Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hao Wu, Four Months Later...

Richard of Peking Duck reminds us that it's been three months since the Free Hao Wu blog was established to call attention to imprisoned blogger and film maker Hao Wu - and four months since his detention. Richard remarks:
...not unsurprisingly it's (blog activity) been slowing down as interest wanes and resignation reigns. Watching the inactive site day after day got me thinking: Was it a good idea to draw all this attention to Hao Wu, or would silence have been a more strategic approach?
Watching the activity dwindle on the Free Hao Wu blog, both from commenters and more sadly, from Hao's sister, Nina, who literally put herself in the hospital working for her brother's freedom, has been a profoundly depressing experience. Disheartening as well were some of the troll comments on the blog - hateful, manipulative, nasty stuff, mocking even the impulse to care about Hao and his family.

Worst is the sense of helplessness, that there is nothing any of us can do, that our efforts don't matter. But pondering Richard's question, "was it a good idea to draw all this attention to Hao Wu?" I have to think that it was. At least the Chinese government knows that people are aware of Hao's situation, and that he is not forgotten.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Salon's "How the World Works"

China Law Blog beat me to it, but I've been meaning to mention Salon's Andrew Leonard, and his "How the World Works" column on globalization for some time now. Leonard studied Chinese and lived in Taiwan a while, and many of his pieces focus on China. This latest is a great example of Leonard's succinct yet informative style:
A comprehensive reform of China's labor laws is on its way to the Chinese People's Congress. It is not yet complete, but if enacted into anything close to its current form -- and enforced -- the bill would substantially increase worker's rights in China. For starters, under the new "Labor Contract Law" workers would be harder to fire and, if laid off, would receive greater severance pay. Safety and workplace inspections would be bolstered. Employers would be forced to consult with trade unions over proposed job cuts. Overtime pay would be increased, and a shorter work week enforced.

Such a law would be great news not just for China's laborers, but for workers everywhere. It could stand as an example to other developing nations. It could signal to the developed world that the global economy is not an inevitable race to the bottom. It would be a clear sign of progress for China.

So how did the Times (of London) present the news?

The headline: "Foreign investors may quit if China tightens up labor law."
Go read the rest; it's short and well-worth it.

Oh, and consider this a second plug for China Law Blog as well, which I find consistently informative.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Supporting the Troops

Still a little too fried to come up with much in the way of posts, but I'd like to point you to an article that will break your heart and raise your blood-pressure. Via Larry Johnson at No Quarter comes this lengthy piece in the Washington Post that lays out in agonizing detail how the war planners failed American soldiers by issuing inadequate and faulty equipment. This goes so far beyond improperly armored Humvees that it reaches a level of gross incompetence and negligence that can only be called criminal. I will quote just one incident that occurred in the course of an attack on unarmored Humvees - it is beyond horrific:
As the Humvee hurtled forward, Sams fell out the left side opening where a door should have been. As he tumbled, his armored vest snagged on the front left wheel well. He was dragged, still conscious, 25 yards, until the driverless Humvee struck the berm, then rolled backward, pinning Sams's left arm beneath the wheel...

...Sams tried to pull his arm free. It wouldn't budge. He swung his legs around, placed both feet in the wheel well and pushed, trying to lift the 1 1/4-ton vehicle off his arm. No go. Sams rolled on to his side and stretched out his legs, testing to see if he could reach one foot inside the Humvee and hit the gas. "Stuff you basically know you can't do," Sams recalls. "I was trying to save my arm."

Desperate, Sams called out in the dark that his arm was pinned and he needed someone to drive the Humvee off him. A lone figure appeared around the back of the Humvee. It was too dark for Sams to make out who it was. Maybe an insurgent, in which case he was dead. Sams watched the large silent figure lurch around the truck, struggle to climb in the driver's side opening, fail and fall down. Again, the figure tried to climb into the Humvee, and again he fell. Four times he tried and fell, Sams recalls. On the fifth attempt, the figure climbed into the driver's seat and reversed the Humvee off Sams's arm. Then the man collapsed and tumbled out of the Humvee onto the dirt field.

Sams tried to stand to go to his rescuer but fell forward; that's when he realized he had broken his ankle. He fell close enough to his rescuer to recognize him at last. It was Bernstein: Super Dave. "I asked him where he was hit," Sams recalls. "He said, 'My leg.'" Sams, who had taken a 2 1/2-day course in basic combat first aid, patted Bernstein's left leg until he felt dampness. "I found his entrance and exit wound," Sams says. "My fingers went in as I was patting him up." The insurgents' machine-gun fire had easily pierced the thin skin of their unarmored vehicle and struck Bernstein above the left knee...

