Sunday, 29 June 2008

The Global Cyber Lynch Mob

In a recent article in the Malaysian daily newspaper The Star, it reports the backlash against a teacher who tries to justify her actions of running out of a shaking building during the Sichuan Earthquake before helping her students. The article outlines that this teacher's priority is to her daughter and not to the students she was employed to teach. The article also mentions that her justification was that “chivalry” was not in her job description.

This incident was circulated in various news articles but this is the first one that I have read that mentions that her condemnation was by “bloggers”. The article states “Despite a massive outpouring of charity in the wake of the quake, Chinese bloggers have been quick to round on those deemed unsympathetic.”

The article goes on the comment on Sharon Stone's “Karma” comment and somehow (by using this example) leaves the feeling that the backlash is justified. The problem is that by using Sharon Stone as a comparison is probably representing the power of public opinion poorly.

To the list of people who have been criticized in the digital press are not just ill informed celebrities mouthing off to the media but also include those who did not donate enough, such as the Chairman of Vanke Group and Yao Ming. Both of these prominent figures donated money to the relief efforts but their contributions were deemed inadequate by the populous.

This smells a little too much like mob mentality. At the risk of sounding like an authoritarian sympathizer, is it dangerous for us to have such an influential voice? In the case of “Running Fan”, her fault was not that she decided not to be a hero but she decided to digitally justify her actions. If put into the same situation, the first instinct for many of us would be to first save our own skin before risking it on someone else's children. She subsequently not only lost her job but it is highly likely that she will never be employed by any school in China again. She has essentially committed professional suicide by standing on her digital soap box to claim her innocence. By exposing herself to the cyber lynch mob she not only gave up her obscurity but offered herself as a sacrifice when so many grieving parents were looking for a scape goat.

The court of public opinion is a dangerous animal that is difficult to control and sometimes the only way to avoid becoming a casualty is by lying silently in the bushes. Yao Ming is no longer in the spot light with no real affect on his career. Vanke has been pressured into providing aid in the Sichuan reconstruction efforts to save it's stock value, and of course it will be a cold day in hell before you see a Sharon Stone movie in China, but who will the mob turn on next. Will it be me for writing this article? Will it be you? China quake-fleeing teacher forces change in ethics

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Looking for Comedy in the Chinese World

A while back I saw a film called “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World” by Albert Brooks. Brooks, who's most successful role appears to be “Marlin” the overly protective paternal clown fish in the Disney production “Finding Nemo” has always come across as a somewhat self deprecating comedian who gets most of his laughs from being a neurotic and overly up-tight middle class American.

His movie (in which he starred, wrote and directed) about the Muslim world was a box office bomb but the concept of comedy in non-western societies has a great deal or merit.

The Chinese society today, like the Arabs, doesn't really come across as a culture that is overly satirical or funny to the outside world. More so with the current international political and societal stance of China it is hard to view China as a funny nation.

In my time in Shanghai as a cultural bastard or what is commonly referred to as a banana (Yellow on the outside, white on the inside) I have experienced first hand blank looks from Chinese staff and colleagues when I try to use Australian satire in my communications. Australian humor is a slightly less dry version British humor. Thick with sarcasm and self deprecation in the style that is populated by comedians such as Steady Eddie (a stand up comedian who has cerebral palsy, making spastic jokes) and Jimoen (an Irish comedian making Irish jokes). There are cultural comedic icons during my upbringing such as Con the Fruiterer (A Greek fruit store owner who makes fun of his Western European mannerisms) and Ted Bullpit from the show Kingswood Country (a stereotypical White Australian suburban bigot).

Beyond the former British Empire other Western comedians have entertained generations with stories that deprecate their own culture. As a teenager I grew up with Eddie Murphy's RAW on VHS and Afro-American comedians like Chris Rock generated laughs through stories of their “ghetto” childhoods. Billy Connelly also took advantage of his cultural heritage to make jokes about his rough Glaswegian upbringing. Throughout the recent history of comedy and humor in the Western world we see continued reference to differing cultural and societal conditions that form the basis for us to have a good old belly laugh at people who are different from us but in a strange way offer insight into our own taboo's.

In addition to these cultural characters, that I grew up with and formed my sense of humor, is also a long history of Political humor. In both British & Australian comedic history, comedians have made long careers out of making politicians the butt of their jokes and the more recent phenomenon of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, Americans have now whole heartedly embraced political satire.

As Chinese culture continues to infiltrating western media. Jacky Chan's brand of slapstick humor and, to a limited degree, Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu are now almost as famous as Mr Bean's rubbery face. Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi are as appealing on the red carpet as any other Hollywood sex symbol, but where are the Chinese Sienfeld's of this world? What does Chinese sarcasm taste like? Does satire really have no place next to Confucius?

