A Fourth Anniversary Note to Followers of the ‘Scrap.

Late this afternoon, while recovering from food poisoning acquired on a China Eastern flight, it hit me: Shanghai Scrap turned four-years-old just a few days ago. And then something else hit me: activity on this blog has ground to a near standstill over the last two months as I’ve dealt with a family illness in the US, travel, and a new set of work commitments. In addition to writing a book that will be my nearly full-time job over the next year, I’ve also agreed to write a weekly column, about which I’ll have much more to say when the first one appears (probably over the weekend). This last development – the column – is particularly exciting to me, in part because I’ve finally found an outlet that welcomes me to write with the informal voice that I use here, at Shanghai Scrap, and not the more formal one that I use in most other publications.

Of course, Shanghai Scrap isn’t just a place for me to use an informal voice; it’s also a place for me to place reporting, ideas, and interviews that I can’t publish elsewhere. And I’ve done a whole lot of that: this post, believe it or not, is #781 in the storied history of the ‘Scrap – not bad for a one writer blog. However, as long-time readers have no doubt noticed, I’m doing less and less posting these days. In part, it’s because I’m really busy right now; in part, it’s because I can’t really post some of the things I’m reporting at the moment; and in part, it’s because, well, I only have so many words in me every day, and I’m trying to be more sparing with those words – and my time – so that I can devote them to my book and forthcoming column. For the hell of it, a photo of something that I can’t post about, but will be writing about:

That’s right: shredded coins.

Anyway, as much as I love blogging, and the readership that I’ve developed over the last four years, I find myself inclined to devote myself to different kinds of writing these days. In an ideal world, I’d figure out the magic formula that allows certain Atlantic bloggers to produce superb long-form projects while, at the same time, they keep up readable blogs. Alas, I am still in search of that formula, and until I find it, I’m not sure that I’m going to be returning to the three, four, or even five posts per week rate that characterized this blog right up to the end of 2010.

That’s not to say I’m going away. Rather, I’m going to start being a bit more selective with my time and words, offering – at most – one post per week. That seems like a reasonable rate – though, admittedly, it’s not very blog-like. Then again, this blog was never very blog-like: no space-holding posts of favorite youtube videos here, sir, no large blocks of somebody else’s text masquerading as content. No, at Shanghai Scrap, we report original material and you, well, you read. So let’s see how this new posting rate will work out. For the moment, it looks promising: after the weekend I’ll be sharing an interview about which I’m very excited, and then … I’ll keep my eyes open and hope that you, my beloved readers, will continue to keep me in your twitter and RSS feeds.

And, with that out of the way, and following four years of Shanghai Scrap tradition, I give you the top five Shanghai Scrap posts of the last 12 months.

See you next week.

Ring Them Bells: Dylan Wasn’t Censored.

Apologies for the absence from the blog over the last five weeks – I’ve been tied up with some personal and professional matters. Of the latter, I’ll have more to say in a few days.

Anyway, earlier today Bob Dylan took the rather unprecedented step – for him – of commenting on his recent concerts in China. My last post to this blog was related to those shows, and so a brief follow-up.

For those lucky enough to have forgotten the controversy surrounding Dylan’s China appearances, the trouble came down to two issues: 1) by appearing in “Communist China,” he somehow tarnished the protest singer credibility he earned during the 1960s; and 2) allegations that he submitted his setlists to “government censors” in advance of his performance. The first point is a matter of opinion, of course, but the second is a matter of reported fact – if, in fact, you can report it. Back around the time of the China shows, most reporters were repeating that the setlist was censored as if it were a fact, but – best as I can tell – only the Washington Post’s Keith Richburg seemed to suggest that he had actually heard a government official say that the setlist had been censored. His story was widely syndicated (occasionally under some variation of “The Times They Are A-Censored”), and here’s the lede:

BEIJING — Rock music icon Bob Dylan avoided controversy Wednesday in his first-ever appearance in Communist-led China, eschewing the 1960s protest anthems that defined a generation and sticking to a song list that government censors say they preapproved, before a crowd of about 5,000 people in a Soviet-era stadium.

The problem with conventional wisdom and accepted facts – especially for reporters – is that they allow reporters to avoid actual reporting. Now, as it happens, the Ministry of Culture did in fact claim that Dylan subjected himself to censorship. Or, as Will Clem, a very good reporter, posted to the comment section of my blog:

The Ministry of Culture’s approval notice for Dylan’s mainland tour stated that the performance needed to stick strictly to the approved content and reminded the performers of their responsibility to monitor/supervise to make sure that happened. I don’t know if there was any other source for claims that the set list had been vetted by Chinese authorities. Continue reading