Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I'm not a huge maker of New Year's resolutions, but I generally do decide on a few. Of course, I don't write them down, so although I recall making some resolutions for 2008, I'm not sure what they were.

So, here's a couple in writing:

1. Finish draft of current WIP
2. Start new book - OR - finish Volume 3 of Overlong Unsellable Trilogy. Just because.
3. Keep exercising. More if possible. It's good for me.
4. Learn to cook a few more things (I have this cookbook for inspiration).
5. Figure out some way to sustain this more creative lifestyle.

That last one is the biggie, obviously. I have no clear idea how I'll accomplish it. Yet. I hope it comes to me.

I didn't put "sell my novel" because that part's out of my hands (and in better hands than mine). If the book does sell, I'll add "set up author website and promote my ass off" to the above list.

Anyone want to commit in writing to yours?

Evidence of my insanity...

Originally uploaded by Other Lisa

This is me in Pingyao a couple years ago, in the fleece-lined jacket mentioned in comments. You can see it gives me that wonderful "sausage" profile - I forget just how many layers I was wearing underneath. And it's going to be colder in Xinjiang...

WTF was I thinking?

So I'm doing my month long China odyssey in February. I know it's going to be cold. My first experience in China, I traveled for the month of February in 1980. And yeah, it was cold. Very cold. And lots of places didn't have heat. I was young and foolish. But i had Mongolian padded boots. I would have never gotten through a Beijing winter without them - and I'm not even going to talk about freakin' Shanxi. Oh my god, it was cold. Look, I'm from Southern California. We don't do that, water left outside turns cold, hard and shiny thing here. What I remember most vividly about Shanxi was wandering through the medieval streets of Xi'an, freezing my ass and everything else off, finding a street vendor who sold sweet potatoes from an oil can. My friend and I didn't even want to eat the sweet potatoes. We just wanted to hold them. Because they were hot, and we were so flippin' cold.

This time, I'm trying to plan the whole thing in advance, because I'm figuring my usual travel planning method (stay up super late the night before I go and throw a bunch of crap in a bag) isn't a good strategy for a month-long trip involving a lot of train travel, cold and roughing it. And did I mention cold?

See, I'm planning on visiting a good friend of mine in Yili, Xinjiang. I've always wanted to go to Xinjiang. The Silk Road, and all that. I'm going to go to Kunming (a sort of pilgrimage to my past - I turned 21 there) and then I figured I'd take a train up to visit my friend, maybe stop in Kaifeng and places like that, just...because.

Okay, I just checked the average February temperature in Urumqi (closest marker to Yili). maybe gets up to 17 degrees. 17?! That's the name of a magazine, not a temperature!

So, I just ordered a pair of Sorel boots. Because my feet have gotten bigger, and I can't wear my lovely Mongolian padded boots any more. Dammit.

There's a whole story behind the Mongolian padded boots, but I'm too tired to post it now. And if anyone has any suggestions re: cold weather gear, please do let me know!

Monday, December 29, 2008

"Officials should shovel pig manure"

One of the few remaining bright spots left in the pathetic shell of a once great paper is the LA Times' China reporting. Which is not to say this area hasn't been greatly diminished; one of my favorites, Ching-Ching Ni has apparently left China - her stories, focusing on the lives of "ordinary" Chinese will be greatly missed.

Rather than go into a full-on rant here about how much I loathe Sam Zell and what he's done to a paper that I subscribed to for over 20 years (it's late, and I've got writing to do), I'll just say that I'm surprised any good reporting goes on there at this point, and that Mark Magnier's latest feature on corruption in China is well-worth a look. Magnier's lengthy piece provides numerous examples of the systematic corruption that pervades all aspects of Chinese society:
Corruption is an everyday experience for millions of Chinese that taints not just schools, but relations in business, on farms and in factories, and potentially any contact citizens have with officialdom. Foshan appears no more corrupt than any other city in China, experts say. It is noteworthy only as an example of a pervasive problem that threatens China's stability and political system.

Senior Communist Party officials know that decades of remarkable economic progress are at risk if graft and bribery stretch the chasm between the haves and have-nots too wide. But they have limited room to maneuver. Any meaningful effort to crack down endangers the party's monopoly on power.

The system depends on legions of police, local party and government officials to enforce Beijing's policies and quash dissent. All too often, critics say, local officials regard their position as a license to steal.

Throughout the country, the prodigious rate of economic growth has created a gold rush mentality. Absent both the strictures and the social safety network of Mao Tse-tung's rigid system, millions of people are seeking ways to prosper -- legally or illegally.

Corruption accounts for an estimated 3% to 15% of a $7-trillion economy, and party membership can be an invitation to solicit bribes or cut illegal land deals. Membership hit 74 million at the end of 2007, a 10% jump from 2002, as moneymaking opportunities increasingly trumped ideology.

Nearly 5,000 officials at the county level or above were punished for corruption over the last year, state media reported Friday.

"Of course everyone hates corruption," said Qiao Zhanxiang, a Beijing lawyer who took on the Ministry of Railways for alleged price gouging and lost. "But everyone also wants to be a part of it."

The result is a growing divide between those who benefit from corruption and their victims. It is at the grass-roots level where this chasm is most harshly felt, among those abused by the system, like Liao and Chen, or others who have simply been left behind.

"Common Chinese people are in hell," said Ai Xiaoming, a documentary film producer and professor at Zhongshan University in the neighboring city of Guangzhou. "Hell is not some future. It's right now."
I had a revelation of sorts the other night, that a part of my pessimism about this being the "Chinese Century" came from my own idealism - that a country with as large a population as China, where so many of its citizens were impoverished and exploited had too many internal problems to overcome to become the globe's major superpower. My realization was that perhaps the Chinese leadership only cared about its citizens' well-being to the extent necessary to keep them from open rebellion. That its export economy and subsidization of American debt at the expense of spreading the wealth internally were a part of a larger, long-range plan, to buy up enough foreign assets to ensure control in the future. I still think that may be true. But I also think that this strategy has its own risks. It's riding the tiger, a race to secure wealth before society collapses from the weight of its own contradictions.

After the widespread and grandiose scale of the abuses in the American financial system that have nearly ruined our economy, it's hard to get too self-righteous about the problem of corruption in China. But there are some important differences. Most of us in America experience American corruption in the abstract, or at a step removed. A lot of us could point to things that have happened in our lives as a consequence of wide-spread corruption - we can't get loans, maybe we've even lost our jobs, in part because of a chain of events kicked off by criminal greed. The difference is that most of us don't experience the corruption directly. In China, peoples' daily lives are afflicted by corruption at every turn. They can't depend on the validity of common transactions that most of us take for granted. This is one of the factors that I consider when I read or hear pundits predict the Chinese century. China will never become the predominant global power until it creates a society where ordinary Chinese people can have real faith that the social contract exists for them and that basic promises between individuals, between institutions, will be kept.

(Here's another article with a pessimistic view - or maybe optimistic, in that it posits the global economic crisis will lead to the downfall of China's one-party system).

(H/T to China Law Blog)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Literature Map

Author Elizabeth Loupas (and be sure to check out her very cool new blog) posted about this nifty site, which helps to connect readers to authors they might like in a fun and effective manner. Check it out!

I think tools like this are a part of what's been missing in the new publishing universe - creative ways of marketing and connecting books to their audiences. I'm excited to see sites like this starting to fill that gap.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


The record of my participation in "Buy Books For Christmas!"

Books Bought:

For my mom, my stepdad, my stepmom, my sister (don't tell her), my sister's boyfriend (don't tell him), my niece, three friends (that I can think of. I might have forgotten someone).

Books Received:

No physical books so far, but a gift card for my favorite local bookstore, Small World Books,, and, um, while I was in Small World Books, I bought myself a few things...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays!

I am finishing up my Christmas shopping and already plunged into my traditional holiday socializing. So far we've had the musicians' party, the Venice party with enthusiastic if somewhat drunken Christmas caroling...still to come, the Feast of the 7 Fishes Christmas Eve party and then home Christmas Day with the folks, and New Year's Eve with Billy.

I am not a religious person but I dearly enjoy this time of year and these little rituals that give substance to my life.

Happy Holidays! Joyous Solstice! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukah! And a prosperous, creative New Year!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Department of Inexplicable Crimes...

From the Tampa Tribune:
According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, two men entered a man's home early Sunday and demanded his eggbeater. One suspect was holding a pistol while the other brandished a knife to the resident's neck.
Oh, and this final detail:
Police found the eggbeater in the man's left pocket.
I don't know, perhaps a compelling need for homemade eggnog?

