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24Jan/11Off

Casey Anthony: Defense wins more money — and a warning

Prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick listens to a conference call Monday in the Casey Anthony case. Photo credit: George Skene/Orlando Sentinel

Chief Judge Belvin Perry has approved an additional $12,000 in investigative costs for Casey Anthony’s defense team.

WESH-Channel 2’s Bob Kealing tonight reported that Perry approved the costs to meet a May start in the murder trial. Anthony is accused of first-degree murder in the death of her daughter, Caylee. 

Kealing noted that Perry added a warning in granting the request for 300 additional hours of investigative time: “Any future request will have to be a little bit more justified.”

In the phone hearing, defense attorney Jose Baez said his team was “playing catchup every time the state of Florida releases more discovery.”  Assistant State Attorney Linda Drane Burdick countered that the state is rebutting claims made by defense witnesses, and she warned that the state will continue to do so.

Since Anthony was declared indigent, the total investigative costs for her defense team has reached $31,000, Kealing added, citing state lawyers.

WESH anchor Martha Sugalski also reported that the defense had “turned over to prosecution a hodgepodge of materials.” She said those materials from Jose Baez’s flash drive includes a copy of a WESH report on a prosecution bug expert; background reports on the expert and medical examiner Dr. Jan Garavaglia, various reports from media outlets and unidentified photos labeled with only numbers.

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23Jan/11Off

How will Keith Olbermann’s time at MSNBC be remembered?

Keith Olbermann on his final "Countdown." Photo credit: MSNBC frame grab/AP Photo

When some news legends retire or die, there’s an outpouring of affection and respect.

People fondly remembered Peter Jennings and Walter Cronkite when they died. Millions were sad when Tom Brokaw left “NBC Nightly News” and Ted Koppel departed “Nightline.”

But Keith Olbermann’s last “Countdown” on MSNBC was different. It was a sad time for only his fans, and it produced a feast of speculation for everyone who follows cable news. What was the story behind Olbermann’s relationship with his bosses? Maybe we’ll find out when he talks. 

The reaction underscored Olbermann’s polarizing style and the scary frequency with which news divisions generate headlines these days.

Olbermann certainly has a legacy. He put MSNBC on the map, a difficult feat in the cable universe. And his anti-George W. Bush commentaries were audacious and passionate.

Yet Olbermann also had a million fans a night in a splintering business. Neither he nor Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly has a podium comparable to Cronkite, Brokaw or even Brian Williams. The cable news titans make their biggest impact with commentary — something most news anchors avoid.

Commentary on cable news channels doesn’t wear well with the mass audience, which say it’s tired of the sniping. In this fractured culture, commentary will bring you as many detractors as admirers.

You could get a sense of that this morning on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” David Zurawik of The Baltimore Sun — like the Sentinel, owned by Tribune — bemoaned Olbermann’s “recklessness” and “character assassination.” (Zurawik had been among Olbermann’s Worst Persons in the World several times.) “That’s why I said he wanted to be Edward R. Murrow and he was more [Joseph] McCarthy than Murrow,” Zurawick said.

Former MSNBC anchor David Shuster scoffed at that view and praised Olbermann: “He was a valuable voice, never mind in terms of the media, in terms of politics. There are so many progressives out there who felt like he was the poetic, literary, intelligent, emotion[al] and passionate voice for them, and they are looking up now and saying, OK, where do we turn now?”

Verne Gay of Newsday shared still another view of Olbermann on ”Reliable Sources”: “He’s sometimes afflicted with logorrhea, no doubt about it. But he’s also sort of a bit of an actor to an extent. I think he believes it in the more flagrant your rhetoric, the greater attention you’re going to get. And I think to a large extent, he really sharpened those boundaries, and he sharpened them very, very well.”

He sure did sharpen them, but will he be remembered?

Maybe if he has young admirers out there. Edward R. Murrow’s legacy certainly got a lift from George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

More likely, Olbermann won’t be remembered — the fate of  most newspeople.

