Driving to work in Shenzhen

One topic virtually every expat in China is outspoken about is the way people in China drive. If you’re a pedestrian, you are a moving target, and if you cross the street and live to tell about it you consider yourself blessed. Conventional traffic rules and courtesies we take for granted elsewhere are held in contempt by virtually all Chinese drivers. I think I can say with confidence that every single expat in China, no exceptions, has something to say about this topic.

Which brings me to this post by tonight’s guest blogger Shenzhen Person Sam (original post can be found here). Enjoy.

I’ve been driving to work a little lately. Yes, I’ve
achieved a minor pinnacle of Chinese life; a Chinese
driver’s license. It’s rather difficult for Chinese
to earn a driver’s license–long lessons, huge tests,
long waiting periods–so some people just “buy” their
license (from what I can guess here, it might be a BIG
proportion of drivers, considering their
obvious…er…skills). If you’re not Chinese, there
are some special skills and practices you’ll need to
utilize for driving here:

1. Learn to suppress your outrage reflex
you’d only burst a vessel.

2. Recall all your action video gaming skills
— anything can happen from any direction, any time.

3. Don’t forget it’s not really a video game
— the explosions and severed limbs wouldn’t

4. Beware of the left lane — it’s primarily
for pedestrians jumping over the barriers.

5. Avoid the center lane — drivers can swerve
into it from either direction.

6. The right lane is no good — that’s where
taxis hang out and bicycles ride the wrong way.

7. Use the appopriate music — nothing too
rhythmic or steady; it will lull you into a sense of
predictability. Jittery and syncopated is better.

8. Learn some good Chinese curses — “Wan ba
dan” is allright for normal use, “Ni ma le ge tui de”
is a little more eloquent, but it’s a NorthEastern
idiom, and ShenzhenRen may not understand. Yesterday,
when a bus tried to kill me, I forgot all my Chinese
and could only manage “Chiu mah dik!!” It
wasn’t too effective, of course; the driver only
thought I was speaking bad Cantonese. Did I mention
to suppress your outrage reflex?


Brainysmurf follows the same path as Gweilo Diaries

Which is to say, it no longer exists. The timing is certainly suspicious; maybe Adam and Conrad are one and the same? Whether they are or not, they’ll both be missed.


Xiao Qiang talk to NPR on China’s media blackout of Zhao’s death

Fellow blogger and director of the director of the Berkeley China Internet Project Xiao Qiang tells how China is attempting to suppress any discussion of Zhao’s passing in both the mainstream media and over the Internet. Most interestingly, he tells how creative bloggers and forum participants are getting around the censorship. Xiao also talks briefly of his own participation in the fun and games of June 1989.


Will Google kill the incentive for comment spam?

God, I sure hope so.This article quotes from a blogger who wrote:

“Google are soon to announce that they won’t be calculating PageRank for links with a rel=”nofollow” attribute. Finally, an official way of fighting the economics of comment spam by denying PageRank on user-submitted link content. Sam Ruby points to Mark Pilgrim’s prediction that spammers won’t care – they’ll spam anyway, on the offchance that they hit somewhere undefended. I’m optimistic – if the major weblog (and wiki) vendors get behind this one it could help stem the tide.”

Spammers don’t pollute our comments because they want you to go to their site (although that’s a nice side benefit, if you’re dumb enough to click their links). All they want is to get as many links onto the Internet as possible to up their page ranking on Google. This sounds like a great idea whose time came a long time ago. What are we waiting for?

(By the way, I had the new version of MT Blacklist installed just about 6 weeks ago, and it’s already blocked 50,000 spam comments. Nightmare.)


Question to Bingfeng

Why have you placed no fewer than fourteen (count ’em, 14!) trackback pings to this old post, including four in the past hour? Really, I want to know.


Everyone knows Taiwan is part of China! (Oh, really?)

This is from guest blogger Jerome Keating, whose additional writings can be found here. This post does not necessarily reflect my own opinions.


“What Did You Say Taiwan Has Always Been?”

