Monday, April 23, 2012


China has had its lot of events during thousands of years of  history. The Middle Kingdom was the wonder of the world, before it became its victim.
After the atrocities of the last centuries China engaged in the Long March which led to a situation wherein the Chinese were pawns on the Hegelian chessboard of Mao Zedung.
All this resulted in hunger, cultural revolution and state terrorism, hitting where it hurt the most: in the face of intellectuals and students who were reduced to cheap labour in the countryside.  The foresight of Deng Xiaoping was needed to change the former perverse equation and to change the course radically, leading China to where it stands now, an asymmetrical colossus with too little hard power and a slow awakening of soft power.
Since the last decennium, old ideas are stored for now.  Money rules.
New politicians emerge. The older guys who ruled behind their closed enclaves are being replaced by a younger, more pragmatic generation. Wen Jiabao might be the last of the Old Guard who showed also a remarkable sensitivity to the needs of the people.
Bo Xilai is the son of Bo Yibo, Grand Marcher, confident of Deng Xiaoping,a member of the elite. The wife of Bo, Gu Kailai, is accused of being involved in the murder of Neil Heywood of British nationality. The Bo couple can be considered as aristocrats in the Chinese nomenclature.  Bo has certainly the looks, the brains and a humor which set him apart from the usual grey men of the Politburo.
A strange event occurred earlier this year when a Chinese official, Wanf Lijun, once deputy mayor and police chef in Chongqing, spent 30 hours in the American Consulate in Chengdu, telling what?
Neither the Chinese, Americans nor British are commenting.
All this comes at a time when the new Politburo will make its appearance this fall in Beijing.
Until thent,the current leadership wants stability but realizes too that China is a "singular standing for a plural."
The sea of lights East does not compensate for the alienation and poverty in the Western part..  Wen is concerned in this regard but that the ongoing long march westwards risks to take more time than the 1934 one.
Bo's downfall is one of the many indicators that China is getting trapped in an asymmetric matrix, in which the ambition of a "harmonious society" is slowly giving way to a more complex, individualistic, almost distorted Western model. The latter is furthermore corrupted by the "face" syndrome which leads the Chinese to play poker with a weak deck of cards which does not cover the betting,
The future is unforeseeable in the absence of democracy and a rule of law.  I wouldn't be surprised if China will have to smell the coffee sooner rather than later.  I am confident that Bo Xilai may opt for an Espresso. It might as well be something worse since his fiefdom of Chongqing was not reputed for its mild approach and since le Beau BO has few friends indeed.  Meanwhile Bo Junior can circle Harvard Square in the sports car of his choice!  Maman and her employee Zhang Xiaojun meanwhile are AWOL (in the Tower of London?)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Habemus Papam

The 19th Century won the Olympic gold for dogmas. The  Catholic Church created a firewall of absurd pronouncements which were supposed to protect it from the advancing hordes of secularists.
The Virgin Mary was also on a grand grotto tour, appearing to simpletons who became the spokespersons of generally Delphic "non sequiturs." Why grottoes? Why this "reality show" with a dying breed of shepherds and peasants, nobody knows. There was never room for some tete-a-tete with Einstein or Heidegger.

After this century of incoherence, there followed a century of personalities, inaugurated by Pius XII who saw himself as a Metternich in robes. The succession was equally sociologically interesting. Pope John XXIII was the real Catholic in the flock.  John Paul I was the Michel Piccoli "avant la lettre."  Paul VI was a Saint Germain existential pope.  John Paul XXII was the media pontiff, now we are stuck with Benedict XVI who just loves to be pope. The pope couture is the main beneficiary of the taste of the current pope for dress and decor. Zeffirelli must be in heaven (pun).

The "Habemus Papam" movie by Nanni Moretti (who plays also the role of psychoanalyst) is interesting, a sort of Camusian wandering through the absurd. It is both cruel and deeply humane,  a saga of panic and self-discovery at an unexpected level.  It is strange by the way how the Catholic Church which is besieged by scandal and corruption still has the power to move the masses as well as the power brokers. Stalin's "boutade" about how much legions the pope had, has been proven wrong. The Soviet Union is no longer, while the Vatican continues to rule, even when, at a close look, the wrinkles and decay can no longer be ignored. While the Church has lost a lot of its pertinence, its leader is, since Paul VI began what has become a tradition, travels all over the world.  In the Western world the churches look more often than not like empty vessels, but elsewhere the successors of Saint Peter have made a shrewd decision, replacing absurd theological flip-flops by their presence. From now on, the man overshadows the doctrine. It will certainly be revealing to see who is the successor of the current pope, and to try to understand where this enormous bureaucracy is heading. We speak here of the cardinals, nuncios, banking, real estate, who in the end are able to determine the balance of advantage.  I agree with Christopher Hitchens that God is not great but one should not underestimate the danger which the encounter with religion represents.

