Saturday, April 30, 2005

One Night In Shanghai...Part Two

(part one here)

Shanghai, October 1993 - the first Shanghai International Film Festival...

I don't recall much about the Shanghai Airport, even though it was the first time I'd ever flown into the PRC - in 1979, we'd arrived and departed fron Hong Kong and traveled everywhere by train.

What I do remember is being greeted by an official driver from the Film Festival. This in spite of my making it very clear that regardless of my film studio affiliation, I was traveling on my own initiative, a humble, low-level employee here in no official capacity, on vacation.

Nonetheless, here was a driver with a minivan to take Paul and me to our hotel, the Shanghai Holiday Inn, official hotel of the festival.

I think I sat in the back of the van, staring out the window at the flat landscape, chattering with Paul in disbelief about being back in China after all this time. We hadn't gone to Shanghai in 1979, but still, this was China. We'd finally returned.

It quickly became apparent that things had changed.

The Holiday Inn, for example. There were of course no Holiday Inns in 1979. In Beijing, there was the famous Peking Hotel, the Qianmen (a dump that smelled like mildew, with some of the worst food I had during my time there, and believe me, I had a lot of bad food), and the Youyi Binguan, the Friendship Hotel, where I'd lived. Anything else was a Chinese facility and strictly off-limits to Waiguoren such as myself. Now, here we were in a Holiday Inn. It looked exactly like any Holiday Inn anywhere in the world, which is kind of the point of such franchises. This Holiday Inn featured a bar called "Charlie Chaplin." We visited it straight away. It was an absolutely typical bar - dark, a Philipino house band that played rock covers, fluorescent writing on the blackboard with the drink specials, and the local beer on draft - called "Reeb." I drank a lot of Reeb in Shanghai. The first time Paul and I raised a pint of Reeb in Charlie Chaplin, "Hotel California" came on the jukebox. There wasn't enough Reeb in the world to drown the surrealism of that moment.

In other ways, however, it was still very much the China of my memory. One of the first things I did after we'd settled in was take a walk around the neighborhood of our hotel. Inside was global franchise culture. Outside, things were different. Gray, decaying sidewalks, mud in the gutters. Walled factories emitting suspiciously toxic smells. This was a pharmaceutical factory, according to its tarnished brass plaque. A tourist hotel, in central Shanghai, next to a pharmaceutical factory? Clearly, China had yet to learn about zoning. I would use this factory as the landmark to guide me safely back to the Holiday Inn. As soon as I sniffed that burnt vitamins mixed with ammonia scent, I knew I was in the right neighborhood.

Registration for the festival took place at the civic theater complex where the films were to be shown. While standing in line for our welcome bags and badges, we right away met some cool people. First, Brigitte, a free-lance German journalist, about my age. Maybe it's compensation for their parents and grandparents having been Nazis, but I have to say, the Germans I've met in general are friendly, open-minded, adventurous and fun. Brigitte was no exception. She'd come to the festival because she'd thought it sounded interesting. Later, she would try to return to China to write about something else, I forget what, I think it was some kind of flower festival, only to get turned back at the airport because she'd neglected to obtain a visa.

We also encountered John, an American living in Hong Kong who was a film critic. He spoke Chinese and seemed very savvy. The Shanghai Film Festival officials had given him the big sell, he told me, about how significant this event would be, the first international film festival to be held in mainland China, and how one film would be chosen the grand prize winner. "They went on and on," he told me, "about the grand-prize. It was this big build-up, this really important prize for the first international Chinese film festival. Guess what the prize is called."

"Ummm...I don't know. I give up."

"Well, you have to imagine this official, telling me about the grand prize. They'd put a lot of thought into the name. He stands up very straight, and tells me proudly, with a lot of drama: 'it is called...the Golden Cup.' The Golden Cup," John repeated. "A little anticlimactic, don't you think?"

And then there was Mark. Mark was a guy my age or a few years younger, handsome in in a dissolute way, with thick hair, full lips, stubble of beard and a slightly bleary eyed expression. He wore a long, khaki sort of trench coat and had one arm in a sling , wrapped in a somewhat bloody bandage. When we met, he was arguing with one of the officials, some problem with his registration, in a mix of English and a sort of sing-song Chinese, definitely not the Beijing accent that I knew.

Mark had made a small career for himself acting as the foreign devil villain in a series of Hong Kong action movies. On the last one, he'd gotten hurt (the painkillers he was on accounted for his bleariness, at least in part). And the bastards wouldn't pay him his contract, wouldn't pay for his medical bills, but they were all a bunch of gangsters, the money behind these films; you couldn't really fuck with them.

"Gangsters?" I asked dubiously.

"Yeah. Full-on Hong Kong triads. The whole Hong Kong film industry is run by them."

At the time, I thought, yeah, right. Here's this guy, stoned, wearing a trenchcoat, with his bloody-bandaged arm in a sling, claiming to be an actor. He did not strike me as the most credible source. But later, not long after I got back to Los Angeles, I read an article in New Yorker about this very thing, the extent to which the Hong Kong film industry is controlled by Hong Kong mobsters. Mark, wherever you are, forgive me for doubting you!

For this was another thing that was new: the presence of foreigners in China, not just official foreigners attached to embassies, or teachers on contract, or businessmen looking for deals. All of the sudden, there seemed to be foreigners who were just, sort of, hanging out. You didn't have this in 1979. There was another guy I met, an American who was trying to get a business going fixing cars. It wasn't exactly above ground; he didn't seem to have permits, exactly, and he was living, not in a controlled foreigner's ghetto, but in the pantry of some guy's apartment, just crashing there while he tried to figure things out. And there was this whole expat scene, apparently, which mostly seemed to revolve around drinking. I mean, there was a social scene of sorts in Beijing all those years ago, and I could tell you about that party thrown by the notorious Chilean attache, attended by the famous Chinese TV celebrity, an acordian player, and the drunken wheelchair races that ensued, and I could tell you about Lori, the daughter of a high-ranking American embassy official, who'd smuggled a hundred hits of blotter acid in the gas tank of her moped, but in Beijing in 79, the stories were more about isolation, and frustration and living a very artificial existence. About an Embassy wife who described in great detail what she had to do to make her famous chocolate chip peanut butter cookies...."well, there's no chocolate chips, so you have to smash up the chocolate bars...and there's no peanut butter, so we got a big bag of peanuts and shelled them out on the balcony. And it was freezing, and the wind was blowing peanut shells and skins everywhere..." She narrated this story with a sort of weary shock. It had been so hard to make those cookies.

Things had changed in China.

Paul and I spent a lot of time just wandering around Shanghai. In 1993, Shanghai was a city in transition. Cranes and scaffolding were everywhere as the city's officials attempted to transform Shanghai into China's number one, no, Asia's number one, most modern city. Meaning that in 1993, things were kind of a mess. The Bund, that stretch of classic European buildings that front the Huangpo River, was beautiful. Shanghai's gardens, lovely. But then there was the Pudong New City rising across the river, with its landmark that dominated the Shanghai skyline, the Oriental Pearl TV tower. I don't know what it is about Chinese cities, but they seem to have this weird thing for TV towers. Every city that wants to be important has one. The Oriental Pearl epitomizes the form: it is this huge Tinkertoy tower with a bulbous, well, bulb on top, a giant pink bulb. It is maybe one of the ugliest constructions you will ever see, sort of like Disney's Tomorrowland on some bad combination of steroids and hallucinogens.

The rest of Shanghai, at that time, was a seemingly random conglomeration of old and new and everything in between, elegant French style buildings, moldering in the damp, proletariat concrete block, graceful traditional Chinese roofs and walls, cheap-looking glassy modern boxes, weird fantasies of foreign styles, like the new Muslim restaurant that resembled a stucco mosque. Everywhere was traffic, swarms of little red taxis that filled the streets, scuttling in and out of narrow lanes never designed for cars. Towards the end of the festival, a Shanghai city official asked me what I thought of Shanghai. He was a short, solid man in a black suit who moved as though there were no possibility that his torso could ever bend in any way other than a sharp angle. A stiff, in other words. "Please, give us your criticisms, so that we might improve," he'd said.

"Well," I'd said cautiously. "Shanghai is a wonderful city. might want to think about some mass transit. Because with the traffic, it's very hard to get around. And...maybe it's not such a good idea to have factories next to tourist hotels."

Okay, I was young and dumb, but instead of saying something obvious like, "yes, naive young American woman, we are working on these issues," this fellow bristled defensively and immediately changed the subject.

Still, I was in a near-constant state of culture shock during that visit to Shanghai. I felt like I was some hick from the Chinese countryside, staring at the big city lights. Benetton? They had Benetton stores? In China? Euro designer shops? Real coffee? I mean, in 1979 you had a choice between PLA green Mao suits and dark blue Mao suits. You had to use clothing coupons. You could not go and buy a groovy sweater at a Benetton store, for chrissakes!

Friday, April 29, 2005

Burrito Lockdown

From AP:
A call about a possible weapon at a middle school prompted police to put armed officers on rooftops, close nearby streets and lock down the school. All over a giant burrito.

Someone called authorities Thursday after seeing a boy carrying something long and wrapped into Marshall Junior High.

The drama ended two hours later when the suspicious item was identified as a 30-inch burrito filled with steak, guacamole, lettuce, salsa and jalapenos and wrapped inside tin foil and a white T-shirt.
And here I thought you could battle a bad burrito with Pepto-Bismol...

Friday Cat Blogging

Friday Cat Blogging
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

"Scratch my belly! Go ahead...give it a try..."

