Crackdowns on China’s activists and intellectuals widen

I keep waiting for news of Hu’s much-heralded reforms, but instead I keep seeing articles like this.

China should immediately release Li Guozhu, a farmers’ rights advocate who was detained in early November after he investigated deadly ethnic clashes in Henan province, Human Rights Watch said today. Farmers’ rights advocates are increasingly visible in assisting farmers in petitioning the government to redress grievances.

Witnesses told Li’s family of his arrest, but Li’s family has received no formal notification of his status or whereabouts. Li’s detention appears to be part of a widening crackdown on both intellectuals and rights advocates in China.

“This detention shows China’s determination to keep a grip on the flow of information,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “It also shows the clear risks for those left out of China’s macroeconomic boom who dare to seek justice for themselves and their communities.”

Keep those reforms coming. And remember, this is the regime that was going to stand up for the rights of the farmers and peasants. There’s a lot more to the article, none of it particularly uplifting.


The Phantom of the Opera

The New York Times has given this new movie just about the worst pan I’ve ever read, blaming it all on the lugubrious and bombastic music of Andrew Lloyd Weber. Among the more irresistible quotes:

Lord Lloyd Webber’s thorough acquaintance with the canon of 18th- and 19th-century classical music is not in doubt, but his attempt to force a marriage between that tradition and modern musical theater represents a victory of pseudo-populist grandiosity over taste – an act of cultural butchery akin to turning an aviary of graceful swans and brilliant peacocks into an order of Chicken McNuggets. The songs fill your ears, but you are unlikely to find yourself humming any of them after the movie is over (which may, come to think of it, be the only merciful thing about this “Phantom.”)

Actually, I like some of the tunes from Phantom. But he’s right about ALW, who is way more popular than he deserves.


New York City pays homage to Bush


Funny, if in rather poor taste.


Murder in Mosul

A devastating first-hand account of today’s carnage, the most awful Christmas gift 24 families could ever receive. And for what? No one seems to know anymore. And so our slam-dunk cakewalk flowers-and-chocolates invasion and occupation continue, even after the Fallujah battle that supposedly “broke the back” of the insurgency. At least more and more Americans realize that Bush really is a miserable failure and the war in Iraq is a needless tragedy.


No way out

There is now no way we can continue to argue that the torture of prisoners by American military personnel is the work of “a few bad apples,” as our truth-loving generals told us last spring when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. Torture is used by Americans at Guantanamo routinely, and most officials know it. And I’m sure we’re using it just as liberally in Iraq.

Detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were shackled to the floor in fetal positions for more than 24 hours at a time, left without food and water, and allowed to defecate on themselves, an FBI agent who said he witnessed such abuse reported in a memo to supervisors, according to documents released yesterday.

In memos over a two-year period that ended in August, FBI agents and officials also said that they witnessed the use of growling dogs at Guantanamo Bay to intimidate detainees — contrary to previous statements by senior Defense Department officials — and that one detainee was wrapped in an Israeli flag and bombarded with loud music in an apparent attempt to soften his resistance to interrogation.

In addition, several agents contended that military interrogators impersonated FBI agents, suggesting that the ruse was aimed in part at avoiding blame for any subsequent public allegations of abuse, according to memos between FBI officials.

The accounts, gleaned from heavily redacted e-mails and memorandums, were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of an ongoing lawsuit. They suggest that extremely aggressive interrogation techniques were more widespread at Guantanamo Bay than was acknowledged by military officials.

“…extremely aggressive interrogation techniques.” Like putting lighted cigarettes in prisoners’ ears. What role models we are, and what masters at winning the hearts and minds of the world.


Disinformation on the Three Gorges Dam project

I usually don’t quote from Counterpunch because its writers can be awfully shrill, but there’s a fine piece there today on the BS the Chinese government is doling out as they try rather comically to convince us the Three Gorges Dam is God’s gift to man and nature. My favorite part (it’s long, but it’s good):

I pick up a picture book, The Three Gorges Project On the Yangtze River, at the new Three Gorges Project (3GP) museum gift shop in Yichang. The preface enthuses over the benefits of the project. Indulging in the Chinese penchant for systematizing with numbers, it proclaims “When the Three Gorges Project is completed, it will be beneficial in ten aspects, including flood control, power generation, navigation, aquaculture, tourism, ecological protection, environmental purification, developmental resettlement, transferring water from the south to the north, water supply and irrigation.”

This is very dense disinformation. How can aquaculture be improved by quintupling river traffic, as the development plans dictate, or by the algae blooms that inevitably accompany the creation of reservoirs, choking out oxygen and increasing acidity? Will tourists be drawn to an epic cesspool, in which millions of people’s raw sewage festers in stagnant water, or enticed by gorge stumps? What about the 1300 celebrated cultural sites and archeological digs that will now require SCUBA equipment to explore? The temperature of the reservoir will be several degrees higher than that of the river, possibly contributing to a surge of endemic infections-malaria, encephalitis, and the parasitic disease schistosomiasis-leading The Lancet, the prestigious journal of the British Medical Association, to warn that the 3GP could be the “Chernobyl of hydropower.” Anyone care for a dip?


