, with single-fingered hands.

It is also full of propaganda. To begin with, the juxtaposition of anti-war signs along the wall with tanks in the front of the museum is jarring. How can they say, “No War,” at a museum about the Viet Cong’s victorious war to defeat both the French and the American-backed South Vietnamese?

Untitled 74

The theme continues inside, as the first floor displays images of groups protesting American involvement in Vietnam. “The world supports Vietnam in its resistance,” one sign says, with an image of a dove. To call such a group “anti-war” would be inaccurate. After all, it explicitly supports “Vietnam in its resistance.”

Yet the museum doesn’t include much information about that very resistance. Almost all information is on the suffering Vietnam faced at the hands of the Americans. It would seem almost as if the U.S. weren’t fighting anyone. It is a very one-sided museum.

One interesting cartoon on the first floor states that the US Strategic Organization (Office of Strategic Services) trained one of Ho Chi Minh’s military forces during World War II. It is perhaps the only item that doesn’t present American meddling abroad in a negative light. (In fact, according to, “In the mid-1940s, the Viet Minh, under Ho Chi Minh, looked to the West for help in its independence movement and got it.”)

As with any good Communist regime, the Vietnamese government apparently hasn’t figured out that “propaganda” has negative connotations with Western audiences. So, as they display images created by anti-American-involvement-in-Vietnam groups made to sway public opinion, the museum text refers to such images as “propaganda.”


“Propaganda poster of the student representatives and international youths supporting Vietnamese people in their resistance against US aggression, April 5, 1973,” one image with a child’s face and a bomb on it says.

It would seem uncharitable to refer to one’s own supporters as “propagand[ists],” but they probably don’t even know it is a bad thing in the English language—the Chinese museum on World War II (the Sino-Japanese War) refers to a Japanese activist who made anti-Japanese broadcasts as doing “propaganda,” and local Chinese government information offices still refer to themselves as “propaganda offices” sometimes. (Maybe they’re being honest.)

But it’s not just the words they choose: the way the Communists present information is propagandistic, too. Rooms are full of carefully chosen photographs with carefully chosen captions. “Even women and babies are targets of U.S. Americal Division mopping up operations,” says the caption under an image of an American soldier standing at what looks like the door of a Vietnamese home.

Version 2The information presented is all one-sided. There were indeed woman and children and civilians murdered at My Lai and Thanh Phong Village and elsewhere, so there should be displays about those assaults, which there are. The one on Thanh Phong Village includes photos of Sen. Bob Kerrey, who was the presiding Lieutenant overseeing the operation, and notes, “It was not until April 2001 that U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey confessed his crime to the international public.”

But the Vietnamese government should be understanding of Kerrey’s reluctance to come clean considering that they still haven’t come clean about Hue. There is no display about the civilians who were killed, imprisoned, or buried alive up to their necks by the Viet Cong at places like Hue, because of their class background or their status working civilian jobs for the South government or their religion or some other suspect reasons.

The language they use to present simple facts is also needlessly loaded. It wasn’t the “War in Vietnam,” not even the “American War in Vietnam,” it was “the war of aggression in Vietnam.” The Ngo Dinh Diem government was “the repressive and murderous U.S.-Ngo Dinh Diem regime.” The U.S. military were “henchman military forces.” Special warfare was “utterly ruined.”

The names of rooms—“Aggression War Crimes” and “Historical Truths”—leave no question about the viewpoint.

Even the display on the third floor of Trip Advisor awards the museum won is braggadocios behavior more becoming of Madame Tussauds than of a historical museum.

The museum did do some things well. The photo exhibit on the top floor presents amazing photos from journalists from international journalists and does so with neutral language. There is an extensive display of U.S. military guns. And, for all its propaganda, it does get across the Vietnamese government’s point of view and perhaps educates some foreigners about some of the cruelties visited upon Vietnam by the American side.