Putting comedy in the context of modern Chinese history is a bit of a sensitive topic. Chinese reverence for authoritative figures pretty much put the realm of political satire out of bounds when it comes to Chinese comedy. Culturally speaking, very little is spoken of the cultural minorities in China so that pretty much rules out “ghetto” based humor. It is viewed as bad taste to make fun of ethnic Tibetan or Mongolians as a means to get a laugh. In fact if you are going to base satire on any type of minority, you better make damn sure that your joke is not going to cause a riot or any type of social unrest. Off the top of my head, the only minority group that you can make fun of in China without the fear of reprisal is the laowai's.

The one form of stand up that has been institutionalised is called “xiangsheng” or “crosstalk” and has a long history in Chinese entertainment. Similar to the kind of exchange you'd get from Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis or an Abbot & Costello skit, this form of humor is mild enough to not offend the Maoist hangover or get any sensitive minorities up in arms. Of the little about this topic on the internet, David Moser gives a very good explanation of this form of stand up in his article on The painful reality is though is that this form of comedy, is just not funny. It is like stringing together a series of jokes, double entendres and puns between a goof and a straight man. Not since the 1940's has this been something like that actually had you belly laughing and that is where Chinese humor stopped evolving.

The cultural revolution in China was pretty much a cultural devolution for stand up comedy. The whole problem with all this (as I see it) is that Chinese people are by and large funny people. Look at the way they dress. Look at what they eat. Look at the way they perceive the world. There is an abundance of material every time you walk out the door. What's more, most Chinese people don't really have religious predisposition that prohibits them from taking things lightly. In fact of the people that I have been in contact with, most Chinese are devoid of the prudishness about sex that comes with some Western societies. I believe it is time high time for China to have a Comedic Revolution before we fall into the trap of taking ourselves way too seriously. I am certain that international relations could possibly be improved with China's western trading partners if more tongues were occasionally placed in the cheek.

After the devastation of the Sichuan earthquake and the floods in Southern China, I believe that laughter is still the best medicine and it is our duty as Chinese citizens, ethnic Chinese and folks living in China to make a concerted effort to bring humor to one billion people who really needs something to put a smile on their face.

More stuff on the topic of comedy in China;

Thursday, 12 June 2008

My Apology in Advance (An open letter to those who'd mistake me for a spambot)

Dear Netizen, Tweeps, Plurkers, Bloggers,, Facebookers,...etc etc etc

In the interest of distinguishing me from spambots who'd like you to buy their Canadian drugs or enlarging your.... well they need no further promotion, I might be tweeting things that might sound commercial in content. As much as I work with Avail Corporation, a conference company, my intention is not to sell you anything. If however you feel you'd like to attend the conference that I will be tweeting about, please feel free to let me know and I can have someone contact you.

Having said that, in the Middle of September, we will be holding a conference in Shanghai called "Integrated 2.0 Communications". This conference is about application of Social Media in corporations to enhance internal and external communications. My tweeting is an experiment on this event which will contain the hashtag #i2c is an experiment to provide transparency on the development of the conference program and to provide some background on those who will be speaking at the conference. At a later stage I will try to encourage those who are actually attending the conference to participate in the online discussion leading up the the conference.

In essence the experiment is to use social media as a means of "integrated 2.0 communications" to actually demonstrate the how to integrate social media in the communications strategy for this conference.

I call this an experiment because I do not know if it will work. I do not know if people will follow the hashtag or hashtag their own tweets. In fact I do not even know if my own marketing and conference production staff will adjust their behavior to include tweeting into their work schedule.

Thank you for your understanding and please accept my apology in advance.

Yours sincerely

Dedric Lam

Now my trip to Singapore is complete.

mmmmmm. Curry Fish Head, Butter Fried Prawns and Kai Lan & Oyster Sauce. The perfect meal at the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Which Presidential Candidate is Better for Non-Americans?

Unlike Australia, voting in the USA is not compulsory. Candidates therefore have a greater challenge because not only do they have to convince people to vote for them but they actually have to convince people to vote. I am actually a little surprised that I have not read any commentary about the Democratic Party's long road to choosing Obama over Clinton in the mainstream press from the perspective that it is actually a strategy, by the Party, to get people to register to vote. It is essentially an extremely expensive way to building an opt-in mailing list. (Actually this leads to the question of what percentage of people don't vote in the US and what effect does that have on the outcome. I guess that's an issue for another article because it actually requires research.)

