Michael Knowles: WuFlu Insights

Shrewd Rahm Emmanuel said “Never let a crisis go to waste.” The WuFlu won’t be an exception.

If You Didn’t Read the Book . . .

Here’s a good summary of Salam’s ideas on immigration, which he explains in his book Melting Pot or Civil War. If you believe in hearing two sides of an issue, Salam should be on your reading list.

The Life of Émile Zola


The film character doesn’t look like this

As I’ve recently finished Germinal, when I saw the film The Life of Émile Zola (1937) displayed with Oscar Best Picture winners, I had to watch it. Starring Paul Muni, The Life of Émile Zola begins with Zola sharing a cold garret apartment with Cezanne. Both are struggling to launch their creative careers, while trying not to freeze to death. Soon Zola meets a prostitute in a café, hears her life story, writes a novel based on it. When it’s published it’s criticized for its immorality and it flies off the bookstore shelves. Still poor, Zola goes to the book seller who published the book to beg for a small advance. Instead he gets a check for 30,000 francs. He’s rich!

Zola continues to write popular books and lives in comfort and luxury with his wife in Paris. One day his still struggling friend Cezanne drops by to announce that he’s off to the South of France to paint. Paris is no longer the place for him. Before leaving, he feels compelled to point out that Zola has become materialistic and complacent. He’s lost his ideals. This opens Zola’s eyes.


The story shifts to the army office where treasonous letters are found and the innocent Captain Alfred Dreyfus is soon arrested and sent to prison. The Dreyfus Affair is a dark corner of French history, showing how quick the army leaders were to allow their Anti-Semitism to condemn an innocent man with out fair due process. The very odd aspect of this Warner Bros. film is that the anti-semitism is never mentioned. If you didn’t know about the history, you wouldn’t realize that Dreyfus was Jewish and that was a factor in his arrest and imprisonment. A 2013 New York Times article stated that studio head  Jack Warner, who was Jewish himself, insisted that any mention of Jewish heritage be removed from the film.

When Dreyfus’ wife pleads with the comfortable bourgeois Zola, she convinces him that the right thing to do is to take up Dreyfus’ cause. The famous article “J’accuse!” results and Zola’s soon arrested for libel. A fierce courtroom battle ensues where Zola is the David to the powerful government’s Goliath. (This time David loses though.)

While this chapter of history is worthy of a film, this production is outdated. To whitewash the events by editing out anti-semitism makes no sense. Muni’s Zola hops around the scenes and is so almost comical in his vibrancy, that it’s hard to take him seriously. Other characters like his wife, Cezanne and the military leaders are one dimensional. The film was the Best Picture of 1937 and won other awards, but it doesn’t stand up to the test of time.

The Chicago 8


The Chicago 8 dramatizes the infamous trial of Bobby Seale, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Lee Weiner, Rennie Davis and John Froines, who were accused of violating anti-riot laws and conspiracy in connection with the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. The film shows Judge Julius Hoffman’s bias and the defendant’s defiance as is reported in the court transcripts. It’s a film of a chapter of American history of great import as it shows how derailed our justice system can get.

In an article about a play on the trial that the Remains Theater was doing in 1997, the event was summarized as follows:

It went down something like this.

By the summer of 1968, Chicago had been rocked by wide-scale rioting on the city’s West Side after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Mayor Richard J. Daley had issued his infamous “Shoot to kill” arsonists order during that time and he publicly vowed that when the national convention of his beloved Democratic party came to Chicago in August, “outside agitators” would not be allowed to disrupt his city again.

Sen. Robert Kennedy was murdered several weeks before the convention, anti-war protests had continued unabated even though incumbent President Lyndon Johnson had announced he would not seek re-election and his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, marched toward the Democratic convention as his likely successor.

When the convention convened in a heavily guarded International Amphitheater on the Southwest Side, thousands of young demonstrators gathered in Lincoln and Grant Parks, engaging in five nights of violent clashes with Chicago police.

Early in 1969, after months of finger-pointing and blame, eight of those demonstrators, representing a cross-section of the anti-war movement in the country, were charged with conspiring to come to Chicago to stage riots and with rioting. It was the first major use of a new federal anti-conspiracy law that was decried as an unconstitutional violation of Freedom of Speech.