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Letter from Iran

My dear friend Jodie Evans, co-founder of Code Pink, has been in Iran this past week with a Code Pink delegation. If you're not familiar with Code Pink, they are, to quote from their mission statement, "a women initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement that seeks positive social change through proactive, creative protest and non-violent direct action." Emphasis on creative - Code Pink's protests are attention-getting, eye-catching, on point in terms of message, and most of all, they are damn funny. You've probably seen one of their giant "pink slips" given out to many of those officials we'd all like to see fired. They've disrupted every major Republican event of note in the past few years, including the Bolton hearings and Bush's convention acceptance speech.

But this email from Iran is anything but funny, as Jodie writes from another country that may be on the verge of experiencing the shock and awfulness of George Bush's foreign policy.

Jodie writes:
Our last night in Iran, it's 2am and I am looking out at the park along the river in Esfahan, a fabulously beautiful city, full of parks and squares and monuments more beautiful than the next. It is as beyond my imagining as it is all the Iranians I have met this last week, that the US could be thinking of bombing anything or anyone here.

When I spoke to Medea (Benjamin) earlier tonight, she told me about the FOX hour on the nuclear proliferation of Iran and then read on the internet about the ads being bought in the US depicting a nuclear threat to NYC, I felt a moment of total insanity wash through my psyche, I couldn't reconcile the week here and all the people I had met and spoken with .... and what I was hearing.

There isn't much Iranians agree on, but the response to my questions about the US bombing them always receives the same response, laughter. Unthinkable, insane, outrageous and impossible. Why, is a question that comes up rarely as there are no reasons in their minds. When I respond what about your nuclear proliferation, again I get a laugh. Propaganda of your administration is the answer. A few times the response was, well what if we do have or are making a bomb, why can't we have one to protect our natural resource that everyone wants??? We are surrounded by Pakistan, India and Israel, we have US bases surrounding us in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iraq. We are the vulnerable ones. Why can the US break treaties and demand that we obey? How can they speak about democracy, they have no idea what it means if they can also have veto power, veto power doesn't exist in democracy. How many times did I hear them say, "Can't we all just get along?"

"If the US wants to do something about all the violence and terrorism in the world, how can bombing a country bring understanding and world community? Study our history, we have never invaded, we have been invaded over and over again and still suffer to this day from all these invasions going back hundreds and hundreds of years."

"We may want changes in the laws of our country and we may want freedoms and democracy but we can only achieve those from working for them ourselves, from within our country, no one from the outside can bring them to us, and especially not the US through aggression. If the US was to bomb us it would unite us against them immediately, just as we were united against Iraq."

"We have are just coming out from a very dark tunnel, a failed revolution, 25 years of sanctions and a very horrible Iran/Iraq war, to invade or bomb now would send us backwards and be a horrible crime against the people of our nation. We like Americans, we don't agree with the American Government, but know it is like all unchecked power, behaving stupidly and full of corruption."

Iranians are just trying to live their lives and this just sounds to them like a lot of propaganda not worth giving the time of day....they don't want to be used by the stupid thinking.

They laugh that we are taking it seriously, that we traveled all this way to ask these questions, don’t we know we are just being manipulated by stupid American propaganda meant to make us afraid, they refuse to have their chains yanked by it and made afraid. They are suspicious it is happening around their elections and think it is just more manipulations. It will not affect their votes..

During our meetings with local NGO's we have learned of the destructive effects of Rumsfeld's comments about the US government working to make changes in Iran through their civil society. This comment has meant a crack down on NGO's, so it has harmed the help for change that does exist here.

Iran is not Iraq or Afghanistan, they are not Arabs, as every Iranian will remind you, they are much more affluent, and have a population of 70 million, 60% are under the age of 25. They ask how crazy would the US have to be to come here, they can't deal with Iraq and we are much larger. Iranians all serve 2 years in the military, meaning there are probably 5 million who could be called back into service in a matter of a month who have already been trained and have served 2 years in the service. Every year 2 million Iranians turn 18, think about it. This is one of the reasons given when I ask why is it beyond their imagining that we could attack. Does Bush know what who we are, our history and what he would be coming into???

In the internet café I have just finished a conversation with a woman from NYC who comes to visit her family once a year, she too laughs, "The Iranian people are not afraid of the US and their silly propaganda she says....I am not sure why all this silly talk but it is out of the question. This is Iran, they can't be that stupid."

It reminds me of what a few others have said, foreign policy is one thing our current administration is doing right, because we don't owe anything to the US and our trading partners are Europe, China and Japan, we can stand up to the bullying tactics of the US and it makes us proud that our government is not letting the US walk all over them, like the other silly fearful countries the US can and does manipulate.

For more news from Jodie and the Code Pink delegation, visit their website.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Song of the Azalea

Congratulations are in order to Joann of Along the Journey, whose first book was just published by Penguin Canada. Joann is the co-author of Kenneth Ore's engrossing memoir, Song of the Azalea, which details his childhood growing up amidst the dislocations and horrors of the second World War and his subsequent life as an underground organizer for the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong.

Kenneth and Joann capture his childhood experiences in vivid, almost hallucinatory fashion. Childhood games segue into rotting corpses and narrow escapes from bombings, Japanese soldiers and bandits. The traumas that Kenneth experiences create an idealistic, patriotic but emotionally closed-off adolescent and young man, a perfect candidate for seduction by a cause greater than himself and his fragmented family. Returning to Hong Kong after the Revolution, Kenneth is recruited to join the Chinese Communist Party. He devotes himself to the Party for the next 35 years, sacrificing his youth, his loves, career, material gain and his familial relationships. The book traces Kenneth's growing disillusionment with a Party that asks everything from him and gives him nothing back. Finally, a personal crisis forces Kenneth to choose between his loyalty to the Party and his obligations to his family.

I've read a lot of books about the Chinese revolution and the early period of the People's Republic, but Song of the Azalea's Hong Kong setting was new to me, as were the details of how the CCP functioned in an underground setting and subverted above ground institutions. Though the account of Kenneth's life as a recruiter in Hong Kong lacks the overt suspense of his wartime childhood, it is involving nonetheless and carries its own dramatic weight - the individual tragedy of dedicating oneself to the pursuit of some abstract, "Greater Good" at the expense of ordinary human connections. In the case of the Chinese Communist Party, the object of Kenneth's loyalty would seem to be not worthy of it, but the same tragedy can apply regardless of the cause's worthiness. Abstract causes cannot love us back, and without the love and warmth of others, a life sacrificed to any Greater Good can feel hollow indeed.

"In Guangzhou Steht Ein Hofbrauhaus!"

Now here's some good news:
The Munich Oktoberfest, the annual festival of beer, sausages and raucous singing, is to be exported to China, the state of Bavaria announced.

Bavaria's Europe Minister Eberhard Sinner has struck an agreement with the southern Chinese industrial province of Guangzhou to hold a version of the Oktoberfest there.
Eins, Zwei, Zoufa!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Riding the Tiger

骑虎难下 - "Qi hu nan xia" - one of my favorite Chinese sayings. "When you mount the tiger, it's hard to climb down." You've made the decision to saddle a dangerous beast, and now you're in it for the ride...

Great article in the LA Times today about the Chinese government's calculated risk to allow and perhaps encourage the recent anti-Japanese demonstrations. In fact, as journalist Mark Magnier points out, the Chinese government has since 1998 had a policy of allowing protests - up to a point:
Since the late 1990s, China's response to unrest has undergone a strategic shift, partly because of the increase in protests, said Murray Scot Tanner, a China security specialist at the Rand Corp.

Chinese government statistics show there were 58,000 protests across the country in 2003, or 158 a day, as tensions have increased over corruption, land grabs and other problems on China's road from a planned to a market economy.

Beijing's focus before 1998 was generally on stopping protests at all costs, Tanner said. Now the emphasis is increasingly on learning about disturbances in advance, isolating the leadership from the rank and file, buying people off, preventing onlookers from joining and avoiding heavy-handed violence that might enrage the crowd.
BUT...and this is the big "but":
Such tactics can be dangerous for the government, calling into question whether authorities can turn off the tap once people get a taste of empowerment. In one recent case, workers in a Japanese-run factory reportedly joined a protest, then asked for an independent labor union, which Beijing forbids.

"When Chinese start to feel such emotion, there's a fear this could backfire against the government itself and get out of control," said Zhu Feng, a regional security expert with Peking University. "The government is scared of these long-simmering sentiments."
With the increasing penetration of the Internet, cellphones and text messaging, protests can be organized in practically no time, with little effort (see post below for more on this issue).

All of which adds up to one big hungry tiger...

"Let A Hundred Cell Phones Bloom..."

Check out SusanHu's front page diary over at the Booman Tribune about this New York Times article, on the increasing use of cellphones and text-messaging to organize protests in China...

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Hu's Honeymoon is Over

And the judgments are not kind...Philip Pan reports in the Washington Post that many of China's intellectuals, journalists and CCP reformers have concluded that Hu Jintao, far from opening up China's political process to greater transparency and the competition of ideas, has instead presided over a crack-down on public discourse and a call for increased Party discipline with rhetoric that echoes that of the Cultural Revolution:
Hu has placed particular emphasis on tightening the party's control over public opinion, presiding over a crackdown to restore discipline to state media and intimidate dissident intellectuals. He has also gone further than his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, by adopting new measures to regulate discussions on university Internet sites and the activities of nongovernmental organizations.

The crackdown has been a great disappointment to scholars and party officials who welcomed Hu's rise to power in the hope he might be more open to political reform than Jiang. After giving him the benefit of the doubt during a long political honeymoon, many have concluded Hu is an ideologically rigid and exceedingly cautious apparatchik who recognizes the party's authoritarian system is in trouble but wants to repair it.