US Citizens therefore have the right to influence who will be their President in the next four years but also have the right not exercise that right. So what issues will convince a US Citizen to vote? Based on no research whatsoever I have compiled a list of reasons why Americans will come out to vote.
1. Celebrity Encouragement (Because Oprah told me to..)
2. Because my parents have always voted so I have been taught that I should vote
3. Because my parents have always voted and because I am going through a rebellious stage I will vote for the opposing party
4. Because I am still related to an institution of higher learning, am in my twenties and still believe I can make a difference.
5. Because I am a member of a Union, the Military or I am a public servant and my future salary depends on who the next administration is
6. Because I am a badge wearing, banner carrying member of one of the Parties
7. Because I have a crush on one of the candidates.

Given that one of these reasons have convinced you to leave your couch to go to the polling booth? What are the issues that determine whom you vote for? Based on the same amount of research I did for the first list, here are what I think are the hot issues.

1. Which candidate will give me something for nothing? (Healthcare, Welfare, Jobs, Contracts, Payrises)
2. Which candidate is a better public speaker?
3. Which candidate will tax me less?
4. Which candidate is Oprah voting for?
5. Which candidate will make things cheaper?
6. Which candidate is more like me?

I know this list seems quite basic, however my point is that in the short term the things that will attract most voters is handouts and popularity. Both of which will be coming from the Obama Camp. Add to that the number of new Democratic voters recruited during the primaries and McCain has an uphill battle to sell a economic plan that is all about making the Government smaller. While McCain is selling lower taxes, Obama will be selling better health care, better schools and alternative energy, and although it makes more sense to vote for someone who will tax you less, all the issues that Obama will be selling are hot button issues. It seems that the Inconvenient Al Gore and Sicko Michael Moore have been campaigning already for a democratic win.

From the outside looking in (for non-Americans), the prospect of a McCain win will mean that the US economic recovery will be a lot slower but it will be based on strong market fundamentals of improved efficiency and innovation. Unemployment will not improve dramatically but in the long run America will be more globally competitive. Under an Obama government, it seems that trade barriers will go up in a high tax environment and a fat public sector will mean an artificially created recovery. Whether this will actually improve standards of living for average Americans is debatable because usually increased barriers to trade creates an inflationary effect, but at least more Americans will have jobs. It will also mean that in the long term, the US will make a lousy trading partner and will probably run into budget deficit problems late in the first term (as opposed to going deeper into the trade deficit under McCain).

In my mind I think that policywize McCain has the better long term package for non-Americans if you take his green & innovation stance seriously. It provides a good trading partner that will continue to import but will also continue to be the leader in technological and high value products. Domestically though, the unemployment rate will not improve for older blue collar Americans but at least the Government won't be taxing so much of the salary they're not getting. Problem is his record of endorsing Bush 95% of the time will continue to haunt him for this entire campaign plus he sounds like a pedophile when he snickers after saying "That's not Change we can believe in!". It's actually a pretty good tag line for his campaign and might have worked if he didn't come across as a dirty old man when delivering it.

On the other side of the coin, higher tax is the only real down side to the Obama proposition. This might actually be something Americans would be happy to pay if they get affordable health care, schools are actually staffed by qualified teachers and if the defense forces actually focuses on defense rather than offense in return. If this is the case, then Obama is a sure thing.

Internationally, Obama will probably piss some trading partners off (probably China the most) and become much more inward looking to protect the domestic economy from the evils of cheap labor. In the long term however, as countries like China and India become less labor intensive and really start to invest in their universities and higher learning, there is a chance that large technological gap between the US and the rest of the world will narrow as commercial incentive to invest in innovation becomes less attractive relative to protected non-technical industries. (this has already happened with the post WWII Japan).

It's still a little too early to call it but I get the feeling US will actually have it's first Afro-Caucasian-Mixed-Indonesian-educated-President simply because the American middle class will get a sweeter short term deal from Obama than McCain. I anxiously watch for history to be made...or not.

Monday, 9 June 2008

iPhone Hype. It's all about packaging!

When I say packaging, I don't mean the white/black back cover or the box the new iPhone comes in. I am referring to way they are delivering their message.

The new iPhone, based on what I've read is a little disappointing. Leading up to today there was a lot of speculation and many bloggers posted wish lists. The actual phone seems to have taken very little into consideration except the 3G and A-GPS which all came as no surprise.

The device itself doesn't really provide any features that you can't get with a Nokia, Dopod, HTC or a Blackberry. So why launch such a mediocre device only one year after the first version?

The answer is the new 2nd generation is not really about a better device. It is about capturing international markets. So far the iPhone has hardly any market presence outside the US. In the US, the iPhone was only available via a revenue sharing deal with AT&T. All iPhones outside of the US are hacked and hence cannot be updated.