The Taiwanese Experience in Brief
Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

For Taiwanese, the most laughable and/or irritating statements are those of foreigners that begin with the words, “Well, Taiwan has always been . . .” One prime example is the current fabrication going around, “Well, Taiwan has always been a part of China.”

The Taiwanese have their own experience of what Taiwan has always been.

Taiwan was once a beautiful island. This was so, long before the Portuguese named it Ihla Formosa. Numerous aboriginal tribes inhabited the island; they enjoyed it as they competed for hunting grounds and territory, even doing a little head hunting on the side. Entrepreneurs, pirates, and traders, as well as farmers escaping poverty and taxes in China lived on the western side.

Then the Dutch came and planted their flag near Tainan. Taiwan was not really their first choice; they had tried to capture Macau from the Portuguese; then they fought with the Ming forces over Penghu (the Pescadores). Both sides compromised and the Dutch came to Taiwan in 1624. They built forts, they brought improvements, and they took aboriginal “wives”; but helping the island was not their main concern. What they really wanted was a base for their profitable trade with China and Japan. To do that, they sought to control and exploit the island; they also encouraged settlers to come from China to work under them. These settlers, mostly male, intermarried with the aborigines.

The Spanish came shortly after the Dutch; they planted their flag and settled in the north around Tamsui and Keelung. They brought their missionaries, and made some improvements; they also had aboriginal “wives”. But what they really wanted was trade with China and Japan. To do that, they also had to control and exploit the island. They were driven out by their competitors, the Dutch.

The fleeing Ming loyalists came later led by Koxinga (Zheng Ch’eng-gong). After a 9-month siege they forced the Dutch to leave and they planted their flag in 1662. They did not come because they wanted to; they were running from the Manchus who were taking over Ming China. They needed a refuge from which they could hope to retake China. To do that they needed to control and exploit the island. They only controlled a small part.

The Manchu Qing navies under Shi Lang followed the Ming. In a short time they took Penghu and forced the surrender of the Ming on Taiwan. They did not really care for the island; they stayed because they did not want any Ming supporters to return. To do that they needed to control the island, so they planted their flag in 1683 and garrisoned the western side, at times encouraging settlement and at other times discouraging it. Again, these settlers, mostly male, intermarried with aborigines.

While they were here, the French came and briefly planted their flag in the north in 1885. They really did not care for the island, but they were fighting with the Qing over Viet Nam and they hoped to punish the Qing by punishing Taiwan. They had no time for improvements. They gained some advantage, made a treaty with the Qing and left.

The Qing stayed for over 200 years; their loving care for the island is seen in the fact that there were uprisings and rebellions every three to five years. Qing improvements were always too little, too late. Every time a new magistrate or governor promised to change things, he soon found an excuse to leave. While the Qing controlled and exploited the western half of the island, the aborigines held the central mountains and the eastern half. Then one day, all of the people of Taiwan found out from foreigners that they had been given to the Japanese in the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895).

Thus the Japanese came. The Taiwanese people, Hakka, Hoklo and aborigines, formed their own Republic of Taiwan. Their leaders quickly fled to China but the abandoned people opposed the Japanese. The Japanese armies were much too experienced and better equipped. Within six months they planted their flag and ruled. However, unlike the others, the Japanese had come to stay and they made lasting improvements to prove it. Taiwan was to be their showcase colony to the world. Yet with all their improvements, they too exploited the island.

In 1945, at the end of World War II, the Kuomintang (KMT) came. If those in the past had exploited the island, the KMT did it tenfold. Everything in Taiwan from iron to nuts and bolts to rice was taken to serve the KMT war effort on the mainland; but by 1949, the KMT too were running from the defeat. They could only stay and control the island with martial law until 1987. Then finally after long struggle, effort, and suffering the people achieved the right to directly and freely elect their own president in 1996. For the first time, the people of Taiwan and not outsiders could control their island. They could shape their own destiny and even try to restore the beauty of the island.

It doesn’t end there. Now another outsider, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), says it wants to come and control the island. Since the quality of life in Taiwan is so much better than that of the mainland, what exactly are they offering?

Conscious of their democracy the Taiwanese want to improve on that democracy and their island. The last thing Taiwan needs is another rapacious outsider.