I’m reminded of something Ted Koppel told me as he was preparing to leave “Nightline.” He said: “I do this periodically with a group of interns, bright 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds, and ask, ‘Who was Eric Sevareid?’ Nothing. ‘What about Howard K. Smith?’ Nothing. ‘Chet Huntley?’ Nothing. ‘David Brinkley?’ One tentative hand will go up. ‘Walter Cronkite?’ I manage to get three or four hands. I’ve just talked about five of the most famous practitioners of our profession. These young people haven’t a clue. That tells you about the half-life of the fame of a TV anchor.”

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23Jan/11Off

‘Fringe,’ ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ bring a Friday win to Fox

What's Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) looking at? Good ratings for "Fringe" on Friday. Photo credit: Smallz and Raskind/Fox

How can a broadcast network rank fourth in total viewers and still win the night?

Do it the way Fox did Friday by pulling in the most young adults with the combo of “Kitchen Nightmares” and “Fringe.” Each show had the most 18-to-49 viewers in its time slot. But each was also fourth in total viewers.

At 8, CBS’ “Medium” ended its network run with a confusing episode that owed a lot to “Titanic.” Did you like it? The show pulled in 7.8 million viewers.

In the same time slot, NBC was second with a “Minute to Win It” rerun that drew 4.7 million. ABC’s “Supernanny” visited Melbourne, and 4.3 million tuned in. Gordon Ramsay and the season premiere of “Kitchen Nightmares” had nearly 4.3 million viewers.

At 9, a repeat of “CSI: NY” brought 7.2 million to CBS. “Dateline NBC” averaged 6.3 million viewers over two hours. ABC’s “Primetime: What Would You Do?” drew 5.1 million. And “Fringe,” in its initial airing on Fridays, pulled in 4.9 million.

At 10, another rerun of “CSI: NY” was tops with 6.6 million. ABC’s ”20/20″ told us about drunken monkeys, and 5.4 million viewers were watching.

Here are the prime-time averages: CBS with 7.2 million, NBC with 5.8 million, Disney-owned ABC with 4.9 million, Fox with 4.6 million and The CW with 1.4 million for reruns.

In Orlando, the top show was “20/20″ with 95, 100 viewers. Then came “CSI: NY” at 9 o’clock with 94,200, “Dateline NBC” with 89,700, “CSI: NY” at 10 with 85,400 and “Medium” with 85,200. “Minute to Win It” amused 71,200.

And “Fringe” drew 63,500 viewers. But here’s another interesting wrinkle: “Fringe” was the top show in Orlando with the 25-to-54 age group, which is very attractive to advertisers.

The “Supernanny” show in Melbourne ranked No. 12 in this market in total viewers; 54,700 watched.

From 7 to 9:30 on Fox Sports Florida, the Orlando Magic averaged 44,700 viewers. The Magic defeated the Toronto Raptors.

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22Jan/11Off

With Keith Olbermann’s exit, how MSNBC lineup will change

Keith Olbermann, shown in 2007, announced that tonight was his final "Countdown" on MSNBC. Photo credit: Mark J. Terrill/AP Photo

The announcement came at 8:58 tonight from MSNBC:

“MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann’ will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC’s success and we wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Olbermann also announced on air that this was the last telecast of “Countdown.” He told viewers, “All of my greatest thanks.”

No explanation was given for departure, so let the speculation begin. “Countdown” had been the highest-rated program on MSNBC, and the most-watched program in cable news that is not on Fox News Channel.

Why now? Maybe it was a personal matter. Or perhaps frictions between the host and MSNBC had intensified. MSNBC had suspended him for two days in November for making donations to three Democratic candidates — a move the employer said violated  NBC News policy.

Olbermann’s departure follows federal approval of Comcast’s taking a majority stake in NBC Universal. But an MSNBC spokesman told The Associated Press that corporate changeover didn’t figure in the Olbermann decision.

Still, the speculation on Anderson Cooper’s CNN show tonight turned to the corporate changeover. The theory: NBC Universal boss Jeff Zucker had been Olbermann’s protector, but Zucker is out with the Comcast takeover.