As part of the new deal with AT&T the device price is subsidised by a fixed fee per phone rather than a percentage of the monthly connection fee. Something that is more multi-carrier friendly as is the case in most markets outside the US, however in doing so existing iPhone users might get irked about having to switch to a more expensive plan so the new model was rolled out so that existing users can see a reason to switch to a 3G plan.

So in my humble opinion, the new iPhone is actually a minimal upgrade to justify a new business model to make it possible for Apple to talk to people like China Mobile who are unlikely ever to consider a revenue sharing model, but not to piss off AT&T and existing iPhone user too much.

Or I could be wrong.....

Sunday, 8 June 2008

The Economics of the US Presidential Election

With Hilary R. Clinton's support of Barack Obama's nomination as the Democratic Nominee for Presidential Candidate, we are now at a stage where we can include John McCain in the discussion. At the beginning of the Democratic Primaries I made a prediction. It was not one based on an in-depth understanding of American Politics. It was one based on observation of human nature. I predicted that If Clinton did not win the nomination, Obama would win and if Obama won, then McCain would be the next President. I predicted that Clinton would not be Obama's running mate simply because she had no desire to be second in charge. She'd done that job already as the First Lady. I also thought that America was not ready for their first black President but since then the media has convinced me that the public has gotten over that issue already.

Having listened to all three speeches at the conclusion of the Primary race, the one thing that differentiates McCain and Obama is the Economics behind the content of their speech. If you filter out the subtle (and not so subtle) attacks at each other you hear quite clearly that from an economic standpoint they are very clearly on opposite sides of the fence. Obama's speech is about fixing the thing that George W. has messed up. Excluding the Iraq war everything else is about Government intervention. Healthcare, education, barriers to trade to protect American industries and supporting the middle class. His message is clearly lets do all the things that we have not done right in the last eight years. McCain on the other hand takes a different approach. He looks back and says, we tried these things, it didn't work so lets let the American people decide for themselves. Or alternatively stated, let's not intervene, let innovation thrive through necessity and let American ingenuity find better ways to doing things that foreign manufacturers are doing manually due to lower running costs. Let's not put up barriers to trade because inevitably, America is part of a global economy and they need to find their competitive advantage.

This really is not surprising that Obama takes a Keynesian economic stance in his policies while McCain takes a more Laissez Faire approach. If you take two of the most respected economists in recent history and match them to which administrations they advised you will see that there is a clear distinction between the economic policy outcomes of electing a Democratic as opposed to a Republican President.

John Kenneth Galbraith was a student of John Maynard Keynes in that he believed in Government intervention was the way to control things like inflation, economic downturn and to create greater equality in the distribution of wealth. He we born in 1908 and died in 2006. During his life the last President of the United States of America that he served was Bill Clinton and has in the past also served Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson. All Democatic Presidents.

The other economist I'd like to draw your attention to is Milton Friedman. Friedman was born in 1912 and also died in 2006. He saw much of the same America that Galbraith saw and up until the 1950's was also a supporter of Keynesian interventionism but it was toward the latter part of his life that he began to support Adam Smith's "invisible hand" and advise towards a free market fiscal and monetary policies. In 1976 he won the Nobel Prize for Economics. Friedman advised Ronald Reagan during the 80's but also the other conservative union buster Margaret Thatcher.

So who will be the next POTUS? My prediction might be a bit shaky now. The US is just now coming out of a Recession, the middle class have been hit the hardest and Obama is the best political orator I have seen for a long time. If I were to assume that American voters were voting for America then McCain would still be the winner simply because I believe that a protectionist/ interventionist Government inevitably leads to a weaker nation. Unfortunately democracy dictates that it is one vote per person and not one vote per dollar and the votes that will benefit the most in the short to medium term is middle class ones. The same votes that Obama will be selling job creation, better education and cheaper healthcare to. All things that a McCain cannot offer if he is to remain true to his free market roots.

It's going to be an interesting race this year. Pass the popcorn please.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Freedom of Blog - Will Blogs lead to the downfall of individual freedom?

Last month I read an article that reported that a man in Singapore was arrested because of racial comments post on his blog*. Initially I felt outrage that the police could come knocking on your door, confiscate your computer and arrest you for publicizing your thoughts on the Internet. However, I found that this was not an isolated incident and in fact in 2005 a precedent had already been set* when one Singaporean and 2 Malaysian youths were arrested for posting racist comments on a BBS.