But the Vietnamese government might have done a better job convincing foreign visitors to accept their judgment fully if they were more honest in its display—or at least looked more honest. If they didn’t make the language so transparently overwrought, the style of presentation and the images and captions so clearly written to induce a reaction, the information could more easily penetrate a visitor’s subconscious. As it is, a visitor who is educated about history and politics would put up a wall of skepticism upon seeing such presentation. Many visitors comment that they take it all with a grain of salt.

Maybe the Vietnamese government was actually doing the honest thing. They presented unfettered propaganda, and they didn’t hide it behind a facade of neutrality.

Aug 02

Collectivism vs. Individualism: The New Political Paradigm

By Mitchell Blatt | Uncategorized

More and more it seems like the divide in politics and society isn’t so much left vs. right as it is between individualism and collectivism. Cultural issues are becoming politicized. One’s entertainment interests, sexual preferences (including kinks and such), and other personal issues are fodder for political analysis.

To be sure, politics and cultural and social issues have been intertwined throughout history. If homosexuality is a crime, as it in 79 countries, and as it has been in the West, even up until 2003 in the U.S., then one’s sexual orientation has necessarily been made an issue by the government. So, too, is one’s gender an inherently politicized issue in countries that ban women from driving or stone women to death under adultery laws in cases in which they have been raped.

However, having dropped most of those archaic practices, we are not all utilizing our freedoms to live our lives as we see fit. Some people can never give up a fight, and these career activists, called “social justice warriors” by some, having nothing more to fight for, want to regulate our personal interests.

It isn’t about left vs. right. A liberal should support women or men expressing their own personal sexual desires, right? From a sex-positive point of view, no one should be ashamed of liking a particular kind of sexual practice. Yet there are debates on feminist blogs over whether “Liking BDSM Makes Me a Bad Feminist?”, as if the practice done consensually causes someone to support the oppression of women.

Fox News hosts like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly have long waged war on rap for its lyrical content. “A lot of the music by those artists is chock full of the n-word and the b-word and the h-word, and racist, misogynist, sexist anti-woman slurs none of those retail executives would be caught dead using,” Hannity said, while calling for rap albums to be banned from stores. He sounds like the feminist groups that want the Australian government to ban Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and Tyler the Creator from touring the country for the same reasons.

I happen to believe Jay-Z was right when he rapped, “If you don’t like my lyrics, you can press fast forward.”

Although I am not a big enough fan of any of those artists to purchase a ticket (though Collective Shout activist Talitha Stone apparently is*), I don’t want to deny anyone else the right to attend the concert. Hell, one might even think their lyrics are distasteful but still think that no individual, group, or government organization—beyond extreme circumstances like that of terrorist recruiting—should have the power to make the decision to censor someone. I happen to believe Jay-Z was right when he rapped, “If you don’t like my lyrics, you can press fast forward.”

(*“When she attended Tyler’s show at Sydney’s Enmore Theater, the rapper, apparently unaware she was present, abused her from the stage, saying “f***ing b*tch, I wish she could hear me call her a b*tch, too, f***ing whore.”)

The tides of political correctness have ebbed and flowed in the past. Music and drama have always been attractive targets for the wrath of censorious busy bodies. Going back to the Puritanical 17th century, stage performances were banned during the Interregnum from 1642-1660. Go back to 1985, and rock stars were called before Senate to testify about their lyrics, as Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Council was lobbying for albums to be rated.

There are different levels of anti-free speech sentiment. On the one hand, criticism is itself free speech. Yet the idea that calling something “offensive” is in and of itself enough to discredit something, to cow its supporters, and, if a social media mob is raised, to end the career of a Nobel laureate, goes against the spirit of free speech. The First Amendment in the U.S. and other such free speech protections abroad only legally protect people from government suppression, but someone who believes in individualism and tolerance would, as a matter of personal beliefs, be open to a wide range of thoughts being expressed in the private sphere as well.

