Monday, January 30, 2006

Outrage Of The Day

Well, one of them anyway. Hey, I'm pissed off about a lot of things tonight. But I'll leave the gross outrages to other, more articulate bloggers (check out this post from Digby for a little soul-soothing, if you are in need of it, as I was).

Here's my smaller outrage of the day: the headline to this AP article about abducted journalist Jill Carroll -
"New Video Shows Kidnapped Reporter Weeping."
Followed by this lede and opening:
The U.S. journalist Jill Carroll, weeping and veiled, appeared on a new videotape aired Monday by Al-Jazeera, and the Arab television station said she appealed for the release of all Iraqi women prisoners.

The video was dated Saturday, two days after the U.S. military released five Iraqi women from custody.

Carroll, 28, was crying and wore a conservative Islamic veil as she spoke to the camera, sitting in front of a yellow and black tapestry. The Al-Jazeera newscaster said she appealed for U.S. and Iraqi authorities to free all women prisoners to help "in winning her release."
Well, okay. It's legitimate to report that Carroll was crying in the video. But to lead with it? Did the headlines about injured ABC anchorman Bob Woodruff read: "Wounded News Anchor Cries in Pain After Roadside Bombing"? Which he did, apparently. I mean, wouldn't you?

Jill Carroll was abducted three weeks ago, and I don't want to think too much about how she's been treated and what kind of condition she's in, because the whole situation is horrific and devastating. But to lead with the terror and degradation aspects of this strikes me as...I don't know. Prurient? Sexist, certainly. A way to whip up the outrage level to support a war that most of the American public has grown weary of, maybe.

From what I've read about Jill Carroll, she is a brave, resourceful journalist who cares deeply about her work. Reducing her to a weeping victim in a headline is disrespectful and dehumanizing. The most important news here is that Carroll is still alive, or at least she was two days ago, more than a week after the deadline set by her kidnappers for her execution. And that's what the headline should have said. "New Tape Shows Kidnapped Reporter Alive." You know? Something like that.

Every time I see this fucking headline, which has been in the top news stories on Yahoo all day and all night, I feel sick. I am sick with outrage at her kidnappers, who really are thugs and barbarians and cowardly swine. I am sick with outrage that a talented woman has been reduced to a weak, weeping stereotype. And I am sick with outrage at an American President who started this war to fulfill neocon dreams of Imperial ambition and his own sick need to prove that he's a bigger man than his father.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The 4th Estate Stands Up

Here is a man who understands the vital importance of a free and independent press and is willing to take a considerable risk to preserve it. I'm reposting the entire article:
The chief editor of a hard-hitting newspaper supplement shut down by Chinese authorities denounced the closing as an arbitrary act and vowed to fight it in an impassioned protest letter circulated Thursday.

Li Datong reproached Communist Party officials for shutting down the supplement, Bing Dian, which he founded in 1995.

"This action has no legal or constitutional basis and seriously violated and trampled upon the party's constitution and political standards," Li wrote in an essay circulated on the Internet. "Who gave them that kind of power? They're so disgusting I don't know whether to laugh or cry."

Bing Dian, published by the state-run China Youth Daily, won legions of loyal readers through in-depth articles on sensitive topics like rival Taiwan's democracy and wrongdoing by well-connected individuals.

Its shutdown, ordered by the newspaper's owner, the Communist Youth League, was the latest act in a year-old campaign by President Hu Jintao's government to rein in wayward media.

The move drew criticism from Bing Dian fans, who bombarded the Internet with expressions of support for Li and condemnations of the crackdown.

"In the past year, those who can be gotten rid of have been gotten rid of," Chinese journalist Wang Xiaofeng wrote on his blog. "Those who can be disposed of, have been disposed of — all in secret."

Li said he would issue a complaint to the Central Discipline Inspection Committee, the party's internal affairs watchdog, over the closing.

Li said officials gave no reason for the shutdown, but he described it as the culmination of continuing tensions over the content of the four-page supplement.

"As a professional journalist, stopping the publication of Bing Dian is something I cannot understand, something I cannot accept," Li said.

He said Chinese journalists from other publications had been warned against writing about Bing Dian's closure and that some readers terminated their subscriptions to China Youth Daily in protest.

