Weekend in Bangkok

Sometimes you just have to get away from Taipei, and even though it’s hot and off-season Bangkok is still one of the few places on earth where I feel truly relaxed. Posts will be few, site traffic will plummet, but there are still some very cool threads going on in the blog below below and the Duck Pond above.


The Baghdad Wall

Well, it’s a river, actually, but the idea is the same. This is a symbol of just how miserably we have failed in Iraq.

Iraq’s politicians were reported yesterday to be drawing up provisional plans to divide Baghdad into Sunni and Shia halves after a week of bloodshed that has left the government’s security plan to pacify the capital in tatters.

The proposal would mean an acceptance that the country could not be held together and would mark a dramatic failure for the American policy of fostering national unity.

The Tigris river, which would become the dividing line between the predominately Sunni districts of west Baghdad and the majority Shia in the east.

Gee, what a great victory. This is what we died and bled for? FSN9, Conrad and all the rest who swore by this war – do you still swear by it? Was it really worth it?

Update:At least everything in our other war is going swimmingly. Thank God for wartime presidents.


Maureen Dowd: Condi’s Flying Dutchman

I wish she wouldn’t desecrate Wagner’s opera by comparing its hero to our inept Secretary of State.

Condi’s Flying Dutchman
Published: July 22, 2006

As USA Today noted about summer movies, the hot trend in heroines “is not the damsel in distress. It’s the damsel who causes distress.”

Uma, Oprah. Oprah, Condi.



Paul Krugman

Paul is shrill.

The Price of Fantasy
Published: July 21, 2006

Today we call them neoconservatives, but when the first George Bush was president, those who believed that America could remake the world to its liking with a series of splendid little wars – people like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld – were known within the administration as “the crazies.” Grown-ups in both parties rejected their vision as a dangerous fantasy.



Isn’t it about time?

Isn’t it about time China stops going after activists for indisputably noble causes and throwing them in jail on blatantly false charges?

Only a few years ago, Chen Guangcheng, a blind man who taught himself the law, was hailed as a champion of peasant rights who symbolized China’s growing embrace of legal norms.

Mr. Chen helped other people with disabilities avoid illegal fees and taxes. He forced a paper mill to stop spewing toxic chemicals into his village’s river. The authorities in his home province, Shandong, considered him a propaganda coup and broadcast clips from his wedding ceremony on television.

All that changed last year, when he organized a rare class-action lawsuit against the local government for forcing peasants to have late-term abortions and be sterilized. Mr. Chen, 35, is now a symbol of something else: the tendency of Communist Party officials to use legal pretexts to crush dissent.

On Thursday a court in Yinan County of Shandong Province is to hear charges that Mr. Chen destroyed public property and gathered a crowd to block traffic. His lawyers argue that he would have had trouble committing those crimes even if he could see. At the time they were said to have occurred, he was being guarded day and night by a team of local officials.

His case is typical of efforts to punish lawyers, journalists and participants in environmental, health and religious groups who expose abuses or organize people in a manner officials consider threatening. Like Mr. Chen, they are often accused of fraud, illicit business practices or leaking state secrets, charges that do not reflect the political nature of their offenses.

“Local officials made Chen’s house into a jail and turned him into a prisoner long before he faced any charges,” said Li Jinsong, one of his lawyers. “Then they concocted charges so they could send him to an actual jail.”

I’m a broken record, I know. But the only alternative is to be silent, and when I read articles like this it’s not possible. You have to read the article (especially the second page) to see just how much good this man has done for China, and just how shabbily he is now being treated. The charges are so absurd you can scream. But when all the power is concentrated in one party’s hands and there are zero checks and balances….well yeah, it’s the broken record again. But that’s the best I can do.


Asia Briefs

Today through the weekend will be quiet around here. Maybe I’ll have time to drop in some linklets, but not much else. Here goes:

Taiwan’s obsession with ghosts.

In Taiwan, ghosts are rarely a laughing matter. On TV, in daily conversation, at temples and in the deepest recesses of the unconscious, they maintain a firm grip on island society. Taiwanese are ghost-crazy – or rather, crazy to avoid them. A recent survey of Taipei college students found that 87% were believers, and some say that could be on the low side.

“I’d say the other 13% would probably hedge their bets if you questioned them closer,” says Marc Moskowitz, an anthropologist at Lake Forest College in Illinois who has studied Taiwan’s spirit beliefs. “Many Taiwanese feel it’s best not to anger the ghosts, just in case they do exist.”

Ghosts have been an integral part of Chinese culture dating to at least the Shang Dynasty, with 3,500-year-old oracle bones from the period depicting a big-headed, bent-kneed phantom.

But China has seen much of its otherworldly belief system erode under the Communist Party’s assault on religion and superstition. That has left Taiwan, which split from China in 1949 after civil war, a rich repository of this living tradition, one that draws scholars eager to study Chinese ghost practices in their purest form.

Chinese government to scrub Karaoke bars of “unhealthy songs.

With their control over newspapers, television, magazines and the Internet secure, censors in China are now turning their attention to the dim recesses of the nation’s karaoke parlors.

The state-run Beijing News reported Wednesday that the Ministry of Culture has issued new rules to prevent “unhealthy” songs from ringing forth in the sing-along bars. The campaign also will help safeguard intellectual property rights, it adds.

The government has picked three mid-size cities, Wuhan, Zhengzhou and Qingdao, to test the new program under which member businesses will choose songs from a central database. If successful, the program may go nationwide.

