Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hong Kong: The Rabble Begins To Rouse

Poster of Chief Executive Donald Tsang as a communist Uncle Sam made by the group, "It's them, you and me."
I've been living in Hong Kong for almost 10 years and while the city's skyline is constantly changing, underlying conditions have remained the same, and in some cases have worsened. The statistics are staggering - Hong Kong has one of the widest wealth gaps in the world, the most Rolls Royce's per capita and the most millionaires per square mile, according to Forbes. Yet this filthy rich town is still without a minimum wage - McDonald's and other fast food restaurants pay HK $21 an hour, which is only about CAN $2.69...and it's LEGAL!

(courtesy of Christopher DeWolf)
One result of this disparity has been the rise of these "cage homes." Official statistics show that for a population of 7 million there are 150,000 Hong Kong people living in cages, cubicles, rooftop huts, hallways, benches, parks and streets. Government data from 2006 for licensed cage homes put the number at 29 apartments providing 1,292 cages for 878 people. The number is undoubtedly higher now.

It's baffling to see these seniors living in such dire poverty amid Hong Kong's opulence. More so when the so-called Confucian values of respecting and taking care of the elderly are celebrated as Chinese virtues. Hong Kong's new budget was announced yesterday and it contained little in the way of alleviating poverty, addressing the expanding wealth gap or providing for seniors. The rabble is beginning to rouse, however, as witnessed in the anti-government graffiti springing up around town.

Poster skewering chief secretary Henry Tsang as a "Devil & a political reform killer".

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Worst Intensity: OPR Report On Torture

My biggest disappointment with Obama over the last thirteen months has been his failure to prosecute the war crimes that he seemed so determined to redress during his campaign. Dick Cheney now feels immune to brag about his support of torture during and after his tenure as VP and the lawyers that twisted the legal system to give cover to those crimes have now been tapped gently on the wrist for exercising nothing more than poor judgment. The precedent is set and there's nothing to stop a future administration from doing the same and even going further.

It's decisions like the OPR Report On Torture Memos that have fueled the backlash against Washington from both left and right and caused much of Obama's current strife. The lawyers and politicians get off, while grunts like Lynndie England get the blame. As Andrew Sullivan writes:
"That Lynndie England went to jail for doing things that John Yoo made legal, and Yoo does not even face disbarment, tells you all you need to know about the current state of justice in America. In the end, the current president and attorney-general have assented to this massive injustice. The responsibility is theirs'."

But even more appalling is the realization that the US suffered so much more under Bush than I previously thought. His administration's dark legacy continues to influence policy and the center has shifted so far to the right that injustices like those war crimes are now debated as legitimate tools to be employed. Failure to do so now brings hoots of "coward," while Obama appears to lack the courage of his convictions. It's that old Yeats poem, "The Second Coming" all over again:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Here is George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley discussing the loss of "one of the core principles of Nuremberg" with Keith Olbermann:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Goa: Kingdom Of The Exotic

Goa once boasted a city larger than Rome or London - Old Goa. Today it's size is significantly reduced, but the remnants of its past glory remain. The Portuguese arrived on this west coast of India in 1510 and didn't return it until 1961.

Yuko and I spent New Years in Goa and enjoyed the fireworks and parties on Anjuna beach.

Cows make themselves at home throughout India, but in Goa they've got the luxury of beautiful white sandy beaches to bask in and they take full advantage. I made some friends while roaming the beaches....

Yuko at the Hotel Venite Cafe, Panjim...

Don't ring the bell! Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception...

The Wednesday flea market at Anjuna...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Tiger: Happy Chinese New Year!

This is a special year - the Year of the Tiger! The Chinese Lunar New Year is tomorrow and all of Hong Kong is out and about shopping at flower markets, wet markets, running over to greet families or going out for some delicious food. Kung Hei Fat Choi!

The tiger represents toughness, generosity and wealth earned through hard work, traits I hope to benefit from this year. As the Putonghua (Mandarin) pronunciation of tiger (hu) is similar to that of luck (fu) this year is expected to bring prosperity and lots of good karma.

Here's a 1982 classic redux through Tehran 1992...

Monday, February 08, 2010

Liu Xiaobo: China's Human Rights Adversary

On December 25, 2009, Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to eleven years in prison as a traitor for advocating human rights in China, or as the authorities call it, "inciting subversion of state power." He was one of the authors of the infamous Charter 08 manifesto and has a long history of engagement with human rights issues, including the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Below is an edited translation of the statement Liu prepared to read in court, but was prevented. (courtesy of the SCMP);
Guilty of a 'Crime of Speaking'

"Considering the facts in the indictment against me, I have no disagreement, except the one which says that I collected more than 300 signatures [for Charter 08], which is inaccurate. I wrote the six articles [cited in the indictment] and participated in Charter 08; but I collected only about 70 signatures and not 300. The other signatories were not gathered by me. As to the crimes of which I am accused, I cannot accept them. During this period of more than a year during which I lost my freedom, I have maintained my innocence during questioning by police officers, investigators and judges. I argue my innocence on the basis of China's constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, the political reforms I have advocated and the trend of history.