Friday, December 12, 2008


For some reason, I wanted to visit the dump. I thought it might be a good location for my new novel in progress. I thought it might be interesting. Maybe I'm just one of those privileged Westerners engaging in poverty tourism. It's entirely possible.

Valeria has done some work at the dump, both as a volunteer and a performance artist. She graciously agreed to take me. But she couldn't get the necessary permit, even trying a few days in advance. The situation at the dump is complicated. It's scheduled to close, but delays in completing the new dump mean that the old one will remain open a little longer.

The dump is 28 years old. It began at a time when there were no real environmental regulations in Mexico, in a valley some distance from the town. Trash piled up in the valley until the valley filled; then the mountain rose above it. Gradually the town came as well. There are new apartments close to the dump, and a new university too.

We took a taxi out to the colonia that has grown up around the dump, stopping at a fruteria to buy a half a crate of oranges for the workers: the dump's employers and the recyclers who pay for the privilege of sorting through the garbage to scavenge things to sell. There is a hierarchy at the dump, with "bosses" controlling who gets what and for how much. "There was an old lady who used to be here," Valeria told me, "and she would wear a nice dress and gloves and look for perfume bottles." Some people live more or less on the dump, others around it, and they take their things to their scavenged shacks to sort and sell.

Since we didn't have official permission to visit, it would all be a matter of luck, Valeria explained. Or Valeria's charm, more accurately. The oranges didn't hurt either. I took some up to the workers spraying brown leachate out of green hoses into a pit. This is part of a system to filter the leachate and prevent it from leaking places it shouldn't (I wish I could describe the process more accurately, but my Spanish only goes so far). About five minutes after we arrived at the dusty gate, the manager arrived.

At first the manager didn't want to let us up there. He wanted to be assured that I wouldn't say anything bad about the dump. I promised I wouldn't, and that if he didn't want me to take photos, I would not.

He took us up in his pickup, on paths blocked at times with baby carriages and cracked tires, up to the top. The lower levels of the mountain have been covered with grass, which I believe is planted on top of a rubber membrane, again designed to seal off any contaminates from the dump. Once the manager determined that I was actually interested in how the dump worked, he explained it all to me. I understood most, but not all of what he had to say. What I did understand was his real passion and conscientiousness about his job, which was basically trying to retrofit a mountain of garbage so that the environment would be protected and the land eventually used for something else. But how? For years, the garbage had been sorted by hand; they have no real way of knowing what is buried there, how dangerous it might be. Methane gas accumulates; organic materials decompose into a viscous liquid that seeps wherever it can find a path.

The views from the top of the dump are pretty amazing. You can see the town, the marina, the new developments, the ocean. But the dump itself is what's really compelling.

Valeria told me that it had become a home for thousands of birds. She wasn't exaggerating. Flocks of buzzards, which I would expect, and white herons, which seem somewhat incongruous, come to the dump to feast on what's there. Things like: random cow parts: lips. Skulls. Hooves. Ears.

What there seems to be more of than anything are plastic bags. Plastic bags, faded by the sun, make up the slopes and summit of this mountain. The earth will not end in fire or ice or water. I am convinced we will all smother in plastic.

The surface of the mountain is spongy; it trembles when the bulldozers come close. I wish I could describe the smell. Rancid, sweet, rotting fruit, spoiled baby food, shit — none of that quite captures it.

The new dump will have all sorts of modern technology, the manager explained, and they are doing their best to cope with the problems that this one presents, but essentially, it is a matter of how do we bury our mistakes, when they are mistakes of this magnitude?

Meanwhile, the gleaners, the jovenes — all of the workers are jovenes, whether they are young, old, male or female, continue their labors: sorting through trash, through garbage, looking for things that they can sell. Cardboard. Bottles. Cans. Refrigerator parts. Copper wire. It's not much of a living; the price of recyclables has collapsed along with everything else in the current economic crisis.

Some day the dump will close, probably within the next few months. Maybe it will take longer. But the dump will be closed, sealed in rubber, covered over with grass. I'm not sure what happens to what's underneath. And I don't know if the birds will still come.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Mary Has Left the Building...

Mary Has Left the Building...
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa

Vallarta Christmas Processional...

Greetings from Vallarta!

I'm in Mexico right now, doing research for a book. No, really! But I should have time to put up a few posts, and maybe even some photos too.

In the meantime, research requires me to go down to the beach for a margarita.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Department of Obscure and Useless Skills

When it comes to baseball, I throw like the proverbial girl. Not like real girls; as I'm sure you're aware, there are some hard-throwing girls out there. But I've never been able to throw a baseball very well. No idea why. I feel like I'm putting all kinds of muscle into it and nothing much happens.

For some reason, however, the same thing does not apply to my throwing a football. I discovered this random and inexplicable skill several years ago, while at a barbecue and block party. My friends had a mini-football, and between guitar player Tony, athletic young teen son Joey and me, I could throw the thing the best. I mean, we are talking long, tight spirals here. It was weird.

When I was visiting my sis up in San Francisco, I took daily walks on Ocean Beach. On one clear day, there were three or four groups of people tossing a football around. I thought, hey, I want to toss a football around! I kept hoping one of them would fumble in my direction, but it didn't happen, and I am not the sort of person who would intrude on someone else's fun.

Today, I had to do some shopping at Target. I stopped in sporting goods to see if I could pick up a pair of 15 pound dumbbells. No luck. But there were shelves of footballs.

After some debate, I grabbed a Wilson Junior composite football, which is for ages 9 and up - I have really small hands. I tested it out in my backyard, gleefully throwing it into gates and bushes - and yeah, I can throw it pretty well. Though this is an utterly useless skill for a middle-aged woman, I might go back for the PeeWee model anyway.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai attacks

For amazing/appalling photos, go here.

UPDATE: This AP story provides the most comprehensive timeline of events that I've seen thus far.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Winner!

Of the Bad Sex in Literary Fiction Award - Rachel Johnson! Take a bow, Rachel! Here's an excerpt from her first-place entry:
Almost screaming after five agonizingly pleasurable minutes, I make a grab, to put him, now angrily slapping against both our bellies, inside, but he holds both by arms down, and puts his tongue to my core, like a cat lapping up a dish of cream so as not to miss a single drop. I find myself gripping his ears and tugging at the locks curling over them, beside myself, and a strange animal noise escapes from me as the mounting, Wagnerian crescendo overtakes me. I really do hope at this point that all the Spodders are, as requested, attending the meeting about slug clearance or whatever it is.
According to the Literary Review,
"Johnson was singled out for her novel's slew of animal metaphors, including comparing her male protagonist's "light fingers" to "a moth caught inside a lampshade", and his tongue to "a cat lapping up a dish of cream so as not to miss a single drop". Literary Review deputy editor Tom Fleming was also disturbed by the heroine's "grab, to put him, now angrily slapping against both our bellies, inside".
Johnson, nothing if not a good sport, declared winning the award (a bottle of champagne and a plaster statue of a foot) was "an absolute honor."

John Updike received a lifetime achievement award for his numerous passages of bad sex. But heck, you're all winners, contestants!

You can find selections from the short list here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The most wonderful time of the year II

Readers of this blog know that in spite of my lack of religious belief, my ingrained cynicism and general misanthropy, I actually enjoy the holiday season. I love getting together with friends and family to celebrate the festivities. I love those annual occasions that help mark the seasons and the passages of our lives...

Thanksgiving dinners...Christmas trees...the Bad Sex in Literary Fiction awards...

Oh, where to start with the cornucopia that is bad writing about sex in serious literature? I missed the 2007 contest, but here is a selection from 2006.

So what are the criteria for choosing the worst sex in serious literature?
Jonathan Beckman at the Literary Review said there had been "quite a lot of variation" in this year's shortlist in terms of how, exactly, the sex was bad. "There are some which take the sex far too seriously, like Coelho, and some which have a grating change of register, like Buchan, and others that are just slightly ridiculous," he said. "The Campbell seems quite Alastair Campbelly-bad, in the slightly tortuous logical path the passage takes … and also, we wouldn't pass up the chance to put Alastair Campbell on a bad sex shortlist."
I tend to root for the far too serious. Here's Paulo Coelho's nominated contribution:
in which the act of sex – on a public footpath – is described as "the moment when Eve was reabsorbed into Adam's body and the two halves became Creation".

"At last, she could no longer control the world around her," Coelho continues, "her five senses seemed to break free and she wasn't strong enough to hold on to them. As if struck by a sacred bolt of lightning, she unleashed them, and the world, the seagulls, the taste of salt, the hard earth, the smell of the sea, the clouds, all disappeared, and in their place appeared a vast gold light, which grew and grew until it touched the most distant star in the galaxy."
Yeah, it was good for me too.