Gagging state media is the main focus of the Chinese government's effort to regulate the flow of information within the country. In the latest campaign, the government has fired aggressive editors and jailed or intimidated enterprising reporters.

Last month, the government forced the transfer of a senior editor at the Beijing News, another daring tabloid.

Li said the party's Propaganda Department came down hard on the supplement several times, notably for a report alleging plagiarism by a scholar favored by high-ranking party members. The supplement was suspended for one issue after that, and Li said they were forced to withdraw a follow-up report.

Bing Dian also got in trouble when it ran an essay by Taiwanese writer Lung Ying-tai highlighting the democratic evolution of the self-governed island in recent years. China considers Taiwan its territory, and state propaganda regularly portrays the island's people as enthusiastic supporters of unification unfairly thwarted by their political leaders.

"Certain people within the Central Propaganda Department accused this essay as being 'against the Communist Party at every step' and their narrow-mindedness was truly astonishing," Li wrote.

Lung rallied to Li's defense Thursday. In an open letter to Hu, Lung warned that the closure risks alienating Taiwan's people.

"People once thought that as a figure of the new era, your mind-set and vision would be deeper and more open than your predecessors," Lung wrote in a half-page commentary in Taiwan's China Times newspaper.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Excuses, excuses...

It seems like my blogging quality and output is inversely proportional to how well my novel writing is going. The novel's coming along, you get the picture...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Grandson of the Revolution

Fellow blogger China Fool (and I highly recommend you pay this blog a visit - the Fool offers a unique perspective on today's China, from a Chinese who lived in the US for many years and recently returned to Beijing) alerted me to this website - which just about made my head explode. It's a "my space" blog from a young Chinese man living in the UK who is pursuing a career in fashion design. The site features photos of him looking quite fetching and stylish, and well, sticking his hand in his fly in one snap, along with a photo tribute to one of his obsessions, the Carpenters (yep, Karen Carpenter and brother Richard).

Why the exploding synapses, you might ask? Because the blogger in question is Lin Biao's grandson.

Yes, Lin Biao, revolutionary general, briefly Chairman Mao's "Closest Comrade in Arms," whose calligraphy introduces the Cultural Revolution edition of Mao's Little Red Book. Yep, the same Lin Biao featured in my favorite Chinese souvenir, a pink plastic TV framed 3-d photo of Mao with Lin following a few steps behind his Chairman, in an appropriate display of deference.

"Surreal" very nearly doesn't cover it.

UPDATE: China Fool expresses some skepticism that this fellow really is who he claims to be - and of course, that's the beauty of those internets...people make all kinds of claims that are difficult to substantiate and shouldn't be taken at face value...

Now, it's a whole 'nother interesting question - what would inspire someone to pose as Lin Biao's grandson? I can't say it's an obvious choice...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Poison Pen

From David in the UK comes this obituary from the Manchester Guardian on Yao Wenyuan, the last surviving member of the Gang of Four. Yao was the Gang's polemicist, whose infamous critique of the play, Hai Rui Dismissed from Office, signaled the launch of the Cultural Revolution.
In the essay Yao claimed that a play written by Wu Han, a deputy mayor of Beijing, was a coded attack on Mao for dismissing, in 1959, the then minister of defence Peng Dehuai (who had criticised Mao's disastrous Great Leap Forward).

Confused by this unexpected salvo from Shanghai, Beijing's party leadership tried to protect Wu Han, thus providing the pretext for the full-scale "struggle" launched by Mao against them in the following year. Yao was soon promoted to the Cultural Revolution Group.

If the Gang of Four had not been arrested after Mao's death in 1976, Yao, though devoid of practical experience in government, would have become one of China's supreme leaders. In a popular cartoon published after their downfall, Jiang Qing is shown standing next to a deer on which a placard hangs proclaiming it to be a horse. The image is based on a story, satirising those who demand blind loyalty, which dates from the first Chinese imperial dynasty.

In the cartoon, the second most senior member of the gang, Zhang Chunqiao (obituary, May 13 2005) gives instructions to Yao, who has his notebook open. "Anyone who dares call it a deer," said Zhang "take his name down!" The fourth member of the gang, Shanghai worker-rebel Wang Hongwen, stands on guard. In denunciations of this kind, Yao was always portrayed as a literary hack who wrote to order. The truth was more complex.