One important result of the reform and open-door policy has been the awakening of Chinese people to their human rights and the rise of civil protection of rights. This has pushed the Chinese government to progress in its thinking on human rights. In 2004, the National People's Congress revised the constitution to "protect and respect human rights", which gave constitutional principles to protect human rights, as a country ruled by law. The country must respect and protect human rights, according to the powers given to the people in Article 35 of the constitution. My freedom to express different opinions is the right of free speech given me as a Chinese citizen under the constitution. Not only should it not be limited or removed by the government; on the contrary, it should be respected by the government and protected by the law. So the accusations against me infringe my basic rights as a Chinese citizen and are against the basic law of China. It is a typical case of "the crime of speaking", of how using the ancient crime of sending a writer to prison has continued. It should be criticised as unreasonable and against the constitution.

The indictment quotes statements as proof of my "spreading rumours, slandering and in other ways inciting the subversion of the government and overturning the socialist system". "Spreading rumours" means fabricating and creating false information and harming people. "Slandering" means harming the good name and character of others. My opinion is a critical opinion, an expression of a point of view, a value judgment and a judgment of what is true and false. It is not meant to harm any person. So my opinion has nothing to do with spreading rumours or slander. Criticising is not the same as spreading rumours; even less is opposition the same as slander.

The indictment uses statements from Charter 08 to accuse me of slandering the government and the party and "plotting the subversion and overthrow of the government". This accusation takes quotations out of context and completely ignores the overall tone of Charter 08 and the opinions I have consistently stated in my articles. First, Charter 08 describes the "human rights disasters" in modern China. The anti-rightist campaign led to the unjust designation of more than 500,000 rightists; the Great Leap Forward created the unnatural deaths of over 100,000 people; the Cultural Revolution created a great catastrophe. June 4 was a bloodbath, in which many people died and many were thrown into prison. These events are universally recognised as "human rights disasters" and created dangers for China, "holding back the natural development of the Chinese race and the progress of human civilisation". Ending the monopoly of power and special privileges of a single party is only demanding the ruling party to hand the government back to the people and finally establish a free country, "for the people, by the people and of the people".

The values expressed by Charter 08 and the political reforms it proposes have the long-term objective of a federal state that is free and democratic. There are 19 reform measures, with reforms that are gradual and peaceful. Given that the current reforms have all kinds of shortcomings, we demand that the ruling party walk with two feet instead of one, implementing political as well as economic reform. This is a way for civil society to push the government to quickly give it back power, with pressure from below to push the government to enact changes from the top down. So the government and the public can work together in good co-operation and quickly implement the dream of a constitutional government cherished by Chinese for 100 years.

In the 20 years from 1989 to 2009, the opinions which I have expressed about political reforms for China have consistently been gradual, peaceful, orderly and controllable. I have always opposed sudden reform taken at one step and, even more, have opposed violent revolution. This idea of gradual reform is clearly expressed in my article "Changing the Political Power Through Changing Society", that is, by awakening the awareness of the rights of civil society to expand the rights of people, to increase their sense of their own power, develop civil society so that it can bring pressure from the bottom up and promote the reform of the government from the top down. In reality, the experience of reform in China over the last 30 years proves that the basic force for creative new reforms has come from reforms started by civil society; as the awareness of civil reform and influence expands, so the government is forced to accept new ideas and try them out on an experimental basis. This has changed the pattern of reform policies coming from the top.

To summarise, my key ideas for China's political reform are that they should be gradual, peaceful, orderly and controllable and should be interactive, from above to below and from below to above. This way causes the least cost and leads to the most effective result. I know the basic principles of political change, that orderly and controllable social change is better than one which is chaotic and out of control. The order of a bad government is better than the chaos of anarchy. So I oppose systems of government that are dictatorships or monopolies. This is not "inciting subversion of state power". Opposition is not equivalent to subversion.

One reason I am not guilty is that the accusations against me contravene internationally recognised human rights standards. In 1948, as a permanent member of the [UN] Security Council, China participated in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Half a century later, in 1998, China made a solemn pledge in front of the international community in signing two UN conventions on human rights. One of these, the International Treaty on Citizens Rights and Political Rights, recognises freedom of speech as a basic universal right and demands that the government of each country respect and protect it. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a member of the UN Human Rights Board, China has an obligation to respect treaties and a responsibility to fulfil its own obligations. It should be a model in implementing the clauses of these treaties that protect human rights. Only in this way can the Chinese government fully safeguard the human rights of its own people. It should make its contribution to promote the cause of international human rights and, in doing so, show the civilized demeanour of a great country.