"He is the ultimate product of the system," said one party academic with access to the leadership who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He never studied overseas or had much contact with the outside world. He was educated by the system, spent his entire career in the system, and his values are the same as the system's."
As an example of the kind of rhetoric that has alarmed reformers, Pan cites Hu's address to the full Central Committee at the end of September:
Hu warned that "hostile forces" were trying to undermine the party by "using the banner of political reform to promote Western bourgeois parliamentary democracy, human rights and freedom of the press," according to a person given excerpts of the speech.

Hu said China's enemies had not abandoned their "strategic plot to Westernize and split China." He blamed the fall of the Soviet Union on policies of "openness and pluralism" and on the efforts of "international monopoly capital with the United States as its leader." And in blunt language that party veterans said recalled Mao Zedong's destructive Cultural Revolution, he urged the leadership to be alert to the danger of subversive thinking.

"Don't provide a channel for incorrect ideological points of view," the person who had read some of the speech quoted Hu as saying. "When one appears, strike at it, and gain the initiative by subduing the enemy."
Hu also was said to have commented that while North Korea and Cuba's economic policies were regrettably flawed, their political policies were essentially correct - as though there was no connection between the utter poverty of North Korea and its seriously whacked-out neo-Maoist Cult of Personality politics.

Writers have been arrested, lawyers disbarred, professors fired, restrictions on the internet increased - not, as some have noted, the actions of a man confident of his or his Party's authority.

Still, I really have to wonder, in this day and age, how it is that Hu thinks censoring public dialog and using Cultural Revolution rhetoric is going to shore up his power. China is not North Korea. It isn't the country I first saw in 1979, stunned and blinking as it emerged from the trauma of its recent history. China has made the choice to engage with the world. Restricting the flow of information is not only counter-productive, it's on a practical level, impossible, regardless of the technological sophistication of the Great Firewall. Every foreigner carries with him or her the virtues and flaws of their own culture; every Chinese who studies abroad comes back with the awareness that there are different ways of interpreting history and different methods of doing things.

China was able to maintain rigid political control when the government and the Party controlled nearly every aspect of Chinese peoples' lives. But that isn't the case any more. The government has ceded that portion of its authority. Hu apparently thinks that rigid political control combined with pumped-up nationalism will keep China's people in line, will be sufficient to deal with ups and downs in the economy, with corruption, with economic dislocation, with environmental devastation. I personally have my doubts. People need a real safety valve, not just permission to demonstrate against Japanese sins of the past, however justified Chinese anger might be. People need a mechanism to express their grievances, to have their wants addressed, to exchange ideas that might improve the way things work. A country as large and complex as China needs this sort of exchange, I think, in order to function at its best. And when things go wrong, perhaps to function at all.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

One Night in Shanghai...Part One

After leaving China in March 1980, I did not return for over thirteen years. There were a number of reasons. The experience had been overwhelming, I suppose, hard to process. I was young enough to not have a clear grip on who I was, and not so young as to be completely malleable. And it had been so difficult at times: wrestling with bureaucracy, with restrictions on one's movements, on one's associations. And let's face it: China was kind of depressing back then. The lack of opportunity of my students (that was their constant refrain: "I have no choice about it"); the suffering so many people had experienced during the Cultural Revolution - I'd heard too many stories. I couldn't imagine that China could ever become a more or less normal place to live, where people could have decent lives and live as they choosed.

And yet...while I was in China that first time, I'd toyed with the idea of taking a teaching job in the provinces. I'd had offers; it would have been easy for me to do. What stopped me was the sense that I hadn't yet lived the life I was supposed to live back in the United States. I'd just started college, shouldn't I finish it? More to the point, I'd gotten this notion that I would become a rock musician and/or a famous screenwriter. Somehow I didn't see myself doing that in China. And I think at the back of my mind, I felt that if I'd stayed any longer, I might not have ever left. And who knows, I still wonder what my life would be like if I'd stayed...

But mainly, once I returned to the United States, I wasn't really in much of a position to go back to China. I was once again a college student. After that, I needed to work. I moved to Los Angeles and began to establish myself in the entertainment industry, in one obscure corner of it, anyway.

In the meantime, I'd become slightly obsessed with making sense of my China experience. I studied a little Chinese and Chinese history. Mostly, I developed a fixation on Zhou Enlai, who in addition to being a fascinating historical figure, a complex personality and the leading architect of the People's Republic of China, was one handsome man. Also, he was the one leader who had somehow maintained the respect and affection of just about everyone I encountered in China at that time (I would discover later that this affection was both genuine and also encouraged by a political campaign designed to shore up Deng Xiaoping's new leadership).

It wasn't until the Beijing protests in the spring of 1989 that it occurred to me that I could return to China. I had the money and the vacation time. More importantly, it was seeing those students and workers and intellectuals marching peacefully, freely expressing themselves and having dreams and ambitions that in 1979 seemed inconceivable, that prompted me to go. It was the idea that all of these people I'd known had cast off their mental shackles, their fears, trauma and depression, that they'd suddenly developed hope.

I and a friend made our plane reservations. "In two weeks, Tiananmen Square!" we'd joke.

When all of that came crashing down, I couldn't even think about returning for a long while.

But in 1993, an opportunity presented itself. I read in the Daily Variety that Shanghai would host its first International Film Festival.

I had just started working in a low-level film studio job after a period of unemployment. I was broke - more than that, I was deeply in debt, and not making very much money. I had no vacation time. But it seemed to me that I had to go to Shanghai and attend this festival. It was a chance to combine two themes in my life - China and film. Who knew what contacts I'd make to further my so-called career?

Also, my friend with whom I'd originally traveled to China was sick. Dying, actually, though neither of us could quite accept this at the time (and I still believe he didn't have to have died when he did...but that is another story). Like me, he hadn't been back to China since we'd left in 1980. He wanted to go too.

I approached my then boss for permission to take the time off, without pay.

"If you go, they might close the department," he responded.

I tried to digest this. "You're telling me that the department is so shaky that my taking two weeks off might close it? If that's true, then I'd be an idiot not to take advantage of an opportunity like this. Sorry, I'm going."

Paul, my friend and traveling companion, agonized over the decision far more than I did. He was paranoid about leaving his building, for some reason. Something might happen to it in his absence. The building was an old converted movie theater in a bad part of town that he rented out, mostly for underground parties and porn shoots. During the LA riots in 1992, things had burned all around him, so I guess his paranoia wasn't completely unfounded. But the weird thing was, he wasn't even living there by the time we were preparing to go to Shanghai. He'd let the space degenerate into complete chaos. I mean, the place was an utter disaster, a foot deep in clothes and papers and trash. Rather than cleaning it up, he'd moved into a series of cheap motel rooms by the airport. Something in his building was irritating his skin, he told me, was giving him a rash. He could escape it in those anonymous motel rooms. A maid would come in every morning and change his sheets. He told me all this in one of those rooms one night, as we sat on one of the twin beds in the bluish light, drinking tequila.

Paul went back and forth over whether he should go to Shanghai. As our friend drove us to the airport, I thought he was having a full-on mental breakdown. I guess, objectively, he was. He was nearly crying. He thought if he got on that plane, he would die.

Nonetheless, we got on the plane and headed to Shanghai...


("wen1 gu4 er2 zhi1 xin1" - "to study the past helps to understand the present")

I've gotten sort of exhausted by the issue of China's grievances with Japan in recent days. The level of emotion generally runs high in any online discussions of this topic, and unfortunately the same arguments tend to get repeated...and rehashed...and reiterated...

But this article in the UK Guardian gives some much-needed context to those images of angry Chinese students throwing bottles at the Japanese Consulate and smashing the windows of Japanese restaurants. And any involvement of the Chinese government in the protests and in the manipulation of anti-Japanese sentiments does not invalidate the very real basis for these emotions.

Writes the Guardian's Tokyo correspondent Martin Jacques:
After centuries of isolation, Japan's rapid industrialisation after 1867 catapulted the country into the ranks of the advanced world and left its neighbours trailing in its wake. This disparity served to further distance Japan from Asia and fuelled the kind of supremacist attitudes which saw Japan colonise Korea and Taiwan, north-east China and then briefly, during the second world war, most of south-east Asia, often with considerable barbarity.

After Japan's defeat in the war, it grudgingly admitted partial responsibility for its actions but it never went through anything like the kind of cathartic process that was to transform Germany. Guilt was confined to an ambiguous and cryptic form of words, plus an economic largesse towards its Asian neighbours, China included. For Japan, money was easier and less costly than coming to terms with its past. The United States, which governed Japan for a brief period after the war and which has remained its protector and ally ever since, made little or no attempt to persuade Japan to do more; its interests lay in resisting communism in China, Korea and Vietnam, in which it saw Japan as a valuable ally. Not surprisingly, Japan's reluctant expressions of remorse, repeated again yesterday by prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, have never measured up to the profound sense of grievance felt by its neighbours, especially China and South Korea. As a consequence, the issue has festered and the wounds remain; unlike in Europe, there has been no closure. It is one of the reasons why Japan has never been able to exercise the kind of regional influence that its status as an economic giant would imply.