Yet Ali Velshi of CNN discounted the idea that Comcast figured in Olbermann’s departure. “The reality is that Keith Olbermann has been shopping around for his next job for some time. It’s a fact that he’s not happy,” Velshi said. “It doesn’t seem that Comcast used their heavy hand.”

Rather, Velshi theorized that NBC News and MSNBC bosses may have realized that Comcast wouldn’t be so tolerant of Olbermann’s mercurial nature. Velshi added that Olbermann’s ratings had peaked and that MSNBC has a strong bench of talent.   

Also on Cooper’s show tonight:

***Howard Kurtz of CNN’s “Reliable Sources” said that Olbermann had been in “a virtual war” with his MSNBC and NBC News bosses. Kurtz described Olbermann as volatile and difficult to work with. 

***Former MSNBC anchor David Shuster said: “I don’t think this is the end of Keith Olbermann by any means. He’s an incredible talent.” 

***Bill Carter of The New York Times said Olbermann had two years left on the MSNBC contract.

The announcement of MSNBC’s new prime-time lineup came at 9:16 tonight. Starting Monday, “The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell” shifts to 8 p.m., Olbermann’s former slot. “The Rachel Maddow Show” continues at 9. “The Ed Show” with Ed Schultz moves to 10 p.m., O’Donnell’s former slot.

Taking Schultz’s old 6 p.m. slot will be MSNBC contributor Cenk Uygur, host of the web show “The Young Turks.”

Olbermann’s exit created a bit of confusion tonight. MSNBC continued to air a commercial featuring Olbermann and the channel’s “lean forward” slogan.

When he returned from his suspension in November, Olbermann thanked viewers for support that is ususally reserved for Chilean miners.

Filmmaker Michael Moore, a guest that night, told Olbermann as their interview ended, “It’s nice that you’re still here. Please don’t leave.”

Olbermann gained admirers and detractors by blasting President George W. Bush and his administration’s policies. In November, Olbermann lambasted Bush’s memoir ”Decision Points” and Bush’s drive to sell it. Olbermann compared the book to toilet paper.

Olbermann finished “Countdown” that night by saying he was surprised by viewer support, saying it felt like a universal hug. Olbermann defended the transparency of his political contributions. “I made legal political contributions as a U.S. citizen near midnight Eastern on Thursday night,  Oct. 28,” Olbermann said. “By 10 p.m. Eastern on Thursday night, Nov. 4, those contributions were public knowledge, and that’s the point. I gave and you found out and you judged me for good or for  ill as you felt appropriate. If I had given the money through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, you would have never, ever known.”

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21Jan/11Off

“The Rise of the Hans”: A Critique

By Thomas S. Mullaney

“Rise of the Hans,” by Joel Kotkin, is a troubling article to find published in a high-profile venue such as Foreign Policy. It reinforces misleading ideas about China and is problematic for a variety of specific reasons, the biggest of which has to do with Kotkin’s use of key terms.

Words are the buildings blocks out of which all arguments are constructed. If these building blocks are made of compromised or substandard material, then even the most carefully crafted, intentionally provocative, or aesthetically pleasing arrangement thereof cannot prevent the structure from ultimately collapsing. Approaching this article as a “building inspector,” and looking closely at the substance of each of the most important, load-bearing words—race, ethnicity, nationalism, tribalism, Han, and Chinese—there is only one conclusion to be reached: a complete and immediate evacuation of the building, because the structure cannot hold. For Kotkin, “race” and “ethnicity” are interchangeable concepts, as are “nationalism” and “tribalism,” and “the Han” and “the Chinese.” None of these commensurations are accurate, however.

