Tuesday, December 26, 2006

News headline: "Pope makes Christmas appeal for children"

While the rest of us were hoping for an iPod or a plasma TV, the Pope's Christmas wish -- despite all the bad press the Roman Catholic priesthood has been getting in recent years -- appeared in the headlines as:

Pope makes Christmas appeal for children

The Mandarin wonders who was duty editor the night some bored wag came up with that headline....

Original photo caption: Pope Benedict XVI greets a child as he celebrates the midnight mass in St Peter's basilica at the Vatican. The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem has urged Middle East leaders to become "peacemakers" as the pope used his Christmas message to appeal for respect of the "dignity of children."(AFP/Patrick Hertzog)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Get ready, boys and girls

An old professor of the Mandarin's, in the context of analyzing some peculiar laws instituted during the Tang Dynasty in China (618-907), made this pithy observation: "Governments don't pass laws against things that nobody is doing."

In that vein, the Mandarin was intrigued by this little bit of bureaucratic doublespeak:

The Selective Service—the federal agency that would be integral to any draft effort by the Bush administration—will perform tests on its system equipment, The Associated Press is reporting.

Selective Service "is planning a comprehensive test of the military draft machinery, which hasn't been run since 1998," writes Kasie Hunt. "The agency is not gearing up for a draft," an agency official told Hunt, and "the test itself would not likely occur until 2009."

Bush's Secretary for Veterans Affairs, Jim Nicholson, meanwhile remarked that "society would benefit" should the draft return; he later issued a press release stating "he does not support reinstituting a draft."

And the Mandarin means that "boys and girls" in the title literally. Equal rights carry equal responsibilities, don't they? Will we see the Roberts-Alito-Scalia-Thomas "axis of evil" go after Rostker v. Goldberg next?

Anyway, the Mandarin (Selective Service Classification 4-A: "Registrant who has completed military service") wishes today's crop of cannon fodder between the ages of 18 and 26 the best of luck in dealing with their local Draft Boards when the time comes. Or doesn't come, depending on which side of his mouth Jim Nicholson is speaking out of at any given moment....

One of these days, the Mandarin may share a cautionary tale with his loyal reader(s) about his own experience with the Selective Service System, including such highlights as 1) his having received a draft notice while attending graduate school under the G.I. Bill as an ex-Army officer, and 2) a testy meeting with the head of the Tennessee Draft Board, whose name was Col. Sanders. (Would the Mandarin kid you about something like that?)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Upside-down Flag

A fellow blogger posted a comment on one of the Mandarin's recent posts, with a link to his own blog, called the Upside Down Flag. Seeing the title reminded the Mandarin of his early run-in with military justice.

Regular reader(s) may recall that the Mandarin was an Army Officer during what, at the time, we called the Big Practical Exercise ("P.E."), a/k/a the Vietnam "conflict." Just as until recently there was no Civil War in Iraq, in those days there was officially no war of any kind in Vietnam. War not having been declared, it was called a "conflict."

Mandarin footnote: In Analects 13:3, Confucius made an observation that rings as true in Shrub's second term as it did when first written down (in these very words) twenty-five centuries ago. The key term zhèng míng 正名 is usually translated "rectification of names" or "rectification of terms." In practice it means what we call things should accurately describe their reality:


Zilu said: "If the ruler of Wei put the administration of his state in your hands, what would you do first?" Confucius said: "If something had to be first, I would say rectification of terms." Zilu said: "That's it? What a strange approach to things! Why start with rectification of terms?" Confucius said: "Yu, how unsophisticated you are. A gentleman should be careful when talking about things of which he is ignorant. When terms for things are not correct, then what is said will not make sense; when what is said does not make sense, then our undertakings must end in failure."

What is said will not make sense....

among thousands of examples, a few come quickly to mind: "No Child Left Behind," "Clear Skies," "Mission Accomplished," "last throes," "Freedom is untidy," etc.

...then our undertakings must end in failure.

Anyway, returning to the Mandarin's flirtation with the stockade, flash back to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, late 1970 or early 1971.

Way too clever for his own good -- what else is new? -- young Second Lieutenant Mandarin, Field Artillery, US Army Reserve, decides to put a small flag decal on the back panel his unobtrusive, brand new, bright screaming yellow Triumph TR-6 roadster.
Upside down.

The next morning, Big Ugly Sergeant pokes his head into 2LT Mandarin's cubicle in the faculty area of the Field Artillery School Tactics Department, where the Mandarin was an instructor in "Stability Operations," a euphemism (rectification of terms, anyone?) for what our forces are trying to conduct in Iraq these days.

B.U.S.: "Lt. Mandarin, is that your little yellow foreign sports job in the Officer's parking lot?"

2LTM:" Yes, Sergeant."

BUS: "Then kindly report to the Colonel's office toot sweet."

A few minutes later, 2LTM is standing at attention in front of the Colonel commanding the Tactics Department. It should be noted that the Colonel was already not enamored of the Mandarin because of the Mandarin's habit of routinely skipping the Colonel's weekly mandatory officer-only Bible study and prayer breakfasts. (The Mandarin assumed heathen non-coms and enlisted ranks were on their own, prayer breakfast-wise.)