Indeed, Japan has remained peculiarly aloof from its own continent. In many respects, it likes to consider itself part of the west. But as east Asia has been economically transformed over the past 30 years, that mindset has become increasingly unsustainable. East Asia is no longer its impoverished backyard, but a vibrant and increasingly powerful region that demands respect. Japan's ostrich-like attitude towards its own past has left it with feet of clay. It seems uncomprehending towards the huge resentments that animate not only the Chinese, but also the Koreans, Filipinos and many others. Indeed, it appears almost nonplussed by the latest protests, a sentiment reflected in Koizumi's statement yesterday, which merely represented a repetition of previous utterances. It would not be difficult - in theory at least - for Japan to disarm its critics by a sincere display of remorse, by a willingness to engage in open bilateral investigations of the past, in a heartfelt rather than grudging mea culpa. If anything, though, it is moving in the opposite direction, becoming more inflexible and less willing to demonstrate contrition.
I read a post yesterday on East Asia Blog from a Japanese poster, who said that the Class A war criminals in the shrine were only "war criminals" because of the Allies' post-war kangaroo court. I'm not knowledgable enough about those trials to fully judge that statement, and this is just one Japanese opinion, but it strikes me as evidence of the lack of national soul searching in Japan about its role in WW2 that this article cites.

Well, I'm sure there isn't a country in the world that couldn't do with more soul searching about its own history, mine most certainly included (especially right about now). But I think that comparing Japan and Germany on how this issue was handled is certainly instructive. I'm sure there are still residual worries about a strong Germany in a united Europe, but they are pretty residual at this point. Germany's reunification provoked minimal fear among its neighbors, for example. Ask Japan's neighbors how they feel about a remilitarized Japan, and I imagine you'd get a vastly different response. Indeed, Jacques, writes, "in the present Sino-Japanese spat, it is difficult to think of a single country - with the possible ambiguous exception of Taiwan - which sides with Japan. South Korea's sentiments, for obvious reasons, lie overwhelmingly with China. Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have all expressed sympathy with Chinese sentiments. Japan has only itself to blame: it is the author of its own estrangement and it shows no sign of being willing to do anything about it."

And if China is to become the dominent power in Asia, in Japan's place, how will China be regarded by its neighbors?

Of course, it will all depend on how China manages its "peaceful rise." But that is a topic for another post...

Murphy Is Not An Oppositionist

Murphy Is Not An Oppositionist
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

But she keeps an open mind and studies biographies of obscure Chinese revolutionaries...

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Senate Steel Cage Death Match!

For top-notch political theater, you couldn't beat the fireworks at today's Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on controversial nominee for Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.

If you haven't been following this story, it's hard to know where to start. Perhaps with Bolton's past statements on the United Nations (he recommended eliminating the top 20 stories, for one). Or his remarkable timing during then Secretary of State Colin Powell's sensitive negotiations with North Korea over their nuclear aspirations (Bolton called Dear Leader Kim Jong Il an evil dwarf, or words to that effect, which though there are many things one could say about an absolute dictator who favors pompadours, elevator shoes, fine cognac and kidnapping Japanese film directors while his subjects are eating bark, does not exactly illustrate a light diplomatic touch). Or the repeated allegations of his abusing subordinates, of his trying to fire CIA analysts who refuse to cook data to his specifications, his withholding of intelligence from superiors Powell and Rice. Perhaps my favorite tidbit is the story of Melody Townsel, a US AID worker (and staunch Republican) who provoked Bolton's ire in Kyrgyzstan and claims: "When I was dispatching a letter to AID, my hell began. Mr. Bolton proceeded to chase me through the halls of a Russian hotel, throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door, and genuinely behaving like a madman. I eventually retreated to my hotel room and stayed there. Mr. Bolton then routinely visited me to pound on the door and shout threats" (here's a link to the Daily Kos diary that brought this story to the public's attention).

But in spite of the fact that John Bolton appears to be a bullying, lying, stark-raving lunatic, as usual, Republicans in the Senate were lining up to support the choice of their Dear Leader, Bush the Second. I mean, why not? If they could confidentally vote in an obsequious toady indelibly linked with torturing people for Attorney General, why not John Bolton for United Nations ambassador?

Except that a few Republican Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee were said to be wavering: Chuck Hagel - who has on his staff one of the analysts supposedly threatened by Bolton, and Lincoln Chaffee, one of the last of that dying breed, the so-called moderate Republican. With the steady drip of allegations of less than seemly conduct by Mr. Bolton and rumors of much worse to come in the pipeline, committee Chairman Richard Lugar tried an unprecedented parliamentary maneuver - he moved to cut off debate and bring the Bolton nomination to an immediate vote on the Senate floor.

"Furious" does not adequately describe the reaction of the Senate Foreign Committee's Democratic members. One observer likened Joe Biden to a wolverine. He was vicious, exposing his large white teeth in a rictus snarl that resembled a smile only in that the corners of his mouth were elevated above the midline. Biden called Bolton a liar. Christopher Dodd, armed with flow-charts, stated that Bolton should be indicted, should these allegations be proven true. John Kerry characterized Lugar's maneuvering as "shocking," and was, how to put it? Well, dignified, direct and sadly Presidential. "Is the chairman saying it doesn't matter what we know about John Bolton?" asked Kerry. "If you don't know some of the allegations that have come across the transom then you are voting in the blind. Maybe you want to vote in the blind."

With a 10 to 8 majority in the Committee, however, it looked as though Lugar would have his way, and the Bolton nomination would reach the Senate floor, where Democrats would have to find six Republican dissenters to block the nomination. And given that in recent years, Congressional Republicans seem to have had loyalty microchips implanted in their brains, finding six such rebels did not seem likely. Even Hagel, the Senator with the staffer Bolton abused, stated he would reluctantly vote to send on Bolton's nomination if he had to vote now, but that he might not vote for Bolton in the full Senate vote. As for Chaffee, the supposedly "reasonable" moderate Republican, he just sat there, quivering and occasionally equivocating, middle-of-the-road roadkill.

And then, out of nowhere, Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich spoke up. He had not said a word up to this point and had not attended last week's two day confirmation hearing. First he apologized for his absence. He'd had to attend to other duties. And then...

"I don't feel comfortable voting today," said Voinovich. Senator Dodd's presentation had planted serious doubts in his mind about Bolton's fitness for the job.

Lugar, whose blinking over the unexpectedly ferocious Democratic resistance had already reached semaphoric speeds, was now twitching wildly as he watched his power play collapse.

Because that was that. A 9-9 tie would be essentially a rejection by the Senate Foreign Relations' committee of the Bolton nomination. It could still reach the Senate floor, but passage by the full Senate under such circumstances would be doubtful, with other Republican moderates now free to vote their residual consciences.

In the end, the Committee voted unanimously to delay the vote on Bolton for three weeks so that they could examine the allegations in detail and gather corroborating evidence.

Will Bolton tough it out? Develop a sudden "nanny problem?" Enroll in an anger management course? Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen!

May 4th, the Next Generation?

Well, this should be interesting...
China's foreign minister called Tuesday for an end to anti-Japanese protests, the first signal that the leadership may no longer welcome the sometimes violent demonstrations that have underpinned a new and more confrontational approach to Japan.

The minister, Li Zhaoxing, told a meeting of the Communist Party's propaganda department attended by 3,500 people that government, military and party officials, as well as "the masses," should stay off the streets, state media reported.

"Cadres and the masses must believe in the party and the government's ability to properly handle all issues linked to Sino-Japanese relations," Mr. Li was quoted as saying. "Calmly, rationally and legally express your own views. Do not attend marches that have not been approved. Do not do anything that might upset social stability."


The big test of the order will come next week. Urban residents have been sending text and e-mail messages to one another calling for major marches on May 1, China's traditional Labor Day, and on May 4.

May 4 is significant in Chinese history because it is the anniversary of the first major student-led nationalist uprising, in 1919. Popular outrage over the Versailles Treaty, which gave German-controlled territory in China to Japan after World War I, sparked that protest.

Authorities generally step up surveillance and harassment of critics of the government on such anniversaries to guard against unrest.

(I wrote about the historical background of May 4th at length here, for those curious)

It's tempting to look for historical parallels here, and I have no doubt that the demonstration's organizers are well aware of the resonances and are invoking them deliberately.On the other side, the last thing the Chinese government wants is to clash with students on May 4th, a date they claim as significant in the founding of the CCP. Whether today's students are willing to risk what the original May 4th students did (or their counterparts in 1989, for that matter) remains to be seen. Today's Chinese government, whatever its deficiencies, is not the warlord government of 1919, and the Japanese are not colonizing Manchuria. China's capitalists, technocrats and emerging middle class have a lot to lose in any serious break with Japan, as do many ordinary Chinese workers. But as one commentator pointed out (and if I could remember who this was, I'd certainly link to him/her), China's students are not necessarily the stakeholders with at-risk investments here. Many come from less than affluent backgrounds; all face heavy competition for employment and a great deal of economic uncertainty. Maybe they are angry enough, regardless of how misdirected their anger might be, to hit the streets again come May 4th.

If I had to bet, I'd say they won't. But I sure wouldn't bet the farm on it.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Stealing A Comment...

I hope I'm not violating some blogger etiquette here, but I am reprinting this comment left on Peking Duck on a thread about the anti-Japanese demonstrations, as I think it summarizes things about as well as anyone else has:
To answer your question. Demonstrations have been going on in Mainland China for the past decade. There were 58,000 reported demonstrations last year, and the only unusual thing about the demonstrations in Shanghai and in Huankantou is that they are being widely reported by the Western press.

