Posts Tagged ‘Asia’

Obama state of the union

All the rhetorical flourish is still there, but has Obama, in reality, run out of puff?

The BBC commentator on Obama’s annual address to America mentioned him having had the idealism beaten out of him.

At the Wellthisiswhatithink outpost we find that perceptively accurate, and as a corollary  think that the speech was a lost opportunity to appeal over the heads of the Republican leadership and make a general appeal for genuine national unity and bi-partisanship.

Yes, any President has a perfect right to point to falling unemployment and so on, but Obama often tends to the triumphal in his commentary on current events and the performance of his administration, and in our opinion it’s always the wrong note to strike, and right now, especially so.

Despite having supported him in general since before the primaries, and still doing so, we think it’s fair to say that he has generally been a disappointment as a president, with some good marks for attempting things that matter (whatever one thinks of Obamacare seeking to extend health cover in the USA is laudable and productive – a healthier nation is not only morally correct it’s also good sense economically) but then again the expectations on him at the start were ludicrous, born of both his soaring rhetoric and the excitement of the country actually electing someone who was half black.

It is too early to write his political obituaries, and we think (others will disagree) that he will ultimately win praise for co-ordinating an effective response to the financial/Wall Street collapse. (The alternative, after all, was unthinkable.) But he has squandered his political capital, and a new style and approach would recover some of it and leave the refuseniks on the right blind-sided.

The problems America faces are very substantial, so it is questionable whether anyone would do a really “good” job at the moment – the weaknesses are structural and ingrained, not at surface level. We are not sure the American people are ready for the pain of a root-and-branch reform of the Government, though unquestionably the size of their Government, at all levels and under both parties, is vastly over-bloated. If the pain of restructuring was accompanied by less overt politicking, more transparency and more obvious progress towards recovery it might be welcomed. But we are not holding our breath.

In general, whilst a recovery is underway, it is weak, patchy, and it will do nothing to address the overall problem of Government (and private) debt. Congressional sabre-rattling cannot obscure the fact that besides cutting social programs there are no real solutions being offered. There seems no appetite at all on the right for increased taxes – an inevitable component of any long-term effort to solve the debt crisis that needs to accompany reducing expenditure – nor for cutting back the ludicrously large military budget. As always, political posturing wins out over simple commonsense.

As the website “Science Progress” pointed out three years ago, “As the debate in Washington pivots this week from deficit reduction to job creation, progressives and conservatives will be vying to convince the American people that they have the best plan to get America working again. But any jobs plan will fall flat if it doesn’t lay out a strategy for investing in innovation. Conservative proposals largely echo now-defunct Reagan-era thinking that tax cuts alone can spur the private sector to create jobs. Yet effective corporate tax rates are lower today than they were under President Reagan and are certainly much lower than many of our competitor nations. The same is true of the effective tax rate for top-, middle-, and low-income families. Tax cuts neither created the jobs of the past nor will they create the jobs of the future. Investing in innovation will.

Innovation is what has created the bulk of American jobs today and it will most certainly be the force that creates the jobs of tomorrow. America is home to the world’s best jobs and most prosperous economy quite simply because we’ve invented and made the things that the world wants to buy. And then we’ve invented ways to make those things better, faster, and cheaper.

The cotton gin, the trans-continental railroad, interchangeable parts, assembly line manufacturing, the automobile, the airplane, the personal computer, the photovoltaic solar cell, GPS technology, the Internet, the mapping of the human genome, the iPhone—these inventions and the companies that produce them have directly or indirectly supported millions of American jobs.”

President Barack Obama delivers a speech on innovation at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. But America needs to move beyond fine words and onto a national effort.

President Barack Obama delivers a speech on innovation at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. But America needs to move beyond fine words and onto a national effort.

Indeed, as President Barack Obama said in his 2011 State of the Union address, “In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It is how we make our living.” Yet progress is painfully slow.

This goes neatly to the real issue behind everything, which is that whilst America will continue to be a vast and powerful player in world markets, it has really not wrestled with the growth of Asia and what it means, and it shows no real signs of doing so. As the middle class in Asia grows and provides adequate markets for its rulers to sell to, their desire/need to sell their goods cheaply to the West will fall, as will their appetite for bailing out the West with their profits to keep the overseas markets liquid. At that point, all economic hell breaks loose.

That’s why long-term solution for America has to be innovation. The country cannot compete with a vast Asian population producing run-of-the-mill goods more cheaply. Creating and manufacturing products that reflect the finest pinnacle of American ingenuity and forceful determination is really the only option available. Goods that the rest of the world want to buy, and are willing to pay a premium for. To his credit Obama did mention the need for new hi-tech industry hubs. But those remarks already seem to have disappeared without trace in the commentariat. Yet public investment in the human genome project, for example, had a return on investment of more than 14,000 percent in terms of economic output per federal dollar invested since 1988, and has led to the creation of millions of biotech jobs that could not have existed without it. Similarly, a seemingly tiny investment of the Defense Advanced Research Agency, or DARPA, spawned the Internet, giving rise to trillions of dollars in worldwide economic activity, new businesses, and, more importantly, new ways of doing business.

