The Screaming Pen

Providing Global Insight, Context, and Perspective

Pocahontas, Marlin Brando, and Me

Shakey Chimes In


In 1979, Neil Young and Crazyhorse released “Rust Never Sleeps”, an album held in high regards by both critics and fans alike. From the narrative “Powderfinger”, to the transcendant “Pocahontas”, Young, using rust as a metaphor for inevitable deterioration –see 1981's Re-ac-tor– proves that he possesses the tools to ward off rust, namely his creativity and ability to reinvent himself. Young’s newest album, Living With War, is a powerful indictment of the Bush Administration, addressing the current state of American politics, all the while placing his grievances in an emotional and historic context that is a breath of fresh air, especially considering the mostly sad state of dissent among the newest generation of popular musicians. The resulting album, although lacking lyrical depth at times, is a powerful effort that should remain relevant long after the current administration leaves office, in the same way that his 1971 classic "Ohio", written about the massacre at Kent State, remains relevant today.

Hey Hey, My My, Rock and Roll Will Never Die

While some songs on Living With War, namely “Lets Impeach the President” read like a pamphlet or a University of Vermont sociology major’s away message, others such as “Families” and “Roger and Out” leave much more to the imagination, effectively conveying the justifiable discontent that many Americans are feeling right now. Powerful protest songs, which usually convey emotion without being terribly forward, seem to be rare these days, especially among the younger generation. Many of the newer anti-Bush efforts coming from Generation Y, examples being Bright Eyes "When the President Talks to God" and NOFX's "Idiots are Taking Over", are lacking in both lyrical content and accuracy. They also seem to lack the "Folky" appeal that historically has transcended age and class. For generally better efforts, see Steve Earle's The Revolution Starts Now, and selected tracks from Bruce Springsteen's excellent Devils and Dust.


Neil Young's newest album, while not flawless, serves as an effective protest album that is also an artistic success. Living With War's lyrical imagery, combined with Young's vocals, provides the listener with an original, experienced voice. It is apparent that it is this experience, gained through both songwriting and a lifetime of careful observation, is what seperates Neil Young from his younger counterparts.


June 24, 2006 Posted by | Author: JPL, Bright Eyes, Dissent, Music, Neil Young, NOFX, Politics, The GOP, The Media, The War on Terror, Uncategorized, United States | 1 Comment

An Awkward Two-Step

A Beginner’s Guide to the World’s Most Important Relationship

“Which is best chemistry graduate school in England? Who is your favorite NBA player? How many centimeter are you?” Launched rapid fire by the throngs of residents that swallow any native speaker brave enough to wander into one of China’s many “English corners” – plazas and parks where Chinese meet to practice speaking the language on Saturday nights – the questions begin to take on the air of a personal press conference. Any lone Westerner at one of these can expect a similarly exhilarating evening, replete with overly eager late-20’s gentlemen popping into view randomly, making googly-faces from behind the rows of questioners for effect. Indeed, the curiosity and friendliness greeted foreigners here is hard to imagine for outsiders who rarely think of China without the menacing C-word directly preceding.

As the world’s largest and most visible Communist country this is perhaps inevitable. Much U.S. press coverage of China relates to textile quotas, exchange rate policy, and corporate takeovers; complicated issues more easily made exoteric by portraying the country as hostile, red, and monolithic. Avian bird flu, tense relations with Taiwan and Japan, human rights, and an intense military build-up are no less frightening.

Remembering her Conjunctions, and with Plenty of Questions for You

This misunderstanding by no means runs only one way. The xenophobic atmosphere that festered in China during the 1960’s and 70’s persists still, marooned by intellectual debates firmly quashed in public, on-line, and in the classroom. Problems with the U.S. media there may be, but American news organizations provide reporting less fettered by direct state control and censorship. Indeed, Chinese perceptions of America are influenced more heavily by the professional basketball player Dwayne Wade and the television sitcom Friends – wildly popular in Shanghai and Beijing– than through the cycle of accurate reporting, solid analysis, and measured reflection.

