Doing prison time in Hong Kong

On my current visit to Hong Kong I am once again trying to talk to some of the activists in order to get a better understanding of the shifting political territory. When I contacted Joshua Wong, one of the most dedicated pro-democracy campaigners, he wrote back to me: “I might not able to meet you since my court case sentencing is scheduled on Thursday afternoon. I need to prepare before being locked up in prison.” This will be the third time he is sent there for his political engagement.

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Hot Days in Hong Kong

Saturday May 11, 2019 There was heavy fighting yesterday in the Hong Kong legislature over a newly proposed extradition law. Legislators were injured in the melee. The previous day had seen demonstrations in the street.

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A stalker at the door

Stalkers can be terrifying – as we know from the media: even when they are not, they can still be a real nuisance. I know, because I have been dealing with one for a long time. I will call my stalker Frau M. for short. She is utterly irrepressible and has been following me around for twenty years. Nothing will stop her, it seems, from harassing me with her unwelcome approaches.

Frau M. first showed up after I had taught a seminar on Wittgenstein at the University of Hamburg, She approached me at the time as someone seriously engaged with this philosopher. But her work proved quickly uninspiring and I tried to tell her so. But then the tone began to change. She had somehow come to convince herself that I was attracted to her as a person. That was, in fact, far from the case as I sought to communicate to her repeatedly. But my protestations had no effect.

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A World Without History

In the face of relentless change, we are losing the past. Customs, traditions, religion, and established institutions are going overboard. We are losing, perhaps, even a sense of ourselves as beings with a history, Universities cease to be "universities" and become institutes with "career-focused programs." The liberal arts are a luxury to be dispensed with. Who needs educated citizens? Who needs human beings with a rich inner life?

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The stimulus of the enigmatic

There are a few philosophical aphorisms I keep coming back to. At their best, they succeed in compressing a whole philosophy into a single sentence. They are suggestive of a multitude of ideas but also often difficult to decipher. They often throw a sharp and surprising light on our reality. Above all, they give voice to the pleasure of casting thoughts into words.

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Why I read Wittgenstein

I have never been able to attach myself to a single philosopher as my guru. There are those who find all their philosophical enlightenment in Aristotle or Confucius, in Kant or Nietzsche or Marx, in Heidegger or Derrida. I have never been able to follow them. As soon as I read a philosopher, critical questions start swirling in my mind. That's certainly also true when I read Wittgenstein.

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The Enemy In-Chief

Since its foundation the US has always had an enemy in-chief. First it was the British who helped to solder the nation together. Then came the extermination of the American Indians extending the American territories “from sea to shining sea.”. Then the civil war when the Americans made mortal enemies of each other with wounds that are still not fully healed. Then came the Spanish, the Germans (twice), the Russians, the North Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein in Iraq,

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Karl Marx never looked so good

A cartoon series about the life and times of Karl Marx is set to be shown on a Chinese video streaming website with the full backing of Beijing, according to the host company. The Leader, which recounts the story of the German philosopher and socialist revolutionary, will be broadcast by Bilibili.com “soon”, the company said on Tuesday. The production was commissioned by the central government’s Marxism office, in cooperation with authorities in Inner Mongolia; Weiming Culture Media, which is based in the region; and animation company Dongmantang, Bilibili said on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service. (South China Morning Post, Dec. 19, 2018)

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Democracy Is in the Streets

I have been re-reading James Miller's 1987 "Democracy is in the Streets" since he was in Oakland a month ago. The book provides a richly detailed account of the short life of the "Students for a Democratic Society" (SDS) from their beginnings at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1962 through their being a major driving force behind the protests against the Vietnam war to their collapse in 1969.

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Made in China 2025

The Trump administration has been worried about China turning itself into a leading economic power. Its current trade war with China is officially aimed at bringing about relatively small changes in China’s economic policies but its real aim is to constrain China’s long-term development. We can be sure that China would be willing to adjust its trade policies but it will certainly not abandon its overall development plans. There is no reason to think that the Chinese would ever consent to being in a permanently inferior economic position.  And it is not obvious that the US can keep it there.

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Trouble in Paradise

The small city of Paradise has been consumed by one of those California forest fires that are becoming only too frequent. Dozens of people have died. Meanwhile, we have been choking in the polluted air 200 miles away. Last year, close friends almost lost their house in the fires that raged around Santa Rosa.

Who can we blame but ourselves? Our freeways are clogged by millions of cars; we fly across continents for business or pleasure; we maintain polluting industries in order to keep the economy going. When our politicians prove unable or unwilling to take action they only reflect our own attitudes. Living in Berkeley, I find myself surrounded by “environmentalists,” but they still burn their woodfires in their chimneys even on the worst bad-air days. Official “Spare the air” alerts are a joke. They are backed up by nothing and largely ignored.

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The Empire of Disorientation. A Preface (2nd draft)

It was the day after the election of Donald Trump when I first realized that we are living now in an empire of disorientation. That morning I faced 200 students who were so distraught that I had to cancel a scheduled examination. Some of my colleagues said soon afterwards that we needed to meet in order to console each other. The media and the commentators were profoundly puzzled that morning and in the days to come about the election outcome and what it meant. Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, was at a loss for words, her supporters destroyed. Even Trump himself, we are told, was stunned by the unexpected turn of events. I have come to understand since then that the disorientation that everybody felt that day was, in fact, a symptom of a wide-spread and truly pandemic condition. My initial picture of the United States as an empire of disorientation gave thus way to the recognition that the empire of disorientation is our new, global reality.

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