Blazing Threads

Time to gang up on Nicholas Kristof.


Uriel Wittenberg is dead

That is what his Web site says. Some of the long-time readers may recall his famous run-ins with, among others, myself, Adam Morris, Joseph Bosco, China Digital Times, Orville Schell, Brendan O’Kane and many, many others. (And, more recently, with the guys at Talk Talk China.)

Uriel seemed to be deeply depressed. He lashed out at virtually everyone, often like a man possessed. But now isn’t the time to raise old issues or to criticize. Suffice it to say that I hope he’s finally at peace. I wish the best to his family and loved ones.


China’s snazzy new death vans aid in organ harvesting

A shiny new fleet of execution vans is sweeping across China. Executioners on Wheels is a one-stop solution for carrying out the icky, messy chore of capital punishment. The spacious, high-tech, fully loaded vans make executing prisoners a snap. The friendly drivers not only kill the prisoner with a lethal injection, they also slice out his organs on the spot for quick and efficient harvesting, before the posion from the injection can sink in (or at least we sure hope so). Executions have never been easier!

China’s critics contend that the transition from firing squads to injections in death vans facilitates an illegal trade in prisoners’ organs.

Injections leave the whole body intact and require participation of doctors. Organs can “be extracted in a speedier and more effective way than if the prisoner is shot,” says Mark Allison, East Asia researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. “We have gathered strong evidence suggesting the involvement of (Chinese) police, courts and hospitals in the organ trade.”

Executions in death vans are recorded on video and audio that is played live to local law enforcement authorities — a measure intended to ensure they are carried out legally.

China’s refusal to give outsiders access to the bodies of executed prisoners has added to suspicions about what happens afterward: Corpses are typically driven to a crematorium and burned before relatives or independent witnesses can view them.

Chinese authorities are sensitive to allegations that they are complicit in the organ trade. In March, the Ministry of Health issued regulations explicitly banning the sale of organs and tightening approval standards for transplants.

Even so, Amnesty International said in a report in April that huge profits from the sale of prisoners’ organs might be part of why China refuses to consider doing away with the death penalty.

“Given the high commercial value of organs, it is doubtful the new regulations will have an effect,” Allison says.

Why does Amnesty International always have to be so glum, so cynical? These spiffy vans are emblematic of China’s great and unstoppable rise to superpower status. We should celebrate them, not criticize them. Keep your eye open for the execution van as it visits your neighborhood, and blow the driver a kiss. He represents the new China – modern, efficient, and economical. All hail progress.

Via Danwei.


The Onion on the earth’s dwindling resources

One of their funniest spoofs yet, and a must-read. There really are people out there like Mrs Melford.


Clipping Bush’s wings

The blogosphere is ablaze with a dizzying array of posts on yesterday’s Supreme Court decision requiring Bush to comply with the laws of war. Some say it may mean the end of our Golden Age of Torture. Others say the president will simply ignore and override the decision (which would surprise no one). The usual far-right hate mongers see this as the Supreme Court blowing kisses to Al Qaeda; in their eyes, any restriction on brutality, any attempt to hold Bush to account, any insistence that America must maintain its essential freedoms is treasonous.

All that’s clear to me is that the dust will have to settle a bit before we understand the decision’s implications. What can’t be argued, however, is that the court did rule that the way Bush is fighting terrorism is illegal. They did rule that Bush’s wings must be clipped. Whether that decision actually means anything remains to be seen. But the very fact that Bush is being challenged at such a high level makes this an incredibly important story. This article does a good job explaining why.

For five years, President Bush waged war as he saw fit. If intelligence officers needed to eavesdrop on overseas telephone calls without warrants, he authorized it. If the military wanted to hold terrorism suspects without trial, he let it.

Now the Supreme Court has struck at the core of his presidency and dismissed the notion that the president alone can determine how to defend the country. In rejecting Bush’s military tribunals for terrorism suspects, the high court ruled that even a wartime commander in chief must govern within constitutional confines significantly tighter than this president has believed appropriate.