Let’s consider Kotkin’s use of the terms “race” and “ethnicity,” for example, both of which he employs to describe the Han (or “Hans” in his phrasing), who are his main concern. Race is a specifically biological conceptualization of collective identity in which greatest weight is given to consanguinity and the idea of genetic predisposition—i.e., that people “are the way they are” because of their genetic make-up. It is further tied to a specifically hierarchical view of human difference, in which certain biologically defined communities are regarded as superior to others. What’s more, the concept of race disallows for the possibility of changing identities within the span of a single lifetime (which is one of the reasons that acts of genocide have almost always involved defining the targets of extermination in terms of biological, i.e., unchangeable, difference). Ethnicity, by contrast, is a form of collective identity in which the primary criteria of identification are not biological or body-based, but cultural, affective, and sometimes linguistic. Indeed, the very origins of the term are in part related to efforts by social scientists who rejected primordialist or biologically determined ideas of identity, the idea that people “are who they are” or “act the way they act” because of their genetic make-up. As has been amply demonstrated by anthropologists, ethnic boundaries can form between communities that, from an outsider’s perspective, do not seem to exhibit strong cultural or linguistic differences. Likewise, ethnic groupings can emerge that encompass communities that, from an outsider’s perspective, seem to differ markedly. What’s more, unlike biological notions of identity, it is understood as possible for a person to undergo ethnic transformation within a lifetime (which itself is one of the reasons that assimilationist programs have historically defined their targets in terms of ethnic, i.e., fungible or plastic, difference). So what kind of identity is Han, then? Is it a race? Is it an ethnicity? Is it a tribe? Is it the same thing as “the Chinese”? The author evades these questions entirely and, in a bizarre move, lumps them all together. For Kotkin, the Han is a kind of “3-in-1 shampoo” of human identities: it is a “race” and a “cohesive ethnic group” and “a tribal superpower” all in one package. What a deal!

Beyond this type of basic, linguistic structural flaw, the article is virtually an evidence-free zone that amounts to little more than a long, unoriginal cliché that trades on prejudicial stereotypes. Although this might not be fair, since the author may well not have selected it himself, the most direct way to summarize the article’s characterization of Han is by looking closely at the image that accompanies the piece: a Photoshopped montage of expressionless Hu Jintao clones staring back at the reader with a creepy equanimity.

Whoever at Foreign Policy thought of this image—in particular, thought of using the metaphor of clones—captured the essence of Kotkin’s argument flawlessly: the Han, we are meant to believe, is a singular mass of physically, politically, ideologically, socially, culturally, and linguistically indistinguishable replicas, one that brings to mind the clone troopers of Kamino in Star Wars or, perhaps, hive-like, sci-fi adversaries, such as the “Buggers” in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Trilogy, the Arachnids of planet Klendathu in Robert Heinlen’s Starship Troopers (who, incidentally, was writing in the aftermath of the Korean War and was also fascinated by the racist idea of an ego-less, self-less, and homogenous Asian adversary), or the Borg of Star Trek (a tendency that some commentators have explicitly used to refer to the PRC—something that one of the co-founders of China Beat criticized in a piece that appeared in Foreign Policy itself last year). Kotkin omits, or perhaps does not know, that the Han is one of the least homogenous groups history has ever known: contained within its ranks are people who literally cannot understand each other’s spoken languages and people who—let’s just be basic about this—exhibit the same sort of diversity of worldviews as one would expect to find among a group of one billion people anywhere on earth. To imagine even for a second that one billion people could ever think alike, believe alike, act alike, or look alike is a delusion.

But Kotkin doesn’t mention any of this. Rather, like each of the eerily coordinated and unflinching sci-fi adversaries mentioned above, the “Han race” (or ethnicity, or tribe, or…) possesses a “very homogeneous worldview” that, if we follow the author’s advice, should strike a mixture of admiration and fear in the “less tribally cohesive, more fragmented West.” Even the author’s closing admonition—that we must, in part, adopt the ways of the Han in order to counteract its rise to global domination—reads like something straight out of the imagination of Card and Heinlen. In place of a conclusion, let me finish with a brief juxtaposition of passages:

Kotkin: “English-speakers may not straddle the world like the 19th century empire-makers, but they are likely to remain first among equals well into the current century. Ultimately, this will depend on how the English-speaking world evolves and learns to embrace its multiracial population without losing its sense of a common identity. Ideally, the Anglosphere can offer an alternative that embraces not merely a language but a set of historically achieved values such as democracy and freedom of speech, religion, and markets. Already many of the English-speaking world’s exemplary writers, artists, industrialists, and entrepreneurs hail from a vast and ever expanding array of backgrounds. It is in the melding of many into one dynamic culture that the Anglosphere may retain a powerful influence over our emerging world of tribes.”

