Sunday, October 23

Another kind of darkness

"The sense of disillusionment in the years between the [world] wars was heightened by political and economic disasters for which people were wholly unprepared: there was the folly of Prohibition and its attendant gangsterism, as well as growing evidence of illicit connections between crime, business and politics in American cities.
-- From Hard Boiled Crime's analysis of Film Noir

"The streets were dark with something more than night."
-- Raymond Chandler

"Dear Pundita:
Re your Chinese Puzzle post. I wonder if anyone else caught the allusion (assuming it was deliberate) to "Broadway's my beat." Now I'm hoping for a Damon Runyonesque posting.
Dr. Ernie in California"

Dear Dr. Ernie:
Yes, I wanted to convey a touch of the Runyonesque gangster genre but mostly Film Noir. Damon Runyon's stories represent a clearly delineated underclass in America's largest cities during the 1930s. The gangster films based on his stories draw a line between good and bad guys. In films based on stories by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, which exemplify Film Noir ("black film"), the line is barely visible.

There are 'good guys' -- detectives such as Sam Spade. They move in the shadows of the underworld but also in another kind of darkness -- a confluence of organized crime, corrupt government, and illegal business practices. Heroism under such conditions equates to hanging onto a moral compass for another day.

That's also a fair assessment of the lot for heroes in Mainland China's society, which is why I gave a nod to the Film Noir genre to introduce the posts on China's mystery illness. Whatever the true nature of the illness, the tactics the government used to deal with it are a window on the society's pervasive moral decay.

Another window on today's China is found in the movie "Chinatown," which is a fictionalized account of the California Water Wars. Chinatown is also a tribute to Film Noir, so it came to mind while I surveyed earlier posts about mystery illness and also Taishi Village.

If you study the Taishi Village situation against the illegal maneuvers in the water wars, a hazy 'foreign' situation comes into clear focus and is perfectly understandable; there's nothing uniquely Chinese about it.

What happened in Taishi, which is repeated across the Mainland and the Third World, is an illegal government-arranged land grab using the most brutal means. The Taishi villagers were simply in the way of development in the Pearl River Delta, in the way residents of Owen Valley were in the way of plans to divert water to Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

Apologists for China argue that the country is going through an era of bare-knuckle capitalism as America did in earlier days. That's a crock because it implies the rule of capitalism. Capitalism doesn't rule anywhere in China, any more than it ruled in 1930s Chicago -- or 1890s Los Angeles; corruption ruled in those cities.

What rules in China doesn't have a neat label. It's imprecise to call it gangsterism or totalitarianism, nor can it be labeled mercantilism or communism. It's the worst of everything about every bad system of government, glopped together.

If that sounds vaguely familiar, re-read Dr. Wang's description of the makeup of China's mystery illness. He's not so much describing an illness as a cesspool of worst-nightmare diseases: bubonic plague, Ebola, and something so strange and awful he didn't know what it was. When I read his description I exclaimed, "If he's making it up, it's a Freudian slip. It's how Chinese bureaucrats think of their government: the glop horror!"

According to Wang the glop horror illness is also highly contagious -- perhaps another Freudian slip. The wealthiest Western democracies have pandered to China's glop horror government. That has encouraged China to promote their form of government to nondemocratic countries in the developing world.

So imagine if you saw a man shooting bullets into his feet while saying, "I'm having a hard time walking." That is the United States of America trying to promote democracy in the world. You have to leave Film Noir and turn to Theater of the Absurd to appreciate the situation:

On Monday a US official shows up in X country to make an impassioned speech about why they should adopt democracy.

On Tuesday the same official shows up in China to fawn over their newest economic miracle.

On Wednesday a Chinese official shows up in X country and tells that government: "Look how well we've done by keeping to a military dictatorship and introducing some free market principles. In fact, we just got a visit from an American official praising our success."

China has been carried on the backs of advanced democracies. Of course the dictators wooed by China know this but the vast majority of people they rule don't. So it's now easy for China to promote glop horror as a more reachable form of government than democracy for the world's poorest.

The good news is that during the last few years many of China's brutalized farmers are showing the same pluck as the Owens Valley farmers and ranchers. They were not called water "wars" for nothing. Ranchers dynamited the aqueduct at Jawbone Canyon in 1924 to open the Alabama gates and divert the flow of water for four days, which raised the price of water. That forced the City of Los Angeles to negotiate.

The megacity that is today's Los Angeles would not have been possible without the diversion of water from other regions, including Owens Valley, so those with short sight are philosophical about the triumph of the bad guys. However, there were a few drawbacks to the triumph, such as galloping desertification today and an arid flat that blows alkali dust storms across California's southern valley.

Water will have to be returned to Owens Valley else Nature will win the final round of the water wars. The law is making the point that Nature has not yet impressed on the shortsighted. (See the article on Owens Valley at the above link.) Starting in the 1970s, litigation has dragged on about re-watering Owens Valley, and Los Angeles has dragged their feet about compliance -- a tragic reminder that the law can be tediously slow. Yet when the will of the people supports the rule of law it is a force more powerful, sure and lasting than the edicts of despots.

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