Repeat: It was Poppy who got Junior into the Guard

For those of you who were away this weekend and missed the big news — the fact that bush used his family’s political clout to get into the ANG has been verified by no one less than the former Lt. Governor of Texas Ben Barnes. You can hear him tell the sad story for yourself. But then, most of us knew this all along, no? It didn’t require a PhD to understand how Junior skipped over a 100,000-man waiting list to win his much coveted place in the ANG. Nor does one need to be a rocket scientist to see that bush has been lying his ass off about this subject for years and years. (“I just walked in, and they had this available spot for a pilot….”)


Great photos of demonstrators in New York City

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Go here for many more. I sure wish I was there to watch and report back.


Chen Lu, the Iron Butterfly

Speaking of the Olympics…. In 2001, while I was living in Hong Kong, I interviewed China’s Olympic medal-winning ice skating star, Chen Lu. I remembered it as I was reading today about China and the Olympics, and thought it might be worth posting on my blog. Here it is, in full.
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The “Iron Butterfly” is how the local Hong Kong media refer to the magnificent Chen Lu, who at 24 is China’s greatest and best-loved skater and winner of two Olympics bronze medals. “When I skate,” she says, “I always imagine myself as a butterfly flapping my wings happily.”

I would be surprised if anyone meeting Chen Lu for the first time didn’t have the same initial impression I did: this woman is astonishingly beautiful. It’s not only her long flowing hair and sculpted features and high regal cheekbones. She simply radiates beauty and charisma. It’s certainly a feminine beauty, but it’s a bit of a paradox: while her looks are soft and delicate, she also emanates strength, vitality, determination, even power. In other words, this is a tough lady, one you do not want to mess with.

We met at one of Hong Kong’s two ice skating rinks, both owned and operated by the illustrious Ted Wilson, a professional coach and another celebrity in the world of figure skating. I felt very privileged to be in the presence of Asia’s best-known ice-skating legend.
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Chen Lu first won the bronze medal at the 1994 Olympics when she was only 18. But life wasn’t easy for her after that. She fractured her right foot only a few months later, and went through a long period of pain and heartbreak as she battled to overcome the injury.

The miracle of her career and her greatest personal triumph was in 1998, when she again won the Olympics bronze medal. “The year before that, she cam in 25th in the world,” Ted Wilson interjected. “Then in 1998, after everyone thought she was finished, she came in 3rd in the Olympics.” Chen Lu agrees that it was the proudest moment of her life.

I asked the Iron Butterfly to tell me about how she first discovered she could skate.

“I started skating when I was very young, four years old. My family never pressured me. In my hometown it’s very cold, and during the wintertime everybody went out skating. My father was on a national hockey team and later on he became a hockey coach. So it was really kind of natural that I skated. I never felt I was being forced to skate, I loved it. And when I was young I loved to dance. Whenever I heard music playing as a little girl I just started dancing, and my father told me that skating was a good sport and that I should try it because I loved dancing and I was very pretty. So I started skating, and it just happened – I couldn’t stop.”

But skating for fun and skating for a living are two different things. Once she decided to be a skater, the training regimen as practiced in Mainland China is difficult, even brutal.

“Training in China is very different than in the US,” Chen Lu explained. “The skaters move away from their families and live with their team. We had to live in a dormitory year after year and we couldn’t see our parents very much. And there were so many pressures from the coaches, and from the government – it is not easy. It’s totally different from in the United States.”

Of course, being an athlete means you’re limited to a set number of years when you can be among the best. Chen Lu is philosophical about having to retire from the Olympics team after 1998.

“Whatever you do, especially if you’re an athlete, you only have a certain number of years when you can be on top, and you can’t be winning all the time, you can’t keep going up. So if you get there and you get to the top, there comes a time when you decide you have to do other things, like becoming a professional skater. After the 1998 Olympics, that’s what I decided to do.”
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Now, spending most of her time in the United States, Chen Lu performs in professional competitions, teaches and travels. Moving from the East to the West was a challenge for her, and it took her many months to adapt to the strange ways of the Westerners.

“There were so many things that were different when I first moved,” Chen Lu said. “One thing that was really different was the food. I remember when for the first time I was in America, and I saw people eating salad, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I can’t eat that – the vegetables haven’t been cooked. You want me to eat that? No way!’ It was things like that that were hard for me to get used to. Then, I saw people eating steak. I just couldn’t believe it. How could they eat such big, huge pieces of beef? It seemed so different. But now, I’ve got used to it and it’s just fine.”

Chen Lu now lives in Scottsdale Arizona. Two years ago she wrote a book about her skating experiences, Butterfly on Ice, chronicling her rise to international stardom.


China, the Olympics and the CCP

Chinese Olympic medal winners express tremendous gratitude for their victories — and it’s the CCP they thank the most.

“I owe my Olympic gold medal to my parents, my coach and, above all, to the wise leadership of the Republican Party and President Bush.” Can anybody imagine such a remark from an American athlete speaking to Fox News Network? Of course not. Not even the irreverent, wise-cracking talk show host Jay Leno has such a fertile imagination.