Having thought about this, I decided to create a political compass charting this paradigm of individualism vs. collectivism. Often political compasses chart government power (or “authoritarianism” vs “libertarianism” in some examples) on one side and economics vs. social issues on the other side. I plotted left vs. right and individualism vs. collectivism. (A social conservative who opposes gay marriage, abortion, or birth control and wants to apply those views to the whole society is taking a collectivist view.) Recognizing that there is a range of tactics people can use to attack speech, I put outright bans at the top, with boycotts, labeling, and shaming criticism or “suggestions” on down. The actions of a government body or of a private organization are all taken into account, with allowance given for the fact that a government body, by virtue of having power over all entities in a locality, has more power to suppress. Many of the campaigns start with an activist organization lobbying the government to use its power to ban something, as you can see with Britain’s ban on advertising a weight loss product.

individualism vs collectivism chart

Collectivist Authoritarians
Britain bans “sexist” ads
Charlotte Baring started a petition to ban Protein World ads that advertised weight loss and featured a skinny woman. She said, “They’re about image. Is it really necessary to sexualize a woman or even a man to sell a product? It’s not everyone’s top priority to look a certain way.”

However, it may be some people’s priority to look good, as evidenced by the existence of the ads and of the weight loss program. Just because some people don’t personally care about losing weight, Baring wanted to ban it for everyone.

And sexualizing people isn’t necessarily a bad thing. From a liberal, body-positive point of view, there is nothing wrong with sex or with skinny bodies. Furthermore, one should not view a woman as being sexualized just because she is wearing a bikini. That would be a sexist point of view that polices how women should dress and views women primarily as sexual objects.

The UK Advertising Standards Authority banned the ads in Britain, and ads in the U.S. have been defaced.

Everyone vs. Video Games
Video games are a big target for a lot of reasons, and the reasons cross the left-right spectrum. Some of the same reasons can even be applied to either end of the spectrum for the same reasons. For example, while conservatives are often against violence in media, liberals are increasingly against violence, too, when it is directed against female characters. Conservatives are offended by seeing too much skin or open displays of sexuality. Yet feminist critics like Anita Sarkeesian attack video games for exactly the same reason: they too are offended by sexually-empowered female characters dressing in certain ways.

Sarkeesian said this about Lara Croft: “[E]ven female protagonists like Lara Croft are still objectified and sexualized for a presumed straight-male audience.” The statement manages to shame both women and straight men for their sexuality. Women should be able to dress like they want without being presumed to be looking for sex. Maybe a woman just likes to dress that way? Maybe she likes to tease men, for all we know? Would there be anything wrong with that? On the other hand, straight men are born with their sexual preferences innate, and there isn’t anything wrong with them being attracted to beautiful women and enjoying such imagery. Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with women being attracted to the shirtless vampire men in “Twilight” who were thrown in specifically to attract female viewers.

Politicians across the spectrum like Hillary Clinton (Dem.), Rick Santorum (Repub.), Joe Leiberman (D) and Sam Brownback (R) fought Grand Theft Auto. Jack Thompson has sued video game companies that he claims have influenced violent kids to shoot up schools. Nichole Survivor started a petition that resulted in Target pulling GTA from its shelves.

Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center
Tipper Gore, wife of Al Gore, cofounded the Parents Music Resource Center in 1985 due to her concerns about the lyrical content of music. She wanted music labeled for references to drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, and even the “occult.” She got a lot of support from Congresspeople, and hearings were held, in which musicians, like Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, pwnded the Washington politicians.

As with video games, concerns about music span the political spectrum. On the one hand, male rock stars with big hair and leather, some of them dressing androgynously, should be good examples of self-expression, a liberal value that would offend the sensibilities of traditional conservatives. Furthermore their songs about sex and drugs offended conservatives. Yet liberals who felt that women were sexualized in songs about sex were also offended. Some even read (or misread) references to rape into songs.