Card: “[M]aybe it was just that Ender had got inside the hivemind somehow, when he was studying them in order to defeat them. Maybe he had simply learned to think like a bugger.” (Xenocide)

Thomas S. Mullaney is Assistant Professor of History at Stanford University and author of Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China (UC Press, 2010).

Photo from Foreign Policy.

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21Jan/11Off

Barbara Walters looks at heart disease with Bill Clinton, David Letterman, Robin Williams, Regis Philbin, Charlie Rose

Former President Bill Clinton attends a White House state dinner on Wednesday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Photo credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

ABC’s Barbara Walters has another prime-time special, but this time it’s really personal.

She looks at heart disease with others, who like her, have had open-heart surgery.

She talks to former President Bill Clinton, Regis Philbin, David Letterman, Robin Williams and Charlie Rose.

“I realized there was really no alternative, if I wanted to live, I had to do this,” Clinton says.

Rose is more succinct: “It was hell.”

They are all part of “A Barbara Walters Special: A Matter of Life and Death” at 10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 4, on WFTV-Channel 9.

“It’s astounding that people think that heart disease is a disease of men, when in fact, it kills more women,” Dr. Kathy Magliato says in an ABC release.

Letterman says in the special, “Take advantage of the technology and the care that’s available. There’s no reason why a man or woman in this day and age should unexpectedly drop dead of a heart attack.”

Sounds like an incredibly valuable special.

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20Jan/11Off

Obama Should Buy Hu a Burger

By Yong Chen

Many people in both the U.S. and China were happy to hear that the Obamas were hosting a state dinner last night to welcome the visiting Chinese President, Mr. Hu Jintao. Finally, President Hu got the dinner that George W. Bush declined to offer him (substituting a less formal lunch instead); the last time a Chinese visitor was treated to a state dinner was 13 years ago. People see the Obama gesture, quite correctly, as a sign of respect and recognition of the importance of Sino-American relations. But the menu,which included meat, potatoes, apple pie, and ice cream, does not sound too exciting to me. A quintessentially American meal is perhaps more appropriate than a Chinese feast with dishes like shark’s fin and bird’s nest, and Hu’s chefs certainly know better than the White House chefs about how to prepare that kind of food. Besides, some Americans would find such fare distasteful, not only politically but also gastronomically—after all, these were the kind of foodstuffs that 19th-century Anglo Americans strongly disliked and mocked the Chinese for eating. For others, such a Chinese feast would have too much a flavor of Orientalism. But the all-American menu was still less than ideal. Despite the saying “as American as apple pie,” even most Americans do not eat apple pie more than a couple of times a year. And meat and potatoes are not just that special any more. The large-scale consumption of meat used to be something distinctive about America—the young and fast-expanding nation’s abundance in meat, especially beef, attracted millions of immigrants and visitors to the New World—but those days have passed. Meanwhile, while the potato, a New World native, was once new to China, it is now a staple food there. And both meat and potatoes are readily found in American-style restaurants, which are doing very well in China these days.

But perhaps even less ideal than the uninspired menu was the setting. To truly demonstrate the strengthening U.S.-China ties of which both leaders speak, maybe Obama should have taken President Hu to a hamburger joint, such as Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington County. It’s not far from the White House, and Obama has been there as recently as June 24, 2010—he went with the Russian President, Mr. Medvedev. On that occasion, Obama picked Ray’s to “bond” with the Russian leader, showing the personal and close relationship that can often be found between the U.S. and European countries. In comparison, the formality of a state dinner, however desirable for those who want to see the two countries improve their ties, emphasizes the cultural distance that still lies between the U.S. and China.