Although Yao was often opportunistic in his polemics, their radical views were shared by many other young intellectuals who believed, with Mao, that the pace of China's "transition to socialism" was too slow.
A part of the complexity was the real role of the Gang of Four in the Cultural Revolution. As the LA Times points out:
Many observers say the arrest and imprisonment of the foursome decades ago allowed the Communist Party to avoid taking responsibility for the disastrous policies of its founding father, Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

"The Gang of Four was created as a symbol by the post-Mao leadership to pass off the burdens of the Cultural Revolution," said Andrew Nathan, a political scientist at Columbia University. "One reason the regime does not want to open discussions on the Cultural Revolution is it does lead back to Mao — not just Mao the man but the single-party system that allowed the Cultural Revolution to happen."
Perhaps Jiang Qing, Madame Mao put it best at her trial in 1981: "I was Chairman Mao's dog. What he said to bite, I bit." The same could be said of Yao, her "literary hit man."

Yao received the lightest sentence of the Gang and was released early on medical grounds in 1996. Apparently he continued to write, unpublished articles and entries in a journal he'd kept since he was 15.

It's doubtful we'll be seeing any of this writing soon. But what I wouldn't give for a look at Yao's own version of Hai Rui Dismissed from Office...

(Thanks again to David for the link)

My Country Went to Iraq...

And all we got was a two trillion dollar bill:
The cost of the Iraq war could top $2 trillion, far above the White House's pre-war projections, when long-term costs such as lifetime health care for thousands of wounded U.S. soldiers are included, a study said on Monday.
Oh, yeah, and another generation of maimed, traumatized soldiers:
Columbia University economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard lecturer Linda Bilmes included in their study disability payments for the 16,000 wounded U.S. soldiers, about 20 percent of whom suffer serious brain or spinal injuries....

...Unforeseen costs include recruiting to replenish a military drained by multiple tours of duty, slower long-term U.S. economic growth and health-care bills for treating long-term mental illness suffered by war veterans.

They said about 30 percent of U.S. troops had developed mental-health problems within three to four months of returning from Iraq as of July 2005, citing Army statistics.
I guess I could include in this tally however many tens of thousands of Iraqis who've been killed or wounded and the cost of rebuilding a devastated Iraq, but apparently that's not our problem...

Sunday, January 08, 2006

King George

One of my new faves, Glenn Greenwald, links to an extremely revealing article by conservative legal theorist - oh, the hell with it, on the basis of this evidence, let's just call him Bushevik apologist Harvey Mansfield, professor of government at Harvard. In his essay in the Weekly Standard, Mansfield defends the Bush Administration's extra-legal activities thusly:
Enemies, however, not merely violate but oppose the law. They oppose our law and want to replace it with theirs. To counter enemies, a republic must have and use force adequate to a greater threat than comes from criminals, who may be quite patriotic if not public-spirited, and have nothing against the law when applied to others besides themselves. But enemies, being extra-legal, need to be faced with extra-legal force...
Mansfield goes on to state that "the rule of law is not enough to run a government," that today's civil libertarians frequently "forget to consider emergencies when liberties are dangerous and law does not apply," and in rejecting monarchy, the republican framers of the Constitution "had forgotten" that though monarchy might be unsafe, it could also be effective.

In other words, at times one-man rule is the only way to go.

We've had numerous examples of the Bush Adminstration's lawlessness (Greenwald refers to the Administration's "ideology of lawlessness," and I think that's right on) - my current favorite being Bush's "signing statement" with regards to the defense appropriations bill that included McCain's anti-torture ammendment. If you missed this little nugget, here's an excerpt from the Boston Globe:
When President Bush last week signed the bill outlawing the torture of detainees, he quietly reserved the right to bypass the law under his powers as commander in chief.

After approving the bill last Friday, Bush issued a ''signing statement" -- an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law -- declaring that he will view the interrogation limits in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. This means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, the White House and legal specialists said.