It seems so obvious, yet the political elite seem unable to bend their mind to the opportunity. Fort example, the response to the speech from Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers was timid, one might almost say “vapid”. One tweeted review of it read “We have a plan. The plan is to come up with a plan.” Quite.

In our view there is little doubt that the entrepreneurial flair for which the country is famous is flagging: running a business now seems as much about rapidly merging your firm with someone else’s, taking a big payoff and bonus tranche of shares, and heading off to enjoy your new found wealth – aided and abetted by so-called rain-maker brokers who exist merely to grease the wheels of deals that make little or no economic sense, as often as not, beyond enriching the participants – as it is about dreaming new dreams, innovating, creating markets, and selling to them.

One of the reasons is that many American businesspeople have spent their entire careers wallowing around managing businesses cautiously to avoid a loss rather than to create a profit – and doing so for so long that they have actually never experienced the sort of drive and courage needed to create real new wealth. They are risk-averse managers, not passionately-driven owners. There are honourable exceptions, of course, but not many, and their numbers decline.

All that stuff? That’s not capitalism. That’s corporate laziness. And the Republicans are as much to blame as anyone else, for markedly failing to use their cosy relationship with corporate barons to urge them to do something useful with their economic power instead of just lining their own pockets, for fear of the endless flow of donations into their re-election coffers drying up.

A President who dared to tackle all that nonsense? Who put the country’s problems squarely in front of the population, and dared Americans to recapture their brighter past?

Yes, we’d like to see that. No, we don’t expect it. Especially from a man who seems to have lost much of his appetite.

Incidentally, one curiosity. The speech is a constitutional tradition given in front of a joint session of all the members Congress each year. The exception is one “designated survivor” who remains separate in a secure location in case the Congress and President are wiped out in an attack on the Capitol. This year, it was Obama’s Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz, who also happens to be an expert on nuclear weapons. Cheerful thought.

One of the lesser known and more interesting features of the social media Leviathan that is Facebook is that every year they release some country specific data allowing us to see what different parts of the world are talking about.

They have just released their Australian data today, along with about 20 other major countries.

Most talked about topics (by Australian Facebook users):

1. Vote
2. Kate Middleton
3. Cricket
4. Kevin Rudd
5. Grand Final
6. Election
7. GST
8. Lions
9. Tony Abbott
10. Big Brother

Most talked about Global Topics:

1. Pope Francis
2. Election
3. Royal Baby
4. Typhoon
5. Harlem Shake
6. Flood
7. Miley Cyrus
8. Boston Marathon
9. Tour De France
10. Nelson Mandela

Most talked about Entertainment Topics:

1. Big Brother
2. The Voice
3. One Direction
4. Breaking Bad

Most popular Check-in Location in Australia:

1. Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

What does this tell us about ourselves?

Well, we’re sport obsessed. Duh.

We have an active and abiding interest in politics – read, in expressing our opinion – and social media is increasingly where we do it.

We seem surprisingly to still be very interested in “the Royals”.

And Miley Cyrus is, well, Miley Cyrus. We live in terror that the twerking popette will be chosen as Time Person of the Year.

Reviewing the full Facebook 2013 year in review is a fascinating glimpse into what “real people” are interested in.

Worldwide, our most commonly posted life event is a relationship. Getting married, engaged, or being “in a relationship”. How we perceive ourselves in a social sense is clearly an important part of our self-awareness that we wish to broadcast. And interestingly, sport in general seems markedly less important in Asia than it is in Europe or countries that “grew out of” old Europe.

Anyhow, you can checkout the Facebook annual report, including data from many other countries, here: http://www.facebookstories.com/2013/en-en

One of the quirks of this year’s results is the persistent success of “The Harlem Shake”. This silly internet meme was essentially tens of thousands of thirty second dance videos uploaded to YouTube worldwide. Always following the same format, the massive success of the videos was in part attributed to the anticipation of the breakout moment about halfway through the videos, and their universally short length, making them very accessible to watch.

The Washington Post opined that the meme’s instant virality by referring to the jump cuts, hypnotic beat, quick setups, and half minute routines. At Wellthisiswhatithink we were a little more cynical: the success is largely attributable to people having too much time on their hands and too little to do. Bah, humbug.

The Harlem Shake is technically very easy for fans to reproduce, as it consists of a single locked camera shot and one jump cut. Nonetheless, the simplicity of the concept allows fans considerable scope in creating their own distinctive variant and making their mark, while retaining the basic elements. In its simplest form, it could be made with just one person; a more sophisticated version might even involve a crowded stadium. Moreover, there is a level playing field for celebrities and fans alike, with no guarantee of success for either group. There is a strong vein of humour running through each video that is not dependent on language, further increasing its potential to spread virally.

Sample the best of the worst here. And a warning, this is four and half minutes you’ll never get back.

 

 

(In his “day job”, the author of Wellthisiswhatithink is a marketing and advertising consultant working for one of Melbourne’s leading ad agencies, Magnum Opus, see: magnumopus.com.au. To chat to Steve Yolland about proper grown-up paid advertising advice or to sample his communications knowledge, or maybe to get an opinion on your organisation’s current public profile, just email him on yolly@magnumopus.com.au …)

The world of the interweb is a wonderful one that just keeps on giving. Those of you that follow our F*** Ups series through the meandering lunacies of advertising, sub editing, social media and, of course, packaging, will enjoy these. They’re right up there with the infamous Masterfoods cock-up we spotted a while back.

