Sunday, April 30, 2006

Speaking Truthiness to Power

Still finishing my book, but I have to give major props to Stephen Colbert and his performance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. What is normally a mild, insider's roast of the President and the powers that be was at Colbert's hands, an evisceration. Colbert stood not more than ten feet from Bush and ripped him to shreds. I'm not one of those who condemns the media wholesale - some people have spoken the truth all along - Paul Krugman and Frank Rich come to mind, among others - but I've never seen anything like this. Here's a taste:
"I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world."
It takes real guts and balls of steel to stand up to the second-most powerful man in the world (Cheney couldn't make it) and expose him for the nasty, stupid, vicious Frat-Boy King he is.

UPDATE II - if you liked what Colbert had to say, go and tell him.

ONE MORE UPDATE: the links I originally posted are down and/or wonky. Try the links on the "Thank You Stephen Colbert" page referenced above, or those posted by Stickdog in the comments.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I'm the Writer. That means I get to Write Things.

Yeah, in spite of the fact that there are a lot of interesting China stories to report - and political stories too ("I'm the Decider. That means I get to decide things"), I'm not posting so much. I am on the home stretch of my latest novel. Unlike my other tree-killers, this one looks like it will clock in around 100,000 words. I've got about four chapters left.

I'm heading out of town in about three weeks and would like to get the draft done before I go...we'll see...

Friday, April 14, 2006

Latest Hao Wu Update

This is not exactly good news. But because there has been no word from Hao, because the attempts of his family to handle this quietly and without too much outside publicity have not worked, the campaign to free him is escalating with a letter-writing campaign and a petition to President Hu Jintao for Wu Hao's immediate release. President Hu will be visiting the United States from April 18th through the 21st. Originally the hope was that he would consider releasing Wu Hao as a gesture of good-will in advance of that visit. Obviously this hasn't happened. Whether this is because Hao's detention is especially sensitive or because it simply hasn't been brought to Hu Jintao's attention is impossible to say. But now is the time to try and get some publicity for Hao.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Hao Wu Update

The first time I was in China, back when there was no doubt you were living in a totalitarian state, albeit one that was struggling to come back to life after the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, a friend sent us a special baseball cap to wear. It had the word "Kafka" embroidered in red across the front. We thought that was pretty damn funny at the time.

Unfortunately there's no new news on Hao's situation. His sister, Nina (Wu Na) continues to blog about her efforts to get justice for her brother. The term "Kafkaesque" could have been coined just to describe some of the situations in which she has found herself.
Yesterday afternoon, I went to the Beijing Petition Office clutching my last strand of hope. On arriving I was startled by the number of police cars parked at the gate. Were there normally so many police there for protection? Were they afraid of someone causing trouble? The petition office was much noisier than the Public Security Bureau. Most of the people were white-haired elderly women. When I was almost to the front of the line, a few bright-eyed and strapping men, whispering to each other, suddenly appeared in the main hall. Their arrival was clearly incompatible with the atmosphere of the hall. Before I had finished explaining the situation, the petition receptionist told me that the Beijing Public Security Bureau was a specialized organization, and the Beijing city government could not exercise supervision over it. In reply, I told her that my brother lived in Beijing, and was taken away by Beijing police, why couldn’t they exercise supervision over this? The receptionist helplessly answered that the Beijing Public Security Bureau is under the direct jurisdiction of higher authorities. Did this mean that the city government did not even have the right of inquiry regarding its actions? Under duress from me, she gave me a suggestion: report the situation to the Procuratorate [the prosecutor’s office]. The Procuratorate should be able to supervise the Public Security Bureau. It appears that the petition offices of all government organs only serve as windows. None of them can solve real problems. They can’t even accept materials. Looking at the two sparse lines of characters on their petition registration form, and the employee next to it typing at a computer, my heart was overcome with despair. In the end, would this all just become a record in some computer?
For someone who doesn't consider herself a writer, I'm really impressed by Nina's ability to clearly and eloquently express herself in such unbelievably stressful circumstances. It must run in the family.

The only remotely positive thing I can find in this wretched situation is the way that Hao's plight has raised the consciousness of the people around him (and that's not much consolation). Here's Nina's account of an email she received from a friend of Hao's:
“I was your brother’s classmate at the University of Science and Technology. We haven’t been in touch for fourteen years, but I remember your brother’s lively and optimistic personality!

Today, by chance I read on the Internet that he had been arrested. I was shocked. I also finally learned about his lifestyle and thinking these last few years. I am very proud to have that kind of friend.

As a Chinese person, I am also grieved that our country is still unable to guarantee the basic legal rights of its citizens!