And the Taiwan experience, do you need to ask?


China surrounds Zhao’s death with curtain of silence

Should we be surprised to see the CCP blacking out CNN news reports of Zhao Ziyang’s death and instructing the state-run media not to report the news? Nah. It was predictable.

Chinese leaders imposed a ban today on news reports about the death of Zhao Ziyang, the former Communist Party chief who opposed the 1989 crackdown on democracy protesters, suggesting that his official obituary would treat him as a pariah.

The New China News Agency issued a terse dispatch announcing that Mr. Zhao, who was 85 years old, died early today. But the news agency identified Mr. Zhao simply as a “comrade,” not as China’s former top political leader, and the main evening news broadcast made no mention of his passing.

Editors said that propaganda officials had ordered television stations and newspapers not to report about Mr. Zhao, and popular Web sites were instructed to ban public discussion of the former leader.

The tight control suggested that President Hu Jintao might not permit even a modest posthumous rehabilitation of Mr. Zhao, who enjoyed popularity among some former colleagues as well as many critics of the government at home and abroad. It remained unclear whether the state would allow Mr. Zhao a public funeral.

The China Daily forums had no threads on his death (at least not when I last checked), and one article I read claimed many Chinese Web sites were closed altogether to keep message boards from running with the story. One of his aides complained that Zhao has been “airbrushed from history”.

Bao Tong also took angry aim at Chinese authorities who held Zhao under house arrest from 1989 until his death on Monday at age 85.

“Zhao Ziyang is with us!” Beijing-based Bao wrote in a eulogy to which Radio Free Asia (RFA) obtained exclusive broadcast rights. “He still lives as part of a heroic and mighty task, that of pioneering the protection of human rights and democracy for the Chinese people.”

Bao’s phone service was suspended soon after he released the statement, leaving him unable to broadcast it himself.

“Zhao Ziyang was ousted and put under house arrest for advocating democracy and the rule of law. What crime did Zhao Ziyang commit? Is democracy guilty of something? Is the rule of law guilty of something?”

In the same article, Tiananmen Square student leader Wang Dan remarks, “The Communist Party is bad, but that doesn’t mean every Communist Party member is bad.” Well said.

Xinhua’s aforementioned “terse dispatch” (to the world, but not to its own people) was full of love and praise for the old man, and brimming with barely concealed emotion:

Comrade Zhao Ziyang died of illness in a Beijing hospital Monday. He was 85.

Comrade Zhao had long suffered from multiple diseases affecting his respiratory and cardiovascular systems, and had been hospitalized for medical treatment for several times. His conditions worsened recently, and he passed away Monday after failing to respond to all emergency treatment

And that’s that. (Yes, I was being a bit sarcastic about the “love and praise.” At least they call him “Comrade.”) It would be nice to see the people come out en masse to show Zhao the respect and recognition he deserves, but it won’t happen. Deng prevailed; to get rich is glorious, and taking time out for Zhao would mean time away from getting rich. The Chinese have different priorities now than they did in 1989, for better or worse.

Update: I liked one of the comments from the thread immediately below that I wanted to highlight it here:

If Zhao had remained in power after 1989, China’s reforms would not have slowed down. Quite the contrary, Zhao had been the key designer of many of the reforms of the 1980s. The 1990s were so good economically precisely because of the actions taken in the 1980s. Zhao certainly would have continued the pace of reform. And let’s not forget, when Jiang assumed office he was weak and scared and hesitant to push economic reform too far. It was only when Deng took his “southern tour” in 1992 that Jiang got the economic reform religion. If Zhao had survived politically, China’s economy would be just as strong as it is today, and the country would likely be experiencing some degree of political liberalization. Zhao may not have been a real democrat but his greatest legacy will be that he refused to kill his own people in 1989.

Nicely stated.


Zhao Ziyang on his deathbed

I wonder what this will mean for our friends in the CCP? The deaths of folk heroes tend to be a big deal for the Chinese people, though with today’s economy I can’t imagine another widespread student rebellion taking shape.

Update: It’s true, he’s dead.