It is, of course, too late to change things now. But there is still time in the future. I hope to see, in the not-so-distant future, the day when Chinese and American national leaders choose to go to an American fast food place in D.C. or a Chinese breakfast place in Beijing for doujiang and youtiao—soy milk and a deep-fried twisted dough stick that the Chinese have had to begin the day for a long time. And if they really want apple pie, there’s always McDonald’s—in either country.

Yong Chen is Associate Professor of History and Asian American Studies at UC Irvine. He is author of Chinese San Francisco 1850-1943: A Transpacific Community (Stanford University Press, 2000).

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20Jan/11Off

WESH plans Challenger disaster special

The launch of space shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986. Photo credit: Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel

The 25th anniversary of the Challenger space shuttle disaster will be marked in WESH-Channel 2 special next week.

The half-hour program, “Challenger: 25 Years Later,” will air at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27.

The program will be hosted by Jim Payne, Martha Sugalski and space reporter Dan Billow.

Shortly after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986, Challenger broke apart, killing its seven-member crew.

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19Jan/11Off

Book Review: Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World

Karl, Rebecca E. Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World: A Concise History. Durham [NC]: Duke University Press, 2010. xii, 200 pp.

Reviewed by Jeremy Tai

Mao Zedong may no longer be the sublime object of desire in China, but in recent decades his image has been continuously invoked and consumed in countless guises – both familiar and new – ranging from pop art portraits to the ubiquitous face of Chinese banknotes, from Cultural Revolution kitsch to the ObaMao souvenirs currently found in tourist traps around China. The reproduction of Mao in his various postmodern manifestations suggests a loss of meaning and depoliticization; at the same time, however, the deep-seated clash between sentimental and polemical cultural representations also makes clear that there is still much at stake in the question of his significance. In particular, following Li Zhisui’s The Private Life of Chairman Mao: The Memoirs of Mao’s Personal Physician (1994), biographies have become the preferred medium amongst English-language publications for depicting Mao’s life and worldviews. Li set in motion a flood of research into the leader’s private life and a broad shift away from the revolutionary presented in Edgar Snow’s Red Star Over China (1938) and toward the monster portrayed in Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s controversial Mao: The Unknown Story (2005). Followers of the cult of personality were well-known during the Cultural Revolution for religious performances of love for their savior, but detractors have been no less willing to get intimate with Mao – though they have inverted the values of hagiography to feature spectacular tales of infidelity, cruelty, and misrule. This spotlight on the deficiencies of Mao’s character seems complicit with the naturalization of private self-interest in postsocialist China.

In Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World (Duke University Press, 2010), Rebecca Karl provokes both China scholars and the general public to reassess the Chairman once again. Karl’s book departs from the tendencies to either depoliticize Mao or sensationalize his private life for popular consumption by recentering contemporary discussions around his public role in making revolution. She attempts “to reattach Mao to a historical moment of crisis demanding critique and action” (p. x). Even though Karl does not leave Mao’s private life untouched, she explicitly distinguishes her approach from the biographical genre, characterizing it instead as a history modeled after Georg Lukács’s Lenin: A Study on the Unity of his Thought (1924). Lukács wrote his commemoration shortly after Lenin’s death and sought to set his subject’s thought within a historical framework. Similarly, Karl skillfully weaves together Mao’s ideas and the historical milieu that made possible their conceptualization in a well-written, balanced and grounded narrative accessible to non-specialists and suitable for use in undergraduate courses.

The book is divided into ten chapters, most of which span about a decade each, and covers the early Mao and the late Mao with equal attention. Rather than documenting life-long expressions of an a priori essence, Karl considers Mao’s formative experiences, arguing that his early views and actions “did not indicate the political theorist that he was later to become” (p. 8). Her book begins with Mao’s introduction to Western learning and anti-dynastic thought amidst the Qing dynasty’s humiliating defeats at the hands of Western and Japanese powers. She then traces the major turning points in the development of Mao’s understanding and practice of revolution. In 1918, Mao first became acquainted with Marxism in reading groups at Beijing University sponsored by Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu, but his writings from that year do not indicate a momentous impact (p. 14). It was after exchanging letters with his former classmate Cai Hesen, who was writing from France, that Mao declared his support for Bolshevist Communism in the early 1920s. Later, his work at the Peasant Movement Training Institute in 1925 convinced him of the revolutionary potential of the peasantry. The Nationalists’ white terror in Shanghai on April 1927 initiated a period of experimentation with land redistribution, the turn to guerilla warfare, and an important break with the Stalin-dominated Comintern. Mao declared the Chinese Communist Party’s independence from Moscow at the Zunyi Conference in 1935. After resettling in Yan’an at the end of the Long March, Mao formulated his theories regarding protracted war, new democracy, literature and art, and the mass line.