...Sams went back to kneel beside his lieutenant. "My pants legs were instantly covered, drenched in blood," Sams says. The bullet had severed Bernstein's femoral artery. The lieutenant was going to bleed to death if they didn't tie a tourniquet around his leg fast. But they hadn't been issued tourniquets.

Eight months earlier, a committee of military medical experts had urged the Pentagon to give every soldier in the war a tourniquet. Bleeding to death from an arm or leg wound is the most common cause of preventable death in combat, the Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care reported. Quick access to a cheap, simple modern tourniquet could save many lives, military doctors had concluded. Yet it would be two more years before the U.S. Central Command, which runs combat operations in Iraq, adopted a policy saying all soldiers in combat should carry a tourniquet. Even then, the policy was moot because the Army didn't widely distribute tourniquets for several more months. An investigation by the Baltimore Sun spurred that distribution and documented one reason for the delay: Military procurement specialists were studying what kind of pouch to carry the new first aid kits with tourniquets in.

That left Sams, in October 2003, in much the same position as a soldier on a Revolutionary War battlefield: trying to improvise a tourniquet with a length of cloth and a stick. Only Sams couldn't find a stick in the Iraqi field.

"I was looking for anything hard," Sams recalls. He and Williams found a fuel-can nozzle in the Humvee. Sams wrapped a fresh field dressing around Bernstein's leg and used the gas nozzle to try to twist the dressing tightly enough to staunch the arterial bleed. As Sams twisted, the strings on the field dressing broke.

Desperate, Sams cut the strap off an M4 rifle and tried again. The strap didn't break, but it was too short. It kept coming untwisted, Sams says. So he tied a dressing on top of his improvised tourniquet to keep it in place. Bernstein still had a pulse, but he'd stopped moaning, Sams says.

Sams didn't have time to feel relieved when he finally spied his platoon leader and a few other soldiers -- a scouting party from the convoy -- walking toward their crash site. He checked the lieutenant's neck and could no longer find a pulse, he says. He tried to perform CPR, but with his wounded arm couldn't apply much pressure. He let one of the newly arrived soldiers take over. Sams leaned against the Humvee, exhausted, and watched a sad succession of privates and officers pound Bernstein's chest long past knowing their efforts were futile. Roughly an hour after the attack on the convoy, a Blackhawk helicopter arrived to evacuate Bernstein and Sams, according to interviews and records.

Sams, now a long-haul truck driver, never regained the feeling in his left arm. Bernstein, one of West Point's finest, a genuine hero educated for military brilliance at a cost of more than $400,000 to taxpayers, died without a $20 tourniquet.

Hua Guofeng for the '00's

I'm not generally a big Nicholas Kristof fan, but his latest column, on the failings of Hu Jintao and the hollow nature of China's justice system, is well-worth a read. Richard of Peking Duck has the column here. Kristof's conclusion?
Ultimately, Mr. Hu's efforts to create stability by clamping down just risk more instability. Most Chinese don't want upheavals, but they are fed up with corruption and lies, with being blocked from Google and Wikipedia, with having to waste time studying political drivel like Mr. Hu's "Eight Honorables and Eight Shames" campaign. Wags call it "Hu shuo ba dao," a clever pun that translates as "utter nonsense."

Indeed, Mr. Hu's crackdown has been singularly ineffective, annoying people more than scaring them. Many Communist Party officials worry that crackdowns just anger and alienate the public; that is why some have talked of allowing people to let off steam through greater freedom of the press and more elections. In one province, a poll found that 85 percent of officials themselves wanted to speed up political reform.

But Mr. Hu seems paralyzed, altogether the weakest Chinese leader since Hua Guofeng in the 1970's. The result? Brace yourself for turbulence ahead in China.
It's quite an accomplishment of the negative sort to be compared to Hua Guofeng.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

One Chapter Left

And then I hope to recover my blogging brain...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Genghis the Accountant

From the AP:
Tom Robinson had long wondered about his family tree. He never suspected its roots might lie in the Mongolian steppe.

The Florida accountant knew that his great, great-grandfather had come to the United States from England — but beyond that his research drew a blank. So he turned to the burgeoning field of "bioarchaeology," having his DNA tested to see what it revealed about his origins.