''The executive branch shall construe [the law] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President . . . as Commander in Chief," Bush wrote, adding that this approach ''will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President . . . of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks."

Some legal specialists said yesterday that the president's signing statement, which was posted on the White House website but had gone unnoticed over the New Year's weekend, raises serious questions about whether he intends to follow the law.

A senior administration official, who spoke to a Globe reporter about the statement on condition of anonymity because he is not an official spokesman, said the president intended to reserve the right to use harsher methods in special situations involving national security...

''We are not going to ignore this law," the official said, noting that Bush, when signing laws, routinely issues signing statements saying he will construe them consistent with his own constitutional authority. ''We consider it a valid statute. We consider ourselves bound by the prohibition on cruel, unusual, and degrading treatment."

But, the official said, a situation could arise in which Bush may have to waive the law's restrictions to carry out his responsibilities to protect national security. He cited as an example a ''ticking time bomb" scenario, in which a detainee is believed to have information that could prevent a planned terrorist attack...

...David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive power issues, said that the signing statement means that Bush believes he can still authorize harsh interrogation tactics when he sees fit.

''The signing statement is saying 'I will only comply with this law when I want to, and if something arises in the war on terrorism where I think it's important to torture or engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading conduct, I have the authority to do so and nothing in this law is going to stop me,' " he said. ''They don't want to come out and say it directly because it doesn't sound very nice, but it's unmistakable to anyone who has been following what's going on."

Golove and other legal specialists compared the signing statement to Bush's decision, revealed last month, to bypass a 1978 law forbidding domestic wiretapping without a warrant. Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans' international phone calls and e-mails without a court order starting after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The president and his aides argued that the Constitution gives the commander in chief the authority to bypass the 1978 law when necessary to protect national security. They also argued that Congress implicitly endorsed that power when it authorized the use of force against the perpetrators of the attacks.

Legal academics and human rights organizations said Bush's signing statement and his stance on the wiretapping law are part of a larger agenda that claims exclusive control of war-related matters for the executive branch and holds that any involvement by Congress or the courts should be minimal.
Oh, god, NOT the "ticking time bomb" scenario. All I can say is, we must have already had a ton of those, given this Administration's obsession with having the power to torture whomever they want to whenever they'd like.

That, by the way, was snark. I don't believe for a moment that Bush, Cheney and their cronies have diffused, 24-like, a string of explosive devices with their timers showing 1 second left till Doomsday. Far easier to believe (because there's actually evidence for this stuff, as opposed to wing-nut fantasies) is that innocent people have been caught up in the Administration's "Terror Crusade," that they've been rendered to regimes where torture is commonplace, imprisoned without evidence or charges in our own American gulag (though here, at least, is evidence that the Bush Administration has some small budget-consciousness, seeing as how they're using recycled Soviet prisons).

The nice thing about assuming the mantle of "War President" in a "War on Terror" is that the war never ends. As some wag put it, you can't declare war on a noun - or at least, you can't win one. There will always be terror of some form or another. The Bush Administration even revamped their own acronym at one point, downgrading "GWOT" - the "Global War on Terror" - to "GSAVE" - the "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism". Seeing as how we are now officially engaged in a "struggle" as opposed to a "war" - isn't it time to reject the Bush Regime's Imperial assumptions?

Not that our current little King George shows any signs of doing so.

I'm thinking it's about time for another Tea Party...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A New Year

I started this blog almost a year ago, in somewhat the same way that I started writing novels - as something to do while I figured out what I should be doing. The novel-writing came about after I'd finished writing a bunch of teleplays for an original series, mostly for fun - because probably one of the least likely things that can happen to you in Hollywood is to sell an original series when you are pretty much an unknown writer. But I liked the idea; I had a blast writing it, and I could crank out an episode in a relatively short amount of time, without a lot of angst or fuss. I did do some "should" stuff as well, but I knew that if I were really serious about establishing myself as a writer, I needed to do the smart thing, and that was to write a stand-alone spec feature that wasn't too out there or strange.

The problem, of course, was thinking of something along those lines.

One thing I'd learned while cranking out all that TV was the value of writing regularly. I decided that I shouldn't just stop writing while I was thinking up that slam-dunk six figure spec feature. I had a first chapter of a novel I'd written nearly ten years earlier - why not write that in the meantime?

