Asia Times article questions Nick Berg decapitation video

It’s good to see that questions are being asked by the mainstream media. Blogs have gone crazy with this story, and this intriguing link is now everywhere (thanks to the commenter who pointed it out to me; I’d hold it in higher esteem if the writer weren’t so blatantly anti-Israel). For all the hysteria, there are some points here that appear legitimate, or at least worthy of an explanation from the government. Now, Asia Times raises yet more doubts.

[A]ccording to what both a leading surgical authority and a noted forensic death expert separately told Asia Times Online, the video depicting the decapitation appears to have been staged.

“I certainly would need to be convinced it [the decapitation video] was authentic,” Dr John Simpson, executive director for surgical affairs at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, said from New Zealand. Echoing Dr Simpson’s criticism, when this journalist asked forensic death expert Jon Nordby, PhD and fellow of the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators, whether he believed the Berg decapitation video had been “staged”, Nordby replied: “Yes, I think that’s the best explanation of it.”

The article goes through many other questions one by one, and I don’t see how anyone can one can read this without concluding there are some big puzzle pieces missing. And that there may be much more to this story that we still don’t know, but that the government does.

This is the juiciest conspiracy scenario since the JFK assassination. There may be nothing to it, but the story is so full of holes and bizarre coincidences, it’s irresistible to conspiracy theorists. I suspect the American public will swallow what it’s spoon-fed by the government and the story will just fade away from lack of interest.


Chinese government: Short people need not apply

Joseph Kahn of the NY Times casts a critical eye on the hiring practices for public sector jobs in China and he clearly sees a lot of discrimination and unfairness. Short people and those who are less than beautiful are especially disadvantaged.

Since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and began interacting more with the outside world, it has worked to project a positive global image. Government departments are being told to raise their stature and put their best face forward. Some have been following the instructions literally.

“They are trying to attract the tallest or the prettiest people, because it makes them look good,” said Ms. Chen, who at 5 feet 1.3 inches is just below average for adult women in China. “But it is completely random and unfair to everyone else.”

The standards are a sign of how far China has drifted from the Communist Party’s stated socialist values. Officials are no longer selected based on the basis of ideological fervor or working-class background, but rather in ways that seem more reminiscent of China’s imperial history.

Now as then, Chinese officials reject popular elections as unsuitable. Instead, they intimate that they are naturally selected to lead. They try to recruit the best, the brightest and, sometimes with surprising frankness, the most beautiful people to hold public positions.

Short people, overweight people, people who test positive for hepatitis B and non-debilitating illnesses, people who aren’t beautiful enough — all stand a good chance of rejection when they apply for a government job, even if they have all the qualifications.

Fifty-five years of Communist rule never eliminated the idea that mandarins are supposed to act like an aristocracy, and look the part. Zhou Enlai, the longtime prime minister, has remained an iconic figure nearly 30 years after his death in part because his good looks inspired rapture in women and men alike, including foreign visitors.

With unusually round eyes, a nose that had just the right lift and a hairline that held fast into old age, he met the standard of “wu guan duan zheng,” or five perfect features. He stood 5 feet 7.

Exceptions are made. The father of China’s economic reforms, Deng Xiaoping, was only 4 feet 11. Today he would not qualify for a job in the army or bureaucracy he once commanded.

It’s a great article. When you read of the woman who’s fighting to get a government job but can’t because she’s half an inch too short — even though height is totally irrelevant to the job — you can’t help but feel for her. And you can’t help but marvel at the maddening obtuseness of China’s officials.


Andrew Sullivan: “Bush’s Failure”

And to think, only months ago he was Bush’s staunchest cheerleader:

What Bush doesn’t seem to understand is that in any war, people need to be reminded constantly of what is going on, what is at stake, what our immediate, medium-term and ultimate objectives are. The president has said nothing cogent about Karbala; nothing apposite about al Sadr; nothing specific about what our strategy is in Falluja. Events transpire and are interpreted by critics and the anti-war media and by everyone on the planet but the president. All the president says is a broad and crude reiteration of valid but superfluous boilerplate. This is not war-leadership; it’s the abdication of war-leadership.

Quoting a senior official who said the US was trying to “extricate itself” from Falluja as quickly as possible, Sullivan remarked pointedly:

So the initial goal of removing the insurgents has been abandoned. Meanwhile, the president says: “My resolve is firm. This is an historic moment. The world watches for weakness in our resolve. They will see no weakness. We will answer every challenge.” So is the president telling the truth or is the anonymous “senior administration official”? Or has the administration official declined to inform the president?

Sullivan is making a lot of sense. Are the “war bloggers” listening? Is it seeping through their heads that Americans are tired of the image Bush is constantly seeking to convey of strength of purpose and resolve — an image that is proven false by what’s actually taking place on the ground?


China tries cyber-dissident Du Daobin in secret, with no defense

Du Daobin achieved worldwide fame last year when he lobbied for the release of fellow cyber-dissident Liu Di (aka Stainless Steel Mouse) and was then arrested himself for subversion. His crime: posting some essays on the Internet that were critical of the CCP.

Now, in a move that appears to be pretty shabby, the authorities have scheduled the trial on a day they knew his attorney was unavailable. And it’ll be a secret trial.

Former government official Du Daobin was detained in October 2003 and charged with incitement to subvert state power after posting several essays critical of the Chinese government on the Internet.

Du’s trial was scheduled at the Intermediate People’s Court at Xiaogan City on May 17, a day on which Du’s lawyer Mo Shaoping had previously said he would be unable to attend, the New York-based nonprofit Human Rights in China (HRIC) said in a statement.