Sen. Al Gore thought “Under the Blade,” a song about surgery, was about BDSM. In showing such concern that BDSM content (if it did exist) should be labeled, he showed a bias against BDSM, yet such acts, when performed consensually, of course, should be viewed from liberal, sex-positive perspective as normal things that some people are attracted to that shouldn’t be the cause of shame.

(In fact, many liberal-leaning artists and bands like NOFX, Rage Against the Machine, and Ice-T slammed PMRC in their songs.)

Because PMRC was asking for labeling (under political pressure) and not outright bans, they don’t rank as high on the collectivist scale as some other campaigns. Ultimately they succeeded in getting Parental Advisory stickers applied to records, which helped increase record sales among teens.

On an additional note, I should say that I positioned the Clear Channel memorandum on songs to avoid after 9/11 at the bottom end of the spectrum because it was an in-house decision, not influenced by government or outside pressure, and because it wasn’t a not mandatory ban but rather a suggestion, according to Snopes.

Collective Shout, Russia, Conservative Christians Ban Concerts
Collective Shout, a radical feminist group in Australia, has incited controversy by trying to ban rapper Tyler the Creator from entering Australia to perform a concert. The group claims that his “misogynistic” lyrics, some of which refer to violence and rape, should be grounds for denying him a visa. The group has a long history of targeting rappers. This is the second time since 2013 they have gone after Tyler. In the past they have also tried to get Eminem and Snoop Dogg banned and denied visas.

Not only is Snoop Dogg guilty of “woman-hating lyrics and pimping,” he even does drugs!

“You may be aware that he violated Australian law while in the country including smoking and promoting marijuana on stage,” the group wrote in a public letter to the immigration minister.

According to Urban, the word “narc” means, “the lowest form of human being on this earth. a person who in first grade is labeled as a “tattler”. Most commonly used while talking about someone who tattled on them for having or doing drugs.”

Meanwhile in Russia last year, a Marilyn Manson concert was banned by the local government of Novosibirsk due to concerns about his “blasphemous” songs and “depraved lifestyle.”

Both protest campaigns are reminiscent of a long-running campaign by American Christian fundamentalists against Manson. In 1997, the conservative Christian group the American Family Association protested Manson’s nationwide tour and succeeded in having a number of his concerts canceled. After pressure from the governor, the University of South Carolina canceled his concert that would have been held on their property, and the state legislature passed an unconstitutional bill banning him from performing anywhere in the state. The city manager of Richmond, Virginia announced the concert would be banned, but it was reinstated after the ACLU threatened to file a lawsuit.

After the Columbine massacre, some people absurdly blamed Manson’s music. Manson blames the media’s campaign against him for negatively impacting his career in the following years.

Countries ban “Fifty Shades of Grey”
India banned the film “Fifty Shades of Grey” for sexual content even after nudity was removed. Indonesia, Malaysia, Kenya, and other countries have also banned it.

Boston bans Chic-Fil-A over owner’s anti-gay marriage views

Mozilla Exec Brendan Eich (and creator of Javascript) steps down under pressure because of his support for California’s anti-gay marriage amendment—one year before gay marriage was legalized nationwide

Conservatives try to boycott Mozilla (Firefox) for its role in causing Eich to resign

A long list of sex acts just got banned in UK porn

Boycotts, attacks on anti-Islamism speakers: Ban Bill Maher from giving commencement
The ‘Stop Bill Maher’ UC Berkeley Petition Is How Islamists, Not Liberals, Promote Free Speech
Brandeis withdraws honorary degree for Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali
My own article: Duke University Sides With Islamists Against Feminist Speaker

On the other end of the spectrum, here are some individuals who promote freedom of expression and personal choice. There are many philosophers and thinkers who have espoused views on free speech. However, in real life, most of this section would be harder to fill, because someone who lives their life on the basis of “live and let live” wouldn’t be going out of their way to do something about something they don’t like or care about. It would be someone not attending someone’s concert. It would be a Collective Shout activist not attending Tyler’s concert because she doesn’t like his lyrics. Or a conservative attending a NOFX concert, because even though Fat Mike rocked against Bush and expresses liberal sentiment in the lyrics of many of his songs, that person still likes NOFX’s music and doesn’t think everything should be evaluated on the basis of politics.

