1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza Washington, D.C.

Now that the heavyweight armchair analysts of the world have finished hardy-har-haring that 55 Anjialou Road – the address of the U.S. embassy in Beijing – should be renamed “1 Snowden Street” or “1 Bin Laden Road,” let’s try to see what’s going on here. Last Tuesday in D.C. the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the State/Foreign Operations Bill which stated:

“Not later than 45 days after the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall officially rename the section of International Place, Northwest, Washington, District of Columbia, which runs directly in front of the the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, Liu Xiaobo Plaza and shall produce accompanying street signs to reflect this change. For the purposes of the United States Postal code, hereafter the proper address for the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Washington, District of Columbia shall be No. 1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza.”

The bipartisan group first intended the renaming to coincide with the 25th anniversary of liusi by appealing to D.C. mayor Vincent Gray to make the change. But since the street is federal property, President Obama would ultimately have to sign off on the name change, not the D.C. city council, so the plan was delayed.

In response to the original proposal, China Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Qin Gang said “a few members of the U.S. Congress doing this, first, is to look down upon and disrespect Chinese law. Secondly, this is very provocative and ignorant behavior.” Qin added, “Liu Xiaobo is a man who has violated Chinese laws, he has been convicted in accordance with the law,” and “what kind of person is Liu Xiaobo? He is someone who violated Chinese law and he has been sentenced according to law by China’s judicial bodies.” A Chinese embassy spokesman said, “we believe that the U.S. people will not like to see a U.S. street be named after a criminal.” The court system in China is the Communist Party’s court, not an independent national court system – one of the things Liu Xiaobo sought. It would be as if the US had the Republican Party Court or the Democrat Party Court and they ruled according to party needs rather than according to the Constitution.

In short, Qin is saying might makes right – because the Party has ruled what is has on Liu, that’s the end of it. Qin says to rename the street after Liu is “to look down upon and disrespect Chinese law,” and this ignores crucial distinctions that the CCP refuses to make. They insist that the Party = China, that their interests are one in the same, and that to question the CCP is to question China. To pressure the CCP and “disrespect” it = disrespecting China and it’s people. If other countries meant to disrespect and look down on China, why would they support Chinese people working to improve their government and country? The CCP also forgets that the law and what’s right are not always the same.

Many netizens have echoed Qin’s sentiment that Congress is displaying “provocative” and “ignorant” behavior, some adding that it’s a juvenile and childish move. I admit I don’t understand the “childish” charge, but from reading the comments my guess is they come from people who pass too much time on the internet and view things in terms of “trolling” and “not trolling.” In any case let’s look at China’s actions towards Norway and Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia, after the Nobel Committee awarded Xiaobo the Peace Prize.

When Beijing decided to start a 72-hour visa-free visit option, every country in Europe and Scandinavia was included…except Norway. As The Financial Times reported, “when asked why Norway was left off the list, Wang Qin, a senior official at the Beijing government travel administration, did not respond directly but said that some countries were not eligible because their citizens or government were of ‘low quality’ and ‘badly behaved.'” Anyone who has had even passing experience with the Chinese government, and unfortunately many Chinese tourists, knows that Mr. Wang here is, oh what’s the Chinese expression…confusing black for white.

Norway also saw what could be called randomly onerous complications imposed on its salmon exports to China. The Chinese government stopped all high level contact with Norway and eventually the Norwegians had to attempt to remedy this by cancelling a meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Liu Xia has been under house arrest in Beijing for 4 years despite having committed no crime. Police officers stay outside her apartment to make sure no one visits her. She has no internet and limited phone access. As one of Liu Xiaobo’s counsels wrote, this has contributed to her deteriorating physical and mental health.

***

As for the suggestion that Beijing should reciprocate by renaming the street where the US embassy sits, why would the CCP rename the street after Edward Snowden? Snowden is working in the name of goals that are in line with American ideals and which would certainly land him a long prison sentence in China (maybe America too, but that’s another discussion) – limited, accountable government and the primacy of individual liberty. To rename the street after Snowden would be to affirm the universal values that Liu Xiaobo, among others, has fought for and that the CCP rejects.

So where’s Congress coming from with this? The cynical answer might be that the US government doesn’t really care about human rights issues but just wants to poke China in the eye (or at least they 30% care and 70% want to poke China in the eye). Or that this is simply a move by House Republicans to put Obama – with his weak geopolitical standing – on the spot (though it’s unlikely given that Nancy Pelosi and other House Democrats are involved). A pragmatic answer might be that the US is countering recent assertive moves by Beijing such as the recent publishing of a vertical map that significantly augments China’s territorial claims – a move consistent with the Justice Department’s recent indictment of 5 PLA officers for cyber espionage. Maybe this group of lawmakers from the House knows this probably won’t happen, but they want to send the signal out that some in Congress still have some balls and integrity when it comes to China and geopolitics generally.

The idealistic answer can be found in Nancy Pelosi’s speech in front of Congress earlier this month, “twenty-five years ago, Tiananmen became synonymous with the battle for human rights in China – again, an iconic sight for an iconic struggle for justice and democracy. Twenty-five years later, the spirit of Tiananmen endures in the hearts and minds of those continuing to struggle, both in China and around the world.  What moral authority do we have to say to a small country: ‘You cannot violate the human rights of your people,’ but we’ll take anything the Chinese have to dish out, because we have a commercial interest there?”

