Sunday, December 24, 2006

Great Moments in Wing-nuttery

Now is the time of the year when we see a lot of "Top Ten" lists of all sorts. Here from Media Matters (via the Daou Report) are the Top Eleven (thanks to Ann Coulter) Most Outrageous Comments by right-wing commentators:
Right-wing rhetoric documented by Media Matters for America included the nonsensical (including Rush Limbaugh's claim that America's "obesity crisis" is caused by, among other things, our failure to "teach [the poor] how to butcher a -- slaughter a cow to get the butter, we gave them the butter"), the offensive (such as right-wing pundit Debbie Schlussel's question about "Barack Hussein Obama": is he "a man we want as President when we are fighting the war of our lives against Islam? Where will his loyalties be?"), and the simply bizarre (such as William A. Donohue's claim that some Hollywood stars would "sodomize their own mother in a movie")
Given the stunning repudiation of the Republican agenda in the midterm elections, I'd like to hope these voices will be somewhat chastened in 2007 - but I'm not betting on it.

Okay, I have a ton of presents to wrap. Hope you and yours are enjoying the holidays, whatever you celebrate - I'm a Yuletide person myself...

Friday, December 15, 2006

Law of Rules

So, say you have a government that doesn't allow any direct political competition but is still in need of a legal system in order to develop a modern, globalized economy. The country's citizens, having endured many years of arbitrary authority, centuries, in fact, see themselves as having certain rights, and many begin to use this legal system in order to settle disputes and stand up for their rights when they are being abused. Even political protestors have rights according to the country's constitution, and they too use the developing legal system to defend themselves. This puts the government in somewhat of a quandry. How can they build a rule of law and yet maintain their monopoly on political power?

Well, here's one way - require defense lawyers to cooperate with the government. A Human Rights Watch report released earlier this week charges that:
the rule of law in China has been sharply curbed by regulations approved in the spring by the All-China Lawyers Assn., which is in effect the nation's bar association.

The regulations require that lawyers representing political protesters be "helpful to the government," share otherwise-confidential information about their clients with prosecutors, and be of "good political" quality, generally a euphemism for dedication to the ruling Communist Party.

The new rules are "restricting access to justice, and access to justice is really a make-or-break issue for China today," said Nicholas Bequelin, the China researcher for Human Rights Watch. "You're shutting down the pressure release valve that's very badly needed in a one-party system."

Bequelin said the so-called Guiding Opinion on Lawyers Handling Mass Cases was approved by the lawyers association March 20 but was only officially published a month later and was all but ignored by the Chinese press...

As described by Human Rights Watch, the Guiding Opinion makes it clear that lawyers' first responsibility is to society, not their clients. "During these important times," the rules say, "correct handling of cases of a mass nature is essential to the successful construction of a socialist harmonious society."

"These regulations," Bequelin said, "spell out rules that are simply incompatible with carrying out your professional duties as a lawyer." He said they negated "the principle that is consecrated even in Chinese law, that the lawyer's duty is to his client."
Oh, and one more thing:
The rules also warn lawyers not to "stir up the news," and to take special care with international media.
I know! Talk about the Olympics!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I love the holiday season - the festive decorations, the carols and songs that can't help but evoke nostalgia, parties with friends, gatherings with loved ones...the Bad Sex in Fiction awards...

Readers, this annual Literary Review award is a veritable cavalcade of wince-and-giggle inducing awfulness. Keep in mind, these aren't trashy supermarket novels but recognized works of "literary" fiction. Finalists have included such noteworthies as Thomas Pynchon and Tom Wolfe. The lucky (?) winner receives a statuette and a bottle of champagne - but truly, isn't everyone chosen for this contest a winner?

I call your attention to the following examples:
'You're a sexy lady, know that?' Stan whispered as he unzipped her pants.

She had no answer; she kept her eyes closed and sank into the music. His naked penis, when she felt it against her bare skin, was a shock, mostly for the desire it beckoned from Saga's marrow.

'So touch me, Story Girl,' he said...

...And then before her inner eye, a tide of words leaped high and free, a chaotic joy like frothing rapids: truncate, adjudicate, fornicate, frivolous, rivulet, violet, oriole, orifice, conifer, aquifer, allegiance, alacrity ... all the words this time not a crowding but a heavenly chain, an ostrich fan, a vision as much as an orgasm, a release of something deep in the core of her altered brain, words she thought she'd lost for good.
Or this (the listing of random words and images seems to be a theme this year):
Images went off in her head like little fireworks. The smell of coconut. Brass firedogs. The starched bolster in her parents' bed. A hot cone of grass-clippings. She was breaking up into a thousand tiny pieces, like snow, or bonfire sparks, tumbling high in the air, then starting to fall, so slowly it hardly seemed like falling at all.

He waited for a couple of minutes. 'And now,' he said, 'I think it's my turn.'
Please god, no.

I'll leave you to discover the rest for yourself. The complete nominated passages can be found, in all their dubious glory, here.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


For many years, I've had a sort of phobia about shopping malls. It came from growing up in San Diego and watching previously undeveloped coastal sage lands disappear into a morass of parking lots and franchises. Aside from hating what they did to once beautiful scenery, malls made me nervous. You could go to one and find the same things at another several states away - the same stores, the same products, the same muzak. Where was the creativity, the originality, the expression of culture? Is everything reducible to a commodity, and is that all we value? And even if so, what happened to all those quirky little businesses that were one of a kind? Was every form of commerce doomed to that which could be replicated on a mass scale?

So this kind of scares me:

With 30,000 stores crammed on four sprawling floors, International Trade City — about 200 miles south of Shanghai — is the largest wholesale mall in the world.

The S-shaped building, painted orange and pale yellow, is 18 million square feet. That's about the equivalent of 350 football fields and about six times the size of Costa Mesa's South Coast Plaza, one of the biggest shopping centers in the U.S.

You won't find any cinemas or food courts here, but Yiwu officials boast that the market sells 400,000 different items. Situated in bustling Zhejiang province, the giant 4-year-old mall illustrates the power of China Inc. today: enormous scale and specialization, driven by ambitious private entrepreneurs...

..."This place will make you crazy…. It's like rows and rows and rows of the same thing over and over again," said Glenn Thain, a New York insurance agent who moonlights as a distributor of exotic alcohol drinks in China. The 39-year-old was shopping here for key chains, lighters and other trinkets to give away as promotions to his salespeople and customers.

He was also doing a little Christmas shopping for his niece. He clutched a fistful of sheets of fake tattoos that he bought for pennies each from a merchant who also sells retail. "It's amazing," Thain said...

...Merchants say most vendors seemed to be doing all right, but nobody knows for sure. Turnover is low. Rents range from $6,000 a year for the typical 10-by-15-foot stall in faraway spots to $60,000 for larger spaces in better locations. The mall's S layout imitates the shape of a dragon. The stores are arranged by product categories in districts A to H, with some districts separated into a dozen streets.

Red lanterns and gold stars hang from the ceiling. There are free Internet cafes and smoking rooms. On weekends, the shopping center is a magnet for tourists and schoolchildren.

Zhejiang China Commodities City Group, the developer of the market, is planning to invest $600 million to nearly double the size of the mall and add tens of thousands of grocery items and other consumer goods to the center's "sea of commodities."