Update: An expat in Beijing offers a good overview of this topic here.


Can moral people support the Iraqi insurgency?

(Update: Looking at this now, I see it is perhaps the most sprawling, convoluted piece I ever wrote. Apologies in advance. That said, my heart was in every word.)

On April 8, 2003 the liberal and anti-Iraq-war UK Guardian printed an article by their war correspondent on the US march into Basra toward the end of the invasion.

Many local people seemed genuinely happy to see the army rolling past, laughing and joking even as they were stopped to be frisked at the checkpoints into and out of the city. A jubilant crowd of about 100 Iraqis surrounded two British tanks sitting side by side near a mural of Saddam Hussein and started cheering the soldiers inside and giving the thumbs-up sign. Soldiers were handed pink carnations and yellow flowers. Abdul Karim, an English teacher, was wandering through the city late in the day. He was standing opposite a burning building, painted with the inevitable portrait of Saddam He said it was used as a food warehouse by the Ba’ath party and that it had been looted and set on fire. He said he had a BA in English. “It’s great, it’s great,” he said with an expansive gesture. “The Fedayeen have gone. They left on Saturday and Sunday. It is fantastic.”

There is no arguing that a good many Iraqis, probably a majority, were thrilled to see us knock the murderous and inhuman Saddam Hussein from office. They were not thrilled, however, with the occupation that followed. It was only some days later, when the looting started and the insurgency first struck, that it all began to fall apart. We had no plans to restore electricity and drinking water (only the oil wells), nor did we have nearly enough troops to maintain order. And for that, I can never forgive Bush, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. We had the slenderest window where we just might have succeeded (maybe) and it’s as though we thought of every conceivable way to slam it shut.

I realize our intentions were not altogether noble; if there were no oil, we would be as interested in Iraq as we are in other poor, oppressed countries. And I am not so naive as to believe that Bush and his oil billionaire cohorts care a fig about freedom for the poor, wretched Iraqi people. And yet, for the briefest moment it appeared it just might work, and on humanitarian grounds I thought it was the right thing to do, especially after the butcher Saddam gave us the finger for years over weapons inspections. He was always asking for trouble, and it was trouble he deserved.

I want to sidetrack for a moment, because this topic — Saddam’s legitimacy as leader of Iraq — is an important part of the puzzle. I want to emphasize that while I am critical in every way of our invasion, I still reject any claims that Saddam was a legitimate sovereign. Ayn Rand, one of my least favorite “philosophers,” and one whom I rarely quote, wrote the following (from her essay Collectivized “Rights” in The Virtue of Selfishness):

Dictatorship nations are outlaws. Any free nation had the right to invade Nazi Germany and, today, has the right to invade Soviet Russia, Cuba or any other slave pen. Whether a free nation chooses to do so or not is a matter of its own self-interest, not of respect for the nonexistent “rights” of gang rulers. It is not a free nation’s duty to liberate other nations at the price of self-sacrifice, but a free nation has the right to do it, when and if it so chooses.

This right, however, is conditional. Just as the suppression of crimes does not give a policeman the right to engage in criminal activities, so the invasion and destruction of a dictatorship does not give the invader the right to establish another variant of a slave society in the conquered country.

A slave country has no national rights, but the individual rights of its citizens remain valid, even if unrecognized, and the conqueror has no right to violate them. Therefore, the invasion of an enslaved country is morally justified only when and if the conquerors establish a free social system, that is, a system based on the recognition of individual rights.

Since there is no fully free country today, since the so-called “Free World” consists of various “mixed economies,” it might be asked whether every country on earth is morally open to invasion by every other. The answer is: No. There is a difference between a country that recognizes the principle of individual rights, but does not implement it fully in practice, and a country that denies and flouts it explicitly. All “mixed economies” are in a precarious state of transition which, ultimately, has to turn to freedom or collapse into dictatorship. There are four characteristics which brand a country unmistakably as a dictatorship: one-party rule — executions without trial or with a mock trial, for political offenses — the nationalization or expropriation of private property — and censorship. Any country guilty of these outrages forfeits any moral prerogatives, any claim to national rights or sovereignty, and becomes an outlaw.

