Shaking Hands with the Devil

April 21, 2009

I often watch Fox News for sheer entertainment. The commentators often times have no idea what they are talking about; their blind rage toward the current administration is pretty funny. At the same time, MSNBC makes me sick. The Rachel Maddow show is not that different from a news talk show in China or North Korea. Really, you don’t find too much critical thinking about the current administration there. What you can find is the constant comparison between this administration and the last one. The last thing this country needs is a bunch of journalists pointing out how bad the past used to be. I get it: in the past, we used to live in caves, eat raw meat (that is, if we were lucky) and mate with our own family members; that pretty much means today we are living in paradise.

Watching these channels, it really strikes me how easy these guys can sell their lies and biased opinions to the public, who often buy one side or the other. Many comments on these channels are not even based on simple facts in history or logic.

For example, Fox News made a big deal about Obama shaking hands with Chavez, saying that the president shouldn’t even bother to touch that dictator. They are arguing that since Obama is the leader of the free world, he should send a strong signal to the anti-freedom regimes that we are not your friends and we don’t deal with you. Fine. But why the hell did US even bother to negotiate with North Korea? Is that country really our ally now? How about China, whose current president, when he was serving as the CCP head of Tibet, ordered a bloody crackdown there in 1989 shortly before the Tiananmen massacre? Is he a freedom loving dude now? Hey, what about Mao Zedong who shook hands with Nixon at a time when Cultural Revolution was ongoing and US flags were still burned along with the Soviet flag? Guess what China got shortly afterwards? The UN security council seat.

The conclusion is simple: Those commentators on Fox News are hypocrites. When it’s a small evil figure like Chavez, they find it easy to attack using arguments such as what they made; when it’s a tough or rich evil, they keep a blind eye to it. Is there a better word than coward that can fit in here? I don’t like politicians and their compromises. I do believe that the US government and most importantly, the American people, should have some strong principles in foreign policy that they are willing to stick to and sacrifice for. But nothing is more dangerous than having a policy that can be easily compromised with threat of force or economic power. This is sadly the situation today; most people don’t even realize it. Fox news at least in this incident, when seemingly defending the principle of freedom or democracy, is actually intentionally or unintentionally dragging the country deeper into this dangerous situation.


Another Grand Crusade?

April 13, 2009

For the first time, China unveils a “human rights plan.” Should we head out to buy fireworks now? No.

When is the last time that China drafts a “plan” that contains language so vague that can be subject to all kinds of interpretation? Probably last week. When is the last time that China drafts a “plan” that would restrict the government in anyway? Probably never.

This so-called human rights plan is nothing but a sham; it’s nothing but a foot soldier of the so-called harmonious society, which does not shy away from terminating almost anything for the sake of “stability,” even though most often than not, the sign of instability is never proven or hinted. Reading through the plan, one can easily find that it’s premised on economic growth, not the reform of (or merely restoration to that showcase) constitution. Most of the rights mentioned in the plan are actually included in the good-for-nothing constitution. If China is really serious about these rights, it can simply say “now, I decide to respect my constitution.” Making the rights bestowed by the government rather than the constitution, it’s easy for the government to take them away as soon as it feels its comfort zone has been violated.

For example, one of the rights is the right to a fair trial. How does this government, or any government guarantee fair trials? They can’t. One cannot give others a fair trial if one is the judge, the jury, and the executioner at the same time. If the judiciary is not independent, it definitely will not be fair in cases where the government is the defendant, which is already very rare in China; it may or may not be fair in everyday cases like neighbor disputes. If it’s not fair in those cases, or if the judges take bribes, a free media can disclose these. Oh, wait, media freedom is not mentioned in this “plan,” even though it is in the constitution.

This plan is no different from the numerous effects of the government to fight corruption of its officials, on its own! The fate of this plan will be similar to the fate of the “Olympics protest zones”: “fire away your protest ‘applications’ if you want; we will deny them all; and if you are lucky enough, we will re-educate you through labor.”

Since this plan is so heavily premised on economic stability, here is a quote that perfectly fits in:

“If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.” —W. Somerset Maugham

Yes, They are Crazy, But…

April 11, 2009

A professor in China’s top university said that 99% of the people who traveled all the way from their hometown to petition their unjust treatment in capital city Beijing have mental issues. He later apologized for the statement. I am sure he was not alone in despising those “adamant” or “stubborn” petitioners, whose actions might bring them nothing other than jail time or, worse yet, lockup in the mental facilities. Yet, this criticism is just another example of the nearsighted (or maybe cowardly) nature of the viewpoints of the naive intellectuals or commentators in China. They simply don’t, or dare not to, ask a further question: what makes these people crazy?

