China-Iran-Russia: Geopolitics and Soft Power

Via Professor Juan Cole’s groundbreaking Informed Comment website, an illustrated commentary on Sino-Iranian relations by Pepe Escobar in France (in English):

Then, via Al Jezeera’s English service, a short report on China’s Iran moves in October:

The best look at the deep structure of Sino-Iran relations today is probably my colleague John Garver’s work, Ancient Partners in a Post-Imperial World, published here in Seattle at the University of Washington Press in 2006.

Finally, the Politics by Other Means Eurasian blog has a thought-provoking post on “the personalization of power” in Russia and Iran:

[Putin's method] is remarkably similar to the situation in Iran, where Mahmoud Ahmadinejad collects millions of hand-written letters throughout his trips around the country and promises to personally solve every problem.  It is a type of paternalistic populism that is endemic in countries without functioning institutions.  Unfortunately, it only perpetuates corruption and lack of faith in governance.

This prompts me to marvel at how bureaucratic and impersonal the Chinese leadership has become, and impressively so.  Wen Jiabao may occasionally preen for the cameras, but no Chinese leader appears to want the appearance that they are able to fix everything — can you imagine the number of petitioners who would flock to the gates of Zhongnanhai then?

But then again, Wen Jiabao can’t do this:

In this light, Barack Obama seems strangely unable to marshal his own hip-hip potential internationally or find time for a pickup game of hoops in Beijing.  Apparently he leaves his Jay-Z at the water’s edge.  The President’s inability to tap into the best and the deepest currents of globalized American / African-American culture functions to the detriment of U.S. soft power!  In other words, Mr. President, please don’t be afraid to seize the mic or shoot a layup next time you’re in Shanghai or talking tough to Tehran.  Because America should always be young, and mp3s and images rock the chains better than bunker-busters ever could.

Inner Dialogue

Summer, the era of the self, is over, and the academic year begins.  Narcissus goes into hiding in a cave by the border, lurking, perhaps to infiltrate one’s apartment in the wee hours when the cops have stopped cruising.  The docks and harbors in Tacoma undulate with aimless slow motion, train whistles echo, and the museums of downtown collide up against one’s vision, testament to past human aspiration that now stands grounded firmly upon earth.

Seismic inquiries will need to wait a few days.

Meanwhile at the university, the syllabi emerge like growth hormones in a baseball clubhouse gone mad: “this is what will make you strong!” we crow, cascading the room with the long-awaited and newly-crystallized master plan as the student gratefully accepts sheaves of freshly burnt paper for which, at least, she did not have to pay $64 at the bookstore.

Lectures begin: we shout ourselves hoarse, listen deftly, privileging the naïve questions, the questions of the newly arrived, the demands for pure reason, that pregnant original question (‘why?’).  Nimble thinking in query.

Grids jumbled up with Arabic numbers offer illusions of intellectual certitude.


The convocation arrives — and the present author sits, attentive, spine straightening, keeping the synapses aligned, viewing the podium through a tangle of television wires.  One is again in the state of being on stage.  Orchestral pulchritude drenches the room.  In response, the crowd’s tempo is lugubrious; no eyes on the ictus.  Speech follows speech, each with its golden mean moment, its Mozart ratio.  As here, within this digital space, slapped up carelessly in the ether, about 67% complete, then it all falls off.

The pixels nick my cornea and slither to my mind’s rim.

PLU wins a Paul Simon award for campus internationalization.  Folk like me get to represent while having done mere shards of work, yet are ebullient like a child riding grandfather’s shoulders at the state fair, admiring an anvil of his Scandanavian vintage.  It feels good to celebrate in data-driven ways like this.

Then, in an expansive and justifiably triumphalist riff on our campus internationalization, our university president sought to lock in the gains of self-identity.

And then Narcissus stole into the gynasium!  He, that mythical character, saucered eyes set in grey skin,  clamberd up with sinewed limb onto a cranked-with-tension-basketball hoop levering down from the ceiling, a steel fragment begging for completion of its own mission, like a helicopter pad on the CCTV building in Beijing. There he crouched and waited for a mission statement while working on his own.

We gazed into the pixeled mirror as an institution today, and my joy was actual, palpable as the cello nestled under my calf.  And we wanted to dance as we recognized the force of our own globalization, that the spinning world was loaded and overflowing with the force of our good works, that the curricula had been internationalized, that we speak languages other than those spawned among us by British settlers, that according to Zogby this generation of students does not see national borders as significant.