Oh, and since I missed last year's awards, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the winner:
Last year's award was given posthumously to Norman Mailer for his final novel The Castle in the Forest, in which a male member is described as being "as soft as a coil of excrement". "It was the excrement that tipped the balance," admitted Philip Womack, assistant editor of the Literary Review, at the time.

(H/T to Judi Fennell)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The way to fly...

Why can't we have these now? Without the explosive hydrogen...

(h/t to Shanghai Slim)

Monday, November 17, 2008

China's documentary realism

I highly recommend this China Digital Times article on the not-quite-underground Chinese documentary scene. These filmmakers operate in a gray area that is increasingly a part of Chinese culture — unsanctioned by the government, at times out-and-out banned but still managing to circulate inside China thanks to video hosts like Youtube and the considerable Chinese black market for censored materials. In a weird twist, there are even award ceremonies for documentary festivals that feature banned films within China (and no, I don't get quite how this works either). Support from "common people" is also essential:
Commenting on the way independent Chinese documentaries have become an alternative livelihood for the people, the Beijing Broadcasting Institute professor Cui Weiping said to Duowei: “Many people help other people shoot films for advertisements, and most people engage in the advertising industry. Some people, after shooting a commercial for five months and earning 100,000 RMB in profit, will invest this money in documentaries.”

For the documentary filmmakers, the greatest problem isn’t making a living, but having their documentaries censored and unable to enter the market through normal distribution channels. Professor Hao Jian said to Duowei: “The making of independent documentaries in China isn’t a normal occupation and lacks normal commercial activity. Because feature movies are able to gain commercial value through the participation of film festivals, and at the same time documentary film makers are crammed in a run-down room of a rented building, filmmakers of feature films usually have better living conditions. The government’s criticism of independent documentaries is usually negative, and thus the government will not let them enter the market.”

At the moment, support for Chinese independent documentaries comes from the common people. Some celebrities and civil organizations have provided the funds to establish some documentary film festivals such as the Chinese Independent Film Festival in Nanjing, the Clouds South Documentary Festival, the Chinese Documentary Exchange Week at the Songzhuang Art Museum, the Beijing Independent Film Forum and Chinese Independent Documentary Film Festival. In the fall of 2006, Li Xianting set up the Li Xianting Fund at the Song manor to collect 34 independent Chinese documentaries. The top donor was Fang Lijun who gave 100,000 RMB.
You can find the work of one banned Chinese documentarian, Hu Jie, at the CDT link, and also here, where his hour-long documentary on a Cultural Revolution casualty, "When I am Gone," is available with English subtitles. I strongly recommend it. Part 1 is linked below...

I hate the expression, "You go, girl!" but...

Oh hell. You go, girl! :
A 16-year-old schoolgirl with a mean knuckleball has been selected as the first woman ever to play alongside the men in Japanese professional baseball.

Eri Yoshida was drafted for a new independent league that will launch in April, drawing attention for a side-armed knuckler that her future manager Yoshihiro Nakata said was a marvel...

...Yoshida, 155 centimetres (five feet) tall and weighing 52 kilograms (114 pounds), says she wants to follow in the footsteps of the great Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fast Food Nation

The economy needs to pick up "so people can afford to get healthy," said Ronnie Adkins, 67, a retired policeman, as he sat one recent morning on the smoking porch of the Jolly Pirate Donuts shop on U.S. 60.
Fascinating, disturbing profile of the unhealthiest city in the US, Huntington, W. Virginia.
Nearly half the adults in Huntington's five-county metropolitan area are obese — an astounding percentage, far bigger than the national average in a country with a well-known weight problem.
Huntington leads in a half-dozen other illness measures, too, including heart disease and diabetes. It's even tops in the percentage of elderly people who have lost all their teeth (half of them have).
The article cites a complex set of factors responsible for the situation: an economy once built around manual labor (for example, coal mining) that has largely lost its industrial base and suffers from a 19% poverty rate, eating habits that have not changed since those days of high-calorie burning work, an over-reliance on fast food, a population convinced that they can't afford to eat more healthfully. And fast food companies take advantage:
Fast food has become a staple, with many residents convinced they can't afford to buy healthier foods, said Keri Kennedy, manager of the state health department's Office of Healthy Lifestyles.

Kennedy said she had just seen a commercial that presented "The KFC $10 Challenge." The fried-chicken chain placed a family in a grocery store and challenged them to put together a dinner for $10 or less that was comparable to KFC's seven-piece, $9.99 value meal.

"This is what we're up against," said Kennedy, noting it's an extremely persuasive ad for a low-income family that is accustomed to fried foods. "I don't know what you do to counter that."
Add in a cultural attitude that does not value exercise or understand the health benefits (I'm guessing that has something to do with a past built on hard physical labor - why would you look at exercise positively when a measure of success was finding a job where you didn't have to do it?), and you have a population having heart attacks in their thirties.

The causes of obesity and its attendant health problems go far beyond laziness and lack of discipline. This article helps lay out some of the very complicated and intractable issues behind our nation's health crisis. It's about culture; it's about how society is structured, the built environment in which we live and work. And it's about a country that doesn't provide preventive health care or even basic healthcare necessity for tens of millions of its citizens.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Decisions, decisions...

After a lot of hemming and hawing which caused me to miss out on the best flight options, I found a pretty good second best itinerary to Beijing for next year. I'll depart shortly after New Year's - Chinese - sorry, I traveled during that holiday in 1980 and learned my lesson - and will return after the first week in March. This ought to give me enough time to do work on my Mandarin chops and do some serious traveling as well. I'm already planning on going to Kunming - I haven't been there since the total eclipse of the sun in 1980, and I have to make that pilgrimage for a number of reasons - and I have a friend who is a Dean at a college in Yili, Xinjiang. I mean, Xinjiang - how cool is that?

There's a bunch of other places I'd like to see that I've never visited...Lijiang, Kaifeng, Yantai, Qingdao...and old favorites I'd love to visit again (I really do heart Chengdu).

Given that I'm flying in and out of Beijing, am already committed to Kunming and will make a serious effort to go to Yili, does anyone have any suggestions?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Branding with Chinese Characteristics

Via Kaiser Kuo comes this hilarious example...

Green renewal

Okay, I'm pretty much a tree-hugger. I heart polar bears and light rail and all that. The election brought us a lot of good news on the environmental front, not the least of which is that we'll have a new administration in Washington that actually cares about things like global warming. Meanwhile, here in California, we passed the high-speed rail initiative and Measure R in Los Angeles (which will fund a variety of transportation projects, including light rail). And as a bonus, the Governator reversed his earlier stance and now proposes a 9.9% tax on every barrel of oil pumped out of the ground in California.

Beyond the warm-fuzzies of tree-hugging and polar bears (I would not recommend hugging the polar bears though), there are compelling reasons why we should move to a Green economy - and not just to, you know, save the planet from the deleterious effects of global climate change.

Reason #1 - it's good for the economy, and we really need to rebuild our economy.

Here's what Al Gore had to say in Sunday's New York Times:
Here is the good news: the bold steps that are needed to solve the climate crisis are exactly the same steps that ought to be taken in order to solve the economic crisis and the energy security crisis.

Economists across the spectrum... agree that large and rapid investments in a jobs-intensive infrastructure initiative is the best way to revive our economy in a quick and sustainable way. Many also agree that our economy will fall behind if we continue spending hundreds of billions of dollars on foreign oil every year. Moreover, national security experts in both parties agree that we face a dangerous strategic vulnerability if the world suddenly loses access to Middle Eastern oil...

...Here’s what we can do — now: we can make an immediate and large strategic investment to put people to work replacing 19th-century energy technologies that depend on dangerous and expensive carbon-based fuels with 21st-century technologies that use fuel that is free forever: the sun, the wind and the natural heat of the earth.
Gore goes on to outline a five-part plan "to repower America with a commitment to producing 100 percent of our electricity from carbon-free sources within 10 years. It is a plan that would simultaneously move us toward solutions to the climate crisis and the economic crisis — and create millions of new jobs that cannot be outsourced."

In case that sounds a bit too idealistic and grandiose, here's an example of how a small slice of Green economy is helping to resurrect a Midwestern Rust Belt town:
Like his uncle, his grandfather and many of their neighbors, Arie Versendaal spent decades working at the Maytag factory here, turning coils of steel into washing machines.

When the plant closed last year, taking 1,800 jobs out of this town of 16,000 people, it seemed a familiar story of American industrial decline: another company town brought to its knees by the vagaries of global trade.

Except that Mr. Versendaal has a new factory job, at a plant here that makes blades for turbines that turn wind into electricity. Across the road, in the old Maytag factory, another company is building concrete towers to support the massive turbines. Together, the two plants are expected to employ nearly 700 people by early next year.