Darwin, Galileo and Newton were heroic. They would still be so today but the secular view has taken hold of Western Europe and the Vatican looks like an aberration in the technological tidal wave which unmasks yesterday's lies. The Catholic Church now acts like a colonial power which considers Africa, Asia and the US (which is, strangely enough, largely bigoted) as alternatives for the ground it had to give up elsewhere.  Logically it chooses the camp of the blind on social issues, together with the Islamists and the likes of Uganda & Co. The balcony of Saint Peter better stay empty, as it does in the movie, so that the decay remains hidden and the remaining Christians let their voices be heard. After all, Jesus Christ did not invent "this" church. The latter reinvented him.  Judas, too, is a man for all seasons.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


The Grand Old Party, as we knew it, is no longer. It tried to survive in its former glory through the "beatification" of President Ronald Reagan, but the miracles did not follow. Since then the party has gone downhill, no longer able to come up with a Messiah who could oppose the usual chaos within the Democratic Party with a coherent alternative. President George W. Bush happened to be the wrong man at the wrong time. The pre-election Republican campaign focusing at random, indifferently on voters of all creed and color reveals a party which has lost its direction. Since Senator McCain fished Sarah Palin out of the fishpond in Alaska, the party went in a downward spiral.
Following the Romans, the establishment preferred to hide in the Capitol, leaving the Aventine in the hands of the Tea Party, radio hosts, and evangelicals. Governor Mitt Romney, who is basically a gentleman, is under pressure to downgrade style and content as to avoid the fate of Jon Huntsman, former (Obama) Ambassador in Beijing, who was too patrician for the "Zeitgeist". It is still possible that a race between Romney and Obama might overcome the current mediocre mindset, but I wouldn't bet on it.
Something strange is happening in the United States. Charles Murray in his book "Coming Apart" describes America as coming apart for reasons of class. It is clear that the gulf between privilege and alienation widened and that the fabric of society weakened as a consequence thereof. I do not suggest that the United States is a country in decline -as many commentators do- but it is undeniable that the the three branches of government are deadlocked because they have allowed themselves to become hostages of a populist, partisan tidal wave. President Obama has not been able to apply his eloquence to a disease which worsened after some of his overburdened policies followed the disastrous inroads of his predecessor in countries and conflicts that were unknown to most and bungled by all. Napoleon brought with him a legion of specialists to Egypt. The Americans instead trusted the word of the shady Ahmed Chalabi and from some neo-cons, who are AWOL since those costly, inglorious and sad (in human cost) events. Americans are fed up!
Until now the Republican campaign has avoided talking too much about Iraq and Afghanistan or about the financial crisis which started with the Lehman's debacle on their watch. They dig the Founding Fathers out of the graveyard of mistaken memories, using Jefferson -- who was close to Thomas Paine -- or Hamilton --who was in favour of a strong central government -- for causes which are in contradiction with the ideas of mostly secular or deist ancestors. It would be unfair to generalize, but the fact is that the GOP is dominated (for how long?) by its more reactionary wing. The Democrats have not lived up to expectations either, but they have been generally able to rein in (up to now) the populist plague.
The United States is not used to sharing, negotiating, or dealing with third countries on an equal footing. The Americans are experiencing for the first time that they now have to consider opposite forces, in the first place China, which is an unreliable player. The BRICS are a new headache, which further complicates the workings of the international order. The middle-American is often unaware of the existence of this new global shared governance. Consequently, he does not always pay attention to the enemy who is at his doorstep, be it by a new warfare, spying, hacking, stalking or modernizing armaments. The United States has largely given up on Europe (EU). Sooner or later NATO and the EU risk becoming irrelevant. This does not imply that the American public opinion is obsessed by the East but political thinkers are, and they make innovative and sophisticated arguments in this regard. Both the President and the Secretary of State are aware of the new direction, to the chagrin of the Europeans mostly.
The future Republican candidate has a difficult task seeing what is coming, while realizing the forces that are pushing him.  Intellectual arguments are almost absent from the Republican debate. The (often) amused complicity between intelligentsia and the political domain is a thing of the past. The same phenomenon happened in Europe but is more inconsequential. The thousands of Asian students in America will go back with a sobered view of the American dream Obama had the torch, but he forgot the matches. Romney has the matches but he carries no torch. Religions have occupied the chairs left empty by most intellectuals. The creative individuals, which the US has in abundance, prefer to battle "in camera" rather than in the open, as was the case during the Nixon years. The void is awesome and demagogy rules in the corridors of a power structure which has lost its lustre. The last of the real great commentators, Gore Vidal, is silent and the majority of intellectuals of the new generation seem to be more concerned with building a firewall rather than by engagement. Still there is no reason to be overly pessimistic. Democracy often leads to messy overreaction, fed by freedom of expression. The non democratic world -- China in the first place -- can, rightly so, take pride in almost Herculean achievements, if one wants to believe that Potemkin equals Hercules. The present state of affairs in America is morally worrisome, but this land remains nevertheless the place for invention and creativity. As Churchill said -- I paraphrase -- the country is in need of a prophet with a message, not for a politician groping for a platform.