Well what about North Korea? I wanted to stand up and shout.   Try connecting our students with civilization there…And let them stand on the north shore of the Tumen and tell the North Koreans we want to sing songs together.  Perhaps we could confuse them with songs of the Democratic Youth League…And then, if we get upset with the barriers erected, do we encourage wholesome engagement irrespective of moral difference, or stand our ground and work to bring the whole temple down on their heads?

This calls for a rhyme, drop a beat on it….[4/4 time, quarter note = 64 bpm]

Track II engagement on the 405

North Korean agents done multi-plied

At the multiplex flip tickets, nicht enscheidet zu sein

DP RK in LA churn up the Red Line and

Hurtle south to Long Beach / like Inchon/ truffle up in ya snout

Dan Fouts / spiral centrifuge / ya keep in ya house

to house searches, DVD keeper lurches,

furtive bursts of speed is all that refugees need

but their calories cleave to the #1 steed

of Il, that’s Kim Jong, the guts been spilled

if pancreatic cancer cuts appetite, he’s over the hill

and will decease, but corresponding decrease in uranium rates?

that’s like saying Fox News will cease Nazi propaganda

when Rupert Murdoch does clam up and his 文化大革姑娘

picks up the reins of the beast

so release your prophesies, all hail the mortal power

of change, traum des Wiedereinigung

the harpoon shanks the KPA, the Ahab caught by crew

protein bars rain down from skies,

the Swedish air force / inget boryar /before it begins

cos the newest famine lurching loose,

the hunt on Hoeryong’s rim

no animals stand in the path of magnif’cent regeneration — and

the path to Chongjin from Yanbian parts like Red Sea prophets assured us.

Bounce with it now…[skratch outro with little samples from 卖花姑娘]

Brooklyn’s Man in D.C. / Reflections on the Controversial Art

Representative Anthony Weiner, a Democrat, represents part of the borough of Brooklyn in the U.S. House of Representatives.  His remarks in committee bring great and welcome clarity on obstruction of the health reforms currently progressing through Congress.   

These clips have nothing to do with China or East Asian studies, but being back in the United States brings the political subject to mind!  And, from a performance perspective, Rep. Weiner’s delivery is quite effective.  

And then, during a hearing on the matter, Weiner displays a bulletproof fluency with the hip-hop scene while raising serious and valid new ideas about the direction that industry is taking:

The above clip dovetails nicely with an interesting online conversation I was having recently (on an undisclosed and quasi-totalitarian yet occasionally useful) website with the violinist Michi Wiancko about hip-hop’s massively positive upside (a medium unable to cower, bursting with assertions) and its spurious side (the culture of “the beef”).  The ability to wade into controversy directly is one reason hip-hop is so galvanizing: practitioners of other musical genre such as indy rock or opera too often simply abdicate from any political statements altogether.   When was the last time a symphony orchestra made a political statement that was not coordinated by the U.S. Department of State?  Only when attending concerts of the St. Louis Symphony conducted by David Robertson have I had anything approaching a feeling that someone speaking on stage might veer into the untoward, the murmur-causing, field of opinion and prompted and uncomfortable introspection.  But this is something to be enjoyed, and it is characteristic (one might even argue essential) component of art!  

Finally, since Michi lives in Brooklyn I hope that Weiner can mention her work as exemplary at his next hearing on musical trends.   If Weiner talks about something and doesn’t melt it down with his sarcasm, it’s a form of praise in itself.  

which calls for doggerel, not quite a rap, on politics and music and symphony orchestras, inspired by thoughts of my classmate and friend Bjorn Ranheim:

the cellist owes me verses/tailed on black coats to Powell Hall/I followed him to work one day in the fall/in St. Louis/arcs of Ravel there were thrummed/horsehair bit the bogen/sourdines dropped with little plips upon the bridges golden/La Valse roared and skittered/yet like footsteps creaking rhythms in the aftermath of applause/art of a more radical stripe was achieved/then, that day in October/im Wendesjahr 2008/in a hall full of bodies whose numbers could have swung the state/words from the baton-wielder/carried us up beyond the gasps of 1920s Parisians/they still gliding through their time like ghosts in The Shining/or lifted from apocrypha from my childhood bringer of Spanish canvases and Tzigane/today/the American conductor nestles down with a favorite amplifier/discoursing amiably on a recent date in September which fell along with buildings/and then he veered/with it/all the neatly arranged numerals/ got unstacked/scuffs were inflicted upon the president’s magnificently polished black stealth bomber/and the subscribers in St. Louis gripped their seats, amber velum and wood bending perceptibly/as if keyed by a high pitch of subversion in Robertson’s shoe/but my cohort, few though we were, crouched amid the kettle drums, taut with arrested age and brutal growing strength, we looked about/and we grinned.