At least most of these have the excuse of being obviously “foreign”, unlike Masterfoods in the USA, and of course, we all know that foreign Ingrish (on menus, for example) can sometimes leave a little to be desired. Chicken Anus Soup, anyone? Nevertheless, these are utterly hilarious. Well, they are to our tiny minds at the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, anyhow …

We don’t really understand why the Asian manufacturers of these products don’t think to check with a native English speaker for any concerns that might be raised. Then again, here we are advertising their products for them for free, so maybe, you know, those inscrutable capitalists are just cleverer than we thought?

Nice girls, your soup is in the next aisle.

Nice girls, your soup is in the next aisle.

 

Please ask the lady concerned for informed consent first.

Please ask the lady concerned for informed consent first.

 

One does not want to be a product taster in this factory.

One does not want to be a product taster in this factory.

 

Yummy. Not.

Yummy. Not.

 

Ditto.

Ditto.

 

We know Asians reputedly eat anything, but this answer to world population problems is a step to far.

We know Asians reputedly eat anything, but this answer to world population problems is surely a step too far.

 

A whole new level of refreshment. Where level includes "lower level".

A whole new level of refreshment. Where level includes “lower level”.

 

Everyone's always getting at the Jews. But juicing their ears is totally wrong.

Everyone’s always getting at the Jews for somethin’ or other. But juicing their ears is just totally wrong.

 

So that's what was wrong with that snack we purchased in Beijing.

So that’s what was wrong with that snack we purchased in Beijing.

 

Interesting flavour choice for crisps.

Interesting flavour choice for crisps. We can see it appealing to a certain audience.

 

We are not going anywhere near this. Nuh-uh. Lips are sealed. No, no, no.

We are not going anywhere near this. Nuh-uh. Lips are sealed. No, no, no. Don’t tempt us.

 

Pretty sure we've drunk this too. We remember a little cafe in Brentford.

Pretty sure we’ve been served this too. We remember a little cafe in Brentford before a football game.

 

Now we have definitely been served this with our vodka, often. Every time they serve that stuff that comes out of a pipe rather than a bottle.

Now we have definitely been served this with our vodka, often. Every time they serve that stuff that comes out of a pipe rather than a bottle. Clearly Ghana manufactures the stuff in bulk and exports it to my local pub.

 

Wishing you all one.

Wishing you all one.

 

Believe it or not, Dear Reader, this really IS a product we know. It is a very popular ice cream in Australia, and I can report it is utterly delicious confection of vanilla/toffee/nutty thing. And yes, everyone sniggers when they buy it, but the brand is a long-standing one, since long, long before the word “gay” acquired other meanings.

The makers have steadfastly refused to change it, and good on them, we say. Indeed, as it is 32 degrees in Marvellous Melbourne today, we may just treat ourselves to one a little later on.

Related articles

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE*

I am indebted to Ian Hanslope who immediately got back to me with these wonderful examples. Keep ’em coming, people! (*A very famous Australian advertising punchline.)

Truth in advertising from Princebrim Foods?

Truth in advertising from Princebrim Foods?

And we all know how we feel after a few sakes.

And we all know how we feel after a few sakes, right?

Chines prostitutes - young, pretty, slim, and available by the million. And all potential victims of an unregulated system.

Chines prostitutes – young, pretty, slim, and available by the million. And all potential victims of an unregulated and exploitative system.

As AFP report, authorities in Shanghai has suspended four judges over allegations that they patronised prostitutes, reports and officials said on Monday in the latest salacious Chinese scandal to result from online accusations.

An inquiry was opened after an anonymous blogger, identified by state media only as being surnamed “Ni”, posted footage online last week alleging that five officials hired prostitutes at a local resort in June.

The Shanghai Higher People’s Court said on Tencent Weibo, a Twitter-like social media service, that Chen Xueming, the chief judge of its No.1 Civil Tribunal, and three other officials had been suspended.

“The Shanghai Higher People’s Court is highly concerned about the incident and has launched an investigation into the case,” it said.

The court had previously said Zhao Minghua, deputy chief judge of the tribunal, was among those named on Ni’s blog.

In what might be the motivation for the story, Ni claimed Zhao intervened in a civil case in 2009 that caused him a huge financial loss, the state-run ‘Global Times’ newspaper reported on Monday. He spent a year following Zhao, it said, “and discovered that he frequently went to nightclubs, owned several properties and had extramarital affairs.”

Surveillance video posted by Ni purported to show five officials including Chen and Zhao entering a luxury room after a three-hour banquet at the resort, followed by several women who stood by the door.  Subtitles said that Chen allocated the prostitutes to each man. Video showed officials walking out two hours later, some of them arm-in-arm with women.

The identity of the fifth person in the footage remains unknown.

Shanghai’s city disciplinary commission, which is taking part in the investigation, said on its Tencent Weibo account that all four of the accused were judges.