A fundamental misconception underlying common foreign discussion of China, but lacking in reality however, is that a massive reservoir of pent-up ill will exists towards America. In fact, many Chinese still proffer the old saying that they “dislike the government, but like the people” of America; a statement now obsolete in many parts of the world that abhor both. Widespread membership in the Communist Party primarily serves cadre’s bureaucratic and individual career objectives rather than zealous anti-capitalist indoctrination. And soldiers’ marching drills in Tiananmen Square are today largely equitable to those at Arlington National Cemetery. Scare-mongering photos of such are better left to tabloid articles covering North Korea.

Policy-makers on both sides have to move past these stereotypes if they are to successfully manage China’s emergence on the regional and national stage. Washington’s principals must also recognize that while Joseph Nye’s “soft power” is ubiquitous throughout the mainland and its peasants and laborers have plenty of bread and butter grievances, they’re hardly clamoring for a democratic revolution. President Hu and company rightly take serious America’s tough talk – a real-politic tendency regulated by its superpower status in a rocky unipolar world – but need to understand that an adversarial relationship is not the intended result, but the concern.

The necessity of maintaining peace is consequently pressed upon by Beijing’s legitimately unnerving actions: an exponential increase in military spending with no obvious military threat; bellicosity towards Taiwan and Japan; and political cover and economic assistance for unsavory regimes from Central Asia to Africa to Latin America. How leaders are able to deal with these issues will likely determine the answer to another question frequently posed at China’s English Corners: “Will there be peace between America and China?”


 2006. All rights reserved.

June 6, 2006 Posted by | Asia, China, Country Profiles, International Relations, Politics, The Media, United States | Leave a comment

The China Counter

A Survey of Media Portrayal of America in the Middle Kingdom

People’s Daily, From May 9th, 2006
Favorable: 14
Unfavorable: 10
Neutral: 53

China View, From May 9th, 2006
Favorable: 4
Unfavorable: 3
Neutral: 9

During Chinese President Hu Jintao’s April 2006 tour of Seattle, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey, Chinese media coverage of the trip was overwhelmingly favorable, and not only of Hu himself but of the United States in general. This stood in stark contrast to the oft-perpetuated image of a belligerent, power-hungry America inimical to the P.R.C.’s interests. Indeed, beginning in late 2004, throughout 2005, and into 2006 The Screaming Pen observed that Chinese media coverage of the United States appeared to become more conciliatory. Yet this was an admittedly subjective conclusion.

Wo hen gaoxing renshi ni!

The Method

The China Counter is thus forged out of a desire to quantify the accuracy of this hypothesis. The Counter monitors and classifies articles published in the People’s Daily (“the National Voice of the Party;” Beijing) and China View (a direct arm of the State, published by the Xinhua News Agency; Beijing), two large newspapers with national readership. Only original pieces are counted (not those pulled from a wire service such as the AP or Reuters), and when an article appears on both sites (as the news agencies sometimes share material) it will be counted once.

The scope of The China Counter includes only those articles whose main focus is either the United States or U.S.-China relations. From these there are four main kinds of articles. The first consists of those stories about cultural, social, athletic or other events and trends in the United States. These tend to focus on “soft” issues and are usually favorable or neutral. The second discusses U.S. domestic politics or international relations, often with no explicit mention of the effects these have on China, but these are usually only a short logical leap away. The third deals directly with U.S.-China relations. The fourth are opinion pages, op-eds, or blogs linked to the two sites’ homepages.

The articles are marked as favorable, unfavorable, or neutral/balanced. Favorable articles are those that focus on cooperation, admiration, or friendly relations between the two countries. Unfavorable articles are those that center on disagreement or are intended to highlight tensions. Neutral articles are those that are balanced and impartial, providing analysis without conclusion.


The correlation of the media’s tone to the thinking of Chinese leaders – a relationship made plausible due to heavy government censorship and even control of the press – might thus, through quantifiable measurement, contribute to the currently ubiquitous debate in America: Will China be peaceful or hostile? This assumption must nonetheless be presented along with a caveat: because news articles are inherently public, the ideas presented may be merely a product of China’s obligatory, or declared, policy. Put simply, it may represent what officials “want us to see,” not the leadership’s true thoughts and motivations. The relevance of The China Counter should accordingly be taken at face value.


 2006. All rights reserved.

More on the People’s Daily
More on the Xinhua News Agency
China Media Guide

May 10, 2006 Posted by | Asia, Author: DML, China, Country Profiles, International Relations, The Media, United States | 1 Comment