The rape of Yunnan

Check out Running Dogs’ depressing post on the environmental carnage being inflicted on China’s surreally gorgeous province of Yunnan.

The figures are stark. 70% of the province’s natural habitats have been lost, according to the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA). 73 plants included in the Key National Protected Wild Plants List can no longer be found. The virgin forest coverage of Xishuangbanna has dropped by 27%, with little hope of recovery. Most of the cropland has been saturated with chemical fertilizers, the rivers are in more and more trouble, and the air quality in the big cities is getting worse and worse, the report says.

I’m making it my vow to get to Yunnan within the next 8 months. Everyone I know who has been there tells me it is one of God’s great gifts to the planet, with scenery of such breathtaking beauty it scarcely seems real. Leave it to China’s current leaders to rob us of this splendor.


To those who wanted to place bets that bush would win….

Like Sam — I am ready to place my bet now that Kerry will win. Still game? I can only bet $100, but I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is. Are you?


bush web site blocked outside of the US

What can the reason for this be?? I thought only China and Vietnam did stuff like this.


Chinese movies, the next big thing?

If you’re interested in film, you’ll want to read this article on the rise of Asian filmmaking. It points to China as the new breadbasket of cinematic creativity and raves about the beauty of Zhang Yimou’s newest hit in China, House of Flying Daggers, which the writer says is a product of its Taoist philosophy.

Despite the range of western cinema today, most of it derives from the assumption that movies are narrative chains of cause and effect, that their characters have fears and desires, and that we follow the film by understanding these fears and desires. The new films of Zhang and the others make similar assumptions but are less driven by them and balance questions of selfhood with Zen ideas about negation and equilibrium. This makes their beauty hard to replicate in the west.

But Buddhism is not the whole picture. Another Asian philosophy explains the sense of gender and use of space in these films. Unlike Maoism, which pictured a clear moral opposition between the good workers and bad bosses, and unlike Confucian philosophy, in which masculinity is noble and femininity is not, Taoism is less clear-cut. Morally, it sees good within bad and vice versa. The feminine is a virtue in the same way that emptiness may be for artists.

Every one of the great Asian films in the pipeline evinces Taoist ideas of sex and space. In none of them is gender polarised. In all of them, space is crucial. And the influence is acknowledged. Zhang, for example, has talked about the way Chinese painting has affected his work. His shots are often very wide. Space and landscape weigh as heavily within the frame as the human elements. Art historians have long discussed the Taoist component of such paintings.

I’m no film expert, but I found this a good read.


The death penalty

At the risk of appearing to be a wuss and a softie and a communist, let me say that one reason I admire Kerry is his steadfast stance against the death penalty, the most vivid example of cruel and unusual punishment. And don’t get any wrong ideas — I believe in justice, and when brutal crimes are committed a la Timothy McVeigh and Osama Bin Laden I believe they deserve infinite pain and suffering. But when we kill them, it diminishes our own humanity.

I just read another article that reinforced this belief, a tale of justice denied, or at least justice perverted, for a black man in Texas. It simply would never happen to wealthy guys like the Mendoza brothers. And I wonder why so many Americans celebrate the death penalty despite its glaring inequities.

An old acquaintance of mine from Greenwich Village, Jim Holt, says this is the single determining issue in his decision to endorse Kerry.

Let me cite one relatively marginal reason: Kerry opposes the death penalty. In doing so, he passes a test of rationality and moral decency that every other Republican and Democratic presidential candidate has failed for at least the last three elections.

As much as Jim and I have disagreed about things, I agree with him here. It’s just a shame so few Americans will say so, because it makes them appear weak, like “girlie-men.”


The great flip-flopper

There’s a fine piece in Mother Jones today about a topic I’ve been waiting for the media to address, namely the fact that bush is infinitely more guilty of flip-flopping than John Kerry. And that the Republican mantra of “Kerry is a flip-flopper” was one of the most insidious and successful dirty tricks in recent memory.

