Archive for July, 2009

Farewell, Sarah Palin

July 28, 2009

There’s a Bugs Bunny cartoon where he convinces Elmer Fudd to act like a grizzly bear. As Elmer jumps around on all fours growling and snarling, Bugs stands in lower right corner of the screen, calmly flipping through a stack of flashcards: Screw(+)ball; Crack(ed) Pot; Drip(ping faucet); (Wal)Nut…

Whenever Sarah Palin talks these days, you look for Bugs Bunny in corner with his flashcards.

Her farewell address as governor was Palin at her incoherent, self-congratulatory best. Her obsession with the media and “the troops” may be the product of the astute political instincts that many friends and foes attribute to her, or just her megalomania. Since initially making Palin a legend in her own mind, the media has had the temerity to report things she doesn’t like, and she has a son serving in the military. With Palin, it’s always about her.

Palin’s parting shot at the media -”How about, in honor of the American soldier, you quit makin’ things up?” – dripped with far more unintended irony than the intended condescension. Palin is the one “makin’ things up,” according to Andrew Sullivan’s list on The Atlantic’s website.

I’d suggest that the media give Citizen Palin her wish in spades and simply quit payin’ attention to the ex-governor and her “whole big diverse full and fun family.” Let’s see how well Palin’s delusions of grandeur and her big ticket speaking engagements hold up without the oxygen of publicity.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Poorly Made in China

July 19, 2009

For my novel Hong Kong On Air, I researched contract manufacturing in China; Paul Midler literally wrote the book on the subject. Asia Times just ran my review of Midler’s Poorly Made in China, a behind the scenes look at doing business with Chinese factories. It’s a rip-roaring read – my wife has no interest in the subject but couldn’t put it down – telling a fascinating, frightening story about the products we trust for our homes and families, where those products come from, and about the people standing, or more accurately, hiding behind them. Midler offers a unique perspective on the world’s most important emerging economy and its growing power and influence.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

W’s Monica

July 19, 2009

The burgeoning revelations about former vice president Richard Cheney’s effort to conceal CIA operations from Congress reveals a link between the presidencies of George W Bush and Bill Clinton. It seems neither one of them could control their Dick.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Coloring Judgment

July 12, 2009

In a preview of US President Barack Obama’s trip to Ghana, BBC asked children at an Accra elementary school to explain the meaning of his visit.

One boy, perhaps seven years old, said, “Obama proves that black people can do anything that white people can do.” As an American, I’m extraordinarily proud that our country could help teach this lesson. I pray that it sinks in the across the African continent.

As a former resident of Africa, it’s incredible to me that, after 50-plus years of independence, an African child born this century can believe in the inferiority of black people. I won’t speculate about the reasons the boy feels that way, but I’ve witnessed something similar in Asia.

While working on Lonely Planet’s inaugural guide to Borneo, I crossed the border from predominantly poor, poorly educated, underdeveloped and untouristed East Kalimantan in Indonesia to more affluent, educated, developed and cosmopolitan East Sabah in Malaysia and suddenly found race an issue. As I wrote in Asia Times, during six weeks in Kalimantan, I received overwhelmingly warm receptions and helpful responses to inquiries. In Sabah, I was mocked, shunned and insulted. (I understood the taunts since I speak Indonesian, as close to Malaysian as US English is to British.)

I peg the difference to the Malaysian government’s racial policies. Its system of preferences of Malays and restrictions on Chinese and other groups institutionalizes racism. It teaches that all people are not created equal, that there are differences in race, and that Malays are at the bottom of the pile.

That’s no way to raise proud Malaysian children, and, unfortunately, it’s most likely going to be a while before America elects a Malaysian president.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Burn, Bobby, Burn

July 6, 2009

The first time I visited Hong Kong was in 1994, as part of a two month tour of Asia as a backpacking journalist. I didn’t go to Hong Kong because I wanted to see the city that would become my home barely a year later. I went because I was heading for Vietnam and needed a visa, taking advantage of newly normalized relations between the US and Vietnam to be among the first American tourists in nearly 20 years.

Luckily, it would be my first visit Vietnam. If I’d been born a couple of years earlier there’s a good chance I would have been drafted to help fight the US war in Vietnam. Instead of wading through rice paddies wielding an M-16, I spent the early 1970s knee-deep in books as a college history major. In the wake of the helicopter taking off from the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon, I read David Halberstam’s The Best and The Brightest, a book that changed my life.

The figure in Halberstam’s book who left the most lasting impression on me was Robert McNamara, the smartest man anyone ever met, who died Monday at age 93. Only the good die young.

Despite his legendary brilliance, McNamara helped organize the extraordinarily cruel firebombing of Tokyo during World War II. Then as Secretary of Defense, he presided over the escalation of the war in Vietnam that cost tens of thousands lives while shattering America’s credibility at home and abroad.

One lesson of McNamara’s tragedy is the danger of intellectual vanity. It’s good to be smartest guy in the room, as long as you don’t believe that you are. Kennedy purposely recruited brilliant minds. His dream team handled the so-called Cuban missile crisis of 1962 adroitly but needed a big piece of luck to succeed. That win suggested that Kennedy had indeed assembled a new generation of leadership to energize the US, win the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and restore the Democratic Party’s reputation for toughness, and his team members learned that less best. They became convinced they really were the whiz kids.

McNamara was the whizziest of all. From the youngest professor at Harvard Business School to, at age 44, the first president of Ford Motor Company who wasn’t a member of the Ford family, McNamara’s extraordinary intellect and rigorous application of systems analysis cemented his reputation as a genius. His combination of conceit and cowardice enabled him to keep running the Pentagon death machine long after he concluded the Vietnam War was pointless. Being smart enough to see the truth without being brave enough to act on what he belatedly understood left McNamara a deservedly haunted and broken human being.

The irony is that it wasn’t just hubris but outright stupidity that doomed McNamara to spectacular failure. He and his cohorts were convinced they understood Asia, even though the US government had purged its experts on the region in the mid-1950s, thanks to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt for Communists after the fall of China. McNamara’s war strategy featured bombing civilian and industrial targets, tactics proven of dubious value in World War II. He saw Vietnam through the prism of the Cold War, unable to comprehend the Vietnamese perspective. In a democracy with conscription and television, he thought a war involving hundreds of thousands of Americans could be concealed from the public.

Most foolishly, McNamara couldn’t grasp what I saw clearly in 1994 within minutes of stepping off the airplane at Tan Son Nhat Airport, the former US airbase outside Saigon. As I rode into town between ramshackle huts and water buffaloes plowing fields of mud, a single question throbbed in my head: How on earth could anyone think there was anything in this country worth a single American life?

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.


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