Thursday, August 31, 2006

This one's for you, Martina

Blogs, jokes, and snarky commentary about Snakes on a Plane are getting to be about as ubiquitous as my black jetta. Nonetheless, I have to go there. Truly, I am sorry. Only because my housemate, the Chzech Chzick, recently returned from the movie all agog.

First of all, she and her friend smuggled a bottle of gin into the movies, in her purse. This rocks. Secondly, because she said she actually screamed when the snakes jumped out of the overhead bins and such, because she was startled. No, no. I'm paraphrasing. What she actually said was:

"I mean really. I would crap in my pants I mean shit. In my pants. If there would be snakes there. On the plane."

"You don't say," I offered in response. "So tell me, oh dear Chzechy one, from where exactly did these snakes come?"

I thought the response would be something standard like "the cargo hold" or "the overhead compartment." But I was mistaken.

"I mean," stated Martina, "Asia, Latin America, everywhere. They come from all over. Just kind of gathered and had family reunion right there. On the plane. All the snakes."

After a few more quaffs of her smuggled gin, C.C. began to hallucinate, claiming to see snakes in the movie theater. But this of course, is a blog for another time.

Until then, I leave you with this:

Monday, August 14, 2006

It's not even funny anymore

Must it really be 6 degrees in the office?

Okay, I can understand a cold office last week, when the weather outside took a surprising and refreshing turn for the cooler. Maybe the air conditioning was pre-programmed to remain at the subartic levels needed to stave off the typical DC heatstroke air coming in and up through the elevator shaft even though the air was in fact, cooler. What I'm saying is, this sort of chill was understandable, given the drop in outdoor temperatures, last week. But now it's once again hot as crap outside and just as bone-chillingly frigid in my office as ever. Why? Why must it be this cold? Who is requesting this temperature level? Who can work like this??

It must cost a lot to keep things refrigerated all the time. I think I'm going to raise this at the next executive staff meeting. Or maybe during my next performance review, when I am once again reminded that my salary is exhorbitant.

(Side note: HA HA HA HA HA! End Side note).

Anyway, next time I hear talk about keeping personnel costs down, I'm going to suggest we cut other controllable costs. One idea is to boost the thermostat to, oh, I don't know, at least the mid-40's next summer.

In the meantime, I can't wait for winter, when it will be warm again...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Yahoo!, China, Dog Slaughtering and Why it's More Important (duh!) to Care about People Slaughtering

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Yes, I read it too. A friend sent me the article about the 50,000 pet dogs that were recently slaughtered in Southwest China over a period of 5 days. That's a sad and tragic fact.

Here's another aching fact: Thousands of innocent humans are wasting away in Chinese prisons, hoping to be rescued. Thousands of Chinese dissidents are hoping the account they make of the suffering Chinese people will be heard before they, too, are silenced. Many of them will be tortured or killed. Just like the dogs. Except, well, these are human beings.

We should be paying attention.

Look, I'm as horrified about what the Chinese government did to those poor dogs as anyone else. My heart breaks to see the images. But I have to ask the question: Why have I seen so much internet traffic about the dogs and so little about the human condition in China? If anything, the very real slaughter of the dogs ought to be seen for what it truly is: a tragic metaphor for the greater brutality of an oppressive political culture in which not only dogs, but human beings, are disposable.

In the article about the dog slaughter, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announces it will boycott Chinese products and terminate current contracts amounting to about $300,000 with China.

You know, because of the dogs.

Wow. Thanks, PETA! Seriously. Thanks for looking out for the dogs. But I have to say, an organization that prides itself in furthering the rights of living creatures should think twice about admitting it ever contracted with China in the first place. Tell me, PETA, how do you feel about the rights of the political prisoners and orphans whose li'l fingers labor over your "Go Vegan" tee-shirts? Are these humans not also compelling and worthy of your boycott power?

I know, I know. PETA is an animal rights outfit, not a human rights outfit. Love it or hate it, it does what it claims to do, which is to foster and further the rights, as it sees them, of animals. I'm not sure I agree with PETA on all (or even more than maybe three) issues but I respect the organization for acting on an issue about which it cares greatly. By all means, PETA, cancel that order. Business works. Hit 'em in the pocketbook. Good move.

But how about backing the fuck off with the talk about the rights of all living creatures in the same sentence acknowledging an order with a known human rights offender?! PETA apparently had no problem with China before, when the abuse was limited to dissidents, practitioners of Falun Gong, and orphaned baby girls. But now, great shit, they're killing the little doggies, so look out!

There is no fathomable excuse for ANY organization claiming rights for ANY living creature to brag about eliminating a contract for clothing that was most likely assembled by forced labor in a sweat-shop. End of story.

I'm not going to extend my castigation of PETA to the committed animal lovers who sent the information my way. We are, after all, just human beings who react to the information we see. Instead, I'm issuing a fairly simple challenge, which is just this. Look further.

No doubt, the dog slaughter was sickening. But how about the thousands, and thousands, and thousands, and thousands of deaths of children (especially little girls) in orphanages? They lie there in squalor, chained to their beds, brutally beaten, sometimes raped, and almost always systematically and intentionally starved to death, all in order to propagate the fake success of China's failed one-child policy. That is to say, if their parents manage to escape the forced abortions that the are the government's other answer to the failed policy.