This is a partial list of bush flip-flops from the article, along with their presumed motivations. I report, you decide:

• Prescription drugs from Canada: For, then Against (Big campaign contributions from pharmaceutical corporations)

• Assault weapons in our streets: Against, then For (Pandering to the NRA and gun manufacturers)

• The creation of a home land security agency: Against, then For (Public outcry and political expediency)

• McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform: Against, then For (Unprincipled opportunism)

• Nation-building: Against, then For (A double somersault to justify neocon invasion plans)

• Steel tariffs: Against, then For, then Against (A free-trader becomes a protectionist to win votes in Pennsylvania and Ohio)

• Arsenic in water: For, then Against (Public outcry…those darned scientists)

• Mandatory caps on carbon dioxide: For, then Against (The power of the coal and power companies)

• Outside investigation into WMD: Against, then For (Public outcry and world opinion)

• WMD: We found them and then we didn’t find them (Confusion, convenience and “flexibility”)

• Gay Marriage: First it’s an issue for the states and then a federal issue (An opportunistic, red-meat, divisive wedge issue)

• Osama bin Laden: In 2001 he was our No. 1 public enemy; in 2002, “I truly am not that concerned about him” (Failure to prosecute the real war against terror)

• North Korea’s nuclear threat: First it was extremely important; now it’s not much of a threat (A parry to divert attention from misplaced priorities)

• Cutting troops in Europe: Against, then For (Bad planning for the number of troops needed in Iraq and Afghanistan)

• Immigration reform: For liberalization, then Against (A conflict between wooing the Hispanic vote and angering his nativist base)

• AmeriCorps funding: For, then Against (A favorite target of congressional reactionaries)

• Patriot Act II: For, then Against (The need to appear more moderate in the middle of an election; even angered Republican civil libertarians)

• The 9/11 commission: Six flip-flops, Against and then For: 1) The creation of the commission; 2) the composition of the commission; 3) the extension to allow it to complete its work; 4) his testifying; 5) the testimony of his national security advisor; and finally 6) the implementation of the findings (Public outcry, particularly from the families of 9/11 victims and then commision members — Republicans and Democrats)

• The war in Iraq: At least nine different rationales as to why the U.S. invaded, and still counting (Reality catching up with fantasy)

• The war in Iraq: “It will be a cakewalk,” then, “It will be long and difficult.” (Talking out of both sides of the mouth; depending upon audience)

Kerry’s change of stance on Iraq, like my own, was not a result of flip-flopping but of facing cold reality:

If Kerry can be faulted, it is because he believed and trusted Mr. Bush — as did most Americans — when he voted for giving the president the latitude he needed to pursue all the necessay and viable diplomatic avenues before the Iraq invasion. Kerry then became convinced that Bush misled Congress and the American people by confusing the all-important war against terror with Bush’s own separate agenda of invading Iraq. Those were, and still are, two separate issues!

Best of all, the article relates the cackling and the “moral nullity”of bush and his minions over the past 3 1/2 years with this passage from Joseph Conrad’s great Heart of Darkness: “”Their talk was the talk of sordid buccaneers: it was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage; there was not an atom of foresight … in the whole batch of them, and they did not seem aware these things are wanted for the work of the world.””

Wow. “Read the whole thing.”


Unpaid Chinese workers attempt group suicide

This is depressing. People need to be mighty unhappy to decide the only viable option is to take their own lives. All 7 would-be suiciders were peasant workers in Shenyang who were not paid for their work, an all too common crime in China.

SEVEN male workers, distressed over not receiving their pay and worried by their families’ plight, tried to commit group suicide in a case highlighting the widespread victimisation of migrant labourers in China, the state media has reported.

The seven took sleeping pills in their hostel last Saturday in this capital of north-eastern Liaoning province, said the Chinese Business Morning View.

The group suicide bid was discovered in time by a co-worker. The man, surnamed Liu, had returned to the hostel from a nearby town where he had gone to try to recoup the payments due to the construction labourers.

‘The minute I entered the workers’ quarters I found one of them lying on the floor while six others lay stiff in bed without blankets on.

‘I instantly knew something terrible had happened,’ recalled Mr Liu, who said he made 120 emergency phone calls to seek help.

Read the infuriating article to understand just how desperate these people are, and how common this practice of exploiting peasants and then not paying them is. I try to get inside of the minds of the people who promise them work and then walk away, pocketing the money for themselves. But I can’t. I don’t know how they can live with themselves.


It’s official — Sullivan is for JFK

Former Republican attack dog and snarling defender of all things neocon Andrew Sullivan has finally endorsed John Kerry. It’s a long, tortured endorsement, reflecting all of Sullivan’s oft-repeated doubts about Kerry, compared to his far more serious doubts about his former hero, our president, who disappointed Sully in every way. His litany against shrub is long and bitter, from failing to plan for Iraq to Abu Ghraib to the bloated budgets and dismal economy. He’s critical, as always, of Kerry. But ultimately, he agrees that Kerry is right now our best hope.