I realize this is a controversial viewpoint (to say the least), but I find a lot of truth to it. There was no legitimacy to Saddam’s reign, no reason for his power aside from brute and barbaric force. His sins are well documented, and we saw in the Guardian story (and countless others during those few days of success) how happy so many Iraqis were to see him gone. If any dictator were worthy of regime change, surely it was he.

Of course, we must ask who society should entrust with this divine right to decide that this or that ruler is worthy of overthrow. Fair question, and I think the only answer is that if the ruler passes the “global test” for being illegitimate as described by Rand — if they butcher and enslave, if they deprive their citizens of choice, if they eliminate freedom, if they set up a one-party dictatorship, then they have no claim to being legitimate sovereigns and the free nations are justified in freeing the citizens. (And, much as I hate Bush, I won’t allow anyone to argue that he meets these criteria; for all his evils, he’s not even close; he’s only in power because we idiots asked him to be.)

So, getting back to the topic, for a few weeks I wavered about the invasion at first, with extreme reservations, but very soon turned bitterly against it as I saw how pathetic our plans were. The reasons for my initial support were simple: I thought it was the humanitarian thing to do. I know the stories of Saddam’s torture chambers, which really do make Abu Ghraib seem like a picnic. I knew about his predilection for slicing off tongues and digits of those who annoyed him, and the joy he derived from mass murder.

And now, due to unfathomable bungling and boundless hubris, we failed, and did so in a huge and awful way. It was a gamble at best, but we played our cards in the very worst way. Estimates of civilian casualties are as high as 100,000, many of them coming after our idiot flight-suited president declared “Mission Accomplished” in what may have been the most revolting publicity stunt of an administration enamored of special effects.

And in case anyone still holds out hope for victory, all I can say is, Get real. Just this week, a group of highly respected pro-war military experts acknowledged that we have indeed failed our mission, and there’s no hope for success:

The issue facing the Bush administration is simple. It can continue to fight the war as it has, hoping that a miracle will bring successes in 2005 that didn’t happen in 2004. Alternatively, it can accept the reality that the guerrilla force is now self-sustaining and sufficiently large not to flicker out and face the fact that a U.S. conventional force of less than 150,000 is not likely to suppress the guerrillas. More to the point, it can recognize these facts:

1. The United States cannot re-engineer Iraq because the guerrillas will infiltrate every institution it creates.
2. That the United States by itself lacks the intelligence capabilities to fight an effective counterinsurgency.
3. That exposing U.S. forces to security responsibilities in this environment generates casualties without bringing the United States closer to the goal.
4. That the strain on the U.S. force is undermining its ability to react to opportunities and threats in the rest of the region. And that, therefore, this phase of the Iraq campaign must be halted as soon as possible.

That, from the hawks! The only place where I still hear we are winning is at the war blogs and Fox News. (“This sounds like good news,” Instapuppy exclaims as he links to a picture of Marines and local kids smiling by a new school we built in an obscure Iraqi village no one’s ever heard of.)

Okay, so I’m claiming the goals of the war were acceptable if imperfect, the planning sucked, we had hearts and minds for a moment and threw it all away, and now there’s probably no way out, at least not with any claims of a victory. In fact, we have made things infinitely worse than they were, turning Iraq into the world’s new breeding grounds for eager, willing-to-die-and-murder terrorists.

And so we come now to my initial question: Can one morally side with the insurgents and hope for their victory in Iraq?

I ask this because a very intelligent commenter, Mark Anthony Jones, has expressed more than once his belief that the insurgents should and must defeat the US soldiers. A self-described Marxist (not that there’s anything wrong with that), Mark writes, in the first comment to this post, a very long and scathing indictment of the invasion and the evils it has spawned. He frequently quotes, here and in other comments, Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn and Noam Chomsky to support his claims.

The comment is way too long to go through line by line, but to make my point (if I have one), let’s look at this claim of Mark’s:

What we have in Iraq right now is, I suppose, the equivalent of a kind of Vichy Government being set up. And historically, resistance to this type of situation has always been atrocious, has always been bloody. It has always involved terrorism.