But when it comes to Chinese athletes, this extravagant tribute to the political leadership of a country is anything but fictional in the 28th Olympic Games now under way in Athens. The minute a young Chinese girl bagged the gold medal in the women’s table-tennis singles final on Sunday, a Beijing TV network reporter stuck a microphone under the nose of her parents. The father, without batting an eye, told the audience that his good daughter was a good Communist Party member and her success was a tribute to the party organization. We can only imagine the hyperbolic tributes, straining credulity, when Beijing hosts the 2008 Summer Olympics.

The article looks at the huge role the CCP plays in the lives of these athletes, before the games and after.

I once had the good luck of interviewing a famous Chinese athlete a few years ago, and after my conversation with her, I realized just how close a relationship China’s government has with its Olympic stars. Hopefully I’ll find time to post about that later tonight.


Will China save classical music?

For an enthusiast like me, the decline of classical music in America is nothing less than tragic. Cities can’t afford to pay for symphony orchestras, classical music radio stations are shutting down, and ticket sales for classical concerts are painfully low except when you have a superstar like Pavarotti or Joshua Bell.

Is it possible that classical record sales and performances will be boosted by (of all the unlikely places) China? It just might happen, and I sure hope the author’s onto something.

In many ways, classical music can be compared to baseball. The audiences for both are static and perhaps even decreasing in the United States, yet in other places, especially Asia, interest in these pursuits is spreading like Starbucks franchises.

In the June issue of BBC Music Magazine, Richard Morrison calls China’s eagerness for classical music the biggest opportunity to widen the appreciation of classical music in our lifetimes.

And it comes with all kinds of beneficial side effects. He sees Chinese tours as a panacea for the economic ills of major Western orchestras. And the potential cross-pollination of classical with traditional Chinese music offers all kinds of exciting creative possibilities.

I was impressed with the number of concerts in Beijing, as well as CCTV-9’s not infrequent classical concerts. (They’re sure better than Hong Kong in this regard.) Something has to keep the classical music industry afloat, and if China is the solution I’ll be delighted. Hope can sometimes be found in the most unlikely places.


Military Intelligence encouraged Abu Ghraib torture: US soldier

Not that we didn’t know it all along, but at least it’s now on the record, demolishing the “few bad apples” nonsense the White House was hoping would save its neck.

A U.S. soldier expected to plead guilty to charges of abusing Iraqi prisoners told a German magazine he deeply regretted his actions but said the abuses were encouraged by military intelligence services….

Frederick, a prison official in civilian life, said he had received no special training in treating military prisoners and was encouraged by intelligence officers to break prisoners down for interrogation, by any means.

“The secret service set no limits at all. It was about concrete results and they weren’t interested how they were achieved,” he said, adding that many more people should be called to account for the abuses in Abu Ghraib.

“There are definitely more people responsible for what occurred in Abu Ghraib, and many of them have not been charged.”

We all now the scenario. The little people on the ground will be put in jail, and the General Sanchez’s and other higher-ups will receive a minor scolding. It’s the American Way, especially in an administration where, if you are loyal to the president, you can do just about anything and not be held to account. This was underscored to the point of parody right after Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate that Abu Ghraib occurred under his watch and he had to take responsibility. Instead of saying, “You’re fired,” bush reacted by saying he was doing “a fabulous job” and calling him “the greatest secretary of defence” the nation had ever seen.

Funny, how Abu Ghraib seems like such an old and distant story now. Just like all the stories about Iraq and Afghhanistan — we’ve reached our threshold, and we can’t be upset about them any more. We just suffered a true defeat in Najaf (disguised as a victory) and are now fighting extended battles in and around Fallujah and Baghdad, but it seems surreal and even boring. We just don’t want to hear about it. And the media, by focusing relentlessly on the stuff that really matters, like Kerry’s medals of 34 years ago, helps keep the horrors of our failed wars deep in the background.

Of course, the circus that’s about to open in NYC will push the war and its miseries even further off the front pages. 14,000 Iraqis have been killed so far, and nearly 1,000 US service people, and things today look worse than ever.


Hu Jintao, time to go home

Brian over at Volunatrily in China has an excellent post describing why China’s top man hasn’t been back to his home village in some 26 years. Very perceptive.


Ben Barnes: “I made a terrible mistake getting bush into the ANG”

I’ve been sparring with one of my loyal readers recently over bush’s service in the Air National Guard. He seems to believe it was just as courageous and commendable of bush to serve in the ANG as it was for Kerry to volunteer for Vietnam. And he challenged me to come up with evidence that bush ever used family connections to get into the ANG.

I’ve never given bush’s ANG service a lot of space on this blog because it’s not an issue of crucial importance to me. Sure, it says something about bush, but it’s something all of us knew already, namely that he was an obnoxious brat who always got bailed out of tough situations by his family and their money. It’s never been a secret that his father pulled strings to get him into the ANG; it’s been written about in countless articles that have never been challenged to my knowledge.