“Life’s not over,” Mr. Versendaal says. “For 35 years, I pounded my body to the ground. Now, I feel like I’m doing something beneficial for mankind and the United States. We’ve got to get used to depending on ourselves instead of something else, and wind is free. The wind is blowing out there for anybody to use.”

From the faded steel enclaves of Pennsylvania to the reeling auto towns of Michigan and Ohio, state and local governments are aggressively courting manufacturing companies that supply wind energy farms, solar electricity plants and factories that turn crops into diesel fuel.

This courtship has less to do with the loftiest aims of renewable energy proponents — curbing greenhouse gas emissions and lessening American dependence on foreign oil — and more to do with paychecks. In the face of rising unemployment, renewable energy has become a crucial source of good jobs, particularly for laid-off Rust Belt workers...

...No one believes that renewable energy can fully replace what has been lost on the American factory floor, where people with no college education have traditionally been able to finance middle-class lives. Many at Maytag earned $20 an hour in addition to health benefits. Mr. Versendaal now earns about $13 an hour.

Still, it’s a beginning in a sector of the economy that has been marked by wrenching endings, potentially a second chance for factory workers accustomed to layoffs and diminished aspirations.
All this adds up to a reason for optimism, even to a cynic like me.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

But less of this...

From the WaPo's Sleuth blog:
Ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) apparently has rebuffed a bold bid by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to take over health care policy in the Senate when the new Congress convenes in January.

Sources tell the Sleuth Clinton had approached Kennedy, who chairs the Senate health committee, and Democratic leaders about creating a new special health care subcommittee, one she would chair.

Her hope was to draft the legislation that would fulfill her presidential campaign promise - and President-elect Barack Obama's - for a sweeping health care overhaul plan.

But sources say Kennedy is cool to the idea. So is his top health care aide, Michael Myers, Kennedy's staff director on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Myers tells the trade publication InsideHealthPolicy that Kennedy will continue handling health care policy at the full committee level. Asked if that meant Clinton would not be tapped to head a new health subcommittee as rumored, Myers said that was correct.
Enough already. Ted Kennedy is obviously in no condition to spearhead the battle for universal healthcare. This is a subject about which Hillary Clinton is passionate, informed and engaged. She's had years of experience dealing with both the big picture and the minutia. Her healthcare proposal was widely regarded by progressives as superior to Obama's. Why not put her to work?

A significant portion if not a clear majority of Obama appointees look to be Clinton Administration veterans. And yet the woman who got over 18 million votes in the Democratic primaries, who campaigned her butt off for Obama and down-ticket Dems across the country, seems to be excluded from meaningful participation in an area where she is greatly needed.

Yes, I get that there are seniority issues. I get that there was a lot of bad blood in the primaries between the Clinton and Obama camps. But unity is a two-way street, and this sort of continued dissing has got to stop.

More like this, please!

Those who know me in RL know that I am a good liberal who has had some serious issues with Barack Obama. For the purposes of this post, I'll mention only his opacity in terms of policy. Mantras of "Hope" and "Change" don't resonate with me; tell me what you are going to do.

Things like this:
Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team.

A team of four dozen advisers, working for months in virtual solitude, set out to identify regulatory and policy changes Obama could implement soon after his inauguration. The team is now consulting with liberal advocacy groups, Capitol Hill staffers and potential agency chiefs to prioritize those they regard as the most onerous or ideologically offensive, said a top transition official who was not permitted to speak on the record about the inner workings of the transition.

In some instances, Obama would be quickly delivering on promises he made during his two-year campaign, while in others he would be embracing Clinton-era policies upended by President Bush during his eight years in office.

"The kind of regulations they are looking at" are those imposed by Bush for "overtly political" reasons, in pursuit of what Democrats say was a partisan Republican agenda, said Dan Mendelson, a former associate administrator for health in the Clinton administration's Office of Management and Budget. The list of executive orders targeted by Obama's team could well get longer in the coming days, as Bush's appointees rush to enact a number of last-minute policies in an effort to extend his legacy.

A spokeswoman said yesterday that no plans for regulatory changes had been finalized. "Before he makes any decisions on potential executive or legislative actions, he will be conferring with congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle, as well as interested groups," Obama transition spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said. "Any decisions would need to be discussed with his Cabinet nominees, none of whom have been selected yet."

Still, the preelection transition team, comprising mainly lawyers, has positioned the incoming president to move fast on high-priority items without waiting for Congress.

Obama himself has signaled, for example, that he intends to reverse Bush's controversial limit on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, a decision that scientists say has restrained research into some of the most promising avenues for defeating a wide array of diseases, such as Parkinson's.
All this would be change I can believe in.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Buy a Book, Dammit!

Via Nathan Bransford comes this excellent post by Moonrat (now added to my blogroll - "editorialass") about why October is the unkindest month of all in book publishing. It has to do with the unique (some would say "bizarre") returns policy:
The crux of the problem is that book publishing is a returnable industry. That means that say Big Chain Store (BCS) agrees to stock a book that my company publishes. They buy 100 copies at, say, $1 a piece (to be easy). They give me $100; I send them the books. Two months later, they didn't sell any, so they send them back. I have to give them $100.

Keep in mind a couple of things about this system that don't work in the publisher's favor:
1) Shipping costs. Books are heavy.
2) Production fees incurred by the publisher (because, unfortunately, we can't return the books to the printer).
3) Inflation. Haha.
Moonrat suggests that those of us who love books fight back...and buy more books. Buy 'em for your friends and family!

Well, it's not like I need much (any?) encouragement; I'd come home with three new books in my shopping rucksack yesterday before even reading this post. But here's a follow-up suggestion: why not make October "Buy More Books!" month? It's too late for this year, but beginning next year, we could all make it a point to do our holiday shopping early.

Buy a book. The publishing industry you save may be your own.

No On Proposition 8!

Efforts are already underway in California to repeal the unjust, anti-equality, anti-family and homophobic Proposition 8, which would ban same sex marriage through an amendment to the state constitution.

Proposition 8 may have won, but the fight is not over. Legal challenges have already been filed, and we have an Attorney General, Jerry Brown, who has been great on this issue.

Here are a few things you can do right now:

If you are a registered California voter, go here and sign the petition. It's already over 250,000 signatures (H/T to Dana for finding this)

You can also sign the Courage Campaign's pledge. You do not have to be a California voter to sign.

Finally, here is the No On Proposition 8 homepage. They are still accepting donations, and I'm guessing they will remain a focal point for any organized effort to fight this.

Please show your support of equality for everyone. Reject the idea that "separate but equal" is somehow acceptable in the 21st century.

I'm not someone who has been deeply involved in this issue, just a sideline supporter who knows many people directly affected by this and who is outraged by the injustice Proposition 8 represents. If you know of any other actions, please let me know about them, and I'll add them to this post.

Monday, November 03, 2008

For California Voters

Here is a progressive voter guide (pdf) covering the initiatives - a good compendium of sources.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Check this out...

People who haven't been to China tend to have a lot of mistaken ideas about what it's like. This is not surprising. Popular stereotypes generally fix on outdated images - rice paddies, Little Red Books.

Even if you've been there, even if you've lived there, you can still not get it. I'm not sure that I do. China is a complicated place, and it's naive to think that you can somehow get a handle on The Truth about a country, any country. Even your own.

Regardless, here is a fascinating photo essay about disaffected young people in Changsha, a provincial capital best known for its association with Mao Zedong. Mao wouldn't recognize his hometown from these images of punk bars and graffiti art and transgender performances. Though perhaps he would relate, somewhat, to their alienation.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Yay, Apple!

Okay, I've been a Mac partisan for a long time (yeah, I'm one of those), ever since I replaced my Amiga 2000. But this is the kind of thing I like to see, and I don't care if it's pandering or PR:
No on Prop 8
Apple is publicly opposing Proposition 8 and making a donation of $100,000 to the No on 8 campaign. Apple was among the first California companies to offer equal rights and benefits to our employees’ same-sex partners, and we strongly believe that a person’s fundamental rights — including the right to marry — should not be affected by their sexual orientation. Apple views this as a civil rights issue, rather than just a political issue, and is therefore speaking out publicly against Proposition 8.
I can't tell you how offended I am by Proposition 8. I was so thrilled when the California Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to prevent same sex couples from marrying. It's wrong to deny people equal protection under the law, to deny the sanctity of their relationships. One of the few times I wished I hadn't missed a political solicitation was when the "Yes on 8" people left a message on my voice mail asking for my support for their prejudiced, ignorant, hateful initiative. Oh, how I would have liked to have responded.