The reality probably includes all of these answers. (And the solution may be to get naked and run in the street.)

Pelosi continued, “and again, the Chinese government likes to say to prisoners: ‘Nobody knows you’re here. They don’t remember who you are. They don’t remember why you came here.’”

The National Post reported, “Xia Yeliang, a Chinese academic, said Liu Xia, the dissident’s wife who herself has been under house arrest since 2010, had shown enthusiasm after he told her of the vote by telephone. He added that he had asked her to pass the message on to Liu Xiaobo, but that the telephone line had gone dead.”

“’She immediately laughed, a very loud laugh, a joyful laugh,’ Prof. Xia said.”

Even if the proposal doesn’t make it to the President’s desk, I hope that laugh, bringing this bit of news, rings its way into a certain prison cell in Liaoning.

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No Niche for Nietzsche at University College London

Last week the Universtiy College London student government, UCL Union (UCLU), issued a statement upholding a March 2014 ban on the “Nietzsche Club,” formerly “Tradition UCL.” The ban was implemented on the grounds of the Club being a “far-right” organization.

The Union believes “that there is no meaningful distinction to be made between a far-right and a fascist ideology.”

If we follow the Union’s example and categorize isms into left and right, fascism, socialism, nazism (National Socialist German Workers’ Party) and Marxism are properly movements of the left. Why? They all have one fundamental thing in common at their core: collectivism.

Of the many things you can call Nietzsche, a collectivist is not one of them. Fascist is also a stretch. As The Telegraph reported,

Elizabeth Förster-Nietzsche, who went on to become a prominent supporter of Adolf Hitler, systematically falsified her brother’s works and letters, according to the Nietzsche Encyclopedia.

 

Christian Niemeyer, the publisher, said he wanted to clear the revered thinker’s reputation by showing the “criminally scandalous” forgeries by his sister had tainted his reputation ever since.

 

“Förster-Nietzsche did everything she could – such as telling stories about Nietzsche, writing false letters in the name of her brother, and so on – to make it seem that Nietzsche had been a right-wing thinker like herself,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

 

“It was she who created the most destructive myth of all: Nietzsche as the godfather of fascism.”

When reading, listening to and debating with people of the Left, I’ve noticed (unoriginally) that they tend to think in images and slogans. Fascism is not any set of ideas, but merely the image of boots – that are not on their feet – marching down the street. The image of a man from the opposing gang at a podium saying mean things. It’s the image of the image of it. The motion to the Union council states that the philosophers the group was organized to study “are on the extreme-right, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, homophobic, anti-Marxist, anti-worker and have had connections, direct or indirect, with Italian fascism and German Nazism.”

Direct or indirect connections? Well, that’s that then. It’s amazing they can with straight faces be as specific as accusing them of being anti-Marxist (which they probably are, but so what?) and anti-worker (I’ll believe they work when I see it). The seconder of the motion, Timur Dautov, is president of the University College London Marxist Society. They have essentially admitted they can’t intellectually defend themselves and will use force to silence opposition. Consider the Union’s resolutions,

1. To ban and otherwise prevent the installation of any further publicity of this group around UCLU buildings, and to urge UCL to adopt the same policy in the university buildings.

 

2. To prevent any attempts by this group to hold meetings and organise events on campus.

 

3. To reject any attempts by this group to seek affiliation and official recognition from UCLU as an official club or society.

 

4. To commit to a struggle against fascism and the far-right, in a united front of students, workers, trade unions and the wider labour movement, with the perspective of fighting the root cause of fascism – capitalism. Thus, the struggle is to be united under the programme of a socialist transformation of society.

Among the crimes of the Nietzsche Club were to put up posters around campus that read “Too much political correctness?” and “Equality is a false God.” Yet the UCLU sees no issues with the UCL Marxist Society where “we aim to intervene in the political life of the campus and of the wider student movement” and “our aim is to educate ourselves in Marxist theory, campaign to build the forces of Marxism, and, ultimately, to struggle for socialism. We host weekly discussion meetings, lectures and debates on history, politics, economics and philosophy from a Marxist perspective, as well as reading groups, where we study classic works of Marxism, and film screenings.”

Hey, I heard of another interesting group where…oh wait, nevermind.

The Union also believes “that this group may have connections to the wider fascist movement and other organised groups, specifically those groups using the name ‘Radical Traditionalism’ to describe their ideology, such as the ‘Traditionalist Youth Network’, and the ‘Traditional Britain Group.'”

Meanwhile at the UCLU’s Marxist Society page you’ll see that they openly say “we are officially affiliated to the Marxist Student Federation, which unites and co-ordinates the Marxist societies on a national level. If you seek learn more or join the MSF, contact a representative of the UCLU Marxists or visit the Federation website: http://marxiststudent.com

As the website Legal Insurrection noted,

The fact that bad people have read, appropriated, or misappropriated Nietzsche is an incredibly weak reason to ban people from organizing to study his work.