Drawing from a rich collection of Mao’s writings, Karl takes his contributions to socialist theory and practice seriously. In her account, revolution is not merely a tool serving Mao’s bent for power, but rather a genuine response to material conditions. Moreover, Karl reevaluates the distinctiveness of Mao Zedong Thought. First, she believes Maoism to be more than the sinification of Marxism as suggested by other scholars. Instead of a one-way movement that reinforces the notion that Marxism is always already Western, she suggests a synthesis and says, “It is more appropriate to see Mao Zedong Thought as the product of Mao’s simultaneous interpretation of Chinese history and China’s present through Marxist categories and the interpretation of Marxist categories through the specific historic situation of China” (p. 53). Second, Maoism always assumes revolution to be a lived experience of everyday life, rather than an abstract body of knowledge imposed by distant elites. For Karl, the concept of voluntarism – construed in opposition to economic determinism – is imprecise. More than sheer will, Mao’s concept of politics is inextricably tied to quotidian existence and the struggle to transform the structures of social life (p. 58).

Karl treats Mao’s emergence as the leading figure of the Communist Party in a judicious manner, without skimping on discussions of purges, rectification campaigns, dogmatism, and the cult of Mao. Certainly, Mao may have become a statesman but he did not take the seizure of state power to be the ultimate goal of revolutionary mass mobilization. Karl highlights the persistent contradiction between bureaucracy and mass politics, foreshadowed in Yan’an and later shaping the dynamics of the Maoist era (p. 60, 84, 93). The unevenness in the social relations of production engendered under socialism strained relations between Mao and the rest of the Party leadership, with the former eventually advocating struggle against the latter (p. 96). Karl believes the Cultural Revolution should be read not as Mao’s desire to take state power for himself but “an attempt to seize politics – the power of mass culture and speech for revolution” (p. 117). Rather than a top-down orchestration by Mao, the Cultural Revolution was also a mobilization of people dismayed with the direction of the country and the Party six years into the post-Great Leap Forward restoration (p. 118). According to Karl, although interpretations have been divergent, what is universally agreed about the Cultural Revolution is its failure to deliver on its promise. The mass politics of workers and rebel students was ultimately betrayed by the People’s Liberation Army (p. 119, 133-134). Following a nuanced presentation of the Maoist era, the book concludes with the about-faces witnessed after Mao’s death during the reform era. In what Karl considers “the most un-Maoist of all developments in post-Mao China,” politics has become monopolized by the state while economics and social development are now monopolized by market-defined success (p. 181).

At first glance, another book on Mao could seem to return us to the history of great men, but Karl is attentive to the unequal status afforded women in the Party and the continued burden of household reproductive labor despite the rhetoric concerning women’s liberation. Her feminist analysis points to not only the rendering of women comrades like Mao’s first wife Yang Kaihui into menial and maternal roles, but also the criticisms Ding Ling leveled in Yan’an and during the Great Leap Forward, both of which led to the writer’s forced reeducation (p. 66-67, 105). As for model dramas, women were featured as title characters, but it was always an enlightened male Party leader that guided these women to revolutionary consciousness and action (p. 148). Throughout the book, Karl’s critical perspective is aided by interludes, composed of interviews with Wang Yuanhua, once an underground Communist cultural activist in Shanghai during the wartime 1940s, discussing his discomfort with Mao’s “Yan’an Talks on Art and Literature” and the anti-Hu Feng campaign in 1955; independent writer Sabu Kohso on how he came to be aware of Mao and the Cultural Revolution as a student radical in Japan; and the Chinese scholar Wang Hui on post-Mao politics.