He was in for a surprise. According to a British geneticist who pioneered the research, Robinson appears to be a direct descendant of Genghis Khan, the Mongol warrior who conquered vast tracts of Asia and Europe in the 13th century.
Well, that ought to be good for a few rounds of koumiss.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Few Trip Reflections

All good (mild) manic phases must come to an end (dammit!), so I am back to sleeping a normal amount and not getting nearly as much done as I try to wrap up this book. Call it post-vacation let-down. I'm particularly susceptible when I have a vacation with as much variety and stimulation as this one. I went to my old haunt, Beijing, then on to Xiamen and Shanghai. For whatever reason, I found Beijing a little overwhelming this trip - the traffic, the huge, faceless buildings. I did have the pleasure of staying with a very dear friend of mine and getting to visit with her and her family. But I was happy to leave Beijing for Xiamen. I'd heard so many wonderful things about it.

I'm pleased to report that Xiamen is as good as advertised. It's a small (for China) city, built around a harbor, a beautiful setting. Formerly known as "Amoy" in the West, Xiamen was one of China's treaty ports. The old part of town is replete with traditional European and Chinese architecture - I'm told that the local government is more progressive than most and has a policy of historic preservation and sensible growth. From what I saw, I believe it. Old Xiamen is truly charming. It's one of the few urban environments I've been to in China where I would go to relax - I think you could spend a couple of weeks there, just hanging out, taking walks, eating all the great seafood...

After that I was concerned that Shanghai would be a disappointment. I'd been there once before, in 1993, but I was too busy scraping my jaw off the ground from all the changes in China since my stay in 1979/80 to really take in much about what the city was like. And I really wasn't in the mood for another frenetic, mega-city.

"Frenetic mega-city" was certainly my first impression of Shanghai from the train station. This might have had something to do with the fact that I was coming off a 26 hour train ride, on an older train whose crew was among the "no smoking" scofflaws - though no one in our compartment smoked, I had a sore throat and stuffed up head from what was circulating through the over-active air conditioner.

Or it might have had to do with Shanghai's being a frenetic mega-city! It's no wonder that filmmaker Michael Winterbottom chose to make a science fiction movie there.

But Shanghai was far more pleasant than I would have expected at first glance. Once you get into the neighborhoods, you'll find that many areas are built to human scale, fun to walk in, full of character. I'd never considered that I might want to live in Shanghai before, but I'm open to the possibility now. Shanghai Slim, one of my e-friends from Peking Duck, certainly provided an example of how to live in that city the right way.

After that, I returned for one final day in Beijing. This was one of the highlights of my trip - in spite of the fact that I managed to sprain both my ankles that morning (which did contribute to the day's memorability, I suppose). I went with a driver I've known for a number of years around to various artists' communities, to see the art and get a sense of what these places are like. The most interesting stop was Suojiacun. I'd read about Suojiacun in an LA TIMES article earlier this year. It had been a thriving community of artists from all around the world, living and working together, until the government declared the occupation illegal and demolished a section of the studios.

The article and the people I talked to had different explanations for this. The settlement didn't have the right permits, my driver said, and that's how the government deals with such things, by just destroying them. According to the article, the artists had tried to deal with the permits and had thought they had reached an acceptable agreement. My guess is that as happens so frequently in China, one faction (or individual) in the government might have agreed, but someone else with more power felt otherwise.

Oddly enough, an official-looking placard still informs you at the compound gate that you are entering "Suojiacun International Artists Encampment."

When I visited, nearly all of the artists had left. Many had gone to another abandoned factory space, some further out into the countryside in the hopes that they could find a place where they could live and work as a community without government interference. But as one artist I met put it, "the government doesn't like it when too many people live together" - meaning, they fear the political potential of an intellectual, artistic community. And it's true that a lot of Chinese art has a political implication. Not necessarily because it is directly political, but because it is honest, portraying what is going on in today's China, personal, depicting the struggles of individuals and the artists themselves in a society where rapid change and tradition don't so much collide as they do reflect each other in an endless hall of mirrors. Alienation, satire, brute realism abound in the best of what I saw...well, the stuff I liked the best, anyway. I'm so far from being an expert that I hesitate to even state an opinion.

There were so many other highlights: the taxi driver who lectured me on my unmarried state and the problems with contemporary society, the wonderful blogging community I finally got to meet in person, traveling with my buddy Richard, the delicious jiaozi and great conversation I shared with my friend Susan...overall, the opportunity to improve my Chinese, to talk to people and hear about their lives in their own words...and as always, the intrinsic excitement of being in China, of watching the changes there occur before my eyes.

I hope for the best for China. There is so much potential there, such a rich cultural heritage, so much energy and drive to create a better future. I can only imagine what might be created, when people like Hao Wu and the artists I met are free to express themselves and contribute to the political process.

I hope for the best.