According to a Human Rights Watch study, ChinaÂ’s best-known and most prestigious orphanage, the Shanghai ChildrenÂ’s Welfare Institute, has mortality rates running at nearly 90 percent; and even official government estimates put the annual deaths-to-admissions ratio at an appalling 77.6 percent. And credible evidence shows that the fates of babies dwelling in lesser known orphanages have an even higher fatality rate. At all the institutions, a majority of the deaths are described as "unnatural."

And remember the urban myth of the vital organs harvested from the randy, unsuspecting businessmen? Turns out in China, maybe it's not such a myth. China claims it only harvests the organs of executed prisoners and only if they or their families consent. But the death penalty in China is an assembly-line process where (according to the U.S. State Department) between 5,000 and 12,000 people are executed every year.

Yeah. So, "Lookout China!," says PETA. You can fuck with the women, the political dissidents, and the baby girls, but please do not fuck with the dogs, or else PETA will boycott your ass.

Some people say that China has the equivalent of modern day concentration camps. I'm not sure how I feel about that claim. After all, one doesn't draw that parallel lightly. Are the Chinese human rights atrocities really on par with something as terrible as the holocaust? Well, probably not. While the Chinese government is systematically torturing and executing thousands of humans based on religion, ethnicity, and gender, it's nothing at all like the Nazi's who, um, er, systematically tortured and executed millions of humans based on religion, ethnicity, and other factors. Hm.

Okay, okay. Again, I know there are huge differences. But in fact, there are differences that are not so huge. And if it takes publification of an article about the slaughter of dogs to wake us up from our collective slumber, then so be it, because we don't seem to pay much attention to China otherwise.

Here's part of the problem. The United States now has what's called Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China. Prior to the move to PNTR, the President would grant or deny China Most-Favored Nation (MFN) trade status on an annual basis. Once approved for MFN status, the U.S. would apply our lowest tariffs on goods exported from China to the United States. Congress had the authority to overturn the presidents' decision by joint resolution.

Congress typically upheld the annual approval; however, at least the process itself was a vehicle for debate on the issue and a clear motive for the Chinese government to clean up its human rights act (temporarily and superficially in my opinion, but still) each time that trade debate unfolded.

With China's 2001 induction into the World Trade Organization and the substitution of permanent normal trade relations for annual MFN status, Congress no longer has to publicly defend, year after year, its support of free trade with china because under PNTR, the favored trade status is automatic. This robs the media of an important context through which to cover human rights abuses in China. Consequently (and arguably) media coverage of the issues has fallen off somewhat.

Perhaps that's why it takes the slaughter of dogs to regain our collective attention.

As a result of Doggie D-day, a few of my well-intentioned friends have started to forward the articles around. And why not? Such slaughter, even of animals, on such an abrupt, massive, and brutal scale, clearly invokes a terrible reaction. It breaks our hearts and makes us want to defend the underdog (trust me, no pun intended). In fact, the reason I'm taking this break from my usual hilarity (no comments please) to bore you with a post about Chinese atrocities is I felt heartsick when a friend sent me the article in question.

But at the same time, I'm forced to recraft the disingenuous statements of PETA alongside the dog slaughter atrocity into a broader appeal to the individuals who have seen those photos and read that article and want to do something about it. Look more closely, and force your hearts to break also for the children and the men and women who are tortured to death or executed outright. After all, they are being slaughtered for one underlying reason: they were born into aoppressiveve regime that values broken policies over human life and treats the latter like an object to be abused and ultimately discarded.

Of course, it's a bit feckless of me to offer up this post without offering iaccompanimentnt any tangible solution to the China problem. The China problem, after all, is exceptionally complex.

As a nation, we ignore China at our peril. China has the world's largest army, nuclear missiles, and a population of 1.3 billion. Its GDP grows between 8 and 12 percent per year and it has the world's second-largest economy (second only to the U.S.), making China's value as a trading partner clear. But even this trade is not without its own set of controversies. According to the Department of Commerce, the U.S. had a record-high $725.8 billion trade deficit in 2005. Of this, over $200 billion was with China alone, an all-time high for a deficit with any nation. Ecocomists further suggest that China deliberately undervalues its currency to artificially cheapen its exports while illegally subsidizing Chinese companies -- a clear violation of World Trade Organization rules. Of course, that's just part of the problem.