The article ends with the rather startling conclusion that China should dismantle the entire dam. Not very likely, I’m afraid.


Maybe comment spam’s a good thing

Brainysmurf’s been down for weeks, but its traffic is going up every day. If you look at Adam’s site meter, you can see that about 80 percent of the hits are from Google searches for incredibly obscene phrases (“panty pee” seems to be one of the most popular). Now, Adam wasn’t one to use a lot of incredibly obscene phrases. No, the hits he’s getting are all from spam comments for sex products and services, the content of which is unbelievably obscene.

Is there a lesson here, that we should welcome spam comments because they boost site traffic? Obviouasly the answer’s a resounding “No,” since there’s a world of difference between serious traffic and random meaningless traffic that leaves your site in seconds. But for the unscrupulous blogger who just wants to show off a lot of traffic, this could be the way to go.



It’s good to see that ESWN has now pulled ahead in the Asia Blog Awards and is now the leader in the Hong Kong blog category. (Of course, that can change by the time you see this post.) I love Conrad and Gweilo Diaries, but it’s gone and it doesn’t make much sense to proclaim it the winner and then not be able to see it.

I don’t just think ESWN is the best Asian blog, I think it’s one of the best blogs, period. As in the best in the world. I go there religiously, and I want to link to just about everything.

His chronicling of stories and photos of the Iraq war is a gift (be sure to see his latest addition — oh, and check out who his readers named as Man of the Year).

Today, the wisdom I received there was in regard to those sweet touchy-feely Kodak-moment photos that are always linked to by InstaPuppy and Little Green Cesspools — the smiling marines surrounded by adoring kids at a newly built-by-Halliburton school. ESWN points out how the story of Pat Tillman’s death was, a la Pvt. Jessica Lynch, revised and fictionalized to evoke maximum sympathy from us folks back home. He then makes the astute and important observation, punctuated with a link you must see to believe:

Consequently, happy-talk photos, especially those credited to United States Marine Corps personnel, must be automatically assumed to be part of United States pscyhological operations since that function is integrated with and indistinguishable from information operations and public affairs. This is how Pentagon treat it, and they have the combined weight of the multi-billion dollar budget to support them. I am only here to support alternative viewpoints such as in The Children of Iraq, where you can fill in your own words without anyone telling you. Remember, photos don’t lie. Right?

[Link is here; scroll down to the bottom.]

Anyway, I just felt I had to give a tribute to this great blog, which has more accumulated wisdom than any I know. Now, if only I could view it perfectly in Firefox, I’d be totally satisfied.


The Very Ugly American

Here’s an eye-opening article from the none-too-liberal Bloomberg on just how disliked we poor Americans are by our friends overseas, and how Asia in particular has lost faith in America in terms of human rights and the dollar.

Being an American overseas these days can be a surreal experience. Virtually everyone, it seems, seeks that 10-minute why-I’m-upset-with-the-U.S. conversation.

Recent stops in Bangkok, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Mumbai and Vientiane, Laos, featured myriad such moments, leaving little doubt that anti-American sentiment — or more to the point, anti-Bush-administration sentiment — is intensifying in Asia.

And is all this negativity manifesting itself economically? Yes, argues Joseph Quinlan, chief market strategist of Banc of America Capital Management in New York. It won’t make him many friends in Middle America, but Quinlan thinks the U.S. image as a “rogue nation” is a key force behind the dollar’s decline.

“The message from the foreign exchange markets” of late “seems to be simply this: The free ride for the rogue nation is over,” Quinlan argues. “No more guns and butter, or wads of foreign cash for a nation deeply enmeshed in the Middle East, heavily indebted at home and seemingly disengaged — some might say — from the rest of the world.”

The sinking dollar, Quinlan says, “could be a sign that the world is no longer willing to underwrite the designs of U.S. foreign policy. To a large extent, we believe a rebound in the U.S. dollar could hinge on a revamped foreign policy.”

Read the whole thing for more on the Asia angle. As I feared after Abu Ghraib, we are now looked upon with ridicule when we chide China for its awful human rights record. The pot and the kettle. While I reject that comparison, it was inevitable once those pictures circulated, and it will take a generation to recover our reputation.


Ban the book-banners

Talk of banning and even burning books — in America?? By US lawmakers?? This is a topic I’ve been burning to post about, but my current revulsion toward US politics has kept me away. Read about it over at Shenzhen Ren, who expresses the situation eloquently. The day we start burning books is the day I’m outta here.