Let me begin with an example. Meet my imaginary son Roger. Roger is 5 years old and he has never had any contact with the outside world, because I wouldn’t let him to. Instead, I lock him up in a 6 feet by 6 feet cell in the basement, with no window. I feed him with dog food everyday, and instead of Transformer toys, he gets to play with rats. (Someone told me there is a Korean movie with the similar plot.) Now, when Roger reaches age 20, I release him to the outside world. I don’t know what he would become: a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, or a serial killer. Actually I am pretty sure that he will become something very close to a serial killer. The bottom line is, that Roger is pretty crazy; he has some serious mental issues. There is no doubt about that. Yet, should inquires stop there? Should the world feel content to say “yep, he’s crazy alright.” People would probably ask what causes the mental problems of Roger: is it the 20 year long life in a dark cell? the rats? the food? a manipulative father? or the combination of all of the above? Most of the people would come to the conclusion that I, as his father, should be responsible for creating a monster.

The people who claim that the petitioners are crazy should ask the similar questions. When those (supposedly crazy) people would have to flood into the capital city of the nation to informally petition their unjust treatment elsewhere in the nation, something must not be working. Is it the anything-but-independent judiciary? Is it the anything-but-free media? And they should also ask themselves this question: if their only house were torn down, their life depending land was converted into a nuclear power plant with little compensation, apart from becoming a true Buddha or cutting off their hands so that the severe pain can distract their hurt feelings, what would they do? Remember, they have to also suppose (suppose? or is it the reality?) that they cannot sue the governmental officials, or protest on the street, or go to the media in the hope that they will broadcast some “voice of the people.”


April 8, 2009

While I was reading voting rights cases, I though I have to record this funny footnote. Before the civil rights movement, the southern states have literacy requirement for voting. Those requirements typically asked the applicants to prove their ability to read, write, understand and interpret certain matters. The purpose and effect are simple: the illiteracy rate among African American was significantly higher than the whites. By turning down illiterate voters, those states were actually guarding the white dominant voting results.

But even that facially neutral discriminatory rule was enforced in a de facto discriminatory manner. Here is one hilarious example. A white applicant in Louisiana satisfied the registrar of his ability to interpret the state constitution by writing, “FRDUM FOOF SPETGH.” (United States v. State of Louisiana, 225 F.Supp. 353, 384.)

My best guess: “FREEDOM OF SPEECH.”

Immune System, Anybody?

April 7, 2009

I’d like to keep it short. Here is the main idea.

Most of the people in the world have caught a cold at some point of their lives. Most of them have survived. It is also the same thing for flu and for other diseases. While being sick is not fun in anyway, few see it as a life threatening issue. Few would wear full body space suit with its own oxygen for their whole life. Unfortunately, for full blown AIDS patients, that is not the case. To know how to avoid even the slightest disease can sometimes save their life, even though there is no way to restore their immune system.

Same analysis for governments. Check out the following story.

Watchmen Has Come

April 5, 2009

Turning on the TV lately, these are the headline news: shooting in NY, shooting in Pittsburgh, killing in WA, and North Korea launched its missile. (Of course, the ongoing senseless murders, disease and poverty in Africa has long been a proud symbol of that Continent, which has long lost attraction for the news media.) Is there a better background like this for the story of Watchmen?

In a world (actually it might have been always the case) where the selfish billions focus only on their own pathetic little lives, where the past lessons of genocide shed no light on the new world politics, where principles can be bent almost proportionally based on the GDPs of the perpetrators, where compromise is almost a virtue, I can only turn to the quotes of and about a psychopathic vigilante–Rorschach. Strangely, I find great comfort there.

“The city is dying of rabies. Is the best I can do to wipe random flecks of foam from its lips? Never despair. Never surrender.” –Rorschach’s journal, October 13, 1985.

“Soon there will be war. Millions will burn. Millions will perish in sickness and misery. Why does one death matter against so many? Because there is good and there is evil, and evil must be punished. Even in the face of Armageddon I shall not compromise in this. But there are so many deserving of retribution … and there is so little time.” –Rorschach’s journal, October 13, 1985.

“For my own part, regret nothing. Have lived life, free from compromise… and step into the shadow now without complaint.” –Rorschach’s journal, November 1, 1985.

“So what do you do when confronted with such filth? Do you walk by and pretend there is no infestation? Do you focus only on the least repulsive and delude yourself into the belief that the world is good underneath it all? Or do you become an exterminator, stomping all the human cockroaches you can while relentlessly pursuing the rest? You’ll never get them all, for they scurry to the shadows when the light is turned on. But you can get some; you can make a difference. And even if all you manage is a tiny ripple in the fetid slime, at least you lived respectably; you never became one.” — Jacob Held, “Watchmen and Philosophy”

“Rorschach refuses to compromise, to sell out justice, even if it means dispelling the illusion Veidt created and thereby guaranteeing that the millions who died did so in vain. As tears stream down, knowing his fate, he yells at Dr. Manhattan, “Do it!” and Dr. Manhattan evaporates him. Rorschach did not seek death; he did not commit suicide by Manhattan. But he understood what the others did not. ‘It is better to sacrifice life than to forfeit morality. It is not necessary to live, but it is necessary that, so long as we live, we do so honorably.’ Even in the face of Armageddon, never compromise. Life is not valuable simply in virtue of not being death.” — Jacob Held, “Watchmen and Philosophy”