But I was happy to see some recent verification that may help put this conversation to rest. It just got posted over at TPM. Marshall links to a video clip of Ben Barnes, the former Speaker of the House in Texas, who got President Bush into the Texas Air National Guard. In it, Barnes says,

Let’s talk a minute about John Kerry and George Bush and I know them both. And I’m not name dropping to say I know ‘em both. I got a young man named George W. Bush into the Texas National Guard when I was Lt. Gov. [of Texas] and I’m not necessarily proud of that. But I did it. And I got a lot of other people into the National Guard because I thought that’s what people should do. If you’re in office you help a lot of people and I walked to the Vietnam Memorial the other day and I looked at the names of the people that died in Vietnam and I became more ashamed of myself that I have ever been because the worst thing that I did was that I helped a lot of wealthy supporters and a lot of people who had family names get into the National Guard and I’m very sorry about that and I’m very ashamed and I apologize to you as voters of Texas.

Marshall concludes the post,

Now, I don’t know what Ben Barnes looks like. And I do not independently know the provenance of the tape. But I’ve spoken to two sources who know Barnes. And they tell me that that is Barnes on the tape.
One of those two men is Jim Moore — co-author of Bush’s Brain. Moore told me this afternoon that the clip is from June 8th of this year, at a Kerry rally in Austin. Moore assures that the tape is legitimate.

Does this indicate that bush’s family pulled strings to get him moved to the top of the list. I think so. It’s not the only evidence out there, but it seems to be the most incontrovertible.

I guess each of us will have to determine for himself what constitutes “character” in a man. I see what bush did and I see what Kerry did. (And bush was a strong supporter of the war.) I see this, and I have to conclude that Kerry is a man of deeper character, no matter how long he was in Vietnam and no matter how much or how little blood he lost. I look at what these men did then, and I also look at what these men have done more recently. No matter when Kerry was in or near Cambodia, I have no choice but to conclude he is a bigger and better man than his opponent.

I just reread this morning in All the President’s Spin about how bush kept changing his definitions of the threat from Iraq, and how, after the invasion, phrases like “weapons programs” and, the crown jewel of idiot-speak, “weapons of mass destruction-related program activities” suddenly replaced the verbiage he used leading up to the war – WMDs, stockpiles, mushroom cloud, etc. This was symptomatic of a pattern of dishonesty that is particularly insidious because it’s hard to point out to people. It’s a shift, a resetting of the goal posts — not necessarily a bold-faced lie, but its result is the same as a bold-faced lie: it leaves an intentionally false impression and is utterly dishonest.

I bring this up because it’s become so fashionable to insist bush never lied about Iraq, but such a statement is disingenuous and based only on a technicality. Of course he lied. He lies all the time. He was a sneak then and he’s a sneak now. Only now, Rove and HUghes make sure he does it with finesse, covering his tracks carefully as he moves from lie to lie.

Kerry has shown some disturbing signs of not taking responsibility and sounding evasive, but the examples are in regard to whether he owns an SUV or was in Cambodia 34 years ago. I have never heard him try to mislead people on issues, at least not more than all politicians. He’s done some waffling, but no more than bush has (just google “bush + flip flop” to see what I mean). But all in all, he emerges head and shoulders above shrub, our flimsy little layer of pondscum. If someone wants to point to his service in the ANG as a sign of bravery, of true service – I mean, he was disqualified from flying after he went AWOL – well, there’s not much I can say.

Sorry if this is a bit rambling, but I am at work, taking a very quick break between projects. I’m afraid it’s the only way I’ll be able to post for a while. Gotta end it there, the boss is looking at me.

Update: Story is getting pick-up. Conrad, any comments?


I just can’t do it

Sorry everyone, I simply have to stop posting on weekdays for now. I’ll try to slip in some posts at work (don’t tell my manager) but I no longer have the luxury to track down links and spend hours working on posts. Don’t worry, I’m not going away. But I am definitely going into a temporary quiet period. Thanks for your understanding. I’ll pick up the ball tomorrow night, and I’ll give it all I have on the weekends. But at the moment, I am too overwhelmed with work to be a dedicated blogger — at least for now.

In the meantime, register to vote, and be sure to join the Democratic Party and vote straight Democrat, no matter what Conrad says. It’s never been this important.


And the Deng tributes gush on, no matter how stupid

It almost reminds me of America’s national grief-fest over the loss of Ronald Reagan. The articles about Deng are flowing fast and furious, regardless of whether they make sense or not.

The latest is from People’s Daily. My favorite lines:

The success and greatness of Deng Xiaoping ultimately rest with his courage and genius by integrating the fundamental principles of Marxism with concrete practices in China, with his analysis and settlement of problems in a down-to-earth manner, with his exploration of new scope of Marxism and pioneering a new path of socialism

What a load of rubbish. If the philosophy Deng espoused resembles that of Karl Marx in any way, shape or form then I’m a….Republican! Deng was the anti-Marxist, and the Chinese are the most un-Marxist people on the planet. Why does People’s Daily publish such tripe? Who do they imagine they’re fooling??