“The involvement of four judges in the ‘nightclub entertainment incident’ deprived the law of its dignity, put judiciary to shame and caused damage to justice,” it said.

It was investigating “to preserve the image of the party and the government and safeguard the stable political, economic and social development of Shanghai,” it said, and would disclose the results of the case to the public.  The incident is the latest in a series of scandals over corruption and other disciplinary violations, including sexual impropriety, by Chinese officials to be revealed online by whistleblowers.

In our experience, this story highlights again the double standard in Chinese public life over sex and prostitution.

As anyone who has done business in China knows, an almost ritual part of “entertainment” for visiting dignitaries or businesspeople will, at some point, be the offer of sexual services to “round off” an evening’s socialising. Ask around: the stories are legend. See here for the Chinese police’s (and society’s) gradation of prostitution services into 7 main groups.

"Let's end the evening at karaoke" doesn't always mean what it sounds like ... Been there, done that, didn't buy the t-shirt: but many do.

“Let’s end the evening at karaoke” doesn’t always mean what it sounds like … Been there, done that, didn’t buy the t-shirt: but many do.

In many visiting Western businessperson’s experience, the process obeys certain laws of discretion. Troupes of young women “spontaneously’ appear when all the men concerned are suitably lubricated (I doubt troupes of young men appear to entertain women in certain circumstances, but I would not know) and the girls proceed to flatter and fawn on the men present. If the girls summoned to the party don’t happen to please those being entertained a wave of the hand ensures another batch miraculously appear.

Those who are unconcerned by matters such as morality, fidelity or STDs very soon discover, if they didn’t know already, that the girls concerned have few boundaries.

At a level below this, the story becomes even more concerning. As this story reveals, at the bottom of the ladder of Chinese prostitution, the situation for both girls and their clients is grim indeed.

There is genuine concern growing in China about the lives of poor women forced to work as prostitutes to survive. This China Daily photo blog/article makes harrowing viewing.

This phenomenon is by no means limited to China, of course.

It is common throughout Asia, and to some degree or other, worldwide. Not for nothing is prostitution called the oldest profession, and it is a profession that appears alive and licking. Er, kicking.

Similarly, in Asia in particular, it is not at all uncommon for men to live it up after work with young ladies whose ability to please does not end at pouring them a drink and smiling benignly. Certain Asian cultures have a very different attitude to prostitution to those in the West, accepting it for centuries as a social norm, and in China it is also not uncommon for a man to have one or more “kept women” as well as their “official” wife, concubines in all but name. Where their lifestyle is paid for by the man, often including clothes, food, and accommodation, it is hard to see this as anything other than a more sophisticated version of the same transaction that these judges have tripped up over.

China has always had a confused and multi-layered approach to prostitution, which was historically very common in both the Imperial and Republic eras, and which since the Moaist takeover in 1948 has been the target of first an eradication effort, and then the gradual loosening of controls. According to research quoted by Wikipedia, prostitution is now an increasingly large part of the Chinese economy, employing perhaps 10 million people, with an annual level of consumption of possibly 1 trillion RMB.

Following a 2000 police campaign, Chinese economist Yang Fan estimated that the Chinese GDP slumped by 1%, as a result of decreased spending by newly unemployed female prostitutes.

What really worries Chinese authorities is that prostitution is often directly linked to low-level government corruption. Many local officials believe that encouraging prostitution in recreational business operations will bring economic benefits by developing the tourism and hospitality industries and generating a significant source of tax revenue. On occasion, police themselves have been implicated in the running of high grade hotels where prostitution activities occur, or accepting bribes and demanding sexual favours to ignore the existence of prostitution activities. Government corruption is also involved in a more indirect form — the widespread abuse of public funds to finance consumption of sex services. Pan Suiming, a professor at the Institute for Sexological Research (People’s University of China, Beijing) contends that China has a specific type of prostitution that entails a bargain between those who use their power and authority in government to obtain sex and those who use sex to obtain privileges.

Apart from incidences of violence directly associated with prostitution, an increasing number of women who sell sex have been physically assaulted, and even murdered, in the course of attempts to steal their money and property. There have also been a growing number of criminal acts, especially incidences of theft and fraud directed at men who buy sex, as well as bribery of public servants. Offenders often capitalise on the unwillingness of participants in the prostitution transaction to report such activities. Organised crime rings are increasingly trafficking women into and out of China for the sex trade, sometimes forcibly and after multiple acts of rape. Mainland China also has a growing number of “heroin hookers”, whose drug addictions are often connected to international and domestic crime rackets.

Sexually transmitted diseases also made a resurgence around the same time as prostitution, and have been directly linked to prostitution. There are fears that prostitution may become the main route of HIV transmission as it has in developing countries such as Thailand and India. Some regions have introduced a policy of 100% condom use, inspired by a similar measure in Thailand. (This article also interestingly discusses the cultural norms applying to prostitution in Thailand.) Other interventions have been introduced recently at some sites, including STI services, peer education and voluntary counselling and testing for HIV.