Kerry? I cannot know for sure. But in a democracy, you sometimes have to have faith that a new leader will be able to absorb the achievements of his predecessor and help mend his failures. Kerry has actually been much more impressive in the latter stages of this campaign than I expected. He has exuded a calm and a steadiness that reassures. He is right about our need for more allies, more prudence, and more tactical discrimination in the war we are waging. I cannot say I have perfect confidence in him, or that I support him without reservations. But not to support anyone in this dangerous time is a cop-out. So give him a chance. In picking the lesser of two risks, we can also do something less dispiriting. We can decide to pick the greater of two hopes. And even in these dour days, it is only American to hope.

Is anyone noticing the seismic shift of the past few days in American politics? There’s suddenly a sense that we really may be finished with bush, he really may be on his way out. It’s gone from a vague possibility to an exciting and wonderful probability. We just can’t take anymore. Just look at America’s newspapers, and you’ll see it’s become the nation’s consensus.

Update: And you have to read these Slate endorsements — even Christopher Hitchens endorses kerry! Amazing. It just might be a landslide.


Eminem’s October surprise?

Apparently the rap king’s new video of his anti-bush song “Mosh” is like a five-minute version of Fahrenheit 911, only more powerful and disturbing.

The beautifully animated video, which is directed by Ian Inaba, opens with a classroom. At the front is a man in a blue suit, his face buried in an upside down children’s book that says “My Pet,” with a picture of a bush. Just as the man is revealed to be Eminem, the scene changes, and we see the singer taping up newspaper stories to a wall — “Sick Wounded Troops Held in Squalor,” says one. “Civil Liberties at Stake,” says another. “Bush Knew,” says a third.

In five minutes, Eminem manages a furious indictment of the administration that will likely resonate among many troops in Iraq as well as disaffected kids here at home. In one scene, a smiling soldier returns home from Baghdad, only to be handed a notice announcing that he has to go back. As Eminem sings, “fuck Bush,” the soldier mouths the words.

Then we see a woman walking home in the rain, carrying groceries and an envelope. Inside is an eviction notice. As she reads it, we hear Eminem saying, “Maybe this is God just saying we’re responsible for this monster, this coward that we have empowered.” The woman looks at her TV, where Bush is speaking over a banner that says “Tax Cuts.” She looks at her terrified children, then back at the screen, which says, “Breaking News…Terror Alert.”

It all ends amazingly earnestly, with Eminem leading a black-clad army to the voting booth. Once again, Bush proves he really does have wonder working powers — by behaving even more callously and irresponsibly than the most outrageous rapper, he’s turned music’s foremost enfant terrible into a role model of civic engagement.

Now we just have to see if MTV has the guts to air it.

The current angst over this election is without comparison in US politics, at least within my lifetime. The idea of moviemakers and singers and artists and disc jockeys all feeling obligated to incorporate their feelings about bush into their work, into everything they do as though their life depended on it — it’s simply unheard of. But it didn’t happen in a vacuum and it’s not that hard to comprehend: We are drained after 4 years of a blame-free, accountability-free president who has turned the world into such a catastrophic mess we can scarcely even imagine a return to normalcy. I am increasingly convinced that once this never-ending race is over, Kerry will have won by a landslide. We simply cannot take any more.

Update: You can see the Mosh video here.

Update 2: One magazine thinks Mosh will have more of an impact on voters than Fahrenheit 911.


New ‘blogazine’ by Chinese journalism students, in English

Fellow blogger Professor Joseph Bosco and his journalism students at the Beijing Foreign Studies University have launched a new blog/magazine, We Observe the World (WOW). It is extremely interesting to see how these young people think and how they perceive the world (especially the US)

At his own blog, Joseph tells us his vision of WOW.

With great pride and joy I can tell you that next week a new weblog will join the Chinese Blogosphere. “WOW: We Observe the World,” will be a combination blog and online news magazine produced by the Journalism Department of Beijing Foreign Studies University. The site will not be a place for lyrical prose from wistful Chinese college students. It will be a real news entity written by young adults majoring in journalism. Many of them already have experience working in media.

From the perspective of young Chinese adults, WOW will cover international, national and local news. Real news. It will also feature sections on LifeStyle, Sports, Books, Movies, Music and the Fine Arts. While I am the faculty supervisor for the project, student journalists will produce the content.

Needless to say, WOW is somewhat of a first for Chinese universities and Chinese journalism. My hope is that it will be only the first of many.

Looking over the first few posts, it’s obvious they’re off to a great start. I was certainly encouraged to see they’ve got the Iraq war figured out correctly. It will be intriguing to watch this site grow. As the word spreads, I’m sure there will be some very hot comment discussions over there.