I chose a few people from recent news to illustrate how you can hold views on hot button issues but still support free expression:

Bill Maher on “Stop Rush”
“This might surprise you, but I am not a big fan of Rush Limbaugh. However, if you are the one with a website devoted to making him go away, you are part of the problem. And, ironically, you are not even a proper liberal, because you don’t get free speech. You’re just a baby who can’t stand to live in a world where you hear things that upset you.”

Romal J. Tune on being a pro-choice Christian

You see, for many of us who are Christians and support choice it is because we believe that it is unfair to try and make people who are not Christians live their lives based on our beliefs. Just as we cannot force someone to become a Christian, changing laws to force women to do what we believe God requires still will not make them a Christian, it will only make them followers of the law. That person would not be changing their behavior because of their relationship with God. Pro-choice Christians understand that a relationship with God is based on accepting God’s love for us; it cannot be forced on people nor can they be manipulated into it. The Gospel is “good news,” not a scare tactic or a tool used to control people. We are also mindful of those historic examples of when Christianity has been used to perpetuate discrimination and injustice.

”You Can Be Pro-Choice Politically and Be A Pro-Life Advocate In Your Community,” Red Letter Christian

Feminist Video Game Critic Liana Kerzner
on “Why Feminist Frequency Almost Made Me Quit Writing About Video Games: Part 1”

[I]t’s important to have female villains as well as heroes. However, the desire demons of Dragon Age have vanished from view, despite being the only visibly female demons in the canon. Granted, the demons have always supposed to have been genderless, but they’re also reflections of heightened emotional states from the mortal world. If they’d made over the desire demons the way they redid the sloth/despair demons to make all demons amorphous blobs, that would have been one thing. Instead, however, they kept the vaguely masculine-looking pride demons and just removed the desire demons from visual participation.

The thing is, I want gamers to be my audience. Because I’m a gamer. Not a “girl gamer.” Just a gamer.

I love video games. I love that they usually make me feel good. I love that they push limits and take risks, even when those risks don’t work. But I can’t find a place in the video game community that will pay me a living wage unless I’m prepared to draw blood against “the Enemy.” What is this? A religion?

Borrowing that metaphor, I won’t sell my soul that way. And when developers who lent me a sense of belonging express open support for the leaders of factions that are actively bullying me, I lose the sense that these developers who I have supported, in turn, support women like me who don’t conform to a false modesty paradigm. There are women like me all over the world who have found ways to be proud of our flawed, unique bodies, and we refuse to accept that breasts or hips over a certain size indicate anything inherently immoral. This puts us in direct opposition with Feminist Frequency, since they call out characters in the Tropes vs. Women videos just for having large breasts.

Gaming was founded on people who were bullied in other places. I won’t be a part of becoming bullies ourselves. An attempt to oppress ones oppressor does not end oppression. We can’t solve sexism with Mean Girling, and we can’t solve a sense of female inadequacy with Queen Bee tactics. Anita Sarkeesian should not have the right to determine that my body type is inherently bad when used in video games.

Liza Kerner, Metaleater

More similarities between social justice warriors and the Parents Music Resource Council

Social justice activists who get offended by seemingly anything often try to define their campaigns as a matter of “choice.” People should know that Tyler is offensive to women. They should know in order to be able to make an informed choice, even though, if they had any interest in attending his concert in the first place, they would have already heard his lyrics. So too was the PMRC’s campaign framed as being about choice, letting the parents of children know through “voluntary” labels on the cover of an album—rather than the artist’s “Satanic” imagery—that rock song might surprisingly contain lyrics about drugs and sex—even through white-haired bureaucrats and politicians are the worst judges of lyrics and meaning.