Good for Apple for taking a stand. I urge all of you in California to really protect the sanctity of marriage and vote against this horrible initiative. Donate to No on Proposition 8 if you can.

It's hard enough to find lasting love in this world. I don't understand a mindset that insists that millions of peoples' love is wrong and their relationships don't count.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bad Blogger, no donut...

And I was doing so well...

I started this blog more than 3 1/2 years ago as a way to keep my writing chops up while I geared up for a new project. The blog has definitely had its ups and downs. I used to be a lot better at multi-tasking than I am now, and even with the sudden influx of unstructured time in my life ( some would call this "unemployment," but I prefer a more positive frame), I have a hard time splitting my attention (See this post for further insight into the sad state of my once formidable intelligence. Hey, really - I used to be smart!).

Anyway, I'd been getting back into the blogging swing of things, constantly finding articles that intrigued me that I wanted to share, and then I got immersed in rewriting an old screenplay, something I'd always thought had potential but could never quite make work. It was a fun thing to revisit. After all the agonizing over my last novel, the one which is out to publishers, working on something that was just sort,! Suddenly, I wasn't procrastinating till close to midnight before I'd sit down and make myself work. I was actually writing while the sun was out! I'd forgotten what that felt like.

Even though I've written after work for most of my life, the last few years doing this has felt really really hard. Just exhausting, and soul-killing. I know that sounds incredibly melodramatic. Writing novels isn't like, I dunno, working in a coal mine. But what I used to be able to do when I was younger, and hey, I was not a happy person when I was younger, I was bitter and angry and depressed, but I did my work, dammit...

Now I'm happier but I don't have the energy, I guess. Or I'm not willing to drive myself to the point of misery to manufacture the energy.

So, anyway, here I am. I wake up when I feel like waking up, and the whole day stretches in front of me. Figuring out how to use this time has been a challenge. I've tried to set goals every day: small things, much of the time. Hang up that picture. Arrange new health insurance. Walk to the gym. Walk to Santa Monica and buy a bread knife. Stuff like that.

But telling myself, okay, you're a writer, here's your time - that's been an adjustment.

I'm working on a new novel. I started it a few months ago and am about 4 chapters in. I like the prose a lot. I have the setting and the characters and the basic situation. I don't really have a story, yet. It's the kind of thing that I need to research.

So, today. I got up. Checked my email. Tidied some ends on a free-lance project I've been doing. And got to work on my novel. I have three books to read for it. Read about 100 pages of one. Did a bunch of internet research, really valuable stuff. Started getting a better sense of how I could shape this story.

Thought to myself, this is a life I could have. This is a life that works for me.

Now if only someone would pay me for it...

All of which is a long, roundabout way of saying that I've been focused on other stuff, and the blogging kind of falls apart.

I'll try to do better.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Whither the People's Premier?

Go read this if you have any interest in rumors of power struggles within China's top leadership. The Australian cites a Hong Kong magazine's report that hard-liners within the CCP seek to oust popular Premier Wen Jiabao from his position:
Rivalries inside the party have broken out behind the facade of unity erected for the Olympic Games, said Kaifang (Open), the monthly magazine known for its political sources inside China and its publication of information banned in the media.

It said hardliners in the party's propaganda department and at the People's Daily newspaper had orchestrated a campaign of abuse directed at Mr Wen's supposed support for universal values such as democracy and human rights.

"China's ship of reform is on the rocks and risks sinking," Kaifang said in its analysis. "The party needs to find a scapegoat."

Last week, important land reforms were put on hold.

Mr Wen had also been passed over for the job of heading a prestigious committee, the magazine said. It listed several press attacks, which, as is often the case in Chinese politics, did not identify their victim but left no doubt among those in the know as to who it was.

The most prominent critic was Chen Kuiyuan, vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a rubber-stamp body whose title sums up everything it is not.

"Some in China want to dance to the West's tune," Mr Chen wrote.

The People's Daily of September 10 printed a column headlined "How to see through the theory of so-called universal values".

Today, the Prime Minister is seen by many ordinary Chinese as a friendly face at the apex of power. He has been compared to the veteran revolutionary Zhou Enlai, who is claimed to have moderated the worst crimes of Maoism.

Suspicions about Mr Wen's authoritarian credentials date back to 1989 when he went into Tiananmen Square to meet demonstrators at the side of his boss Zhao Ziyang, the reformist general secretary of the Communist Party.
(you can view the famous photo of that incident here)

Wen cemented his popularity among "ordinary" Chinese by his prompt response to the disastrous Sichuan earthquake earlier this year, flying immediately to the scene, promising aid and offering comfort. Symbolic gestures, perhaps, but potent ones coming from a leadership that is not known for its accessibility to the public. If "social harmony" is the goal of Hu Jintao's administration, he might want to think about the impact of ousting Wen, one of the few political figures among the top leadership whom the laobaixing consider responsive to their needs.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

It's just the way it is

With all the talk about racism and finally (though not nearly soon enough) misogyny prompted by this year's US Presidential campaign, a particular frustration for me has been the lack of recognition of sexist attitudes and behavior.

I think this is because racist discourse is generally (not always) pretty easy to spot. Richard at TPD provides this sterling example.

Sexism, on the other hand, often goes unacknowledged because we can't always agree on exactly what it is. Because, you know, men and women are just different.

Echidne of the Snakes has written a post that looks at some very basic realities for women and frames these as human rights issues in a way that really resonated for me. It's stuff I've tried to say but never managed to articulate so clearly. Go have a look.

(H/T to Lambert at Corrente)

UPDATE: do check out the discussion at Shakesville and Anglachel's post reacting to Echidne's piece. Obviously I'm not the only person for whom this resonated.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Paul Krugman Wins Economics Nobel Prize!

Okay, he actually won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Whatever. I can't think of a public figure in recent years more deserving of the honor, not just for his economics commentary, which has been right on target far more often than not, but for his political bravery at a time when expressing dissent against the White House was met with ridicule, scorn and even accusations of treason.

A virtual champagne toast to you, Mr. Krugman!

(h/t to JB)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

It's the Poor Folks' Fault


Go read this clear-eyed, pulls-no-punches article by the good folks at McClatchy:
As the economy worsens and Election Day approaches, a conservative campaign that blames the global financial crisis on a government push to make housing more affordable to lower-class Americans has taken off on talk radio and e-mail.

Commentators say that's what triggered the stock market meltdown and the freeze on credit. They've specifically targeted the mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the federal government seized on Sept. 6, contending that lending to poor and minority Americans caused Fannie's and Freddie's financial problems.

Federal housing data reveal that the charges aren't true, and that the private sector, not the government or government-backed companies, was behind the soaring subprime lending at the core of the crisis.

Subprime lending offered high-cost loans to the weakest borrowers during the housing boom that lasted from 2001 to 2007. Subprime lending was at its height vrom 2004 to 2006.

Federal Reserve Board data show that:

_ More than 84 percent of the subprime mortgages in 2006 were issued by private lending institutions.

_ Private firms made nearly 83 percent of the subprime loans to low- and moderate-income borrowers that year.

_ Only one of the top 25 subprime lenders in 2006 was directly subject to the housing law that's being lambasted by conservative critics.
"Read the whole thing," as bloggers are wont to say. The piece demolishes the conservative canard that places the blame for the crisis on working class people and on the Clinton Administration for making it easier for them to get credit. And while you're at it, go read Anglachel's post, which makes explicit how restricting credit to the poor and working class (except on the most onerous terms) is yet another tactic in movement conservatives' class warfare.

(H/T to Corrente, another fave on my rapidly dwindling political blogroll)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Riding the Tiger..

When rage is the energy that fuels your movement, this is what happens:
The anger is getting raw at Republican rallies and John McCain is acting to tamp it down. McCain was booed by his own supporters Friday when, in an abrupt switch from raising questions about Barack Obama's character, he described the Democrat as a "decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States."

A sense of grievance spilling into rage has gripped some GOP events this week as McCain supporters see his presidential campaign lag against Obama. Some in the audience are making it personal, against the Democrat. Shouts of "traitor," "terrorist," "treason," "liar," and even "off with his head" have rung from the crowd at McCain and Sarah Palin rallies, and gone unchallenged by them...

...When a visibly angry McCain supporter in Waukesha, Wis., on Thursday told the candidate "I'm really mad" because of "socialists taking over the country," McCain stoked the sentiment. "I think I got the message," he said. "The gentleman is right." He went on to talk about Democrats in control of Congress.

On Friday, McCain rejected the bait.

"I don't trust Obama," a woman said. "I have read about him. He's an Arab."

McCain shook his head in disagreement, and said:

"No, ma'am. He's a decent, family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with (him) on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign is all about."

He had drawn boos with his comment: "I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States."

