Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Cheney finally hears a shot fired in anger

Vice President Cheney managed to avoid military service back in the 60s when many of us could not swing five consecutive student deferments. As he put it on April 5, 1989: "I had other priorities in the sixties than military service." (Source) Yeah, right.

Yesterday in Afghanistan, Cheney "was whisked into a bomb shelter immediately after a Taliban suicide bomber struck the main American military base he was visiting in Afghanistan on Tuesday."

So, we'll have to add a new Cheney quote to our growing list: "At 10 a.m. I heard a loud boom."

Original photo caption: A U.S. soldier shouts, as he tries to control the crowd after a suicide attack at the main U.S. air base of Bagram, north of Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2007. A suicide bomber killed at least 14 people and wounded about a dozen more outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan on Tuesday, during a visit by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. The Taliban claimed responsibility and said Cheney, who was not injured, was the target. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Nixon in China: Nobody said it had to make sense....

This week, at least on NPR, is the 35th anniversary of Nixon's famous 1972 trip to China. That year, the Mandarin was in his second year of the PhD program in Chinese at Indiana University, having completed his military service the year before. The Mandarin can recall several people that week congratulating him on having chosen the right field of study. Now that Nixon (the arch-Red baiter of our time) and his puppeteer Kissinger had "opened China," the sky would be the limit for prescient guys like the Mandarin who had chosen to study the language and culture of Nixon's new best friends.

But there was irony, and irony can sometimes be bitter. That year the Mandarin was half-way through a prized three-year government-sponsored National Defense Language Fellowship (NDFL), paying a princely $2,500 a year. Remember munchkins, this was 1972 and a gallon of gas cost 35¢ and $2.00 at the White Castle would buy you four sliders (small square cheeseburgers), three small fries and two Cokes. Don't ask the Mandarin how he knows this....

Anyway, while Nixon was literally (and the Mandarin means that literally) on the ground in China, with the bruises from all that congratulatory back-slapping still stinging on the Mandarin's 23-year-old back, he got a letter from the government canceling his fellowship eighteen months early. The explanation came later: now that China was our bosom buddy, the Defense Department didn't need so many of us studying that particular potential enemy's lingo. The big winners: students of languages of the next big strategic focus. Arabic you say? Foreshadowing our recent liberation of Iraq? Russian? Farsi? But no. Au contraire, that year's big winners were students of African languages, especially Swahili. Go figure.

Another memorable shot from that trip shows the ebullient Pat Nixon touring something-Maoist-or-other:
Since this is "The Mandarin," here is what the signs say.

Left side: Haidian district of Beijing city, Sijiqing People's Commune, REVOLUTIONARY COMMITTEE.

Right side: Chinese Communist Party, Beijing city Haidian district, SIJIQING COMMUNE COMMITTEE.

Sijiqing 四季青 (literally "four seasons green") is a neighborhood in Beijing's Haidian District, in the northwestern suburbs of the city. In those days, it was a so-called "model commune" and every international visitor was dutifully trooped through it to see Mao's better way. At least until the commune system was abandoned in the 1980s as a colossal failure....

A sharp-eyed reader may also notice a younger Helen Thomas in the right part of the doorway, the only female journalist among the dozens of big-name reporters that accompanied the Nixons on their trip.

The characters on the red sign visible through the opening are the 人民公 part of 人民公社, the Chinese for "People's Commune," in Chairman Mao's own glorious calligraphy. The Mandarin's knees grow weak at the memory.

Ah, boys and girls, those were the good old days....

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Curious George goes to Peoria

For a little change of pace from the depressing Falungong Organ Snatcher, here is the latest in the Mandarin's long-running collection of "Curious George" shots.

Well, Mouseketeers, did he play in Peoria?

Original photo caption: U.S. President George W. Bush speaks about the economy during a visit to Caterpillar Inc. in Peoria, Illinois January 30, 2007. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Monday, February 05, 2007

Religious freedom in China and the Falungong body snatcher

Well, not the whole body,... The headline reads, “Chinese army harvesting parts from Falungong inmates.” The article begins, “China's military is reportedly harvesting organs from prison inmates, mostly Falungong practitioners, for large scale transplants including for foreign recipients, a study said.”

Falungong is a new religion that originated about fifteen years ago in China. It appears to be a fairly harmless (as religions go these days) pastiche of various elements of popular Buddhism, emphasizing Qigong-style breathing exercises, healthy living, and meditation. Fà lún 法輪 is the Chinese translation of Sanskrit dharmacakra, “Wheel of the (Buddha’s) Law” and gōng 功 means, in this context, “exercise,” or “practice.” [For reasons known only to the Mainland geniuses who cooked up the currently-fashionable Pinyin Romanization scheme, “lun” and “gong” have the same vowel sound - both rhyme with “book”.]

The founder, or “revealer” as he prefers to be known, of Falungong – perhaps “the decider” was already taken by then – is a 55-year-old Chinese man named Li Hongzhi 李洪志. Depending on whom you believe, Li’s life from early childhood until his 1992 revelation of Falungong was spent either in almost forty years of intensive study and practice of esoteric Buddhism, or consisted of a ne’er-do-well childhood, followed by a tour as a trumpet player in an Army band and a later career as part-time security guard at a cereal factory.

Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution [English 中文 ] guarantees freedom of religion, unless its believers “disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state.” Whatever its merits or demerits as a religion, it appears that Falungong practitioners quietly doing breathing exercises in public parks have somehow fallen afoul of one of those exclusions.

For reasons that have not been adequately explained, membership in Falungong is now deemed a serious political crime. The religion is officially banned in China (except in Macau and Hong Kong) and its members subject to immediate arrest and imprisonment without due process of (Chinese) law.

According to the study cited in the article linked above, once the Falungong believers are locked up in military prisons, they are all “systematically subjected to blood tests to match their organs with recipients.” That information is stored in a database so that when rich foreigners come to China for transplant surgery, perhaps to bypass long waiting lists at home or because the surgery in Chinese military hospitals is much cheaper, they sometimes receive organs from what are demurely called “executed prisoners” in official press releases.

What the globe-trotting transplant shoppers may not know is that the execution may have occurred only a few minutes earlier in an adjacent operating room and the prisoner’s only crime may have been joining the wrong church.

When we give a country “Most Favored Nation” (MFN) status, it means we won’t assess a tariff on any of their goods that is higher than we assess against the hypothetical “most favored nation.” China’s MFN status was revoked by President Truman in 1951, after China invaded its sovereign neighbor Tibet, and incorporated it into the People’s Republic by force.

China decided to wait us out, doing nothing significant to improve conditions in occupied Tibet, while flagrantly abusing the international tariff system. By the early 1970s, with our legendary geopolitical short attention span, we provisionally reestablished China’s MFN status -- now renamed the more harmless-sounding “Normal Trade Relations” (NTR). In 1999, under a Republican Congress and a Democratic President, it was permanently restored so China could apply for membership in the World Trade Organization.

Bills to repeal China’s Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status surface every few years in Congress. Repealing it would be a good way to curb the disgusting trade in organs from executed prisoners of conscience. On the other hand, it might also drive up the cost of organ transplants, Happy Meals and athletic shoes.

Ask your Senator or Representative how they would vote on a tough choice like that.

Crossposted at Watching Those We Choose.

Note: The illustration is the Falungong depiction of the "Falun" or Wheel of the Buddha's Law. The swastika is an ancient Buddhist symbol.