Jesus in China:
California Jesuits work on restoring a Shanghai cathedral vandalized during the Cultural Revolution.

This is much more than a fluff piece on interior decoration. It’s a must-read if you are in any way interested in Christianity in China. It’s a great article.


The power of nightmares

Michelle’s gone into overdrive, whipping up the usual frenzy about the terrorists under the bed who are determined to destroy us.

You think Hezbollah is only Israel’s headache? Wake up. Iranian Hezbollah’s spokesman Mojtaba Bigdeli’s threat on Tuesday to dispatch 2,000 operatives “to every corner of the world to jeopardize Israel and America’s interests” is more than just idle Islamic heavy-breathing.

The Jew-hating terrorists of Hezbollah who call themselves the “party of God” are already here. In America. Plotting attacks. Raising money. Slipping through the cracks.

Keep your eyes open for swarthy brown people. And mark my prediction: this will be the most-heard chorus from the right as the November elections approach. With no successes to point to, it’s all they have – fear and hysteria, and the notion that only tough, masculine Republicans can fight the terrorists in the mist, while the effette, snail-eating Democrats run to Starbuck’s, hiding their faces in the foam of their lattes. It would be easier to make fun of this all-too-obvoius snow job if it hadn’t worked so well for them in 2004. Are we going to let them get away with it yet again?


Give Fox News A Gold Star

I’m serious, though I never would have believed I’d be saying that. This exchange between a Fox news anchor and the despicable sister of Fred (“God hates fags”) Phelps is absolutely extraordinary. I have to say, I’ve never seen anything like it on TV news before. Do not wait, go watch it now.

I still hate Fox News, but credit where due. Now, if only they would turn such diligent, truth-demanding reporters (at least in this instance) onto the White House, instead of serving up softball, BS interviews of Bush and Cheney with Sean Hannity and Neil Cavuto…

Update: This blogger rips Sully for linking to a clip that’s apparently several weeks old. My excuse is that living here in Taipei I never heard about it until now.


Whither YouTube in China?

Will wonders whether the current free-for-all of video uploading China is experiencing can go on forever.

What does the emergence of Chinese video-sharing sites mean for the future of YouTube in China? YouTube does monitor uploads for IPR violations and sexually explicit content (with mixed success) but it’s probably not paying much attention to things that would annoy Chinese Government censors. While the Great Firewall traps YouTube searches for obvious hot buttons like FLG, a search for Tiananmen Square (which is permitted by the Great Firewall because of tourism) yields a first page of returns dedicated almost entirely to the incidents of 1989. Friends of mine have wondered out loud if YouTube is headed for the same kind of blanket block or heavy-duty filtering that currently afflicts Blogger, Google’s international site and other information sources in the Chinese Government doghouse.

All I can say is, enjoy it while you can. You never know when the Great Cybernanny will strike, but you can be sure that if she picks up even an inkling of a threat, her retribution will be swift and harsh. She cannot be faulted for inconsistency in that regard. (In other regards she can be maddeningly inconsistent, but that’s another conversation.) Read Will’s piece – he’s doing a great job for CNET.


Ralph Reed gets exactly what he deserves

Yes! The Republicans tainted by the slime and corruption that characterize everyday life in Washington these days will be held accountable and will be punished, at least by the voters

Ralph Reed, the vote shepherd of Southern evangelicals in President Bush’s two election wins, fell victim to nagging charges of hypocrisy and corruption Tuesday night when Georgia Republicans unexpectedly nominated a no-name state senator to be their party’s nominee for lieutenant governor.

Reed’s loss followed weeks of bruising attacks from Sen. Casey Cagle, who won 55 percent to 45 percent after running numerous television ads bashing the former Christian Coalition chief for accepting millions of dollars to galvanize Christians against gambling initiatives that were opposed by the Indian gaming clients of Reed’s longtime friend, indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The boyish-looking Reed was expected to easily win the race when he first entered it, but as Abramoff lobbying scandals embroiled Washington, D.C., a number of state and national Republicans fretted over the effectiveness of Democratic attacks about the so-called “Republican culture of corruption.” Reed said he was unaware that Abramoff’s antigambling initiative was funded with Indian gaming money.

“This is a major message to Republicans nationwide: Don’t run on the faith-based ticket if someone can make you look like a hypocrite,” said Matt Towery, a former Newt Gingrich strategist and chairman of the Atlanta-based polling and media firm InsiderAdvantage.

“What we’ve seen tonight in Georgia is the appearance of only the most core Republican base, which is not as religious-right as America thinks,” Towery said. “These are businessmen and women, and to many of them Ralph Reed didn’t reflect their image.”

Towery and others were surprised by Reed’s defeat, considering he excelled at turning out the vote, and had the backing of national figures like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former U.S. Sen. Zell Miller. He also had solid name identification among voters, having appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1995 at the age of 33 when he was executive director of the national Christian Coalition.

This is very big, very good news. Die-hard Republicans rejecting one of their own, a native son who was considered last year to be a shoe-in. For nearly six years the attitude was that the K Street Crowd and the GOP hacks who carry their water could get away with anything and everything. The message will reverberate loud and long throughout the party: We really are mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. Even your invincible golden boys like Reed will be tossed out on their asses. The waste and plunder we are all watching, committed without the slightest trace of shame, is a national embarrassment. Anyone associated with Abramoff is deservedly radioactive and had better watch out. And yes, that includes you, Mr. Bush.

November. Can it come soon enough?