Contrary to most of the bloggers, I don't think that this is the "beginning of the end" for the Communist Party because demonstrations have become so frequent that the Party has gotten used to them. The basic understanding is that the demonstrators can demonstrate provided that they don't cross red lines such as calling for the overthrow of the Communist Party or any fundamental political change. It's pretty much understood that any demonstration that is directed at the political system (as opposed to local officials within the system) will not be allowed, and demonstrators are very careful to portray their demonstration as "legal" and "patriotic." Also, the police generally don't move in hard against demonstrations for the simple fact that doing so will be very, very stupid and turn a minor incident into another Tiananmen which the government does not want. The standard operating procedure is to wait until the demonstration is over, arrest a few key leaders and put them in jail for a few months, and basically give the demonstrators everything that they want. The "give the demonstrators what they want" part makes sure that people are no longer in an angry mood. The "throw a few people in jail" part is to keep people from pushing the limits the next time.

Personally, it's things like this that make me rather optimistic about the future of China. People are pushing the limits, the government is responding. It's a slow, messy process but over time, something like civil society is developing.
Posted by Joseph Wang at April 17, 2005 09:46 PM

I don't know if Joseph has a blog, but his collection of bookmarks and links can be found here...

And if I understood how Trackback works, I'd certainly be using it here! Oh well... "mozhe shitou guo he" indeed...

Running Dog's Take

Running Dog is back and is providing invaluable commentary on the anti-Japanese protests currently sweeping China. Go here and here. You many not agree with the Dog's take - I'm not sure I do, completely - but what he/she has to say is more than worthwhile...

More Protests in Shanghai

Another big anti-Japanese protest took place in Shanghai, with thousands of riot police looking on as marchers threw bottles, paint balloons and chunks of pavement at the Japanese Consulate:
Asked by a reporter whether anything could be done to rein in the violence, a Chinese officer answered, "By whom?" and then walked away as if annoyed. In several hours, there appeared to be only one arrest...

...The lenience on Saturday provoked wry comments from many ordinary Chinese. "They say it is fine to denounce Japan, but the government must know that people have even more serious grievances against the state of affairs in our country," said a man named Zhang, who declined to provide his full name.

Another man, a 23-year-old barber in central Shanghai, where several shops catering to Japanese were destroyed, said he had nothing against Japan or Japanese people. "People are taking part in this march because they aren't allowed to protest anything else," he said. "In your country, people are allowed to demonstrate freely, so something like this probably wouldn't attract many people. Here we are never given a chance to protest, so everyone wants to see it for himself, to be there."

Note to the barber: Zhejiang Province and Huankantou village aren't too far from Shanghai...

Why Write?

(WARNING. LONG, SELF-INDULGENT, SEMI-RANT AHEAD. If you're not in the mood, the post that follows this is about the protests in Zhejiang last week...)

I love mystery novels. I tell myself that I should read more "literary" fiction, and I do try. But I frequently find that mysteries are a more satisfying reading experience. Too many times I've finished a well-reviewed literary novel and wondered what it was really about - not in a confusing, too much magical realism sense, but just that big themes and well-constructed plots seemed largely absent, that the endings frequently felt arbitrary (Why does it end here? Well...just because. It's over, that's why). Sure, a lot of the writing is nice, but there's only so much nourishment one can get from a bunch of pretty sentences. I'll read a novel whose author is attempting to respond to some of these criticisms - Franzen's The Corrections, for example, and still...okay, he's trying to write about Big Things. About the American psyche at the turn of the millennium through the crumbling lives of a "typical" American family, etc. But what was that whole subplot in Lithuania supposed to be about? You can't tell me the author has ever been to Lithuania; Franzen's Lithuania was about as convincing as when they do Lithuania on an episode of Alias or something.

Mysteries, on the other hand, tend to have a certain narrative logic and coherent structure by the nature of the genre. Someone gets murdered. By the end, you find out who did it, and why. Within these confines, quality varies widely, of course. There are plenty of unreadable hacks writing mysteries (Carolyn Hart. Why, Lord, oh why?). But the best writers are really creating literature, not just genre fiction. And when they're not creating literature, they are at least giving us a book that's satisfying to read, and you know why it ends where it ends, for the most part (he did it. And here's why).

So I was interested to read the Ian Rankin interview on the Powell's Books website. Rankin is a Scottish author whose Inspector Rebus series is consistently best-selling and well-reviewed. I've actually only just discovered Rankin and have only read one of his books. Though I can't yet say if he'll become one of my favorites, I liked what I read and was curious to find out more.

What interested me the most was Rankin's revelation that though he has a story in mind he wants to tell and researches it thoroughly, when he starts writing, he generally has no idea how the book is going to end. New characters, subplots, tangents, these things come up in the course of the writing, not through some carefully worked out plot. Says Rankin:
You'd be surprised. People think that crime fiction is very structured, that it has the puzzle element, that it has got a very strong sense of beginning, middle and end. The crime happens, then you get the investigation, then you get the resolution at the end. And it all looks very structured. But an awful lot of crime writers make it up as they go along. I always say "If I knew what was going to happen, why would I need to write the book?"

"If I knew what was going to happen, why would I need to write the book?"

Of all the things I've read about writing and the process of writing, this sentence really resonated with me.

I've written, at this point...well...a lot...many, many pages. Novels, screenplays, teleplays (with no notable commercial success, though I've made a small amount of money here and there). The first few long projects I tackled, when I was trying to get a handle on the process, I rewrote so many times that I couldn't even guess how many drafts I did. Let's just say forests died so that I might learn how to better craft a plot and turn a phrase.

You know all those writers who whine about how hard it is to write? How miserable writing makes them? I am not one of them. I mean, why write if it isn't fun? Which is not to say that I don't procrastinate (for example: tonight I watched an entire evening of trashy TV and then mindlessly web-surfed and am only getting around to writing this at 12:46 AM), or that the writing always goes well or that I don't every once in a while get myself into projects that are, well, frankly miserable for me to do and make me put a metaphoric gun to my head every night in order to do them, but overall, hey, I love to write. Few things feel better to me than coming up with that perfect line to nail some moment, the immense feeling of satisfaction I get at the end of the night when I look at what I've accomplished and think, hey, that ain't half bad. Figuring out some difficult plot point, watching the pages pile up as I make my way through a project - you know, it's fun. If it's not fun, why do it?

Well, I work in the film/television industry, and I guess I can answer my own question to some extent. A lot of people are in it for the potential money, that big six figure spec screenplay they're going to sell which will totally change their lives. A lot of people are taken with the idea of being a writer, of being considered a creative person. They want to have that identity. They just don't want to do the work all that much.

I was as guilty of the material success motivation as anyone, I guess. I moved to Los Angeles with the notion that I would either become a rock star or a successful screenwriter. Either one would do.

But if it was really success I was after, I picked a strange and somewhat perverse way to pursue it. The projects I tackled were generally uncommercial and eccentric. I kept telling myself next time I would write that incredibly commercial screenplay spec, but I never quite got around to it. I was having so much more fun writing my strange television series - and of course, writers with no standing in the industry just don't sell TV series, and I knew that - but it was so much fun to do. Seven episodes. I could have done more but finally managed to make myself stop. Now I would write that spec screenplay. If I could only think of what it should be about.

In the meantime, I decided I would work on a novel. I'd written an opening chapter to one years ago, and I'd always kind of liked the idea. Why not go ahead and write it until I came up with a killer concept for that commercial feature? But since I knew the novel was basically another uncommercial proposition, I devised a series of rules to make the project go faster. I would write every night from 10 PM to midnight. I would produce at least two pages a night. Once I finished a chapter, I would not go back and revise it. Outline? I didn't need no stinkin' outline. Though I had some plot points and scenes in mind, I'd make it up as I went along. The idea was not to get hung up on anything, not to judge, not to critique myself into creative paralysis. I christened my project, "the Trashy Novel," another way of deflecting my internal critic. I wasn't aiming to be brilliant here. I was just going to write, keep up my chops as it were. Because writing, really, is just like playing a musical instrument - you have to practice. And when it's time to do the work, you have to perform.

I discovered that I really liked writing novels. And that in spite of the fact that I'd been a pretty prolific writer in the past, having a defined routine and set goals was just like what all the annoying grownups had always said - a very good idea. In about six months I'd finished a draft.

I did go back and rework chapters and edit and all that, of course. But it was a pretty good first draft. And having done it once, I thought, why not do it again? So I sat down and wrote Trashy Novel 2 (a sequel to Trashy Novel). This too was a tremendous amount of fun. I still hadn't started that commercial screenplay, of course. But I was coming around to the view that I didn't really want to. Though I'd really enjoyed writing television scripts (features not so much), the process of trying to sell them, with the attendant rejection, made me absolutely miserable. Reaching for the Prozac level depressed.

Why not just write novels because I enjoyed doing it? Maybe I'd never make a dime. Maybe I'd take the skills I'd acquired writing Trashy Novels 1 & 2 and use them to write something I might be able to sell, a mystery novel, perhaps. In the meantime, Trashy Novel 3 beckoned (there were some unresolved issues left over from 1 & 2).

And then something unexpected happened. I made contact with an editor at a major publishing house who agreed to read a sample of Trashy Novel 1.

Now, I have to say, this editor gives lie to every stereotype of the cold, rude, unresponsive gatekeeper in a creative industry. She is incredibly friendly, courteous, encouraging and best of all, fast. I've never gotten responses back from a person in her kind of position so quickly.

She liked the writing and the "voice" but had some criticisms. Mostly, the book was just too long for a first-time author - too hard to market. If I could cut, say, 100 pages (or was it 150? I forget), then she could seriously consider it.

Of course, I said I would try. Thinking as I typed the email, there was absolutely no way I would be able to cut that much and that I was almost surely wasting my time. But I had to make the attempt.

