Drainage: Civilization’s Foundation

July 27, 2012

BEIJING — In the heart of the Chinese capital is the showcase neighborhood of Sanlitun, where expatriates and Chinese glitterati go to dine, drink and dance. It has gleaming curved skyscrapers, a boutique hotel where rooms list for $400 to $4,000 a night, and restaurants with cuisines like French, Persian and Mexican.

What it does not have is a modern drainage system.

Here is the fundamental text – Drainage: The Wine of Life.

And here are some other posts on various aspects of this neglected topic:  Drainage Posts.

 

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What would McGarrett do?

May 19, 2012

Lately, I’ve been watching Hawaii Five-O during my daily treadmill exercise.  At first, it was just a fun bit of nostalgia as I used to watch the show as a kid in the late 60’s.  I thought it was dumb then, with its outrageous spy plots, the unerring McGarrett, and the predictable plots, but watching it today, I like the production values, the mens’ suits, and the bright color of the scenes.

Now, after seeing a season, I begin to fathom the true appeal of Five-O:  McGarrett is a spiritual guide, a guru figure.  He’s always calm, only losing his cool when one of his men is injured by a crook.  He is deeply humane:  gently leading a serial murder psychopath he has apprehended away to the looney bin, without gloating or celebration.  He feels the pain of the victims he interviews:  the flicker of muscle movement on his face shows it.  Women are drawn to him, but he does not pursue them.  He is witty, and enjoys the philosophical games of crime solving.

McGarrett’s arch-enemy is the Red Chinese agent, Wo Fat, with whom he spars on many episodes, holding up the USA end of the cold war game.  The Chinese spymaster is no match for Steve.  (He is played by New Jersey native, Kenneth Dickerson, aka Khigh Dheigh, who is of north African descent – not Chinese – and who created a foundation for the study of Taoism late in life.)  They are an entertaining pair.


Public Image

March 15, 2012

I was struck by this image of the Prime Minister of China that appeared in today’s NYTimes.  I don’t know enough of Chinese art to be able to place the style of the image in the background, or to know if it is a reproduction or a valuable original, but it is interesting to me that he is happy  to be shown in front of an image that depicts peacocks.  Can you imagine Obama in such a pose?  Or Sarkozy? 

China is, after all, the oldest continuous civilization in existence, and the imagery of state power does  change slowly.  The Emperor simply changes his clothes.


“My father is Li Gang!”

November 18, 2010

In the old movie of Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, Basil Rathbone plays a decadent and amoral nobleman who runs down children in the street with his carriage.  The urban proles grumble -The Terror erupts. 

The NYTimes reports today on a case from China that seems right out of Hollywood – some themes are eternal.  A drunken man runs down and kills a young woman skating in the street.  He informs the police that he is the son of a powerful local official.  The case is hushed up, but in today’s world of the Internet, the story gets out anyway, and his declaration is scornfully directed at the elite.

China is ruled by a corrupt and ruthless class, strata, clique…whatever, and the millions of ordinary men and women are just finding their voice.  See here for more posts on China’s dilemmas, and ours.


Capitalist Roaders

May 27, 2010

From today’s New York Times:  Trampled in a Land Rush, Chinese Resist

I shudder to think of the kickbacks and payoffs being made to Party officials at all levels as the gold rush in land displaces ordinary Chinese farmers and city dwellers.  It doesn’t really matter whether it’s the Party or the Tycoons who are stealing from the people, as long as somebody is doing it!
We’ve been there before
 


Mao: Outsider Philosopher King

May 25, 2010

These pictures were published in Life Magazine when I was a boy, prompting me to wonder, “Why the heck are they making a big deal about this guy swimming?”  I recall there was speculation about the image on the left – whether or not it was doctored.

No, Mao was in the swim, and he was demonstrating his fitness to be supreme leader and godhead of all political correctness in the coming storm, the soon-to-be released cataclysm of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.  Such a strange event – an aging dictator making good on his earlier threats to go to war against his own revolutionary establishment!  Of course, these days, this is old hat, running for the Senate or President, and claiming status as an outsider, eager to clean house.  But Mao did it…in his own way.