Last year, the State Department offered a comprehensive report on human rights abuses in China. The report portrayed the current Chinese regime as one of the worst violators of human rights in the world. Few other nations match China's heinous record of repression, from the systematic denial of political rights and freedoms to the use of torture to interference in the most private matters of family and conscience. The report, nearly 45,000 words in length, listed the following major human rights abuses:

1. denial of the right to change the government
2. physical abuse resulting in deaths in custody in jails and orphanages
3. torture and coerced confessions of prisoners
4. harassment, detention, and imprisonment of those perceived as threatening to party and government authority
5. arbitrary arrest and detention, including nonjudicial administrative detention, reeducation-through-labor, psychiatric detention, and extended or incommunicado pre-trial detention
6. a politically controlled judiciary and a lack of due process
7. detention of political prisoners, including those convicted of disclosing state secrets and subversion and those jailed in connection with the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations
8. house arrest and other non-judicially approved surveillance and detention of dissidents
9. monitoring of citizens' mail, telephone and electronic communications (ummm, that's rich, State Department. But let's leave that one for another post)
10. use of a coercive birth limitation policy, in some cases resulting in forced abortion and sterilization and orphanage murders
11. restrictions on freedom of speech and the press including closure of newspapers and journals, banning of politically sensitive books, periodicals, and films, and intentional jamming of broadcast signals and internet functionality
12. restrictions on the freedom of assembly, including detention and abuse of demonstrators and petitioners
13. restrictions on religious freedom, control of religious groups, and harassment and detention of unregistered religious groups
14. restrictions on the freedom of travel, especially for politically sensitive and underground religious figures
15. forcible repatriation of North Koreans and inadequate protection of many refugees
16. severe government corruption
17. increased scrutiny, harassment and restrictions on independent domestic and foreign nongovernmental organizations
18. trafficking in women and children
19. societal discrimination against women, minorities, and persons with disabilities
20. cultural and religious repression of minorities in Tibetan areas and Muslim areas of Xinjiang
21. restriction of labor rights, including freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, and worker health and safety
22. forced labor, including prison labor

Evidence gathered by the State department and other reputable nongovernmental agencies have demonstrated that recent economic reforms, however incrementally beneficial they may be in terms of reducing overall poverty in China, have not resulted tangible human rights advances.

What's worse, gigantic American corporations are helping to further the attrocities. For instance Yahoo! colluded with the Chinese police a few years ago and turned over emails, address files, and other information that resulted in the jailing and possible torture of dissidents.

Maybe PETA should boycott Yahoo!, as well. Wait, nobody uses Yahoo! anymore. We Google things these days, right? And Google is a noble company. Do No Evil and all. Right? Not so much. Caving to pressure from Chinese officials, Google created a sweet little Chinese search engine that, as Congressman Chris Smith put it, "only Joseph Geobbels would love." Should Chinese citizens Google such bad words as "Tiananmen Square" or "Falun Gong," for instance, Google China will magically redirect them to a government propaganda site.

Protesters descended upon Google headquarters demanding an explanation as reporters began to focus on the topic. Google explained, however, that it viewed the cleansed or rerouted sites as part of a greater compromise to allow it to provide Chinese consumers at least some small bite of freedom. After all, not all content is blocked. Only the content that Big Brother deems subversive. From reading Google's public responses on the issue (since only four executives in the Google empire were allowed to make public statements on the issue, there's not much to read) I was struck by the fact that Google genuinely seemed to view such incremental changes as important. A Chinese perestroika, of sorts.


When lawmakers begain to take Google to task for enabling the Chinese dictatorship to expand its message of hate while curtailing the same freedoms it claims to protect in other markets (where the curtailment of freedom is, ahem, less lucrative), Google responded by hiring big time Washington lobbyists to kill all associated legislation. All the while, even Google's most fresh-faced executives lauded the same supposed principals: "Worry about making money later, first worry about doing no evil."


I'm not sure what the answer is here. Maybe Google is right with the Perestroika approach. I used to think we shouldn't deal at all with the Soviet Union, but it turns out that these gradual economic reforms, among other factors, eventually contributed to the end of the cold war. So who am I to say that Google's not onto something? After all, they claim they won't make a profit off the Chinese market for another (cough cough) several, um, years.

Am I being sarcastic? Sorry...

Anyway, I digress.

I guess the point is, if we start boycotting China and want to be intellectually honest about it, we have to admit that our boycott list is going to be a lot more exhaustive than we first supposed.

But hey, on the upside, it looks like old unhealthy Castro is finally preparing to turn over the reigns of his terrible communist outpost, so at least we have that going for us, which is ni--- Wait a minute.

Who cares?

Do me a favor. If you cared enough to read to the end of this post, visit this website, which works very hard to educate Americans about all atrocities committed by the Chinese government (including perhaps those inflicted upon the dogs). Take a look around. Read the press releases that put a personal face on the stories of human suffering, the way the story about the dogs seemed to do. Write a letter if you have the time. Or donate a couple of bucks to help the organization continue it's important work.

Human Rights in China


Oh, and by the way, this is by no means a scholarly report and it's been a long time since I've gotten down with the MLA style, but I figured I should cite the sources I didn't link to directly:

1. Thompson, Clive. "Google's China Problem (And China's Google Problem.)" NYTimes 23 April. 2006.
2. (United States Congress. Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations. Hearing: HUMAN RIGHTS IN CHINA: IMPROVING OR DETERIORATING CONDITIONS?. 109th Cong, 2nd sess. Washington.)
3. Armstrong, David. "U.S. racks up record trade deficit in '05
$725.8 billion total is 17.5% increase over 2004's mark." San Francisco Chronicle. 11 February. 2006