It began with lyrics, but it starts looking like it’s branching into other areas.

Yet the very fact that the musicians were in front of a government panel defies that claim. What interest does the government have in something voluntary? “Record lyric labeling” is something an OCD music fan with too much time on his hands should be doing, not a Senate committee. As Sen. James Exon (D-Neb.) said at the start of Zappa’s testimony, the Senator wanted the industry to “voluntarily police” lyrics, not the government, and he would only support legislation if the industry didn’t “voluntarily” do what the government wanted under government pressure.

The testimony of musicians Dee Snider and Frank Zappa and the comments of the Senators is still relevant today.

Zappa pointed out, for example, how these kinds of anti-speech campaigns can lead to a mob effect or a bandwagon effect and get out of hand:

“You have a situation where, even if you go for the lyric-printed thing in the record, because of the tendency among Americans to be copycats—one guy commits a murder, you get a copycat murder—now you have copycat censors. You have a very bad situation in San Antonio, Texas right now where they are trying to pass PMRC-type individual ratings and attach them to live concerts with the mayor down trying to put San Antonio on the map as the first city to have these kind of regulations against the suggestion of the city attorney who says he doesn’t think it’s constitutional. There’s this fervor to get in and do even more, even more.

It began with lyrics, but even looking at the PMRC fundraising letter in the last paragraph at the bottom of the page, it starts looking like it’s branching into other areas when it says, ‘We realize this material has pervaded other aspects of society…’ And it’s like, ‘What? Are you going to fix it all for me?’”

May 27

The Tea Party in China

By Mitchell Blatt | Uncategorized

I was showing another passenger photos of life in America on the train from Zhuzhou to Nanjing last night when I got to photos from the Washington, DC Tea Party protest on July 4, 2009.

“Here’s something you can’t do in China,” I said.

“Yes, you need a permit.”

“This person is saying Barack Obama is a dictator. You couldn’t say that [in a public forum] about Xi Jinping, could you?”

IMG_0826.JPG – Version 2
“This person is saying she opposes Barack Obama’s policies.”

“This person says Barack Obama is a socialist. That is something you could say in China. Xi Jinping is a socialist.”

“You can’t say he is a capitalist.”

Being a capitalist myself, I have uploaded some of my Tea Party pictures to Dreamstime where you can purchase them. Visit Dreamstime to purchase the following shots:
Tea Party Protesters Raise Signs
Tea Partiers Stand in Front of Capitol at Protest
Tea Partiers Saying the Pledge of Allegiance
Tea Party Sign: Read the Bill

Apr 16

The Tragedy of Ted Cruz

By Mitchell Blatt | Uncategorized

“It’s a tragedy that people like Jon Huntsman lose to people like Ted Cruz,” my friend and fellow columnist Sumantra Maitra said last year when discussing American politics. “He doesn’t sound smart to me.”

Editor’s note: This column was supposed to be published shortly after Cruz made his announcement, but it was delayed for various reasons.

I told him that Cruz had two Ivy League degrees, from Princeton and Harvard Law School, where he graduated cum laude and magna cum laude respectively. While competing on Princeton’s debate team, he was named U.S. National Speaker of the Year in 1992, and he was a semi-finalist at the 1995 World Universities Debating Championship. He served as a law clerk for the Chief Justice of the United States, William Rehnquist, after graduation.

In short, he’s no Sarah Palin, but as an uncompromising conservative from Texas, he needs to sound like it. The tragedy is that the Republican electorate is such that a smart guy like Ted Cruz can reap electoral benefits by using dumb language.

That was on display this week when Cruz gave the announcement speech of his 2016 presidential campaign, making him the first candidate to officially enter the race. To begin with, consider where he chose to make the speech. Liberty University is an Evangelical Christian university founded by the late pastor and political activist Jerry Falwell, who injected religion into politics by urging voters to “vote Christian.”