The anti-Obama taunts and jeers are noticeably louder when McCain appears with Palin, a big draw for GOP social conservatives. She accused Obama this week of "palling around with terrorists" because of his past, loose association with a 1960s radical (William Ayers).
Barack Obama, socialist.

I'd be laughing a lot harder if these people didn't have guns.

Surfing the Apocalypse

My mom once told me that she read an article about trends and how they got started, and according to what she'd read, I was an early adopter. I don't know if this is true or not (I didn't read the article). I am not particularly trendy, and in some ways I feel like I'm generally a few steps behind. It took me a while to get out of college (six minors, no major) and I lived like a student for years after that. I guess I'm no longer living like a student because I bought Shack By the Sea five years ago, but if you visited my humble abode and looked at the funky old Korean and Chinese cabinets, the 50s era dinette set, the framed poster of Zhou Enlai spinning yarn (with the slogan "A Common Soldier") and more to the point, The Great Wall of Books, you'd probably conclude "eccentric hermit academic writer". Possibly a Commie. But I don't actually have a degree either. You know, six minors, no major, way more credits than necessary for a BA, a drop-out due to boredom and the need to get on with my life, which surely would consist of six figure screenplay deals and rock stardom. But I digress.

In some ways, I guess I have been ahead of certain trends. I lived in China in '79, when that was pretty much unheard of for an American. I came home and taught myself bass guitar, so I could play in a band - I had Carol Kaye and Tina Weymouth to inspire me, but it was still pretty rare at that time, to the point where I got both admiration and a lot of shit. More of the former, but the latter was not insignificant. Later, I recognized an under-utilized resource at my former company and managed to turn it into something relevant and really cool.

Which brings me to my latest trend-setting activity: I left my job of over 15 years on Sept. 2. Right before everything went crazy.

Anyone who's been paying any attention knew this was coming, that our current economy was unsustainable, based on debt and obscure financial transactions that were some form of mutated pyramid schemes on steroids. I'd felt this anxiety acutely the last couple years, that any moment it was all going to come crashing down, that I had to somehow get out, play it right. Escape.

But truth be told, I've nearly always lived my life in the shadow of dread, with the sense that disaster can strike at any moment, that I am not safe. That no one is.

While this is more or less logically true — hey, you could get hit by a bus! — it does make for a certain degree of ambient stress.

Particularly in the case of my job, where I never felt secure. This was actually a pretty rational conclusion. My department was nearly sacrificed to the Corporate Gods a number of times, and only a certain cockroach skill at politicking on my part and great allies within the company managed to save it. This time, politicking (by a bunch of folks) backed up by the department's good reputation preserved it. But as far as my own job went, I realized that I just wasn't up to fighting for it. It wasn't worth it to me anymore. I'd rather see the department stay and make a decent exit. Everybody got what they wanted that way.

Sometimes you have to let go, particularly when you may not have a choice. And I wanted to leave.

So, here I am, an "Unemployed American" sitting on my couch, watching wave after wave of economic crisis crash on our shores. I feel okay. When you've already lost something big, there's not so much anxiety, you know?

I have about a year's worth of resources. Maybe a little more. I have the sense that I'm holing up in my shelter, stocked with supplies; enough, I hope, to weather this storm.

No one knows how bad this is going to get. I think it will get pretty bad, and that for a lot of people who don't have the resources I have, things will be very bad indeed. But I also think that after the shakeout, we may be in better shape, because maybe our economy and our society will out of necessity get back to basics, rebuild on a sounder foundation. Based on real things, of value.

Maybe I'm an optimist after all.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

No Release for Guantanamo's Uighurs

"Appeals court blocks release of Guantanamo detainees":
A federal appeals court temporarily blocked the release of 17 Chinese-born Muslims detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba , a day after a landmark decision required them to be freed to the U.S....

..."Seventeen men were told yesterday that they were going to be released after nearly seven years of wrongful detention," said Emi MacLean , an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights , which coordinates the representation of detainees including the Uighurs. "Now, they have to be told that their detention will continue to be indefinite."

The Uighurs are among a group of more than 60 men inside the prison who've been cleared for release by the military but who are stuck in limbo because the U.S. government can't find a country to ship them to. The Uighurs say they can't return to China because they'll be tortured as political dissidents.

Urbina's decision marked the first time a court had ordered the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. and could have prompted the release of others who've been cleared by the military.

Urbina declared the continued detention of the Uighurs to be "unlawful" and said the government could no longer detain them after conceding they weren't enemy combatants.

However, Justice Department lawyers continued to argue that the release of the group into the U.S. could pose a security risk and warned that the decision could harm international relations with China.

In court papers, Justice Department lawyers attacked Urbina's ruling, warning in court papers of "serious harms to the government and the public at large" if the appeals court did not intervene.

The lawyers said that Urbina's decision "directly conflicts with the basic principle" that the executive branch, specifically the Department of Homeland Security , has sole discretion as to whether to admit foreigners into the U.S. The Justice Department also raised security concerns about releasing men they say were captured at a weapons training camp run by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Uighurs attorneys disputed that characterization, saying the men merely were living in a small village in Afghanistan where they'd kept one weapon, but lacked ammunition.
Show of hands — who do you believe?

Maybe I'm cynical.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Some good news (we hope)

I posted about the plight of Chinese Uighurs detained in Guantanamo over three years ago. As the Washington Post reported at that time:
In late 2003, the Pentagon quietly decided that 15 Chinese Muslims detained at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could be released. Five were people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, some of them picked up by Pakistani bounty hunters for U.S. payoffs. The other 10 were deemed low-risk detainees whose enemy was China's communist government -- not the United States, according to senior U.S. officials.

More than 20 months later, the 15 still languish at Guantanamo Bay, imprisoned and sometimes shackled, with most of their families unaware whether they are even alive.
Now, after nearly seven years in detention, a US judge has ruled that the Uighurs must be released into the US, agreeing with their attorneys that holding the men without cause is unconstitutional:
At a hearing packed with Uighurs who live in the Washington area, Urbina rejected government arguments that he had no authority to order the men's release. He said he had such authority because the men were being held indefinitely and it was the only remedy available. He cited a June decision by an appellate court that found evidence against the Uighurs to be unreliable.

Urbina said in court that he ordered the release "because the Constitution prohibits indefinite detention without cause." He added, "The separation of powers do not trump" the prohibition against holding people indefinitely without trial...

...Justice Department lawyer John O'Quinn asked Urbina to stay the order for a week, giving the government time to evaluate its options and file an appeal. Urbina rejected that request and ordered the Uighurs to appear in his courtroom for a hearing on Friday. He said he would then release them into the custody of 17 Uighur families living in the Washington area.
Apparently the government plans to appeal, but Urbina seems firm in his determination that these men have gotten a raw deal and that they will be released from custody, period (he didn't take kindly to the proposal that US Immigration authorities might re-detain the Uighurs either). Good for him.

I'll go further: the United States of America should pay these men an annual stipend equivalent to a decent income for a period of time allowing them to adjust to their new lives here. I'd say for about seven years, at the very least.

(H/T to Nathan Bransford)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

On How Many Levels Is This Wrong?

I'm really not much in the mood these days to comment about American politics, but I have to say one thing...

What the hell is with the Republican chant of "Drill, baby, drill!"?!

This is just deeply weird, and not a fun kind of weird. I mean, do I have to get into just how perverse it is to celebrate the destruction of pristine natural environments with a crude sexual metaphor?

Okay, there. I just did.

Friday, October 03, 2008

None of your business...

Gah. It's inevitable that if you blog long enough, you will get tagged with a blog meme, and I have gotten tagged again. This time it's "six interesting things you don't know about me."

Okay, look. First, if you know me, you probably know what's interesting, or not, about me. If you don't know me, why would I want to tell you?

Besides, I'm pretty sure that I already did this once, except it was five things you didn't know about me, and now you want six?


I'll give you two.

I once gave a speech during a Democratic convention to the California delegation during our delegation's breakfast. Me, Barbara Boxer (she gave away cute boxer shorts), Bill Bradley, and I forget who else. I was pretty good.

I also arranged and sang half the backing tracks for the scene in the film, "Undercover Brother," where Eddie Griffin and Denise Richards sing "Ebony and Ivory" in a karaoke bar.

I think that's enough for this evening.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The New Imperialists?

Provocative, disturbing article on China's investments in Africa. The title of author Peter Hitchens' piece: "How China Has Created a New Slave Empire in Africa."

Obviously you are not going to find a lot of positives here.

After recounting an incident in which he and his companions were nearly killed, Hitchens sums the up Chinese presence in Africa:
Out of desperation, much of the continent is selling itself into a new era of corruption and virtual slavery as China seeks to buy up all the metals, minerals and oil she can lay her hands on: copper for electric and telephone cables, cobalt for mobile phones and jet engines - the basic raw materials of modern life.