He really was sui generis as a tyrant.  A romantic revolutionary, impatient and uninterested in the minutiae of running a huge state, but ever ready to stir up a hornet’s nest of chaos with some opaque power play or ideological broadside.  Some of his colleagues called him B-52, because he dropped huge bombs from way up high.

He took on the role of emperor, the emperor perpetually running against Peking!  The goal of the revolution was not to make China rich, but to maker her an independent power and to further the maelstrom process of class struggle worldwide.  The Russians and many of his party, to his disgust, were more interested in pedestrian challenges like making the economy grow.  Here we see the lingering influence of his youthful leanings toward anarchism, and perhaps the source of his appeal to young radicals around the globe.  What other septuagenerian supremo would call on the students to smash the party regulars, dismantle the bureaucracy, trash the establishment, and give them arms, or at least look the other way when they stole them, to do it?

The millions of deaths he caused were not personally ordered by him.  He did not pore over death warrants as did Stalin, personally making annotations and changes.  He just commenced a totally hare brained scheme to make China overtake Europe’s economy in a few short years – without understanding a thing about economics – and as a result, agriculture withered, and tens of millions starved.  He whipped up the Cultural Revolution and millions were beaten, tortured, killed, but excesses are inevitable in the yin-yang dialectical struggle of the classes.  Oh, and he did personally direct a few traditional purges resulting in many thousands of executions, but only in a managerial capacity.

Why did he do this?  He was entranced with the Idea of revolution, and he firmly believed in the supremacy of the will.  Good qualities for a military leader fighting from a weak position – he was brilliant.  Bad for the leader of a giant state.  Nor did he have any understanding or interest of science and industry – willpower was supreme there as well.  And since will, his will, was all important, he created a position for himself in which he could not be questioned or opposed.   His lack of understanding and total contempt for what we call democracy, what he called bourgeois democracy, joined to the absence of any democratic tradition in China, topped off by the rule of committed party men who shared the Leninist belief in the guiding mission of the party ensured disaster.   Any dissenters were targeted as the rightist bourgeois element within the communist party!

After he died, the Gang of Four, including his estranged wife of Peking Opera fame, tried to carry on his apocalyptic quest.  The capitalist roader, Deng Xiao Ping prevailed and did exactly what Mao had been afraid he would do – turned China’s economy into a  form of state-capitalism.

Mao unified China, drove out the foreign devils, made China a great power, and destroyed the feudal landlord class.  For this, he will be regarded as a giant of China’s history forever.  For now, the ruling dynasty of the Party lives on, but China  favors total blandness in its new leaders, and no wonder.


Free will, and all that…again

May 24, 2010

Following up on earlier posts about historical determinism, free will, all that sort of stuff, I offer this astonishing snip from the New York Times, musings by Paul Kennedy on the eternal question of who makes history – great men, or impersonal forces: 

Interestingly, the most important challenge to Carlyle’s great-leader theory came from his fellow Victorian, that émigré, anti-idealist philosopher-historian and political economist, Karl Marx. In the opening paragraphs of his classic “The Eighteenth Brumaire,” he offers those famous lines: “Men make their own History, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”

What an astonishing sentence. In it Marx captures not only the agency of human endeavor, but reminds us of how even the most powerful people are constrained by time and space, by geography and history.

Yes, astonishing too is the occurence of favorable comment on Karl Marx in the press, let alone the Times.  Fact is, he was a brilliant historian and thinker.  Maybe not so hot as a practical politician.  Not unlike Mao, about whom I am reading in Phillip Short’s biography – and he too made a difference as an individual.  A big difference!  But as Short makes clear, he did so within the structures of Chinese cultural history, adopting or slipping into the role of detached-philosopher-emperor, the object of daily veneration, just as Mao was brought up to bow to the image of Confucius each morning.