Wellthisiswhatithink has heard, as well as the matter being confirmed by some research studies, that casual prostitution is also common in the higher education sector. Put simply, female students, who are fewer in number than men due to the effects of the one child policy and resulting widespread alleged infanticide of female fetuses or children, and therefore in demand, frequently supplement their living allowances through prostitution with fellow students. A translator helping us on one business trip to China remarked that although she had not employed these tactics herself, the event was very common indeed. To us, the matter of fact way this information was divulged seemed to go directly to prevailing social norms as much as an insight into anything else.

It is also very obvious (especially in the eastern part of the country, simply by walking down the street in some cities) that a significant number of Russian prostitutes have entered China and work there seemingly unhindered.

Other countries also fuel the trade: North Korean women are increasingly falling victim to sex exploitation in China attempting to escape poverty and harsh conditions in their homeland. About 10,000 women (The Washington Post’s Carol Douglas, however, claimed that the number was as high as 100,000) are reported to have escaped from North Korea to China; according to human rights groups, many of them are forced into sexual slavery. Most of the clients of North Korean women are Chinese citizens of Korean descent, largely elderly bachelors.

According to a Ji Sun Jeong of A Woman’s Voice International, “60 to 70% of North Korean defectors to China are women, and 70 to 80% of whom are victims of human trafficking.” Violent abuse starts in apartments near the border, from where the women are then moved to cities further away to work as sex slaves. When Chinese authorities arrest these North Korean sex slaves, they repatriate them. North Korean authorities keep such repatriates in penal labour colonies (and/or execute them), execute any Chinese-fathered babies of theirs “to protect North Korean pure blood” and force abortions on all pregnant repatriates not executed.

This is much more than an academic argument about public morals.

All of which encourages us to argue that the time is long overdue for China to face up to this situation and start to decriminalise and normalise prostitution. Where countries have done this (such as in Australia) some important strides have be achieved. Women endure a much lower rate of violence, for one, and better sexual health – a boon for their clients. Similarly, women retain a higher proportion of their earnings than when working in the unregulated arena.

There will always be informal or unregulated prostitution in every society. But bringing it under some sort of sensible and safe legal control is now clearly established as a good thing – for the workers, and those who purchase their services.

And for the first time, one of the biggest businesses in the world can even be taxed.

Despite ushering in an anti-prostution era, Mao was utterly inconsistent himself. "As Mao got older," Li wrote, "he became an adherent of Taoist sexual practices which gave him an excuse to pursue sex not only for pleasure but to extend his life. He claimed he needed the waters of yin—or vaginal secretions—to supplement his own declining yang—or male essence, the source of his strength, power and longevity. Many of the women that Mao slept with were daughters of poor peasants who Li said believed that sleeping with the chairman was the greatest experience of their life. Mao was happiest and most satisfied when he had several young women simultaneously sharing his bed, and he encouraged his sexual partners to introduce him to others. He often told the young women to read the Taoist sex manual The Plain Girl's Secret Way, in preparation for their trysts." [Source: "The Private Life of Chairman Mao" by Dr. Li Zhisui, excerpts reprinted U.S. News and World Report, October 10, 1994]

Despite ushering in an anti-prostitution era, Mao was utterly inconsistent himself. “As Mao got older,” Mao’s personal physician Dr Li wrote, “he became an adherent of Taoist sexual practices which gave him an excuse to pursue sex not only for pleasure but to extend his life. He claimed he needed the waters of yin—or vaginal secretions—to supplement his own declining yang—or male essence, the source of his strength, power and longevity. Many of the women that Mao slept with were daughters of poor peasants who Li said believed that sleeping with the chairman was the greatest experience of their life. Mao was happiest and most satisfied when he had several young women simultaneously sharing his bed, and he encouraged his sexual partners to introduce him to others. He often told the young women to read the Taoist sex manual The Plain Girl’s Secret Way, in preparation for their trysts.” [Source: “The Private Life of Chairman Mao” by Dr. Li Zhisui, excerpts reprinted U.S. News and World Report, October 10, 1994]

Tackling the matter will mean China has to confront it’s inherently (and traditionally) male-oriented society, to accept that Chinese society is not always internally harmonious and well organised (which it sometimes seems reluctant to do), and to deal fundamentally with a widespread issue rather than scratching at the surface of it.

Chucking the book at a few naughty judges, or even less impressively, busting the young women involved, is mere window dressing.

In our opinion, regulating prostitution in China would be a bold step towards the true emancipation of women in this fast-growing and significant society.

In a broad sense, if women choose to work as prostitutes that should be a choice, rather than a necessity, and it should be a safe choice, and one without social stigma.

And there is evidence that the Chinese authorities are well aware of the threat to women of un-regulated prostitution.

In 2011 a Chinese “madam” was executed by lethal injection for running a prostitution ring.

It’s estimated that she was responsible for over 300 women were forced into prostitution between the years of 1994 and 2009.

Seven of the women died from unknown causes that some suspect had to do with the prostitution.

Other women went clinically insane.

One example includes a forced prostitute who, in 2003, jumped from the eighth floor of a brothel (disguised as a tea house) and was paralyzed as a result.

Even after her paralysis, the woman was kept locked up until police found her.

But even executing ring leaders will not solve the problem. Prostitution is like the hydra. Cut off one head, and seven more appear.