It is crude rapacity, but to Africans and many of their leaders it is better than the alternative, which is slow starvation.
One of more interesting points raised is Chinese attitudes towards worker safety and how these have carried over to their activities in Africa:
Denis Lukwesa, deputy general secretary of the Zambian Mineworkers' Union, also backed up Sata's view, saying: 'They just don't understand about safety. They are more interested in profit.'...
Hitchens quotes a Zambian worker who collected the remains of workers who died in an explosion at a Chinese-run mine:
'A Chinese supervisor said to me in broken English, "In China, 5,000 people die, and there is nothing. In Zambia, 50 people die and everyone is weeping." To them, 50 people are nothing.'
It's telling that Chinese workers are treated hardly better than the Africans (in fact the article speculates that many Chinese laborers in Africa are convicts off-loaded from China's vast penal system) — suggesting that the problem here is not so much Chinese attitudes towards Africans, but Chinese attitudes towards themselves.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Milk Scandal Satire

If you're not familiar with the fenqing "angry youth" strain of Chinese nationalism, you may not find this pitch-perfect parody as funny as I did. But here's a sample from a post at, thanks to China Digital Times:
Don’t forget the fact that the milk powder industry has developed for hundreds of years in other countries but for only a few decades in China. Chinese-made milk powder has made progress in recent years. Don’t expect to achieve perfection in one step. Untainted production systems can only be achieved gradually. Only a gradual process can serve China’s unique characteristics.

Boycotting or confronting Sanlu will only complicate the problem. We should take the approach of dialogue, taking time to communicate while drinking Sanlu milk powder. Only stability can ensure the development of the milk powder production. If we bankrupt Sanlu, China’s milk powder market will go into chaos, and Western milk powder will have a chance to take over China’s market.

As we can see from the history of the development of other countries’ milk powder industries, without exception there has got to be a gradual purification process to decontaminate tainted milk powder. It is the conspiracy of the west to indoctrinate Chinese to drink untainted milk powder form youth in order to destroy China’s milk powder industries. China’s milk powder industries are still very feeble, and the decontamination should still take a long time. If we adopt Western standards, every year, even the recall of 7000 tons of tainted milk powder won’t suffice; can the Chinese milk powder industry still have a chance to grow strong?

Chinese should have a long-term perspective and first drink tainted milk powder for another few decades sacrificing one or two generations; after Sanlu later promptly becomes strong so that it can compete with western production, then we can start to produce infants untainted milk powder step by step, given the assumption that there still remain some infants at that time.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Modest Proposal

This article on the Chinese baby formula scandal by a well-known Shanghai TV host really cracked me up:
I have been asking myself the following questions: Why did it happen? Why did so many brand-name companies disregard the health and lives of infants? How could their products pass quality inspections, and why was it that some of them were even given inspection-free status by government agencies? ...

...I’m sure the scandal would not have happened if government officials inspected baby formula as strictly as they inspect films.

Not a single film in China has been given an “inspection-free” status. Film directors are treated equally regardless of whether they are internationally renowned or if they’re just starting their career. Even films from top-notch directors are trimmed, revised, or pulled from distribution completely if there are any problems.

Censoring a film starts with inspecting its script. The government prohibits any changes to be made to the original script and inspects each step of the film’s production. Do officials do similar things with dairy products? Do they check our milk supply? A film would be revised again and again until it satisfies the censors. As for milk powder, there is an inspection-free policy which allows unqualified products to be sold directly to consumers. By contrast, there is a strict film recall system. Take the film Apple(苹果) as an example, it was pulled from all movie theaters across the country as soon as officials detected something wrong with it, and subsequently the company that produced the film had its license revoked. However, the dairy product company Sanlu still holds a production license even after the damage it’s caused.
You gotta love the way this guy takes the government's own logic and turns it on its head.

There's more at China Digital Times. Check it out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Idiocracy" — Satire or Prescient Documentary?

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of working on Mike Judge's film, "Idiocracy." It's easy to have missed this film, because like "Office Space," it was unceremoniously dumped by the studio. So here's the basic premise: totally average guy is put in suspended animation, wakes up hundreds of years in the future, where the stupid people people have out-bred the smart ones, and society is so dumbed down that the number one TV show is something called, "Oww! My Balls!"

The hit film is "Ass."

I won't say that "Idiocracy" is without flaws, but it's pretty damn funny (I am particularly fond of the Extreme Court and the Fox News take-off).

Here's the thing: I'm having trouble distinguishing "Idiocracy" from America 2008.

Case in point: three new TV reality shows.

"Hole in the Wall" is a show where contestants try to, um, leap through a hole in the wall (IMDB's description if you are curious, is: "Contestants are required to try and fit through holes in a polystyrene wall, which is moving towards them").

"Wipe Out" seems to be about people crawling on top of giant rubber balls and falling into mud.

Then there's "Hurl." Yes, it's exactly what you think it is.

Well, okay. There's a lot of smart stuff on TV too. "Mad Men" and "Dexter" to name two, and there are plenty more.

Besides, it's not like we've plunged to the depths of "Idiocracy," where the future Starbucks features "Gentlemen's Lattes — with extra Foam."

And then I heard this NPR piece.

Brondo! It has electrolytes!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

What They Said...

"China watches U.S. elections with bemusement"
"A lot of people think Western-style democracy is a joke -- it's more like a pop idol contest or a beauty pageant," said Pan Xiaoli, an anchorwoman for International Channel Shanghai, an English-language TV station. "I think the Chinese watch with a sense of inherent superiority, saying, 'This is not the way for us.' "...

..."People think the capitalist way of campaigning is all about making up fake stories to slander your opponent, that it's just a political show," Shen said.

Another reason for the negativity is that many Chinese don't like either candidate.

Perhaps from nostalgia for her husband, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had been the clear favorite here.

Sen. Barack Obama has alienated some Chinese by criticizing Chinese-made products. And Sen. John McCain infuriated many more by meeting with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader who is reviled by the Chinese government.

"For ordinary Chinese observers, it is hard for them to differentiate between the platforms or understand the anxieties. They've seen it mostly as a competition between a woman, a black man and an old man," said Wang Jisi, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, speaking at a seminar of journalists this week in Seoul.

DISCLAIMER: Yes, there are genuine differences between the candidates. Yes, it matters who wins. I'm just in a very cranky mood about the whole thing.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Rage Against the (Wine) Machine

For years here in Venice, we've had a disappointing mini-mall at the corner of Rose and Lincoln Avenues. Lincoln is the big north/south thoroughfare that is officially Highway 1 in places, Rose is one of Venice's main streets that goes west to the beach.

Years ago, we had an actual supermarket there, along with a drug store. The supermarket went under and a succession of discount stores followed: Pic 'N Saves and Big Lots and 99 Cents. As a shopping destination, it was a great place to buy crack. I will never forget the very sad encounter I had with a young woman in that parking lot, when I first moved up here. Actually, I don't remember most of the conversation, just how sad she was, how desperate, living in her car, addicted, abused. I was young myself, and naive, and sort of stunned by the drama of it all - I hadn't had that many encounters with homeless crack addicts up till then.

A few years in Venice, and that became pretty mundane.

Well, crack addicts and people living in their cars will have to find a new place to hang out, because Whole Foods is here, on Lincoln and Rose. With Taqueria, Wine Bar, gelato counter, and "Community Artisans Corner."

Wait, stop. Did you say, "Wine Bar"?

Why yes, I did!

In the middle of this huge yupscale market - and it is huge, taking over what used to be two full store spaces - is a little counter with bar stools and artisanal cheese plates, where you can sit and sip wine from an Enomatic wine dispenser and eat "tapas." And have political discussions, about Obama and Sarah Palin. Which strikes me as deeply ironic on a level that I can't even begin to articulate.

Well, you know, Venice has been gentrifying for years. I used to say that I gentrified along with it, working my way up from being a salesclerk to the exalted position of Mid-Level Film Studio Bureaucrat Shack-By-the-Sea Homeowner. Now that I'm unemployed, I'm not sure where I stand in the scale of yuppie striver/homeless crack addict. I do know that I will be doing some shopping at Whole Foods, after I get my little old lady wheeled cart so I never have to drive my car there and compete with the hordes of Prius for parking. Or would that be "Priuii"? They've got some good food, good deals, and hey, that taqueria is really tempting.

But I will continue to buy my wine at Lincoln Fine Wines, whose prices and selections are much superior.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Chapter Next

I'm sitting on my couch, surrounded by boxes and bags of stuff brought home from my office of 15 years. Books, mostly, and papers. Like I really need more books in my house. Or papers. Some of this I'll no doubt discard. I'll just have to find homes for the rest.