Coming into the modern era, the Chinese Communist Party went from being weak to strong and finally triumphed over the Kuomintang. It drew its source of strength from its promise "to oppose dictatorship in the name of freedom". Before 1949, the Communist Party's Xinhua Daily and Liberation Daily regularly printed articles attacking the restrictions on free expression by the government of the Jiang family. It made a hue and cry about intellectuals punished for what they said. Mao Zedong and other party leaders often spoke of freedom of expression as a basic right. But, after 1949, from the anti-rightist campaign to the Cultural Revolution, from the execution of Lin Zhao to the cutting of the throat of Zhang Zhixin, the freedom of expression was lost in the Maoist era and the country fell into a deathly silence, like 10,000 horses standing mute. With the start of reform, the ruling party has corrected injustices and greatly increased the liberty for different opinions; the space for free speech by society has widened continuously and the number of writers thrown into prison has greatly decreased. But the tradition of the crime of speaking has not completely disappeared. From the April 5th movement to June 4th, from Democracy Wall to Charter 08, there have been examples of this. My indictment is only the most recent example.

In the 21st century, freedom of expression has become the common right of people in most countries and sending writers to prison comes when 1,000 people point the finger at someone. From an objective point of view, to block the expression of people is like blocking a river; the high walls of the prison cannot block the expression of freedom. A government cannot suppress the legitimate expression of different opinions and cannot depend on throwing writers into prison as a way to remain in power in the long term. The problems of the pen can only be solved by the use of the pen. As soon as you use the gun to solve the problems of the pen, you will create a disaster of human rights. Only by eliminating the practice of throwing writers into prison can you guarantee that the freedom of speech promised in the constitution will be given to each citizen. Then will the right of freedom of speech be protected in a systematic way and the throwing of writers into prison will be banished for ever from the land of China.

The crime of speech is contrary to the principle of human rights set down in China's constitution and laws and is contrary to the UN declaration on International Human Rights. It goes against universal justice and the current of history. I plead innocent for what I have done and hope that I can earn the acceptance of this court. If so, this judgment would set a significant precedent in China's legal history, pass the test of the human rights clauses in China's constitution and international human rights treaties, show the pursuit of justice, and pass the test of history. I thank you all."

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Travis Louie: A Twisted Inheritance

Travis Louie is a chronicler of the haunted, subterranean world lurking beneath the floorboards of our unconsciousness; he uses cobwebs, bottle-caps, dried bones and broken teeth to revive an ancestral dreamscape, the "old, weird America" that Greil Marcus has written about. This is where the genuine wild things roam. Closer to home in Canada, I found it washed up on the beaches, tangled in the seaweed of White Rock and in the sandcaves of my youth.

It's not exists...really! It's always been there in the circus carny's big top tents, the vagabond gypsies selling their oddities when no one else would have them. These are the exiles from main street, peddling a twisted inheritance as they crawl up through the cracks below the stairs.

Louie was born in Queens, New York and according to his website, he was influenced by:
"the lighting and atmosphere of German Expressionist and Film Noir motion pictures from the Silent Era to the late 1950’s. Films from directors like F W Murnau, Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, Robert Siodmak, Robert Aldrich, Jacque Tourneur, and cinematographer, Greg Toland, had a great effect on the way he wanted his paintings to look."
His work popped up on Les Claypool's 2009 album, Of Fungi and Foe, as well:

The musical equivalent is the Harry Smith Anthology and the more recent medicine show collection, Good For What Ails You. Here's old Bascom Lamar Lunsford singing "I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground":

Monday, February 01, 2010

Food, Inc: Hungry For Change

Beware! Your food is being patented!! Genetically modified foods (GM) are not 'owned' by Mother Nature, but by filthy multinationals like the Monsanto Company who use their 'copyright' to pulverize and bully local producers. They're after a complete monopoly and will settle for nothing less.

Food, Inc is a recent documentary that exposes how 75% of the US food industry has become centralized and controlled by only a few players like the Monsanto Company, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and Perdue Farms. The consequences, the film contends, have made people sicker, fatter, and poorer. Director Robert Kenner has said he's not interested in attacking these companies: "All we want is transparency and a good conversation..."

The scary thing is these multinationals had the support of the Bush/Cheney administraiton for eight years and were able to pass "food libel laws" that have made any form of transparency a potential legal hazard. Kenner had to spend much of the film's budget protecting himself against lawsuits.

Yuko and I are both semi-vegetarians - we eat seafood and dairy, but no meat (alright, sometimes we cheat when there's no choice). I started over twenty-years ago after returning from a season tree planting where I'd been stuffed morning, noon and night with the worst type of meat-junk known to woman & man. I also read Diet For A New America and that pushed me into making my final break with the stuff. Since we met, Yuko and I have shared an interest in delicious food & vegetarianism...

Ten years ago we saw Cow At My Table, a Canadian doc with a similar angle and enjoyed reading Ruth Ozeki's excellent My Year Of Meats. Food, Inc. is a powerful reminder of how we have a right and a responsibility to know what's going on in the kitchen...