You can imagine if Australia or American had been occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War, the kind of resistance there would have been, the kind of terror tactics that would have been employed. We’ve seen that all over the world. Now, I think the situation in Iraq is so dire that unless the United States is defeated there that we’re likely to see an attack on Iran, and possibly even on North Korea, and so I think what happens in Iraq now is incredibly important. It is important for the United States to be defeated in Iraq militarily – and this, I know, is the outcome that most of the world is hoping for.

The rest of the world probably is hoping for our defeat. That is the tragic result of the unparalleled animosity created by George W. Bush throughout the world, a phenomenon the likes of which we have never seen in our lifetimes. This is his come-uppance for his suffocating hubris, his fuck-you attitude to our allies and his belief that the world is America’s sandbox. And lose we will — but we must not leave handing power to the insurgents.

To compare the occupation to the Vichy government, or to the US being occupied by the Japanese of WWII or the Nazis — that I can’t accept, and this is where I believe Mark’s argument disintegrates.

The Vichy Government versus the partisans was a story of good versus evil, of traitors helping to achieve Nazi goals (including the round-up and extermination of Jews) versus those heroes who would destroy them in the name of freedom. To make any such comparison flies in the face of reality because the insurgents in Iraq cannot — must not — be compared to the partisans of Vichy France, or, in a mock scenario, to free Americans under the heel of invading Nazis.

In mid-November, our brave and heroic freedom-loving partisans in Iraq happily sliced the throat of Margaret Hassan, the CARE worker who had dedicated her life to serving the people of Iraq and making their lives better. Was this an act of heroism, of bravery or of honor? Let’s go back to the partisans in France. Did they ever slaughter the good people who loved France? Did they ever murder en masse French citizens who were in church praying? Did they set up roadside bombs to kill both the Vichy enemies and their own people, intentionally?

Who are the insurgents? To compare them to heroic partisans or freedom fighters, and to say that they are the ones who should prevail in Iraq — this to me is unconscionable and immoral and unacceptable. Nearly everyone protesting foreign rule/occupation might qualify as “freedom fighters.” But not all freedom fighters are created equal. Those who, like our Founding Fathers, were killing and fighting for our greater freedom and justice were legitimate. Those like the Iraqi thugs, who are fighting not for the public good but for their own power and for diminished freedoms for the Iraqi people, are not to be compared to any heroes. Quite the contrary.

This week, Thomas Friedman offered a fair assessment of these “heroes”:

They started the war not to get their fair share of Iraqi power, but in hopes of retaining their unfair share. Under Saddam, Iraq’s Sunni minority, with only 20 percent of the population, ruled everyone. These fascist insurgents have never given politics a chance to work in Iraq because they don’t want it to work. That’s why they have never issued a list of demands. They don’t want people to see what they are really after, which is continued minority rule, Saddamism without Saddam. If that was my politics, I’d be wearing a ski mask over my head, too.

I am no fool (or at least not totally) — I know the elections won’t bring instant peace, democracy and joy to Iraq. I actually think they’ll either fail altogether or lead to a theocracy opposed to the US (and can you blame them, after the way we screwed up their country?). But at least they can create a forum, a vehicle for people to take greater control and emerge, if only by a baby-step, out of the dark ages of Ba’athist rule.

Let’s take another look at what the jihadist heroes stand for, this time through the eyes of a freshman at Yale:

Freedom of thought, community and faith, civil equality, and the rights of due process, are meaningless unless they are universally valid. They are also non-negotiable. As Salman Rushdie himself said shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, the things that the jihadists are against — ‘freedom of speech, a multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women’s rights, pluralism, secularism, short skirts, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex … even the short skirts and dancing … are worth dying for.’ Rushdie’s maxim holds true all the more in light of Theo van Gogh’s murder. The viciousness of our enemies — and they are our enemies — remains undiminished. We liberals had better find the courage not to be intimidated.

