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Private citizen?

[ 2010-04-23 14:09]     字号 [] [] []  
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Private citizen?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence and “private citizen” in particular:

It is when paid lobbyists can buy access and influence that the playing field for the private citizen becomes very uneven.

My comments:

It means simply that a member of the general public cannot possibly compete with lobbyists who are backed up financially by businesses or government agencies.

Usually, the “private citizen” is spoken of in contrast to what is called a “public figure”, one who either represents the government (Barack Obama), or one who is a business leader (Bill Gates), or a celebrity (Lady Gaga), or just someone who is famous for no good reason (and we see many of these on Chinese television).

Unlike it is with a public figure, the private citizen is their own man or woman for that matter. That means their affairs are their own private business and therefore of no interest to the public. If their air their dirty linens in the public, for example, nobody cares. I mean they’ll laugh at you for a brief second and laugh it off. The stink won’t linger, let alone last, quite in contrast to the situation that faces a public figure – think of Bill Clinton and more recently Tiger Woods.

In Chinese official parlance, the private citizen might be equivalent to one of “the masses”.

Anyways, just remember that the private citizen is NOT one who holds an official or public position.

Here are two more media examples:

1. As a foreigner living in Berlin, you can easily be embarrassed by your German friends who will berate you for not separating your rubbish.

There are at least five types of rubbish bin in the courtyards of apartment buildings and inside people’s houses. Luckily, the bins are colour-coded, to avoid any confusion - a yellow bin for packaging (old milk cartons etc), a blue bin for paper and cardboard, bins for glass (separated into ones for clear, brown and green glass) a “Bio” bin designed for left-over food and plant waste. Finally, there is a black bin for the rest of the rubbish (or for those people who do not bother to sort out their rubbish).

In theory, people are obliged under German law to take any “special rubbish,” such as batteries or chemicals, to a recycling centre. If you fail to do this, it could be considered an “administrative offence”, although in practice prosecutions are rare.

The separation of rubbish is not compulsory for the private citizen, but according to surveys, around 90% of Germans are willing to sort out their rubbish.

- Recycling around the world, BBC.co.uk, June 25, 2005.

2. Battles between magazine editors bloody the annals of literary history. In “The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century” (Knopf; $35), Alan Brinkley, the Columbia historian, dismisses the legendary feud between Luce and Ross as short-lived and silly, but it lasted for a quarter century, there have been sillier, and Ross, at least, took it about as seriously as he took anything. Brinkley’s wonderfully insightful and judicious biography is more than the story of a life; it’s a political history of modernity. Luce was one of the most influential journalists of the twentieth century. Time was the first news magazine. Fortune, which he launched in 1930, made business writing smarter. “The March of Time,” broadcast on the radio from 1931 to 1945 and shown in theatres, as newsreels, beginning in 1935, paved the way for television news. Life, started in 1936, brought photojournalism into the nation’s living rooms. “The American people are by far the best-informed people in the history of the world,” Luce wrote in his essay “The American Century,” in 1941, when Americans were getting much of that information from him and, mainly, from his magazines, which Ross couldn’t stomach, and whose significance he refused to concede. “Who reads Fortune?” Ross once asked. “Dentists.”

Luce insisted on the United States’ unique role in spreading democracy. He wrote “The American Century” to urge Roosevelt to enter the war, but it was seen by critics as a blueprint for American imperialism. In the nineteen-forties and fifties, his influence on public opinion, and especially on foreign policy, grew, as did his anti-Communist zeal, especially with regard to Asia. “As a journalist, I am in command of a small sector in the very front trenches of this battle for freedom,” Luce once said. He supported civil rights and opposed McCarthy. He called the Republican Party his “second church.” His magazines’ endorsement of Eisenhower helped carry the man from Abilene into office. Abroad, Luce was treated like a statesman. No private citizen should wield such power. Why anyone ever craves it can be hard to comprehend. Liberals who admired his magazines could not forgive him his support for American involvement in Vietnam. He died in 1967. Brinkley’s Luce is crusading and ambitious, ardent and awkward, and, although it might be said that Luce went astray when his ambition became his crusade, Brinkley takes him as he finds him. At the helm of the largest media empire in the world, Henry Luce piloted the American middle class through a century of tumult and change by giving his magazines, American journalism, and even American culture a distinctive voice: his own. That’s just what bugged the hell out of Harold Ross.

Ross was born in a prospector’s cabin, in 1892; Luce was born in 1898, in a missionary compound. Ross never finished high school; Luce went to Yale, like his father before him. A person could be forgiven for expecting Ross to have been the one to start the magazine edited for the old lady in Dubuque and Luce to have started the one that wasn’t. That just the reverse came to pass explains some of the waywardness between them. In 1917, Ross enlisted; Luce joined R.O.T.C., along with his friend Briton Hadden (they’d been inseparable since Hotchkiss and ran the Yale Daily News together). Luce and Hadden went to boot camp in South Carolina, where they trained troops. In France, Ross was tapped for Officer Training School, but flunked the test out of cussedness. Later in life, Ross liked to tell the story of how, on hearing that the Army was about to start publishing a paper, he deserted his regiment and walked a hundred and fifty miles to Paris, to the offices of the Stars & Stripes, where he stayed for the duration of the war, as a reporter and editor. One piece of enduring Luce lore has it that Time began because, while at Camp Jackson, Luce was struck by how little the enlisted men knew about the war they were being sent to fight. Brinkley suspects this boot-camp business is hooey, and I take the same view of Ross’s hoofing it all the way to Paris. What’s interesting, though, is that even their just-so stories run in different directions: Ross strapping his typewriter to his back and making for the metropolis, Luce pledging himself to bringing news of the world to every last Joe.

- What was at stake in the spat between Henry Luce and Harold Ross? NewYorker.com, April 19, 2010.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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