By September 1969, the stage was set for a replay of the Democratic convention, this time in an austere courtroom on the 23rd floor of the Dirksen Federal Building at 219 N. Dearborn St. and presided over by crusty Federal Judge Julius J. Hoffman. (Davis, 1997)

The film captures the feeling of the five month long trial, though it leaves out parts that would have been good like “folk singer Judy Collins having her mouth covered by the hands of a federal marshal as she tried to sing, “Where have all the flowers gone?” in an impromptu concert during her testimony . . . .and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg chanting a mantra-“ommmm, ommmm”-while on the witness stand in a humorous attempt to restore tranquility when the court broke out in one of its frequent bursts of shouting” (Davis, 1997).

We forget how fragile our justice system is and how one judge can contort it to his own ends.  The movie starts a little slow and includes some footage of an orgie that just doesn’t belong as there’s no follow up, but the second and third act are more tightly put together and the historical event should be understood by all.


Davis, R. (1991, Sep 15). Return of the Chicago 7: the trial was great theater, but will it work on stage? Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from search.proquest.com on April 22, 2013

N.B. Since Bobbie Seale was removed from this trial, in a very racist manner, some call it the Chicago 7 and others the Chicago 8.

VEEP, Season 2 Begins


VEEP,  Season 2 starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus has begun!

Season Two opened with the midterm elections and the VP’s party gets crushed by the opposition. Serina, the VP, sees this as an opportunity to reposition her role in the administration and tries to orchestrate a power grab. Gary Cole plays a despised Senior Strategist for the President, who as usual never appears.

The episode flew by with lots of rapid fire jokes and physical humor involving getting the VP out of the Oval Office after she’s gotten her lip stick all over the President’s rug. It’s one of the best comedies on American television, though I have to say In the Thick of It was funnier. I think it would help to show the opposition party sometimes.

Social Media in China

Note: The cliches and vernacular language referring to historic events are used to protect this innocent grad student, not to sound folksy.

Since I’m back in China, I thought I’d share some of my experience with social media here and dig deeper by discovering what some experts say on the topic.

When I first came to China to work in spring of 2009, I could access Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, anything I could think of. Yet 2009 was an important year because it was the anniversary of certain events that I won’t even type here because who knows if I’d have internet tomorrow.

One by one these services disappeared and my colleagues, other Americans and Australians who teach here felt a kind of technology grief, a definite sense of loss and disconnection.

Chinese technology does offer some substitutes, but since I’m not literate in Chinese, I haven’t signed up for them. The government does allow and control social media. The main Web 2.0 services more or less parallel what’s found elsewhere. Weibo is like Twitter; Ren Ren and QQ resemble Facebook; YouKu and TuDou are Chinese YouTubes.

The government does turn off these services and has websites turn off commenting at critical times like last spring when an official in Chengdu was up to no good.

To learn more, I read Thomas Crampton‘s article “Social Media in China: The Same, but Different.” From Crampton, I learned that:

  • Chinese spend a lot more time online than other developing countries. In fact, their usage resembles that of Americans and the Japanese.
  • China is the one Asian country where youth have more online than offline friends. (In most Asian countries face to face friendships outnumber online friendships.) The Chinese live a large part of their lives online.
  • The Web 2.0 services I’ve compared above aren’t exact mimics. Youku and Tudou carry more professionally produced videos, many of which are pirated. Given how much more online video compared to televised video Chinese watch, these services are the defacto broadcasters. They’re actually a lot like Hulu.com.Because Chinese uses ideograms rather than an alphabet, a “tweet” on Weibo can contain around 4 times as many words as an English tweet. Weibo’s closer to a blogging platform than a microblogging one.While Ren Ren with its blue and white layout tries to be the Chinese Facebook, it has more competitors. Douban, Kaixin001, and QZone each attract a different demographic.
  • The Chinese learn about the internet through friends, who are loyal to a particular social media. Thus, Crampton asserts, they come to view the internet as YouKu or as Douban.

As far as the last item above, I think some elaboration is needed. My students seem familiar with many sites, not as many as Westerns, but they use Wikipedia (for plagiarism and, I hope, actual reserach), and they watch videos and play games online. I do take them to the computer lab to work on assignments and many of them go off task and use a variety of computer games, email services and shopping websites. I think their view of the web is rather narrow, because they don’t learn to use computers in school. It’s clear that they’re self-taught, but they don’t only use one service.