Change must happen. Nothing in current policy settings implies that the Chinese government knows what to do about the level of prostitution in the country, and the social ills it trails in its wake.

No, necessary change will not happen overnight. Yes, it has to happen.

The sooner China gets started, the sooner the problem will be controlled, to the benefit of all.

But what do you think? Your comments are very welcome, and please take our poll.

 

In case you hadn’t noticed – and Dear Reader, if you had not, then exactly where have you been? – the Guinness Book of Records just officially announced that Asia-Pop artist Psy has just officially become the most watched video ever on video-sharing site YouTube. Ever. Phew.

I really like the song. The original (very funny) video can be seen here:

And a live performance here:

But the really fascinating story is that the first video has now been watched – get this – 879,634,089 times. 

And the live performance is already over 150 million views, too.

As one of the posters put it on the YouTube of the first video, “let’s aim for a billion hits on New Year’s Eve”. A billion views? Of one pop song? A BILLION? Really?

Now as at June 30 this year, this was the breakdown of internet users in the world.

Two billion and four hundred and five million and some users worldwide. Getting on for half of them are dancing with their legs like John Wayne and waving an imaginary lasoo in the air ...

Two billion and four hundred and five million and some users worldwide. Getting on for half of them are dancing with their legs bowed like John Wayne and waving an imaginary lassoo in the air … Er, well, why not?

That means, essentially, that about half of the world’s Internet users have viewed the video on YouTube, let alone seen it on TV, on other websites, heard it on the radio, danced to it in a club … now that’s a hit, eh? I even have a vague memory of myself waving my arm around one night at Fusion nightclub at Crown, but honestly I was a bit over-trained by that stage so I might have just been waving my arms around aimlessly anyway. Pop music and I have an interesting relationship after I’ve had a few beverages. Think Rowan Atkinson on speed.

And now look at that big red wedge. That’s Asia. 44.8% of world Internet usage.

So can anyone still think that the 21st century is not going to be the Asian century? They are taking Western culture, merging it with their own, creating something vibrant and new, and then selling it brilliantly, both to their fellow Asians, and to the West.

Somehow, you know, I really don’t think my passable schoolboy French, which I have always been so proud of, is going to be much of an achievement – or of much use – in my declining years. Quel dommage.

At least, thanks to the abundance of brilliant Asian restaurants of all types in Melbourne, I can now say “thank you” in about a dozen nearby languages.  Cám ơn. Xie xie. M goi. Arigato. Komapsumnida. Terima kasih. Khawp khun. Khawp jai. Istuti. Shukriya. The effort is always greeted with a polite smile and sometimes genuine pleasure. The fact that the people serving us all speak my language – often near-perfectly – is never lost on me.

Somehow though, I think that the way things are headed, “please” may very well end up being more useful word to know … it is hard to imagine that the West can ever now catch up with the sheer exuberance and hard work, not to mention massive human resources, of Asia.

The Australian government just announced yet another push to get us “Asia ready”. But it’s too little, too late, I fear. We are a massive country with a tiny population, and already decades behind Asia itself in genuinely understanding the potential of the area. We have inadequate knowledge of their languages, their customs, their culture, and their needs. Faced with a considerable degree of disinterest from the West until recently, they have simply decided to “do it for themselves”.

Apart from the resources under our land and sea I strongly suspect we are already largely irrelevant to the coming century. I don’t think Asia will take us over. I simply suspect we will become largely irrelevant. A social, cultural and business backwater. Europe is broke, and confused. America appears mired in debt, out of energy, and incapable of pulling together as a nation any more. In short: I am beginning to suspect that the West, as a whole, is really rather yesterday’s news.

Which is a shame, because Western culture is, we often forget, thousands of years old, (as we are constantly reminded Asian culture is), and it is a fascinating amalgam of influences stretching back to pre-history.

Whilst it is popular to denigrate Western culture (and it has been a curate’s egg, for sure) it has also been responsible for some of the most important advances in human history – specifically, the evolution from feudalism, anti-authoritarianism, rationalism, science, humanism, the rule of law, democracy, and that’s just to name just a few.

It will be a sad day indeed if those things gradually come to mean less and less to the world’s population.

So let us hope that Asia takes up some of those principles as enthusiastically as they have made short shirts, tight trousers, and syncopated pop music their own. We can only hope, as it is no longer our place to demand.

We know a bit about weird places to put toilets in Australia. Like this one at the junction of Windorah/Bedourie Rd, on the Birdsville Track – at least an hour from the nearest settlement. Why was it there? Who would go all this way just to visit the conveniences? We may never know. Toilets in general though are a more serious, er, issue.

Well, today is World Toilet Day and when you’ve finished sniggering it is important to remember that 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation.

Why? Try a few of these stats.

One in three women across the world risks shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they do not have a safe place to go to the toilet. This is unthinkable in the West, but a horrible reality in the developing world and the impact is devastating.

Diarrheal diseases (such as cholera) kill more children than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined, making it the second leading cause of death among children under five.

Plus, absence of clean toilets and inadequate sanitation facilities are key causes of diarrhoeal disease, the second largest killer of children worldwide, causing around 760,000 child deaths every year.