Liberty University, with its Christian conservative agenda, attracts many Republican speakers, including the past two GOP presidential candidates, but this is the first time a candidate has launched their campaign there.

Cruz’s rhetoric matched up nicely with Falwell’s agenda. “Vote Christian,” was the message. “Today, roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across america coming out to the polls and voting our values,” Cruz said.

In his 30 minute speech, he made nine references to “God”, five to “Christ”, and three to the word “Christian”. There wasn’t even a single reference to “Judeo-“ thrown in there to feign support for pluralism.
Continue reading

Feb 18

Three Generations Celebrating Spring Festival

By Mitchell Blatt | Uncategorized

“Spring Festival was different when I was young. It was the only time we could eat this well. I remember waiting in line to buy the tofu we just ate, because it was such a luxury.”

photo (27)

“There wasn’t any tofu. That was egg.”

“I thought it was tofu, too.”

“When my parents were children, they were hungry most of their days. They would start preparing for Spring Festival one month in advance. … Now my children are being raised in McDonald’s and KFC.”

“I remember when the first KFC opened in People’s Square in 1992. People waited hours for a 10 RMB burger.”

“That wasn’t the first one. They opened their first one in Xujiahui.*”

“When did McDonald’s open?”

“They had stores in Shenzhen and Beijing.”

“KFC’s food is more suited to Chinese tastes. They have youtiao for breakfast.”

*According to CNN Travel, the first KFC in Shanghai opened in 1989. The first KFC opened in China in 1987.

Oct 01

Podcast: America’s Confused War on ISIS

By Mitchell Blatt | Podcasts , Uncategorized

Will America’s war with ISIS work? Journalist Mitchell Blatt and IR scholar Sumantra Maitra discuss.

– How moderate is the Free Syrian Army really?
– Does ISIS really pose a direct threat to the United States and Europe?
– Should other regional powers play a greater role?

Hear why Maitra thinks that America should leave it mostly to Iran and Egypt.

Sep 21

Why China is Reforming the Gaokao College Entrance Exam

By Mitchell Blatt | Uncategorized

Reforms to the gaokao, the college entrance test that Chinese high school students take their senior year of high school to determine their college acceptance, are taking place in Shanghai and Zhejiang province.

The reforms widen the scope of subjects that students can test on and allow for tests throughout the high school career, rather than just one test senior year.

With the changes, students will still be tested on Chinese, math and English. But for the three remaining subjects, students in Shanghai and Zhejiang can choose to be tested on a wider range of topics from geography, history, chemistry, biology, physics and politics, among others

People’s Daily

The idea behind it is that students are feel too much pressure senior year in the current system. There are also problems stemming from excessive memorization-based learning that “kills creativity.”

I have written about these problems in the past. Here are a few problems with Chinese education that gaokao reforms hope to solve, excerpted from articles I have written:

In China, the use of standards has fostered a high-pressure system that kills creativity.

“When [my son] Star was young, he was very imaginative,” Frank Chen, director of Asian operations for OnSpeX, said. “Now, he appears to be losing his creativity.”

“If he writes whatever he wants in an essay, he will get a bad grade, because the teachers do not like it. But there’s nothing to do about it. I want him to go to a good college. The teachers get bonuses if he goes to a good college.”

“The folly of Common Core proponents’ China envy”, Mitchell Blatt – Daily Caller

The gao kao college entrance exam is the big focus that all of a Chinese student’s experience leads up to. One test determines where students will attend college. Attending a good college will lead to getting a good job. Students will do anything to pass the gao kao, including receiving IV drips so they don’t have to eat, and, of course, using their parents’ guanxi. In 2011, a number of students’ tests were thrown out after it became known that they used connections with government officials to fake minority status and receive affirmative action benefits.