Every time the west discusses freedom of speech, I always think they’re being meddlesome. Today I finally have a personal understanding; if a country cannot guarantee the basic rights of its citizens, it concerns each and every one of us!

This is the country of us, the Chinese people. These are our legal rights. We need to strive for them ourselves!

I hope your family can realize that Hao Wu’s arrest, and failure to receive normal trial procedure and legal defense is not an injustice for him alone. Many conscientious, just-minded Chinese people also deeply feel this injustice. We support the efforts of you and your family, and extend our respect!”
Nina's own thoughts at the end of this post are especially poignant:
In fact, before this happened to my brother, I felt that I had it all: family, friends, a job I liked, and a typical Shanghai “little capitalist” life. I felt that I had the ability to control everything. I could choose the lifestyle I wanted; I could choose my circle of friends…in fact this was just what it looked like. It is so easy for someone to lose his or her privileges. An ordinary person can very easily be taken from his or her daily life. It doesn’t require any warning or reason, and of course it doesn’t require the assent of that person. Legal help is also unavailable. Even though the thirty-sixth clause of the Constitution states, “The physical freedom of the citizens of the People’s Republic of China cannot be violated…it is forbidden to detain or use other methods to take away or limit the physical freedom of a citizen; it is forbidden to illegally search the body of a citizen,” my brother has already lost his freedom. The staff of the Procuratorate did not deny that laws were being broken in the current stage, but no organization or person has stopped these illegal phenomena from continuing.

Really, only when your own rights are violated do you realize their importance to you. I am now beginning to pay attention to law, beginning to look for rights I might have. I hope that it isn’t all too late.

At the same time, I know that I already have lost my right to privacy. I know that they know my every movement. Actually, when you act magnanimously, there is nothing to conceal. I haven’t done anything that I’d be ashamed to show others. I will continue to strive for my brother’s early release. It’s just that I don’t know: when all the legal channels have been exhausted, will anything be left?
What a brave woman. I hope that you'll take a moment to visit freehaowu and leave your comments of support. Or if you have a blog, and these words inspire you to post about Hao and Nina, please write about them. It feels like a straw in the wind, but we need to keep their story alive.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Where I'd like to be...

Yelapa Beach
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

I was all steamed up to write a rant about the treatment of Jill Carroll by some members of the media and the right-wing blogosphere. I'd gone, accidentally, to a website where the blogger had put up a post insulting Carroll (though he says this was not his intent), and I just went ballistic. I flipped out. Some combination of cumulative outrage and the very real emotion I'd invested in this particular story. I was going to talk about why Carroll's story resonated so much with me - (short version - I relate to a female journalist who took the time to learn the local language and customs to cover the story the right way; what happened to her in Iraq seemed to encapsulate so much of the wretched waste of Bush's war, the death of her intepreter, her being terrorized and threatened with murder even though she tried to do the right thing. And oh yes, the sexism of it - those awful outfits her fundamentalist captors dressed her in for the videos, the howling, vicious nastiness of many right-wing bloggers, and the more subtle character assassination of WaPo's Howard Kurtz, blaming her for the propaganda video she was forced to make at gunpoint...and that's as short a version as I can make).

Anway, I was all set to write a blow-by-blow of my flip-out on this blog, complete with the best of my scathing, shot-gun blast and pretty nasty comments...except then I somehow ended up in an email exchange with the site owner. And though I still think he's totally wrong, connecting issues that shouldn't be connected and politically deluded...well, we had a civil conversation on email. And that takes the steam right out of my anger.

Not about what was done to Jill Carroll. Not about what the right wing has done to this country. But towards this particular person, who took the time to try and articulate his position in a polite way.

Make of this what you will about its relevance to the state of contemporary political discourse and effects of the Blogosphere thereupon...

I'll still disagree, but I'm not going to hate. At least, not right now.

(NOTE: New "Buddha Nature" does not apply to violent religious fundamentalists, the Bush Administration or Bill Napoli. Other restrictions may apply)


Photograph by Rick Loomis, Los Angeles Times

I want to bring your attention to an excellent series in the Los Angeles Times on how wounded soldiers' lives are being saved and how their lives are changed forever after. The photos are more graphic than has been typical of coverage of this war, and if you still get an actual newspaper delivered to your door, like I do, they've placed fairly disturbing images prominently on the front page (the LAT has been more willing to publish graphic war photographs and to examine how the press and media have dealt with such images than most mainstream media outlets).

Whether you're for the war or against it, this is what war does.

Parts one, two and three, along with additional web-only features, can be found here.