Diarrhoeal disease is also a contributing factor to malnutrition, which in turn can lead to stunted growth and impede cognitive development.

This is a desperate situation. Diarrhoeal disease and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) need to be at the heart of a developed country’s foreign policy and aid efforts.

The UK Liberal Democrat’s party policy on preventing disease and improving health would be a good start for any developed country, aiming to:

  • Ensure 15 million more people have access to safe, clean water
  • Ensure 25 million people have access to proper sanitation facilities

Great progress is being made on this most basic of needs. Diarrhoea-related deaths around the world having declined from 12 million to 7 million in the past two decades. But more needs to be done to ensure that we meet the world’s commitments to Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5.

Glass of water, anyone?

Leading NGOs such as PATH, Tearfund and WaterAid are working hard to support the development of safe, healthy and productive communities and providing clean drinking water is a key step in freeing people from the misery of diarrhoeal (and many other) diseases.

OK, now this organisation (see below) is one of my favourites. Why not click and find out more? Right now, while you think about it?

Give clean water as a gift. It makes a great Christmas present for anyone you know who (a) will appreciate the gesture because they care about the little people, or (b) needs to appreciate the gesture because they should care more about the little people.

http://www.charitywater.org/

And you can tell all your friends you did something meaningful – splashed out a little? – to celebrate World Toilet Day.

(*OK, only one little sniggery joke. Maybe one and a half. That was pretty good, really.)

Rona Shafia, 52, left and Sahar Shafia, 17, in a photo recovered from Sahar's cellphone, taken June 26, 2009 while the Shafia family was in Niagara Falls. This photo is a released exhibit from trial of Mohammad Shafia, 56, his second wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 39, and their son Hamed Shafia, 18 who were convicted of four counts of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the deaths of Rona and Sahar, and also Zainab Shafia, 19, and Geeti Shafia, who was just 13 years old.

A recent case in Canada when a father, his wife and their son were convicted of the so-called “Honour” killing of his other (childless) wife (in a polygamous marriage) and three of the convicted couple’s daughters has galvanised the blogosphere and news outlets with the unimaginable, surreal horror of the event. The murderers have each been jailed for 25 years, the maximum available under Canadian law.

Despite many arguments to the contrary, (and they are easy enough to find on the internet), it would therefore be timely to note, as blogger “Morale Outrage” points out in the article “Honor killings are murder not an Islamic teaching” – which I reproduce below – that this is a cultural phenomenon, and not a religious one.

Zainab

Zainab

This is not to excuse such appalling behaviour, merely to ensure that it does not fuel any further the already poisonous atmosphere between Islam and the “West”, whether by that we mean Christian opinion or secular.

What is most worrying to me is that, in the West at least, we are clearly failing to protect women from this miserable, cowardly violence.

As this story shows, the future murders of the wife and children concerned were well-flagged during an appeal to police for help.

http://www.canada.com/life/Shafia+trial+hears+call+about+threats+beatings/5750419/story.html

The court also heard that Geeti tried to seek help from teachers and child protection authorities, complaining of verbal, emotional and physical abuse at home.

In addition, child protection agencies now admit they failed the children and their mother. TV coverage and commentary here: http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/sunnews/canada/archives/2012/02/20120201-150647.html

This is an increasing problem in the West as we welcome some highly traditional migrant families from these areas. At the very least, we need to provide safe refuge for these innocents and ruthlessly prosecute those within their families who threaten them. We also need to understand that it can take incredible courage for young, vulnerable people to make a complaint, and that they may well recant their stories under pressure or out of simple fear, and that once they have raised the issue of in-family violence they must be taken seriously.

Needless to say, the case, and others like it, has provoked an outpouring of opinion.

Language obscures core issue, says expert

Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women said the language around the Shafia verdict is distracting from the basic fact that four women were murdered.

Instead, she prefers the idea that the deaths were “femicide”.

“Femicide just simply means the killing of women and girls just because they’re women and girls,” she told CTV News Channel on Monday. The term stems from the patriarchal idea that men are the guardians of women and can “do with them as they see fit”, Hogben said.

She said Canadians should stop focusing on the deaths as honour killings “because that makes it kind of exotic and different and therefore does not include them with all of us as Canadian women.”

By viewing the deaths as a female issue, not only that implies ties to any specific cultural group, Hogben said Canadians can focus on how to protect women in the future.

The Government reaction

But Rona Ambrose, Minister for Status of Women, told CTV’s Power Play on Monday that honour killings are real and society needed to “wake up” to the threat.

“I think (the Shafia) trial in particular was a wake-up call to a lot of people who thought honour-motivated violence doesn’t exist in Canada,” she said. “It sends a message that this is real. We need to educate prosecutors, we need to educate police officers, social workers so they understand what this is about.”

Ambrose said that’s already happening in some Toronto women’s shelters, where staff are learning about the phenomenon. Other programs for women and girls, such as those offered through the Indo-Canadian Women’s Association, can also help, she said.

While honour killings are rare in Canada, indeed, in most Western countries including the UK, Australia and the USA, they occur with worrying frequency, and “honour-motivated non-lethal violence against women is prevalent”, Ambrose said.