Col: "Lieutenant Mandarin, are you aware there is an upside-down flag decal on the back of your car?"

2LTM: "Yes, a picture of an upside-down flag, sir."

Col: "Why is it upside-down?"

2LTM: "As a distress signal, sir."

Col: "Are you in distress, Lieutenant Mandarin?"

2LTM: "No, sir."

Col: "Is this some kind of political protest, Lieutenant Mandarin?"

2LTM: "No, sir. It is an exercise of free speech, sir."

Col: (sneering) "Well, you young smart-ass, whatever you think it is, I think it is violation of the regulation governing display of the flag, and you will remove it or I will bring you up on charges."

2LTM: "Excuse me, sir, but the regulation on 'Flags and Pennants' does not apply here, sir. It states that flags must be made 'of silk or an acceptable substitute cloth material.' Therefore, my decal isn't a flag, sir, it is only a picture of a flag."

The conversation continued with bursts of surprisingly un-Christian expletives (the Colonel) punctuated by increasingly uncomfortable silences (2LTM), culminating in the Mandarin being offered two choices: 1) remove the decal in the next fifteen minutes, or 2) be demoted to private and shipped off to Vietnam as an infantry rifleman on the next plane out.

A few minutes later, as the Mandarin sat on the asphalt peeling the flag decal off the back of his car, while the Big Ugly Sergeant supervised, he planned phase two of his Waldenesque (Quixotic?) campaign of civil disobedience.

Later that afternoon, the Mandarin changed his glasses frames from G.I. plastic to a pair of thin wire-rims that resembled as closely as possible those in the standard news photos of Trotsky.

The odds of the Mandarin being shipped off to the land of the Big P.E. for striking this new, much subtler blow for freedom, were minimized by the likelihood that neither the Big Ugly Sergeant nor the Bible-thumping Colonel were likely to know Leon Trotsky's wire-rimmed glasses from Nikolai Lenin's.

Or John Lennon's for that matter.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Oh, come on, nobody said anything about acutal "studying!"

Shrub thought a "study group" was a bunch of guys from the same class getting together to watch football and drink beer, like when he was in the Harvard MBA program.

Original photo caption: U.S. President George W. Bush speaks to the press after receiving the official report of the Iraq Study Group from Co-Chairman and former U.S. Congressman Lee Hamilton, and Co-Chairman and former Secretary of State James Baker in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington December 6, 2006. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The not-so-forbidden city

Back in the 1980s, when the Mandarin was traveling regularly to China on business, one of his favorite pastimes when stuck in Beijing for days on end waiting for some meeting or another, was to wander the run-down glory of the Forbidden City. In those days, most of the compound, except the central tourist route through the main palaces, was off limits to tourists because many of the shabby, dilapidated Ming-era buildings (dating from between 1406 and 1420) were being used for warehouses, workshops and tenement dormitories, as they had been since Mao seized power in 1949.

Sometimes, using a hundred-year-old plan of the palaces, the Mandarin would wander blithely through unmarked side passages into the unrestored areas of the 180-acre Forbidden City, past signs in Chinese reading, "Stop! No entry to unauthorized personnel!" to see what he could find. What little he was able to see behind those walls was dishearteningly squalid, and sooner or later an angry policeman or guard or plainclothes thug of some kind would block the way, yelling at the Mandarin, in proper Beijing dialect, not the bland official putonghua (a/k/a Mandarin) that even though he was just an ignorant foreign devil, there was no excuse for snooping around in unauthorized areas where he didn't belong and causing trouble for everybody by straying from the approved tourist route. On these delightful occasions, by pretending he spoke no Chinese, the Mandarin was able to add a few new swear words to his vocabulary....

Anyway, all this nostalgia came flooding back when the Mandarin recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about Starbucks having actually opened a store inside the Forbidden City itself. The faint humming the Mandarin heard in his ears at that moment was the waxed corpse of Chairman Mao, spinning in his glass display case a mile or so south of the new coffee shop, in his mausoleum in the middle of Tiananmen Square.

Yes, boys and girls, Starbucks Coffee is selling lattes in a side wing of one of the 600-year-old palaces of the Forbidden City. In Chinese, the sign says 星巴克咖啡 xing ba-ke ka-fei. Xing means "star," ba-ke (ke rhymes with "duh!") is a phonetic attempt at "buck," and by now everyone on the planet knows what ka fei is...

Of course, the article points out that most Chinese customers order tea and think coffee tastes nasty. But it is only a matter of time. Just look at McDonald's rapid success in China.

In fact, if old Charmian Mao, under a thirty-year coat of Pledge,
ever gets tired of spinning in his crystal coffin, he can bop over to the Micky D's that opened several years ago on the edge of Tiananmen square and recharge his batteries with a Quarter Pounder. Unless, as Vincent Vega would say, they use the metric system over there....

Back in 1927, Mao wrote in one of the most pithy passages in his little red book:


A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.

Well, maybe not a dinner party, but these days who can resist a Big Mac
® and a Green Tea Frappuccino®?

Sorry, Chairman Mao, the revolution is over.