I worked all summer editing the book. It was a tedious, frustrating process, mainly because all the time I was taking to edit was time that I could not take to write. And I knew in my heart that all my hard work wasn't going to amount to anything. They'd never publish this book. In spite of this certainty, I still fantasized about getting published. About making a little money as a writer. About finally having achieved something I'd worked for and wanted for years.

I managed to cut about sixty pages, good cuts for the most part, though a few hurt. Anything more would have seriously compromised the book, I thought. When I finished, I sent off an email detailing my progress to the friendly editor and waited for the inevitable rejection.

To my surprise, it didn't happen then. The editor agreed to read the draft as I'd edited it. I told myself that this was enough, to actually get a full consideration of my work, for once.

Of course, it wasn't enough when the rejection came - a nice rejection to be sure, with an open-ended invitation to submit something else in the future that might meet their requirements (specifically, something shorter). Still, it hurt. A lot. As another writer friend of mine said, just because you tell yourself that you know something bad is going to happen doesn't mean that you don't feel like shit when it does.

I fell into the worst post-natal, post-rejection funk I'd had in years. The whole point of writing the novels had been to avoid this cycle, and I'd managed to get sucked right into it. I abandoned Trashy Novel 3 (to complaints from my small but loyal fan base, who had been following the series. Sorry, guys). I wasn't sure what I wanted to write. Maybe I didn't want to write at all. Maybe writing had become for me what playing music had become a few years back - something I'd done forever, something that I thought that defined me, that I thought I couldn't live without, but the funny thing was, I could. Once I finally gave up the band, it was kind of a relief. All that time, hassle, practice, nerves...

But I wasn't ready to give up writing, even if I wasn't feeling much like doing it. Sometimes maintaining your identity is about an assertion of will, rather than an expression of some kind of essential nature. I'll make myself write, and maybe, after a while, I'll actually feel like doing it again. Because after all, it's what we do that really makes us who we are, right? It's not the other way around...

Okay, so I lied at the beginning of this post. Sometimes writing isn't fun. Sometimes it really is haaarrrdddd. But one thing I have learned from years of going through this process is that sometimes you just have to slog through it. It's like running. You put on your shoes, you drag yourself outside, you jog and every step feels like you're fighting the entropy of the universe; it feels miserable, and why bother? But you told yourself that you were going to run, so you set off down the trail.

And eventually, maybe you are running down the trail, and the clouds lift and the colors sharpen, you smell the sage, and it's so incredibly beautiful that you can't take it in and you think the key to everything is somehow contained in this beauty, and yet it's still inpenetrable...but you feel good. Alive.

Oh yeah. That's right. This is fun.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Riot Tourists

With the spotlight on anti-Japanese protests in China these past two weeks (and the UK Guardian's Jonathan Watts gives an excellent summary and backgrounder here), far less attention has been paid to the riots that took place in Huankantou, a village in Zhejiang Province. The riots were sparked by rumors - no one is certain of the facts - that two elderly women had been killed while protesting an industrial park that had been built on land locals claimed was illegally seized from farmers. Worse, villagers blamed the pollution from the park's chemical plants for killing crops, contaminating the nearby river and even causing a marked increase in severe birth defects. Local officials and provincial authorities ignored the villagers grievances. In Jonathan Watts' latest account:
There is a strange new sightseeing attraction in this normally sleepy corner of the Chinese countryside: smashed police cars, rows of trashed buses and dented riot helmets. They are the trophies of a battle in which peasants scored a rare and bloody victory against the Communist authorities, who face one of the most serious popular challenges to their rule in recent years.

In driving off more than 1,000 riot police at the start of the week, Huankantou village in Zhejiang province is at the crest of a wave of anarchy that has seen millions of impoverished farmers block roads and launch protests against official corruption, environmental destruction and the growing gap between urban wealth and rural poverty. China's media have been forbidden to report on the government's loss of control, but word is spreading quickly to nearby towns and cities. Tens of thousands of sightseers and well-wishers are flocking every day to see the village that beat the police.

But the consequences for Huankantou are far from clear. Having put more than 30 police in the hospital, five critically, the 10,000 residents should be bracing for a backlash. Instead, the mood is euphoric. Children have not been to school since Sunday's clash. There are roadblocks outside the chemical factory that was the origin of the dispute. Late at night the streets are full of gawking tourists, marshaled around the battleground by proud locals who bellow chaotic instructions through loudspeakers.

"Aren't these villagers brave? They are so tough it's unbelievable," said a taxi driver from Yiwu, the nearest city. "Everybody wants to come and see this place. We really admire them.

"We came to take a look because many people have heard of the riot," said a fashionably dressed young woman who had come from Yiwu with friends. "This is really big news."

Protests are more common in China than most in the West are probably aware, with land seizures and environmental degradation frequently the flashpoints. Last year, tens of thousands protested a dam project in western Sichuan. Farmers who are in danger of being evicted from their lands or who are seeing their livelihoods destroyed by pollution are fighting back with increasing frequency. Writes Watts:
Government statistics say the number of protests grew by 15% last year to 58,000, with more than 3 million people taking part. In many provincial capitals, roadblocks occur more than once a week (story here).
For a while, I've had the notion that an environmental movement in China might form the basis for a more democratic society. As I recall, back when the proposal for the Three Gorges Dam was presented to the National People's Congress, an unprecedented number of delegates abstained - which was basically a "no" vote in what had always been a rubber stamp parliament. No matter how much China's cities have developed and how strong its manufacturing base may be, peasants still form the majority of China's population - and farmers, of all people, pay the price when the environment is sacrificed to rampant, unchecked development. Moreover, in Chinese traditional culture, there is the idea that man is a part of nature, not separate from it. With the growth of China's middle class has come the growth of tourism, including nature pursuits like hiking, camping and mountain-climbing. Though perhaps not intimately connected to their livelihood as with the peasant population, China's newly affluent urban dwellers have reason to go Green too...

Friday, April 15, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging

Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

Obviously, Wolfgang does not know how to relax...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A Piece Of The Action

I have a good friend, Anna, originally from China and now a U.S. citizen, whose parents from the mainland visit often. Anna once told me a hilarious story about her mother's first trip to Las Vegas. Now, Anna's mother is one of those tough older Chinese ladies. She's been through a lot, she's blunt to the point of, well, bluntness. I wouldn't mess with her. Still, she doesn't speak English, and as I recall, this trip took place before she'd had much experience with doing things in the U.S. What happened was, Anna's husband (native American, no Chinese language) and Anna's mom somehow got separated in one of those huge Vegas casinos, something about taking different escalators, him watching her descend out of sight as he went up, and then he just couldn't find her. He spent hours searching the casino, looking for her, frantic - Anna's mother doesn't speak English, she's in a strange city, in the blinking, beeping chaos of a Vegas casino. It got to be around 4 in the morning. And finally, at last, he finds her. At the slot machines. Happy as can be.

I recalled this story as I read the featured article in today's LA Times about the Chinese government's campaign to curtail illegal gambling. A series of high-profile scandals involving government officials absconding with public funds and blowing them at casinos has prompted Beijing to crack down on underground gambling venues, which apparently spring up, get closed down and re-open with all the persistence of crab-grass.

Many in China are skeptical of the effort:
"We call these campaigns a 'gust of wind,'" said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociologist with People's University in Beijing. "It blows the dust away, but as soon as the wind stops, the dust comes back. The central government aim of halting gambling is totally unrealistic."
Gambling is deeply ingrained in the Chinese culture, according to these experts.
"Chinese are the biggest gamblers in the world," said Hu, the economics professor. "Thousands of years under an imperial system that tries to keep people down leads to a mentality of trying to become super-rich overnight, preferably without the hard work."
Critics of Beijing's policy point out that China is losing billions of dollars (72 billion dollars last year, according to one study) of Chinese gambling money overseas, to popular destinations like Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and even North Korea (in casinos built and operated by Chinese businessmen).

Rather than crack down, these experts suggest, Beijing should consider legalized gambling that is tightly controlled. Even conservative countries like Singapore and Malaysia are opening casinos to attract Chinese tourists. Why shouldn't China get a piece of its own action?

Great article, give it a read.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A Single Spark...

If you want to stir things up on a China-related blog, you can always count on these two topics to do the job: Taiwanese independence (or separatism, if you prefer) and anti-Japanese sentiment in China. The Taiwan issue is a well-known hot button. Anti-Japanese sentiment may not be as familiar to many Netizens, but I imagine yesterday's demonstrations in Beijing caught the world's attention.
Chinese protesters chanted slogans and burned Japanese flags on Saturday as more than 1,000 turned out in the capital to demand a boycott of Japanese goods over Tokyo's refusal to admit to World War II atrocities.

The demonstration in the Beijing neighborhood of Zhongguancun, known for its electronics shops and home to a large student population, comes less than a week after anti-Japanese protests in other Chinese cities turned violent...

...Many Chinese harbor deep resentment of Japan's wartime aggression and its failure to own up to atrocities, feelings exacerbated by Tokyo's approval on Tuesday of a school history textbook critics say whitewashes Japanese war crimes.

"Across the country, the mood to refuse Japanese goods is high, but nothing has been done about this. Therefore, patriotic students have organized themselves," said a notice circulated by e-mail on Friday.

On Saturday, the mostly student protesters carried signboards with lists of Japanese brand names crossed out and chanted slogans outside an electronics plaza urging the boycott.

Some wore red signs pasted to their chests bearing a traditional Chinese dragon and reading "Reject Japanese goods." Others began kicking a Toyota car caught in the middle of the crowd before it managed to drive away.

Police guarded the entrance to the electronics plaza to stop demonstrators from pushing inside, and at least 20 police vans stood by to prevent the protest from escalating...