The insurgents in Iraq fall into this category. They are our enemies, and they are bad news. To say that this is what Iraqis want, a return to the dark ages, where incredible amounts of blood will flow in an inevitable war of retribution — no, I don’t believe it. Even though the elections will most likely fail, polls have shown that more than 70 percent of Iraqis want to vote. An even larger number wants the US out of their country, and I don’t blame them at all. But they obviously do not want to return to the days of butchery under a merciless thug-tyrant who can slaughter and maim at will.

So I stand by this argument: One cannot claim to be a moral person and in the same breath say he wants to see the insurgents win. That is a vote for true badness, for a terrible step backward, a nightmare that would bring the Iraqi people suffering the likes of which we can’t even imagine, as though they haven’t suffered enough.

Last of all, I want to return to the essential question, do the Iraqi people want to be ruled by Jihadist insurgents who indiscriminately slaughter their husbands and children, or do they want an opportunity to participate in elections, to choose their destiny? The Washington Post covers this subject today:

Iraq’s first competitive elections in decades are an oddly subdued affair. Violence lurks menacingly over the process, which will end with the selection of a new parliament on Jan. 30. Candidates’ names are not published, for fear of assassination. Rallies are few, posters are often torn down, and hardly anyone can describe a party’s platform, much less its nominees.

But in Shahbandar, a century-old cafe long the intellectual heart of this weary city, where men in frayed suit jackets and sweater vests cluster in small circles to debate, there is a pronounced optimism about what the elections signify among people who have grasped for a turning point during nearly two years of occupation. For many of the men gathered here, sitting under portraits of Baghdad’s history, the elections are more important than the candidates.

“Without elections, there will be tyranny,” said Kadhim Hassan, a 37-year-old writer.

A late-morning light bathed the crowded cafe in a soft glow as Hassan sat on a narrow wooden bench. He called the vote a “historic moment,” then his face turned hard. “War and disasters,” he said, shaking his head — that’s what Iraqis have been born into.

“Now most people feel they are living in darkness,” Hassan said. “It’s time for us to come into the light.”

To hope that the Iraqi people once more fall under the dark domination of murderous scum like the minority insurgents is unjust and based, I believe, more on the hopes that the US should be stopped and humiliated than on any concern for justice and freedom for the Iraqis.

It’s easy to point to pictures of the Iraqi children in Fallujah celebrating as they carry the body parts of murdered US contractors, and say that it’s proof the Iraqis back the insurgency. But it isn’t. By now many of them hate us to hell and do indeed celebrate the deaths of our soldiers. But most of them would not join the insurgency, and they are not at all thrilled and delighted when the insurgents murder scores of policemen or ordinary citizens at a mosque. And to say that those Iraqis who are joining the police are joining a Nazi-like terror organization (as Mark does in one comment) and in a way deserve their fate won’t fly with me. These are poor, desperate young men looking for a job to feed their wives and children. If you feel their deaths are justified and good, there’s nothing I can say to convince you otherwise. But I have my own moral code, and the slaughter of these people is in violation of that code, just like the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers. It gives us a good indication of just how sinister and lethal these insurgents are, and why their ascent to absolute power would be a tragedy of unspeakable dimensions. We will lose in Iraq, but in our defeat we must not allow these monsters to take power. Then the tragedy of our invasion would be multiplied exponentially.

My last point is that I respect Mark Anthony Jones and appreciate his comments. I think he is smart and often right on target. But I think his take on this one issue is too radical, and it is this kind of talk that can make all liberals appear to be irresponsible. As liberals, we must not allow our dislike of Bush and imperialist America to cloud our moral judgement. We must remember that terror applied with the goal of eliminating freedom and choice, is totally unacceptable, no matter how dreadful Bush is. And to argue about it and parse it and try to defend it in any way makes us look stupid and immoral.

The insurgency in Iraq is wrong, it is bad and it must not be permitted to triumph. Any other point of view is immoral, unjust and unconscionable. The big question is how far does the US go to stop it? Agonizing question. We broke it, and we may need to buy it (the “Pottery Barn rule”). What a clusterfuck.


Yunnan Signage

This was just what I needed tonight. I was laughing so hard, I couldn’t breathe.