Overall, Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth Century World shares a common thread with Karl’s earlier Staging the World: Chinese Nationalism at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (2002), that is, the reconceptualization of the world in which China is participating. These two texts demonstrate historical identifications with the emergent nationalist and anti-colonial movements in the non-Euro-American-Japanese world after the Sino-Japanese War of 1895, the struggle against the global situation of fascism and imperialism during the War of Resistance (p. 57), and the third world represented by the unaligned nations of the Bandung conference in 1955 (p. 89). In 1971, the People’s Republic of China was voted into the United Nations. For Karl, this event marked “the long rise of the PRC from revolutionary internationalist icon to bulwark of the established global order” (p. 151). Against the established global order and the “harmonious society” (hexie shehui) of the Hu Jintao regime, Karl’s book reminds us that revolutionaries in the recent past staked out dreams of alternative worlds to the present. Recent cultural representations have increasingly cast Mao’s life-long project as an aberration, thereby facilitating “disutopia” – what Slavoj Žižek described as “not just the temporary absence of Utopia, but the political celebration of the end of social dreams” (p. xi). Rather than returning to Mao or even redeeming him, Karl uses the late leader to challenge her readers to think beyond our complacency with the order and normalcy of global capitalism.

Jeremy Tai is a graduate student in modern Chinese history at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

© 2011 by Twentieth-Century China Editorial Board. All rights reserved.

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19Jan/11Off

‘American Idol’: Steven Tyler soars; Jennifer Lopez trips over no

The new crew at "American Idol," from left: Steven Tyler, Ryan Seacrest, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson. Photo credit: Michael Becker/Fox

“American Idol” may be all about the talent, but the season premiere Wednesday night was all about the new judges.

Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez are generous, kind and enthusiastic. And that is nice, but it makes for a long show. The premiere missed Simon Cowell’s edge and smarts.

Tyler came off far better. He delivers creative critiques and displays a unique wackiness. The Aerosmith star even sang along and pounded the table to provide percussion.

Jennifer “I don’t like saying no” Lopez had such trouble rejecting singers that she whined, “Why did I sign up for this?”

Host Ryan Seacrest advised her, “You have to be creative when you say no.”

Well, yeah. What is she doing on “American Idol”? Fox is counting on the new judges and the revamp of the 10-year-old show to keep “Idol” strong in the ratings.

The complimented singers during the New Jersey opener tended to swoon. “Idol” served up a string of good ones before unleashing the woeful warblers.

Tyler told a tuneless woman, ”You’ve got no notes.”  To a guy who destroyed “My Way,” Tyler said, ”You scared everybody in the room.”  

The judges raved over 16-year-old Robbie Rosen’s lovely rendition of “Yesterday.” Waitress Devyn Rush wowed the panel with “God Bless the Child.” War refugee Melinda Ademi, 16, from Kosovo displayed beauty, confidence and a good voice. Tiffany Rios wore stars on her bra and made a lousy first impression, then she collected herself and won the judges’ blessing.

The show saved Travis Orlando, 16, of the Bronx for the end. He displayed a fine voice and a charming manner on “Eleanor Rigby.” The judges asked for more. He, of course, made it to Hollywood.

But the early episodes focus on the train wrecks. Ashley Sullivan was a special disaster: She fell to her knees and begged her way on the show. She is all wrong for “Idol,” but Tyler and Lopez relented.

The new judges overshadowed Randy “along for the ride” Jackson, who made a lot of faces and laughed a lot. He seemed like the comic sidekick in a long movie, because, unfortunately, the premiere dragged toward the end.

At the start, Jackson said, “Wow. It’s a different table.”

You bet it is. Will it last? We’ll find out more when Tyler and Lopez start critiquing live performances. But Lopez needs to learn how to say that word that rhymes with J.Lo.

The show continues with the New Orleans auditions at 8 p.m. Thursday on WOFL-Channel 35.

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