Of course in the process of writing a novel "in the meantime," I discovered that I liked writing novels much better than writing features, and quickly burned through two and a half (in a projected series of three). Of course these books did not fit neatly into a genre, and they were pretty much tree-killers, lengthwise, as well.

I didn't really care; I was having too much fun. It was only when I actually received some interest in the first one that the whole incredibly painful - and predictable - cycle of hope and rejection set in.

So I reached the end of 2004 in a funk, and at a crossroads. Novel #3 didn't seem like fun any more. I needed to get serious. I needed to figure out what I should be doing.

I didn't have a clue, so I started this blog. I figured, it would keep me writing, make me "publish" something on a regular basis. Perhaps it would eventually become a place where I'd put more of my stuff, a novel, some songs, who knows?

I still haven't precisely figured out how productive a project this has been for me, or whether it's just a semi-creative way to procrastinate, but it has been fun, and I've "met" some cool people as a consequence (particularly Richard and all the cool folks at the peking duck).

One thing I have been thinking about as a result of doing this is how I am not really a great analytical essayist or political commentator - I read folks like digby, the troika at firedoglake, my new favorite, Glenn Greenwald, and all the folks at booman, and I am constantly shown what great political blogging is all about. This made me think about how as we grow up and grow older, we tend to specialize, to figure out the things that really motivate us, and if we're smart, we do those things, reinforce those skills, prune away the less-used neural pathways in our tangled brains and develop the paths that take us where we really want to go.

So for me, that means here I am, starting another quarter of Chinese and slogging my way through another novel. And this one has been a real slog. I was lucky enough to have about seven years where I was able to write like I was turning on a faucet every night, and when the well went dry towards the end of last year, I had to look for water down an unfamiliar road. All I had guiding me was intuition and outrage.

The "intuition" part is all about how I like to write. I am fortunate to have an online discussion/critique group with a couple of great writers. A month or so back, we "talked" about how we wrote. None of us believe in outlining. For me, I just don't know what the story is about, for the most part, until I write it. Sure, I have a few plot points in mind - maybe - a character or two - but it's the process itself that generates the ideas. I posted that it felt a lot like writing songs to me. The musicality of the words is important, and the rhythm of it is what tells me when it's time to move on, from one idea to the next. Also, writing for me has always had an element of performance - how am I going to do, when I sit down at the keyboard this time? Am I gonna kick ass, or clam?

Writer #2 responded that for her, it was like sewing a dress. She had this pattern, these parts cut out, and it was all about fitting them together into a coherent garment.

For Writer #3, it was cooking, or baking. Sure, you have a basic recipe, but it's the improvisation of certain ingredients that really makes it interesting, and tasty.

If I were using the cooking metaphor, a lot of my ingredients would be politics, history and current events. The kind of stuff I post here, now and again, and the material the above-mentioned bloggers cover so well every day.

Only for me, what my brain wants to do, what it's been trained to do, is turn such things into fiction. Not, I sincerely hope, overly didactic fiction (yuck!). But this latest novel really has been fueled by outrage, and god knows, I've had plenty of gas in the tank to keep me going, even when the actual writing has been a bitch, when I've been clueless about the plot, when I can't figure out whether I'm at the verse, the bridge or the chorus. Anybody who's played in a band - you know when you have a trainwreck? Where you're in the middle of a tune and it's like, "oops. Where the fuck am I?"

It's going better now. I'm actually getting up to my old speed, intermittently anyway. I think I know where I'm going...well, up to a point. But that's good enough for now.

All of which is a very roundabout way of saying that the kinds of things I've been posting here over the last year, about China and about US politics, are still obsessing me - but they're getting thrown into Novel Stew instead of being posted here.

For your China and political fixes, check out the links I've posted above and on the right - these guys say it way better than I can. And I'll do my best to post more regularly here as well (if anyone has any preferences as to topics, let me know).

Hey, it's a new year. And while not everything is possible (I am reasonably certain that at this point in my life, I will not become a rock star. Or a ballerina. But I never wanted to be a ballerina, so no loss there), who knows?

I still might get better.