The first image that came into my mind after reading this article was of an H.G. Wells Utopia where everything seemed peaceful and ordered during the day but in the cover of night the citizens are like the Eloi (human cattle) who are controlled, manipulated and eaten by the Morlocks*. Of course that is a gross exaggeration of the topic at hand but as with most discussion about freedom vs. oppression, the conclusions are never definitive but instead raise more questions about where we should draw the line.

The other question that arises is whether this really an infringement of freedom of speech or of the press. Wikipedia states that "freedom of the press implies that all people should have the right to express themselves in writing or in any other way of expression of personal opinion or creativity. The
Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers"", however it does start that definition with "In developed countries..."

Similarly, Wikipedia also defines "Freedom of speech is being able to speak freely without censorship. The right to freedom of speech is guaranteed under international law through numerous human-rights instruments, notably under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, although implementation remains lacking in many countries. The synonymous term freedom of expression is sometimes preferred, since the right is not confined to verbal speech but is understood to protect any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used." but then continues to commence the second paragraph with "In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country..."

You would think that these qualifiers to the definition to the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press were referring to small underdeveloped nations or nations that gave no illusion of democracy like China or Russia but this debate has been going on since the the enactment of the First Amendment of the US Constitution which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."*, and to fully understand this debate in the context of blogs there are two hurdles that must be overcome.

First of all, the US Constitution does not have global jurisdiction and secondly even in the US, the First Amendment is subject to interpretation as outlined in a blog by Scott Cleland* when Google/YouTube was instructed to remove terrorist or terror inciting video's from YouTube.

The concept of speech or press not being protected by constitutional freedoms if they incite violence or revolt is not a new concept. In fact as far back as
1765 Sir William Blackstone commented about the English system

"Where blasphemous, immoral, treasonable, schismatical, seditious, or scandalous libels are punished by English law the liberty of the press, properly understood, is by no means infringed or violated. ... Every freeman has undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public; to forbid this is to destroy the freedom of the press: but if he publishes what is improper, mischievous, or illegal, he must take the consequences of his own temerity."

Which basically means, you have the freedom to publish but we the Government have the freedom to punish.

Since then, the media has been mostly self regulating and most publications with a wide circulation have generally been careful to publish only what society will accept but in the last five years or so, the concept of blogging has become somewhat of a phenomenon. Through the web, anybody with an internet connection has the potential to share their opinions, feelings, thoughts and misguided beliefs instantaneously to the globe. We are not talking about just those people who actually read blogs but more so, the wider public is exposed to these opinions through micro-blogging services like twitter, search engines like Google, instant messaging and even mainstream media like CNN often derive their stories from internet chatter.

It is now possible for a "reclusive nobody" to gain instant global recognition from the basement of his mother suburban bungalow. For Governments, who must consider public security, safety of citizens, domestic unrest and general mob mentality, their only option is to move away from individual liberties. It is said that "the pen is mightier than the sword" but in these times of "hyperconnectivity" as suggested by Mark Pesce recently, is giving anyone with an opinion (misguided or otherwise) the nuclear option.

Bringing this back to an individual perspective, the 17 year old kid, with the police at his door simply because of what he wrote on a BBS seems a little Nazi, but considering the shift in power, one begins to understand that Democracy and Authoritarianism are not actually opposite ends of a political spectrum but in fact share the same goal of keeping the masses under control. The difference is that Democracy uses the power of compromise and engagement to keep the sheep in the pen and Authoritarians utilize oppression to maintain control. The frightening reality (being realized now through the impact of blogs) is that although the Cold War existed on this difference of opinion between Communism and Democracy the global political challenge today is not about ideology. This next war will be against an Anarchy that powered by a decentralized global bullhorn.

As more governments and citizens realize this, you will see more and more controls on the internet, more and more oversight on content and greater restrictions to interconnectivity between different systems. Enjoy what you have now because I believe that we may be the only generation to experience this level of internet freedom.

Additional Readings:

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Pics from my phone

It's 2am and I am just to lazy to reorganize these images from my current trip to Singapore that I took from my phone in chronological order.

Attention to detail. At Changi Airport they actually organize and separate the trolleys so you don't have to yank them from each other.

Picture taken with my Nokia 6120 Classic from a moving bus. I am amazed at the speed of the capture since to the naked eye, that flag was a blur.

Since they no longer allow any lighters into the airport departure terminal at Pudong Airport they have now chained 2 disposable butane lighters to the wall of the smoking room. Obviously since there are far more smokers than there is butane they have instructed you to use the lighters sparingly. So please do not reheat your tin of luncheon meat with them.

Pudong Airport again at the Hopestar Coffee and Cate. I wonder which one of them is Cate.

Hmmm delicious "Pig Organ Soup & Kway Chap".