Friday, April 18, 2014

Three songs that last forever

In 1985, “We are the world” was made as a charity single and became an instant classic worldwide.  Inspired, Lo Ta-yu (罗大佑), probably the greatest musician ever from Taiwan, wrote “明天会更好” or “Tomorrow will be better” ( Then, in 1986 and in honor of UN’s International Year of Peace, mainland China produced “让世界充满爱” or “Let the world be filled with love” (  All three were of the same theme and format, originally recorded by dozens of singers (over 60 in the case of “明天会更好/Tomorrow will be better” and 100 for “世界充满爱/Let the world be filled with love”).

I hadn’t heard the two Chinese songs since 1992 and never watched any video, at least not in any significant length, until 2014, and only watched “We are the world” on TV a couple of times in between.  I am struck by how much has (not) changed through the years.  Some of the singers are no longer with us.  Amazing how some of the big stars looked like back then.  And how much peace is desired but lacking now as then.  But just the songs for today.

世界充满爱/Let the world be filled with love” is forever compared to “明天会更好/Tomorrow will be better” for good reasons.  People, while professing a love for both, would often like one better than the other, a matter of subjective tastes.  Although in fairness, this is almost like comparing Ernest Hemingway’s “A farewell to arms” to his "A very short story".  “Tomorrow will be better” and “We are the world” are typically singles, each about 5 min (depending on their versions), while “Let the world be filled with love” is 16 min, composed of three related yet distinct parts, similar to a mini-musical.

Analogy to “A farewell to arms” is apt because “世界充满爱/Let the world be filled with love” is one of the softest and sweetest songs one will ever hear.  The music flows like a smooth river on a clear day, particularly the second, arguably the best part, of the song.  The lyrics in Chinese are simple yet inspire imaginations.  On this front, “We are the world” is as plain as water, while “Tomorrow will be better” is sophisticated and loaded. 

An objection to “Let the world be filled with love” is that the transition between the three parts is not always seamless.  This is likely unavoidable since it packs three songs into one, although the over-arching aim is unmistakable.  Perhaps a more relevant question is why the composers made such a long song.  Certainly they had a lot of strong feelings.  And they learned from and would like to pay attribute to “We are the world” and to show varieties as well.  So the first two parts are crooning and the last rock and roll.  

Let the world be filled with love” was also a milestone in mainland China’s pop music history.  At the time, if the US was a senior in college, Taiwan a freshman, the mainland perhaps only in the third grade, still learning how to write, record, perform, and distribute pop music.  Thanks to “Let the world be filled with love” and others, within the next 10 years or an even shorter time, the mainland market exploded and matured quickly.  Nonetheless, “Let the world be filled with love” remains the pinnacle of pop music production in China, surpassed by none, although one may be comparing “A farewell to arms” with short stories again.   

Still, an age of innocence and hope.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rule of law

The rule of law is a major pillar of today’s world.  It demands that the populace understand what to expect and do under myriad situations and that the authorities regulate and reinforce certain behaviors.  Rule of law, like many others, sounds excellent in concept but is forever elusive in practice, even in a mature society as the US.    

The most recent case is the standoff between Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher, and the federal Bureau of Land Management.  The dispute went back to 1993 when the Bundy family refused to pay BLM gazing fees for their cows.  The Bundys have their reasoning and arguments, but a long story short, they have lost every court battle there is and now owe over one million dollars.  Then in early April 2014 BLM came in to roundup the rancher’s ~ 1000 cattle as compensations.  The Bundys resisted and were supported by hundreds of militia that came to their ranch and politicians in and out of the state, forcing BLM to drop its plan, at least for the time being.  

On the surface, what the Bundys have done is clearly illegal and serves the public no good.  Otherwise, why should Martha Stewart and Wesley Snipes go to jail?  The sound bites of militia and politicians all danced around how heavy-handed BLM was but skirted the core issue that the Bundys have had their days in courts but always lost for the past 20 years.  It is curious that BLM chose to round up 1000 cows instead to arrest Cliven Bundy only.  Maybe BLM has no such authority, but it surely was much more work to get those many cows, and the federal government can indeed conjure up many excuses and ways to get anybody if it chooses to, considering what has transpired now.    

Similar occurrences happen in China (and other countries as well) a lot.  A common example is the disputes between street vendors and street or city inspectors (see “Problems with Chinese courts and laws”).  Street vendors need licenses and conduct business at designated areas, which is reinforced by the inspectors.  When the vendors set up shops at the wrong places and the inspectors come along, most vendors will flee.  Some vendors do get caught or refuse to leave, then they will have to pay a fine, which most of them do.  But once in a while, there are scuffles between the vendor(s) and inspectors which often become major local news, and the sympathy usually goes to the vendor(s) if the media are to be believed.

So the Nevada standoff is nothing new per se, just that the distinction between mature vs immature societies is only relative.