For many in Washington, the decision echoed not simply as a matter of law but as a rebuke of a governing philosophy of a leader who at repeated turns has operated on the principle that it is better to act than to ask permission. This ethos is why many supporters find Bush an inspiring leader, and why many critics in this country and abroad react so viscerally against him.

At a political level, the decision carries immediate ramifications. It provides fodder to critics who turned Guantanamo Bay into a metaphor for an administration run amok. Now lawmakers may have to figure out how much due process is enough for suspected terrorists, hardly the sort of issue many would be eager to engage in during the months before an election….

The administration often fended off criticism by arguing that the commander in chief should not be second-guessed. “The Bush administration has been very successful in defining the debate as one of patriotism or cowardice,” said Andrew Rudalevige, author of “The New Imperial Presidency” and a Dickinson College professor. “And this is not about that. This is about whether in fighting the war we’re true to our constitutional values.

Constitutional values are for wimps and cowards — for liberals. It really wouldn’t surprise me to see Bush simply ignore the decision fom the nation’s highest authority and taunt his detractors: “So what are you going to do about it? Nyah-nyah.” As the article points out, we have in effect allowed Bush to do just that, time and again. Our president is nothing but a rogue, a common criminal, using his power to break the law at whim under the mantra of 911 and national security. I’m afraid no higher authority can keep him in check. We’ve created a monster.


Thomas Friedman: A Green China?

Red China or Green?
Published: June 30, 2006

It takes a while to get used to Lima’s Chinatown – the largest in South America – with all its Chinese shopkeepers and restaurant owners speaking Spanish. But once I found the “sopa wantan” and the “pollo con castana de caju” (wonton soup and a Peruvian chicken with cashew nuts) on the menu at the Wa Lok cafe, the neighborhood definitely started to feel like home. And even my Spanish fortune cookie (“Learn to read between the lines”) seemed somehow appropriate.

In the mid-19th century, thousands of Chinese were imported to Peru as slave laborers, replacing black slaves who had been freed. They worked sugar plantations and built railroads – until they, too, were liberated.



China to crack down on blogs, search engines

Terrific. We’re all a lot safer.

Blogs and search engines, the most active parts of China information industry, will undergo strict supervision of the government.

“As more and more illegal and unhealthy information spreads through the blog and search engine, we will take effective measures to put the BBS,blog and search engine under control,” said Cai Wu, director of the Information Office of the State Council, at a meeting held Wednesday.

China launched a project on Feb. 21 to purify the environment of internet and mobile communication network through a series of measures within a year. According to a report made by prestigious Qinghua (Tsinghua) University in Beijing, the Chinese blog sites have reached 36.82 million. The report also predicted that the blog sites may exceed 60 million this year.

“The market cannot develop without efficient management,” said Cai, adding that the government will enhance research on the concerned technology and make admittance standards for blog websites.

Of course, we all know by “illegal and unhealthy information” they mean anything that might make the party look bad, and by “efficient management” they mean ruthless censorship. On the other hand, I can’t imagine them succeeding. Even if the number of bogs in China is a small fraction of the guesstimated 36 million, there’s simply no way to monitor and control them all. But it’s nice to see that they’re trying.

Via CDT.


Under the gun

Too much pressure, too little sleep. No posting until I get on top of my work.


Bob Herbert: The Wreckage in the China Shop

The Wreckage in the China Shop
Published: June 29, 2006

After all the sound and fury of the past few years, how is the U.S. doing in its fight against terrorism?

Not too well, according to a recent survey of more than 100 highly respected foreign policy and national security experts. The survey, dubbed the “Terrorism Index,” was conducted by the Center for American Progress and Foreign Policy magazine. The respondents included Republicans and Democrats, moderates, liberals and conservatives.

The survey’s findings were striking. A strong, bipartisan consensus emerged on two crucial points: 84 percent of the respondents said the United States was not winning the war on terror, and 86 percent said the world was becoming more — not less — dangerous for Americans.



Good lord.

You really have to wonder how educated, successful people can do such insanely self-destructive stuff. This one really takes the cake. So bizarre you’d think it has to be a parody.