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Asia Buzz: The Week That Wasn't
A stunned world awaits the U.S. election result
By ANTHONY SPAETH

November 20, 2000
Web posted at 11:00 a.m. Hong Kong time, 10:00 p.m. EDT


 INTERACTIVE  
Ticked off at Asia Buzz? Turned on? Talk back to TIME
 
Last week was probably the worst in the history of mankind. I didn't get a whit of work done, so paralyzing was the uncertainty over the U.S. election result. I had trouble eating solid foods. And I know I wasn't alone.

The Chinese Politburo hasn't been so numbly confused, according to top Asia Buzz sources, since U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky's last visit. Insiders say the Kremlin was "paralytic," which is almost the same as paralyzed, but with canapes and party records -- and I don't mean big beet harvests. U.S. President Bill Clinton got to Vietnam, finally, to the utter confusion of his hosts in Hanoi. (The State Department had told them the trip might be indefinitely delayed because Clinton had cadged yet another deferment.) And Peru's Alberto Fujimori announced he would quit the presidency of his country out of exasperation and depression. A terrible week.

     ASIA BUZZ

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Asia Buzz: Election Special, Part 55
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- Monday, November 13, 2000

Culture on demand: Election Knife-Edge
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- Friday, November 10, 2000

Letter from Japan: Like a Kid in a Candy Shop
A day in the life of a columnist
- Friday, November 10, 2000

   ASIAWEEK
Intelligence
The story behind today's news from the editors of Asiaweek

It was as if the entire world was on the same bad trip, glued to CNN with a puzzled scowl or buttonholing friends to complain, "The thing I don't understand is..." There must have been some apathetic soul who didn't give a hanging chad about the result, but I didn't meet him. For Americans abroad, it was even more painful because foreigners kept saying "The thing I don't understand is..." And we had to patiently explain that U.S. presidents were customarily chosen by Palm Beach voters living in Israel. Hey, if the system ain't broke, why fix it? Say what?

The once-and-future candidates couldn't afford to look gobsmacked, and George W. Bush announced that he had curled up with the new biography of Joe DiMaggio, which sounded like an odd thing to do, especially since the Cliff Notes haven't been written. But Bush hasn't had a stiff one since the Jimmy Carter days, so maybe this was a means of relaxation. Personally, I would have fallen off the wagon with a huge crash last week and whooped it up on a mechanical bull nicknamed Tipper -- and if that didn't win Florida, forget about it. But reading a book had a presidential ring, and for the younger Bush, also provided vigorous lip exercise.

Al Gore was allegedly hard at work in Washington, but that was a front. The Vice President had plenty of reading to do under the bedcovers with a flashlight: specifically, 20 years of Internal Revenue Service statements from Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. He summoned Janet Reno to explore the possibility of chucking the state of Tennessee out of the union. ("Is it do- able?" asked Gore. "Long over-due-able," cackled the Attorney General.) Late in the week, as the hand-counted returns started coming in from Florida, Gore had urgent discussions with Alec Baldwin in Hollywood on real estate prices in Ibiza and Kathmandu. (Alberto Fujimori wanted in on those talks, I'd bet.) The only positive news during the whole dismal week was that no one, anywhere, used the phrase, "The system works."

On CNN, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan pointed out that the situation in the U.S. was under control. There were no riots on the streets, he said. Annan needs to study America a bit more; I can't imagine a single American wasting a good riot on Bush or Gore being denied the presidency. Although a coup d'etat by New Yorker Rick Lazio would get my friends on the streets -- and if Hillary's forces arose, it could start another revolution. But that's idle fantasy.

Meanwhile Japan, America's best friend in the Pacific, stepped forward to make its democracy look worse than ours. Japan's system, having been devised on the back of a cocktail napkin in a Ginza bar by Douglas MacArthur in 1945, is different. Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori faces a no-confidence vote in the Diet today -- called by his own party. That's weird, but as to the specific legalities, we'll have to wait for a ruling from the Florida Supreme Court. According to the Japan Broadcasting Corp., the no-confidence vote will be tallied within several months. Kind allies, those Japanese.

Another paralyzing week awaits us. The only people having fun will be late-night comedians. And for the rest of us it will go something like this: "The thing I don't understand is..."

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