I never blogged about my work, for a number of reasons. First. you can get fired for that. Second, I blog anonymously (up to a point), and it would have been too easy to identify me if I talked about my work in any great detail.

Third, and most importantly...I didn't want to.

I mean, I was at work for enough hours of my life. Why would I feel compelled to write about it too?

Now that it's over, this big chunk of my life, maybe I'll feel like writing about it some day. Not yet though.

I will say that when I walked out the door on Friday, I left happy. I left feeling proud of the work that I did, what I accomplished, the goodwill I accumulated (if praise were money, I really could retire). Heck, I even feel like I left a legacy of sorts. The work I did will continue; the department that so many labored to build over the decades of its existence survives, and I hope flourishes, in good hands.

So, that's my big brag. Funny, it's the first time I've ever felt so free to brag about something I've done, now that it's over, and I'm no longer doing it.

I can't say that this change hasn't sunk in. I was ready to go. It was surprisingly easy to walk out that door. No big emotions, no tears, no regrets.

Everybody asks me what I'm going to do next. I tell them I'm planning to relax. Exercise. Write. Maybe go to China for an extended period next year, so I can really work on my Chinese, finally. Sell my house? Maybe. i'd like to keep it if I can, but if I can't, I'll try to let go with as little angst as possible.

We'll see.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Murphy Is Not An Oppositionist
I wasn't going to post this because I don't like posting really personal stuff. But, well, she was a great cat.

I am watching a San Diego Chargers preseason game because I don't know what else to do. I'd hoped that my cat Murphy would be watching it with me. When she was younger, she was fascinated by football, particularly if one of the teams wore red. She'd get up on top of the TV, watch the plays upside-down, batting at the little red men as they'd run across the green field.

The vet just took Murphy away. She was 19 1/2. She'd had kidney problems for the past few years, hyperthyroid for years before that. In the last six months she had noticeably declined, and I was seriously concerned about leaving her for two weeks while I was in China. But I'd planned the trip a year ago, paid for it all, and with the upheaval in my work life (as in, unemployment after 15 years at the studio), I felt I needed to continue my China connection, both for my writing and for whatever other opportunities might present themselves.

So I reluctantly left her, in the care of a cat sitter who had taken care of her for a number of years and knew her medical routine.

When I came home from China on Saturday in the early afternoon, the minute I saw Murphy I knew that she was dying. She still tottered over to her food bowl, still looked up at me, knowing that eventually something good would come of it. But she couldn't really eat. She'd lost more weight. After spending a few hours with her I emailed the house-call vet to tentatively schedule a visit on Monday.

I slept the next two nights on the couch, where Murphy liked to sleep most nights. She slept with me, sat on my lap when I read or watched TV, and last night crawled up on my shoulder to sleep for hours. I agonized about the vet appointment. Was it time? Was I doing the right thing? I stayed home today but knew I had to go into work for the rest of the week - it's my last week there after all - if I weren't working, could I have more time with her? Why did this have to happen now, just before I'd have all the time I wanted?

This afternoon, she tottered over to the couch, climbed up and rested her head on my lap. That's where she stayed, until at last she lay on her side, nearly comatose. I no longer had any doubts it was time.

Murphy accompanied me on my life's path for nearly my entire time in Los Angeles. I named her Murphy when she appeared inside the Murphy bed in my old apartment, half-grown, half-starved, skittish and sweet as hell. She was with me for my rock and roll years - she loved it when I played the bass and sang - she loved music in general, would sit in front of the stereo between the speakers, right at the point of greatest stereo separation. I am not kidding. She was particularly fond of the John Adam's opera, "Nixon in China." Again, I'm not kidding.

She was with me for all my attempts at screenplays, at novels, sitting on my lap, competing with the laptop for space. She was here through the drafts and the revisions of the novel that finally got me an agent. My little gray Muse. She was with me for my various romantic disasters, my work dramas, and she was waiting for me when I returned from my adventures. I honestly think she waited to go until I’d returned from this last one.

I don't think of cats as people, or children, but they are companions to many of us, and Murphy was a great companion to me.

I can't quite process the irony that at the same time as my fifteen year stint at the studio is ending, at a time when I may be selling my house and leaving Los Angeles after more than 20 years here, when my life suddenly looks very different after years of continuity, that this one constant companion has left me as well.

I picked this photo of her because it shows how involved she liked to be with anything I happened to be doing. Here she is, helping me with my study of Chinese revolutionary history...

Goodbye, Murphy. You were a great cat.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Greetings from Shanghai!

I'm sitting in my friend's lovely (air conditioned!) apartment in Shanghai after an overnight train from Beijing. I'm sleep-deprived, sweaty and ready to scrounge up some late breakfast. Would have loved to have posted from Beijing but my computer time was limited to non-existent. For now, I'll just say that the old Imperial capital never looked so good or in such fine spirits, not since my coming here, anyway. For all of the skeptism about the Games, the costs, the controversies and crack-downs, the improvements to Beijing's infrastructure and overall environment are significant and much-needed (Subway Lines 5 & 10 - have I mentioned how much I love you both?). By the time of our arrival on August 12 (er, was it the 12?), the pollution had faded and aside from a deluge during Beach volleyball, the weather was great - clear and warm.

I should have more to say about all this when I get back to LA (and lots of photos), but here's my wish for Beijing: may you keep half those cars off the road forever. What a difference it made...

UPDATE: On the negative side of the Olympic tally, a sad and too common story - two elderly Beijing women sentenced to a year's detention for protesting the 2001 demolition of their houses to make way for Olympic development.

There are good acts and evil acts, and sometimes it's very hard to determine where it all balances out...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

On the road again...

I just finished watching the looonnnggg rebroadcast of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. Over the top doesn't quite describe it. Enough fireworks went off to pretty much nullify all those factory closures that were supposed to bring blue skies for the Games (did you know that fireworks produce significant and long-lasting air pollution? Well, they do).

I'm off to Shanghai tomorrow, and then on to Beijing. I'm not bringing a laptop (doing this trip carry-on thanks to the reportedly onerous security checkpoints, not to mention the checked baggage fees), something I will probably regret at some point because I still have some writing to do on my book. On the other hand, this trip promises to be packed with sporting events, parties, random socializing, and oh yeah, another round of drinking with the Manchurian hairdressers.

Stay tuned...

Friday, August 01, 2008

Hollywood Bowl

Hollywood Bowl
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa

Thanks to my former boss, I had a lovely terrace box at the Hollywood Bowl tonight for the LA Philharmonic. The program was Beethoven's 7th Symphony, Grieg's Piano Concerto and Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol. The latter two pieces I know nearly by heart; they were favorites during my childhood. The second movement of the Beethoven symphony is a piece of music I just love.

So it was a really nice concert, even with the police helicopters and airplanes adding an off-kilter counterpoint to the Beethoven.

First, the orchestra played the Star Spangled Banner. After hearing the anthem butchered so many times by singers whose collective philosophy seems to be seeing how many melismas they can cram into a tune (NOTE: guys, just because you can sing those notes doesn't mean that you should), the orchestral performance was bracing, Stirring, even.

Except that, nowadays, hearing the Star Spangled Banner makes me cry. I think of what this country stands for, the "better angels" of our nature: the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, principles that mean something. I think of what we've become, a nation where the concept of the rule of law has been perverted to allow torture, indefinite detention, coerced confessions. I think of how a tradition of egalitarianism has been replaced by a new Guilded Age, in which a small group of oligarchs has rigged the system to funnel money out of our infrastructure, our poor, our middle-class and into their own hands.

Yeah, I know, bad shit has always gone on. This country was founded on the original sins of slavery and genocide as well as democracy and equality.

I just didn't think I'd be living through another round of it. I thought we were better than this.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Maybe I will stay in LA...

The city of Los Angeles announced it will ban all plastic bags from retail stores as of July 1, 2010, following similar anti-pollution regulations already enforced in San Francisco.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Good Luck with that...

"China announces Olympics stability drive after riot":
Over the past decade, the number of petitioners journeying to provincial capitals and to Beijing has swollen. Nationwide, petitions and complaint visits grew from 4.8 million in 1995 to 12.7 million in 2005.

"Our most fundamental demand that is that zero go to Beijing, zero go to the province capital and there are zero mass petitions and mass incidents," a county official in the southwest province of Sichuan said, according to a local official website (

Many changes in my life right now. I hope to blog about them soon.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Why I Love California Pt. 1,999


Today, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin were married after more than fifty years of partnership.

My sentiments exactly!

Gavin Newsom, you rock.