“Girls are being subjected to violence or intimidation because they wore jeans. This is the kind of thing that’s difficult for Canadians to understand,” she said.

(For many of us, not just Canadians, Ms Ambrose.)

She continued:

“This is an issue – and there’ve been a lot of very brave women in certain cultural communities who’ve come forward to say this is a problem – honour-motivated violence does exist and we have to address it,” Ambrose said, noting that Indo-Canadian and Muslim communities are working with the government to do just that.

The bigger picture
That is all only the beginning of the solution for Western countries, of course. A much longer and more intractable problem is to turn around the attitudes to women throughout much of the Middle East, Asia and Africa that permit such atrocities anywhere. As we shake our heads over the news coverage, we are left, ultimately, with the same, persistent, terrifying question. How can a father or brother look in the eyes of his daughter or sister and murderously wield a cudgel, a knife, or fire a gun? What is it that could conquer any normal paternal or filial duty of care? That such behaviour seems simply incomprehensible to us in the West should merely spur us on to greater efforts to understand, and counter, the cultural beliefs that permit such sociopathic attitudes. In short, not all cultural beliefs are equal. Some are just plain wrong. We need the courage to say this, unflinchingly. And also to remind ourselves that it has nothing to do with religion, which is merely used as a cover for such behaviour.
honor killing victims

All victims of "honour murders". How many more?

The eyes of those thousands of girls and women murdered every year throughout the world on the flimsiest of excuse stare back at us from our computer screens and the pages of our newspapers. They demand that we do more to help them, and to prevent others joining their tragic ranks.

And as we contemplate the mysteries of cultures other than our own, let us also not forget: women are terrified, injured or die every single day in Western countries at the hands of men who are supposed to love them. And that therefore, all over the world, only a fundamental alteration in men can finally, and irrevocably, change the future of all women for the better.

As John Lennon so pointedly remarked, “Woman is the nigger of the world. Think about it. Do something about it.”

The Moral Outrage blog follows:

Honor killings are murder not an Islamic teaching

Leading Muslim thinkers wholeheartedly insist that “honor murders” have no place and no support in Islam.

“There is nothing in the Quran that justifies honor killings. There is nothing that says you should kill for the honor of the family,” said Taj Hargey, director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford in England.

“This idea that ‘somehow a girl has besmirched our honor and therefore the thing to do is kill her’ is bizarre, and Muslims should

Geeti

Geeti

stop using this defense,” he said, arguing that the practice is cultural, not religious in origin.

“You cannot say this is what Islam approves of. You can [only] say this is what their culture approves of,” he said.

Yet several Arab countries and territories, including Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Yemen and the Palestinian territories, do have laws providing lesser sentences for honor murders than for other murders, Human Rights Watch says. Egypt and Jordan also have laws that have been interpreted to allow reduced sentences for honor crimes, the group says.

Nadya Khalife, a researcher on women’s rights in the Arab world for Human Rights Watch, agrees that the practice should not be blamed on Islam. “It’s not linked to religion; it’s more cultural,” she said. “There have been several Islamic scholars who have issued fatwas against honor killing.”

Irshad Manji, the author of “Allah, Liberty and Love: Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom,” said there was another conflict at work in “honor murders”, a term that broadcaster CNN uses in preference to “honor killings” because the latter phrase does not properly describe the crime.

It is “a tribal tradition that emphasizes the family or the tribe or the community over the individual.” Although the practice may not be Islamic, she said, not all Muslims understand the distinction.

“It is a problem within Islam because of how Muslims often confuse culture and religion,” she said. “It’s Muslims who have to learn to separate culture and religion. If we don’t, Islam will continue to get the bad name that it gets.”

On the other hand, honor murders are not a problem in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population. “No such a practice can be found among Indonesian Muslims,” said Azyumardi Azra, the director of the graduate school at the State Islamic University in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Taj Hargey, the director of the Muslim Educational Centre, said violence was sometimes the result of painful transition. “Muslims are in a state of flux,” he said. “They are between two worlds: the ancient world and the new technological age,” he said. “Women are getting rights and the ability to choose their own spouses. [Especially Muslim families living in the West don’t] know how to respond to this: the conflict between the discipline of children and the new reality.”

Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service has an expert devoted to prosecuting honor-based violence, Nazir Afzal. Convicting perpetrators can be difficult, he said. “There is a wall of silence around this, and people are not prepared to talk,” he said.

And along with the Islamic scholars and human rights advocates, he rejected out of hand the idea that religion justified it. “At the end of the day, murder is murder. There is no faith on Earth, no community on Earth that justifies this,” he said.

“Abrahamic faiths say ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ ” he pointed out. “At the end of the day, nobody should die for this.”

Nadya Khalife of Human Rights Watch says reliable figures of the number of honor murders are hard to come by, but she pointed to a United Nations Population Fund estimate of 5,000 per year.

Varying Canadian media comments on the case can be found here: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2012/0130/Honor-killings-in-Canada-5-responses-to-the-Shafia-verdict/Honor-killings-deserve-harsher-penalty-than-first-degree-murder

Innumerable blogs on the topic are also available. Sadly, I can hardly wish you “happy reading”.