Doing well on the test involves a lot of hard studying and memorization. There are two tracks to the test: science track and humanities track. One student quoted in a Wall Street Journal article said, “For science track, a good score is over 720 – it’s much harder to get high marks on humanities because so many of the questions are open-ended rather than multiple choice.”

The pressure on rural students is much greater than city students, because rural students have to score higher to attend a good university. Most of the top universities, such as Beijing University and Fudan University (Shanghai) are in big cities, and local residents require lower scores to qualify for attendance.

“Looking For Freedom From The Chinese Education System”, Mitchell Blatt – Vagabond Journey

“Beijing University is called ‘Beijing People University,’” Frank Chen, a Shanghai resident said, “because they enroll more local freshman than students from small cities.”

“Mr. Yu [Minhong] said, the whole country is concerned that currently the gaokao admissions policy is unfair, mainly in two points,” an article in iFeng news on March 8 said. “The first point is that there are major discrepancies between the acceptance rate of students from different provinces and cities to the top national universities. The second point is that the proportion of top national university resources allocated between city and rural areas is extremely out of balance. The imbalance between education resources in the city and countryside, and between different provinces and cities, has created an unequal situation for the gao kao and college entrance opportunities.”

“Fairness” and the gaokao: the invalid argument against reform, Mitchell Blatt – ChinaHush

Sep 04

$8 Million of Flawless Counterfeit Currency Found in Eastern China

By Mitchell Blatt | Uncategorized

Police in Taizhou, Zhejiang province have seized over 80,000 fake hundred RMB bills, according to CCTV. The bills are so well forged that they can even pass machine checks.


About an hour ago, the verified Weibo account of the Sunrise Metal Products (Shenzhen) Co. (@电商戏客) posted a message about the report. “According to CCTV, police in Taizhou, Zhejiang seized over 8 million RMB worth of fake currency with serial numbers starting with M3W96,” it said.

Subsequent messages relayed that the money “feels no different” and sounds the same, too. Already some fake currency with the M3W96 serial code has turned up in Beijing, and the shop owner said that the currency passed through her verification machine. Police are on the watch for currency with serial codes beginning with M3W and M3S.

Here’s the original message:

According to CCTV, police in Taizhou, Zhejiang seized over 8 million RMB worth of fake currency with serial numbers starting with M3W96. The characters “100” can reflect light. Without a machine, it is hard to recognize [it’s fake]. Please identify the currency you have. Be careful!

#M3W96真假辨伪# [话筒]据央视报道,浙江台州警方查获800多万元M3W96开头的假币。这种假币下边的“100”字样还会反光,没工具很难识别。请各位辨识手中的人民币,小心中枪额!

Aug 29

Italian Vincenzo Arecchia Wins Youth Olympics Boxing Gold

By Mitchell Blatt | Uncategorized

The Men’s Light Welterweight (64 kg) boxing events at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China ended in disappointment for anyone who wanted to see a Russia-Ukraine showdown. The field included the top two boxers from the AIBA Youth World Boxing Championships in April: champion Bibert Tumenov (Russia) and runner-up Viktor Petrov (Ukraine, soon to be Russian if Putin has his way).

But it was a disappointment for both of them. Petrov lost his first match to Vincenzo Arecchia (Italy), the eventual gold medal winner, in a 2-1 decision, and Tumenov lost by disqualification to eventual runner up Suzuki Toshihiro (Japan). Tumenov ended up placing 4th and Petrov 5th, out of the 6 man field, and they never got to face each other.

In real war news, NATO says more than 1,000 Russian troops have invaded Ukraine, and Angela Merkel and the other European and American leaders are threatening to “discuss” sanctions. – Guardian

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Mitchell Blatt is an intrepid travel writer, and an author of two top China guidebooks, who brings his readers deep into the cultures of the places he explores. Subscribe now to get real stories of real people in real places around the world delivered right to your inbox.