...Last weekend protesters smashed windows at a Japanese supermarket in the southwestern city of Chengdu after a demonstration there against Japan's bid for a permanent U.N. Security Council seat turned violent. Demonstrators also took to the streets in Guangzhou, Chongqing and the southern city of Shenzhen, where two Japanese department stores were vandalized.

Domestic media said millions of Chinese had also signed an online petition opposing the bid for a seat.

Chinese grievances against Japan are of long standing, going back to the Chinese defeat in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. Though China maintained paper title to her territory in Manchuria, the fading Imperial Government's actual authority was nominal, and if anyone was actually running the place, it was Japan, which had caught a strong case of Manifest Destiny with regards to Manchuria. An example of this mentality: the problems in Manchuria, said one Japanese writer, were in fact not caused by Japanese actions but instead were the result of too much concern with Chinese demands.

By 1915, Japan was in the position to issue an ultimatum that the terms of its "21 Demands," which in effect would give Japan complete control of Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Shandong and other Chinese territories, be accepted by the nominally republican government of Yuan Shikai...or else.

Chinese resentment of Japan really hit the boiling point as a result of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, a treaty that was supposed to settle the scores of World War I.

Well, that didn't work so well, as World War II went on to demonstrate. And many Chinese, whose democratic aspirations had been supported by American President Woodrow Wilson, felt betrayed by the outcome of the Versailles deal-making. But Japan had been on the side of the victorious Western allies, and though China could not be considered precisely a spoil of war, Japan was given title to what had previously been German concessions in Shandong Province. And Woodrow Wilson, in poor health, in the minority and fighting against the isolationist sentiments of his own countrymen, was unable or unwilling to back up his promises to China.

The grim news from Paris reached Beijing before the actual signing of the Treaty. The Chinese delegation, not willing to end up the scapegoat in the "Who Lost Shandong?" debate, revealed that the secret treaties and machinations between the Great Powers, Japan and the Chinese government (the warlord regime in China was far from blameless here) had fatally undercut China's negotiating position. By May 1, their report was made public, published in the "Peking Daily." Beijing student organizations had already resolved to hold a massive demonstration on May 7, to commemorate National Humiliation Day (established after the forced acceptance of Japan's 21 Demands, certainly one of my favorite holiday concepts ever). With this news, the emotional fever pitch rose a few more notches. At one meeting a student "bit his index finger; and on a white banner he wrote in blood the words, 'Return Our Qingdao" (Shandong Province's capital, home to Qingdao Beer, which was set up by the Germans - one of imperialism's better side-effects). Another student tearfully threatened suicide if the meeting did not end with the resolution to march.

For all of the seeming emotionalism, however, the students were well-organized, the demonstration carefully planned. According to John Dewey, who had coincidentally arrived in China on May 1, the student groups were co-ordinated enough move their demonstration back three days from the original schedule of May 7; a political party had plans to demonstrate on that day, Dewey reported, and the students "were afraid their movement, coming at the same time, would make it look as if they were an agency of the political faction, and they wanted to act independently as students. To think of kids in our country from fourteen on, taking the lead in starting a big cleanup reform politics movement and shaming merchants and professional men into joining them. This is sure some country."

On May 4th, in the early afternoon, some 3000 students representing thirteen Beijing colleges and universities gathered in Tiananmen Square to begin the demonstration. They shouted slogans and handed out manifestos to the sympathetic crowd and began their march toward the Legation Quarter. The ambassadors they wished to petition were not in residence, and the Legation police refused them permission to march through the Quarter. The demonstrators turned instead toward the house of Cao Rulin, the much hated pro-Japanese Minister of Communications. This action was probably not spontaneous. Apparently several secret student societies, mostly anarchist, had planned to use the demonstration to make a violent statement, and Cao Rulin was a favored target.

When Cao would not show himself, a student smashed a window and climbed inside to open the gate and let the protestors in. Cao had already departed, in disguise, through another window into an automobile waiting in the alley below. In frustration, the students smashed up Cao's furniture, and someone, an anarchist named Kuang Husheng in some sources, lit the house on fire. Chang Cungxiang, the Minister to Japan, was in the house, however, in a meeting with another official and a Japanese journalist. The unlucky Chang was severely beaten. The police, up to this point reluctant to interfere with the demonstration, were ordered to act aggressively and moved in swinging batons, firing shots and making arrests. One student died later in a French hospital.

(much of this material can be found in Chow Tse-tsung's classic study, "The May Fourth Movement")

It's often said that the current Chinese government has encouraged nationalism as a substitute for Communist faith, which was fatally undermined by the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. To some extent, anti-Japanese sentiment can be seen as a safety valve for other resentments and frustrations that the CCP is unwilling or unable to remedy. And certainly there seems to be an element of emotional displacement if you consider the make-up of most of the anti-Japanese protesters. After all, the atrocities committed by Japan against China took place during the Second World War - or, as they refer to it in China, the "Anti-Japanese War." Japan's crimes against the Chinese people during that time are well-documented, though unfortunately not as well-publicized as Germany's Holocaust against the Jews. Read Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking if you want to understand the scope and depravity of Japan's crimes against China (I should add that Chang's work is not without its critics, who believe that she overstates Chinese casualties and appeals to emotion rather than basing her work on solid facts. Regardless of the numbers of the dead, however, what happened in Nanjing and elsewhere in China at the hands of Japanese is horrific by any measure).

But certainly few of the protesters in Beijing have had any direct experience with those times. They object to Japan's unwillingness to directly and sincerely apologize, to the whitewashing and rationalization of Japan's wartime actions in Japanese textbooks, to the continued visits by Japanese prime ministers to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which commemorates Japan's war dead but includes over a dozen Class A war criminals and has become a focal point for Japan's militant nationlists. But still...

Much anti-Japanese sentiment exists on the Chinese internet. Many of the most virulent hate-mongers, and make no mistake, some of these people fall into that category, are educated, relatively affluent young professionals. You can read a good article about such people here.

It's one thing to want to redress historical injustices. It's another thing to dedicate one's life to hating an entire nation for what their fathers and grandfathers did more than a half-century ago.

As my boss once said to me, it's never about what it's about.

The China of May 1919 was ostensibly a republic, the result of an inept revolution that hardly had to work to topple the moribund Qing Dynasty. The reality was that the so-called Republic was a collection of warlords who fought and dealed and took bribes and assassinated their rivals and generally did whatever the limits of their power allowed them to do.

As for the anti-Japanese protests of May 4th, 1919, they provided the name for a movement that is considered a turning point in Chinese history. Chinese Communists claim it for their own, the beginning of a historical current that culminated in the establishment of the Peoples' Republic of China in 1949. Others consider the May 4th Movement the first real criticism of traditional Chinese - read "Confucian" - thought, an attempt to synthesize the best of Western philosphy and science in the service of creating a strong, modern China.

So what might the anti-Japanese protests of April 9th, 2005 signify?

As Zhou Enlai once said, when asked for his opinion of the French Revolution, "It's too soon to say."

Message from Sister Sword of Courteous Debate!

Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle has received this communique from a mysterious group calling itself "The Unitarian Jihad":
Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States. We are Unitarian Jihad. There is only God, unless there is more than one God. The vote of our God subcommittee is 10-8 in favor of one God, with two abstentions. Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation noted the possibility of there being no God at all, and his objection was noted with love by the secretary.

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States! Too long has your attention been waylaid by the bright baubles of extremist thought. Too long have fundamentalist yahoos of all religions (except Buddhism -- 14-5 vote, no abstentions, fundamentalism subcommittee) made your head hurt. Too long have you been buffeted by angry people who think that God talks to them. You have a right to your moderation! You have the power to be calm! We will use the IED of truth to explode the SUV of dogmatic expression!
I urge you to read the rest. We must remain ever vigilant to the threats posed by such extremists, else we too fall victim to their terror regime of polite, well-reasoned debate.

After you read the rest of the manifesto, you might also wish to visit the Unitarian Jihad Name Generator site.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

"No Man, No Problem"

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank reports that a group of prominent American conservatives is calling for the impeachment - or worse - of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee:
Phyllis Schlafly, doyenne of American conservatism, said Kennedy's opinion forbidding capital punishment for juveniles "is a good ground of impeachment." To cheers and applause from those gathered at a downtown Marriott for a conference on "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith," Schlafly said that Kennedy had not met the "good behavior" requirement for office and that "Congress ought to talk about impeachment."
Another participant goes on to quote, and I am not kidding, Joseph Stalin's remedy for getting rid of problematic inviduals:
Not to be outdone, lawyer-author Edwin Vieira told the gathering that Kennedy should be impeached because his philosophy, evidenced in his opinion striking down an anti-sodomy statute, "upholds Marxist, Leninist, satanic principles drawn from foreign law."

Ominously, Vieira continued by saying his "bottom line" for dealing with the Supreme Court comes from Joseph Stalin. "He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him, whenever he ran into difficulty: 'no man, no problem,' " Vieira said.

The full Stalin quote, for those who don't recognize it, is "Death solves all problems: no man, no problem."
Read the rest here...

Friday, April 08, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging

Closet Kitty
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

Mags in my old apartment. It was pretty small and she was sharing it with three other cats. Each had their territory. Hers was the large walk-in closet (so large in fact that I once had a guy living in there. Really. Not my idea. Long story).

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Shanghai Men Ageing Early

I wonder if this will put a dent in the notorious Shanghai superiority complex:
The percentage of men showing signs of early ageing in Shanghai, China's most modern and one of its richest cities, has doubled over the past two decades, state media said, citing a survey.