“The court normally would accommodate an attorney’s scheduling conflict, which happens often but would normally be resolved through coordination with the court,” Du’s lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said in an interview. “I haven’t encountered such an uncompromising stance before. Perhaps [the court] was in a difficult situation that was hard to express.”

Had he been able to attend, Mo said he would have told the court that Du “had written online articles containing a total of more than 1500,000 characters, but they selected a few thousand characters deemed as having problems. One should look at an issue as a whole and not garble statements.”

Not much that’s new to say here. It’s just important to remember that as certain freedoms expand, others are going nowhere, and even moving backwards.


Danwei hints it’s about to re-emerge….?

After long weeks of silence, Danwei is letting us know that the site is “nearly back.” That’s certainly good news, though I wish they would give us a bit more information. (“Nearly back” can mean tomorrow or six months from now.)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Danwei, it’s one of the most interesting and informative of the niche China blogs, letting us know what’s going on in the world of Chinese media, advertising, marketing and more. It went offline shortly after China started blocking all Typepad sites. We miss it, and hope it reopens soon (as in very soon).


The Roaring Bird

This is a wonderful new blog I came across today (via TalkLeft), dedicated to uncovering the corruption and hypocrisies of the Bush administration. It’s smart, well written and scathing. Have a look.


Calling all Nick Berg conspiracy theorists: is this as fishy as it appears?

I tend to approach conspiracy theories with a large grain of sea salt, knowing how ridiculous some can be. That said, I’ll look at them seriously if I think the evidence is sound.

I’ve just read two mind-blowing posts on the death of Nick berg, and I have to admit I’m looking at them seriously. Here’s one, and here’s the other.

It’s the latter that I’d put in the must-read category (the former is far more shaky), as it raises no fewer than 50 inconsistencies regarding Berg’s death. Some are compelling, others not. But there are enough amazing questions to make me wonder what’s going on here. For example:

11. Berg is killed before torture photos released but video tape refers to photos?
To quote “Fishy Circumstances and Flawed Timelines Surround American’s Beheading”:
“me and a friend were discussing recent news events and trying to piece together the information presented to us, thought you might want to look into this further, they said in the news that Nicholas Berg was killed 2 weeks ago (i think), however in the video the culprits who killed him said they were “avenging iraqi prisoner abuse” but those photos weren’t released until last week, so my question is how is that even a possible motive if he was killed prior to the abuse photos being released?? maybe i am misinformed but thought id ask the question to someone who would look into it.”

12) Text with video mentions “shameful pictures”
The text posted to the website along with the video the translation of the Arabic statement, cites “shameful pictures.” Here is a translation of the Arabic statement (at the Northeast Intelligence Network) made with the video: “And the shameful pictures and the news of the evil humiliation of the Islam people men and women in Ghareb ‘s father prison then where the jealousy and where the zeal and where the anger about the Allah’s religion and where the jealousy for the Muslims sanctities and where the revenge for the honors of Muslims and Muslims is in the crosses prisons.”

13) Wag the dog timing
There is extremely convenient ‘wag the dog’ timing at the height of furor regarding U.S. torture of Iraqis.

14) Torture photo timing
CNN poll question: ‘Is the Berg killing a reason for withholding any remaining Iraq prisoner abuse pictures?’ Bush has been reported to be struggling with question of whether the Pentagon should release additional torture photos. Given that the alleged decapitation of Berg was allegedly prompted by the first wave of torture photos, Bush could now cite ‘national security’ issues for withholding additional materials.

I don’t want to jump to conclusions. But something seems weird. I’ll hold off on drawing conclusions until I understand it better. But there certainly are a lot of questions here and, unfortunately, a lot of contradictory, murky answers.



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No one left to lie to

For weeks I’ve been watching in wonder as one by one America’s conservative pundits (and I mean the true conservatives, not radical windbags like Rush Limbaugh and Oliver North) entertain the notion that the Iraq war may have been a mistake and that Bush may be handling it in a less than ideal way.

I’ve been stockpiling a list of these columns, but I now see that my friend in Beijing, Joseph Bosco, has beaten me to the punch. Check out his laundry list of conservative writers and how they’re changing their tunes. It’s significant — these are the shapers of mainstream opinion.

This is a tectonic shift: they are not lapping up Bush’s lies the way they used to. (The NY Post and Fox News are still lapping it up, but the fact that they’re now on overdrive underscores their desperation.) It says Bush may have to brace himself for the media scrutiny he’s deserved, and somehow escaped, for the past three years. I never thought I’d see it happen, but it has — Bush has no one left to lie to.

I live in a conservative state, and when I talk with my neighbors and hear their disdain for Bush and their horror at Iraq, I know who they’re not voting for come November. And the passion this topic arouses! People are mad. They feel betrayed. And when they see gas prices eat into their savings, they get madder. It really appears today that the election is Kerry’s to lose.

UPDATE: Speaking of lies….this just in from ABC News: “It’s a cover-up.” This is big. Out goes the “bad apples” theory. This was policy. Who initiated it? How far up does the trail of deception go?


To Live is Better Than to Die — an AIDS family in Henan Province

Over the past week I’ve been neglecting the Chinese stories I usually cover because the news in the US has just been so overwhelming. So let me take a moment to point you to an important post over at EastSouthWestNorth on the new film, To Live is Better Than to Die, a documentary on an “AIDS family” in Henan Province.

This is an amazing story. It’s not just the lives of the family that are remarkable, but the story of how the film was made against all odds. Needless to say, the Chinese government fought the producer Chen Weijun at every step of the way, confiscating the film and forcing him to start all over. But he persevered, and the world is better for it.

The article consists mainly of an interview with Chen, as well as some background on how he made the film. It is achingly sad, and an important reminder of “the other side of China,” the side that the government doesn’t want us to know about.