I checked to see how universities and their libraries used social media and none of the three I looked at Shandong University of Science and Technology, where I work, Shandong University, a higher level school in this province and Tsinghua University, one of the top colleges in China, had links to Weibo, Ren Ren or other Web 2.0 services. In contrast colleges in Korea, like Sogang University do contain Facebook and Twitter links for the library.


Crampton, T. (2011). Social Media in China: The Same, but Different. China Business Review, 38(1), 28-31.

Further Reading

Crossing the Line


The story of an American who defected to North Korea in the 1960s, Crossing the Line is yet another good documentary that I’ve discovered this winter. James Joseph Dresnok tells the story of his life with added interviews with a friend from his youth and men in the army who worked with him. An orphan with little success in school, Dresnok joined the army when he turned 17. He married before he left for Germany. Upon his return from Germany, he discovered his wife was unfaithful and wanted a divorce.

The disappointment stung and compelled him to re-enlist. Then he was sent to South Korea to patrol the DMZ in the 1960s. After forging a pass for a night out, Dresnok ran across the DMZ into North Korea to avoid disciplinary action. This impetuous move was in character with a man who ran away from foster homes and bad situations time after time.

The North Koreans capitalized on this defection and three others that soon followed by using Dresnok and other American soldiers in propoganda. They appeared on the covers of magazines and eventually starred in films playing American villians.

We hear so little about North Korea and these defections were hushed by the U.S. army that was embarrassed that American soldiers would find life in the backward hermit kingdom an option at all. I wouldn’t trade places with Dresnok, but I do see that he and his family have had a unique life.  He’s been well taken care of even after attempting to defect to Russia when life in North Korea got burdensome.  He and his fellow Americans all married and it seemed the government arranged for that. Dresnok first married a woman who refused to tell him her nationality for decades. (It’s believed she was kidnapped from Romania.) After his first wife’s death, he married a woman whose mother was North Korean and whose father was an African diplomat.

Dresnok’s learned Korean and has adapted to life in Pyongyang quite well. It’s a strange life, but has worked out for him. Without much education and with a penchant for flouting American rules, he would have struggled in the US. In North Korea he has a decent apartment, a seemingly nice family life, and the regard of North Koreans around him.



What is this far off, vacant look about?

Although I can see the hard work that went into the performances in Stephen Spielberg‘s Lincoln, I can’t say I liked the film. No doubt it will win several nominations and even awards, but I was struck by how the film lumbered along and how Daniel Day Lewis‘ Lincoln seemed so detached from the people around him. I can see that Day Lewis perfected Lincoln’s walk and mannerisms, but this character seemed removed from the others and hence hard for me to connect with.

There was something quite odd about the lighting, that distracted me. I realize they didn’t have electric light so I appreciated the night scenes with rooms that weren’t as bright as ours are now. But why were the rooms with the windows open during the day so dark, while the sun poured in through the windows as if the sun were a lot closer than it is. Shouldn’t a sun lit room then be like one now? I’ve toured the White House, Lincoln’s Springfield home and other preserved homes of the 19th century and never seen such lighting. It’s as if there were more eclipses or something during this era.

The maneuverings to pass the 13th amendment freeing slaves form the plot and I can see that it’s good to have a thread that the story clings to. I guess it sort of worked, but this choice didn’t thrill me. It was okay.

A lot of good actors appear. Some of my favorites like Hal Halbrook, David Strathairn, and James Spader. They all add to the film, but still I feel something was missing.

It was strange that Daniel Day Lewis went to such pains to portray Lincoln as he really was, while the script rejected some of the historical consultant’s advice and mucked around with history. For the record, Mary Todd Lincoln did not sit in the galley to watch congress and congress didn’t vote state by state. Most historical films do add some fiction, but I don’t think these choices added anything to the drama. Also, I’m puzzled by the choice to not show the shooting in Ford’s theater, but rather to fake the audience out with a scene in another theater where Lincoln’s youngest son was watching a play.

Now I did still have jet lag, a little, when I saw this movie on Wednesday, but I’m not sure that’s the only reason I had a hard time staying awake during the second half of the film. I never fall asleep in a movie, but I did doze off twice here and had to fight to stay awake. Mind you, I can stay awake for rather esoteric fare.

I know a lot of people praise the film highly, but I left thinking something’s missing or wrong here. This film could have been better and I’d like to see a Lincoln film based on other material, not just (or mainly) on Team of Rivals, which I still need to read.