Symptoms of "male menopause," which includes weariness, vesicular diseases and deteriorating sexual ability, trouble 20 percent of Shanghai men under the age of 45, the China Daily quoted the survey saying...

...Unhealthy lifestyles, emotional stress and environmental pollution were reasons for the higher rate of premature male ageing, according to Li, who added that some of his patients are younger than 35.

For Your China News Fix

I've been kind of a lazy blogger lately (that'll teach me to have a social life), but I am going to try and post a China news piece and I hope something a little more substantial later this evening. In the meantime, if you are interested in China news, go on over to Peking Duck - Richard has been blogging up a storm.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

An Unfortunate Distinction

China led the world in the number of executions last year, according to Amnesty International. Iran came in second, followed by Vietnam, with the United States out of medal competition in fourth place. You can read about it here.

I know there's plenty of support for the death penalty out there. But have a look at stories like this (thank you, Peking Duck) for a different perspective. And here, in the "enlightened" United States:
Amnesty cited the case of Ryan Matthews, who in 2004 became the 115th prisoner in the United States released from death row on the grounds of innocence since 1973.

Matthews had been sentenced to death in Louisiana in 1999 for a murder committed when he was 17.

His death sentence was overturned in April 2004 after an appeal judge found that the prosecution had suppressed evidence at the trial, and also on the basis of DNA evidence that pointed to another person as the murderer.

Oh, China, I want to think better of you. I want you to be better than this. You and your people want to take your place on the world stage, to have this next hundred years be the Chinese Century. This is no way to show your leadership.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

New Blogroll Addition

Today in Iraq is an excellent blog by a vet who served in the first Iraq war and in Bosnia. Smart, authoritative and impressively comprehensive; Yankeedoodle includes stories behind each U.S. fatality but does not stint on the Iraqi side of the tragedy. Here's a lengthy exchange where he responds to a serviceman who attacks his patriotism - ordinarily I wouldn't repost such a comprehensive excerpt, but it gives you a good sense of his thinking/writing:
Rant of the Day, Friday, April 1, 2005

Readers, I didn't have time to research an update today. Instead, I offer this email exchange from early February between myself and a disgruntled reader. I won't call his initial message "monkey mail" because I have too much respect for veterans and a brother officer. But since he never responded, I'll publish our exchange of views.


(no subject)

I love watching you squirm at the site of a new born democracy. You would rather have anything but success in IRAQ.. how sad and pathetic . Please continue to amuse me with your sophomoric antics. hahahahaha. I bet you would piss your pants if you went on a mission with me.

170th AHC Camp HollowayBikini 25


RE: (no subject)

Ordinarily, I would not dignify the email you sent me with a response. But after conducting a few preliminary inquiries and some technical research, I’m fairly convinced you are who you claim to be. Further, it would be a sad day for America when two former US Army Warrant Officers and combat veterans cannot discuss an issue as serious as Iraq without resorting to petty insults.

I don’t wish for failure in Iraq. I don’t want to see my country fail at any endeavor. I sincerely hope the Iraqi elections lead to an end to the insurgency, because the American soldiers fighting there are the my friends, comrades, and brother officers. I trained many of those brave men and women. In the Casualty Reports portion of my blog, I’ve already posted the names of two friends (one KIA, one WIA) and the KIA name of the only son of one of the finest NCOs with whom I ever served. I remember bouncing that boy on my knee when his daddy and I were junior NCOs and our wives gossiped together. (NCOs love gossip, too.) I remember how proud his daddy was when his son was selected for West Point while we were later stationed together at Fort Bragg.

I don’t wish for failure but I don’t expect success. I started my blog as a result of the piss-poor coverage of the Iraq war in the American media. Rumsfeld and his buddies have fucked up this war from jump street, and the US media has failed to report it. After 27 years of active duty, I know a bit about US Army operational doctrine and force structure planning. You don’t make a deep attack on a strategic objective along a single axis of advance, and you always build your force structure with sufficient resources to protect your lines of communication during the campaign and to secure your objective after you’ve taken it. Despite the advice of the uniformed officers, Rumsfeld and his civilian political appointees (most of whom never served a day in uniform unless they were Boy Scouts or worked at Burger King) insisted on a minimal force structure and a single attack route to Baghdad.

A brief review of the campaign might be helpful.

During the initial high-intensity combat phase of the campaign in March/April 2003, the 3d Infantry Division crossed the LD at the Kuwaiti border and attacked along the Euphrates river on a planned line of advance through Nasiriyah - Samawah - Najaf - Hilla - to the strategic objective of Baghdad. The attack stalled at Najaf, less from to Iraqi resistance than poor logistical support due to Rumsfeld’s faulty force structure. As a result, the US follow-on exploitation force, 1st Marine Division, swung right across Tigris river at Kut and attacked Baghdad from the east bank of the Tigris, drawing off defending Iraqi units from 3ID. Re-supplied, 3ID continued the attack and Baghdad fell.

Although 3ID and 1MD took Baghdad, they lacked the resources to secure Iraq. Weeks of looting, murder, rape, riot and disorder followed, all directly attributable to Rumsfeld’s failure to follow the advice of the professional officer corps. Before the war, General Shinseki, US Army Chief of Staff, warned Congress that a successful conquest and pacification of Iraq required at least 400,000 troops, would take a minimum of five years, and would cost $100 billion annually. Rumsfeld and his buddies went apeshit and a Republican Congress ignored the General. Paul Wolfowitz said GEN Shinseki was “wildly off the mark.” Larry DiRita said GEN Shinseki was a political partisan. Dougie Feith publicly called GEN Shenseki a liar. GEN Shinseki made the honorable decision to retire. No civilian political appointee from Rumsfeld’s office attended GEN Shinseki’s retirement ceremony, presumably just to spite an American officer who disagreed. They didn’t hear GEN Shinseki say, “Beware the twelve division strategy for a ten division Army.” The American people didn’t hear that waning either, because our media was too busy yapping about “shock and awe.”

Since the fall of Baghdad, the occupation has been bungled at every step. The troops have performed like professional soldiers and Marines. In my opinion, the performance of the Reserve Component has been particularly impressive. But the troops are being abused through back-to-back deployments, stop-loss, and involuntary recall.

In the first Iraq War, I was an operations officer on an artillery assault command post. On the last day of the war, I accepted the surrender of an Iraqi artillery battery led by a very brave Iraqi artillery captain. My sergeants and soldiers gave the Iraqi soldiers food and water, and our medics treated the Iraqi wounded. I was very proud of my men that day because they treated those Iraqi soldiers with compassion and dignity.

I shared coffee, cigarettes and some cookies my sister sent me with that Iraqi captain. We talked. We looked at family photographs. We traded compasses.

As I write, from my little house in the green rain forests of western Washington State, that Iraqi officer's compass rests on my desk. It’s an excellent gunner’s compass, much better than the standard US Army M3 compass I gave him. It has black-enameled brass case, with a 6400 mil dial, a tight bezel that audibly clicks (so you needn’t strike a light a light to adjust it in the dark,) a radium-illuminated dial, rose and sighting notch. The compass rose floats on a small bubble and the dual swing action of the magnifying prism in the reading lens makes it easy to identify either an azimuth or a back-azimuth through the sighting wire. It even has a small thumbscrew so you can lock the dial and orientate an observed azimuth to your map. It’s a beautiful compass. There’s an Arabic inscription engraved on the back of the compass case. Later, an interpreter told me that the engraving said that the compass was awarded to the distinguished graduate of the Iraqi artillery academy in 1984.

When I look at that compass, I think about that young Iraqi captain. I like to think he is at home in Baghdad with his family enjoying peace, prosperity and his children.

But from our conversation so many years ago, I learned that he was a proud man, an able artilleryman and very devoted to his country. He didn’t want to surrender, but he had no ammunition, fuel, food, or water, his soldiers were demoralized by the bombing and his general and staff had run away. He didn’t welcome us into in his country. He was extremely pissed off. I was comforted only because he’d already given me his pistol. I didn’t want to stay in his country.

Today, I strongly suspect that Iraqi captain is using my old, piece-of-shit M3 compass to lay fire on the troops occupying his land. I regret giving it to him. But if an Iraqi army occupied my country I would pick up that captain’s compass from my desk, un-holster my M1911 .45 pistol, and unhesitatingly lay fire on him.

The ancient Greek writers called this dilemma tragedy. I call it folly.

Today, I’m retired from the colors. I doubt I’ll be recalled anytime soon. I broke my neck on my last tour in Bosnia in a vehicle accident. My knees are shot. Too much PT, too much running and too many parachute jumps. I’ve got a sweet civilian job supervising a bunch of young people who bitch about everything. I love hearing them bitch. They bitch, argue, resolve their issues, get back to work, and then go have fun. That’s America. America wouldn’t work if we didn’t bitch, argue, settle our disagreements respectfully and go have fun together.

Once upon a time you signed DA Form 71 and executed an oath as an officer of the US Army. I strongly suggest you review that oath:

"I, _____ (SSAN), having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God."

I took that same oath. I didn’t swear allegiance to a political party, like Soviet officers, and I didn’t swear my loyalty to a Fuehrer, like Wehrmacht officers. I know few Russians, but after serving in Germany and speaking the language, I met many former Wehrmacht officers who rued the day they swore a personal oath to Hitler. Ask me to swear an oath to a political party or a partisan leader and I’ll tell you to pucker up and kiss my ass.

CW4, USA (Ret)
# posted by yankeedoodle : 11:37 AM
I plan on making "Today in Iraq" a regular stop in my daily reading. I hope you do the same.