 

Nietzsche is even taught — in a course! — at UCL. Michael Ezra points out:

 

It seems to me a small political step from UCLU wishing to ban the Nietzsche Club to wishing to march into UCL’s libraries, pulling books written by Nietzsche from the shelves, and burning them. At any rate, one wonders what UCLU wish[es] to do with UCL’s own academic departments that teach Nietzsche on accredited courses for students. Does the Student Union wish to close down the courses and hound the lecturers from the College?

As of this writing, the UCLU policy page on fascism and racism – the crimes for which the Nietzsche Club is accused of – is “under maintenance.”

Animation and Censorship

Arthur Han is a journalism student at Cardiff University. Originally from Jiangsu province, he’s in Beijing working on a dissertation which looks at animation in China and how it has been affected my censorship. 

I have been living in China for 21 years, and all I’ve seen, all I’ve heard, all I have been implanted with was, you know, Communism is good, we are all happy, something like that. But to some extent, the Chinese government is really selfish. They care about their own economics and they show that they (can provide) humanitarian aid, but I think they are really selfish.

When I went to Britain I saw all these British guys who cared about world peace and the starving children in Africa and the cure for cancer. I thought, you know, I went to the best high school, best university, I thought that I was…not elite, but much more open minded. But it’s not like that. When I went abroad I found I wasn’t open minded at all. So I just want to see more. Experience more.

Did you know before you went abroad that you wanted to study journalism?

I struggled a little bit in choosing subjects when it came to my final year of my graduate studies because I didn’t want to study a language anymore and I just didn’t want to be an interpreter, even though it has a high salary. But, I just don’t want to be a speaker of someone else’s ideas. Maybe I can lead or report the ideas to help people forge their own ideas. What journalism does, my teacher says, is give the voiceless a voice. I think that’s what I want.

Journalism is a sensitive field in China, were your parents happy about your career choice?

Well, every family has its own story. In my family, my parents don’t really force me to do what they want me to do. Because firstly they have little knowledge about education, about what I’m studying. But I’m pretty happy. They encourage me to do what I want. Even though they would give me some advice like “I don’t think it’s really good but if you want it you can have a try.” They don’t know about my idea about being a world journalist but I don’t think they will object. Even though they will worry about me I will prepare myself for it so I think it will be fine. No pain, no gain right. You see the worst, you see the real, you know…many happy things are taking place, many miserable things are thinking place, so there should be a tunnel between the two to let them know each other.

No one thinks China when they think of animation. But it wasn’t always like that. What was the high point of Chinese animation and when and why did the form change?

I think it started during the foundation of the Chinese government (1949) with the Shanghai Film Studio, which was a really really famous film and animation producer. They had produced so many very beautiful, very delicate animations with Chinese characters – shuimo, water colors and clay. But at that time, interestingly, the government did not recognize their productions at all. They thought it celebrated feudalism. Before that, animators didn’t worry about money because the government (pre-CCP) was funding them. They didn’t make it for profit or any certain interests.

Then, something happened. First, the Cultural Revolution. The Shanghai Film Studio closed down for several years. After it was re-established it started to well again and continues to produce good films. Then, there was Reform and Opening. That’s when Japanese animation flooded into the Chinese market, even though Chinese animation actually has a longer history than Japanese animation.

Early Japanese animation was quite bad. It was used only used for ideological education during the Second World War. You can see this in Momotarō (Peach Boy). When the characters invade the mountain in the story, it’s actually a metaphor for the Japanese wanting to invade Asia and taking control of the world. There was also Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei, which also indicates that the Japanese wanted to take control of the sea. But it turned out to be a really bad decision.

So, after 1945, what I find really amazing is that a lot of Japanese were really dedicated to improving themselves. I’ll give you one example. The director of Umi no Shinpei, who was quite nationalistic, created another short animation after the war called Sakura. It’s pure Japanese style without any ideology. So you can see some decisiveness to get better, to get rid of the nationalism and militarism.

But it was not until the 1960s that there was the very first, who they call in Japanese the god of animation Osamu Tezuka. He went to animation school and along with his classmates he saw the failures of the war, the turbulence. In the post war years and after the ningen-sengen a lot of Japanese were lost, they didn’t know where to go. The childhood of people like Osamu was filled with war and they weren’t able to enjoy it. So they wanted to create a very enjoyable and very colorful childhood for the next generation. That was one big motivation for the Japanese animator.

Early on it was hard for them. They lacked funds so they reached out to many different places. Places like Disney and Hollywood and also Hong Kong. In the 1970s Hong Kong’s film industry was really rich because of their kung fu movies. The first big Japanese-Hong Kong co-production was Princess Iron Fan. However, this co-operation came to a halt because they disagreed on the target audience. The Chinese thought animation was for children. But the Japanese thought it wasn’t only for children, but for everybody. Eventually the Japanese idea that the animation market should be open to all age groups won out.

Animation had this cross generational appeal in Japan because the Japanese are so introverted. At this time people were experiencing intense personal crises inside themselves and animation was a release for them. Also during this time, the 1970s, the Japanese were learning a lot from American and European film studios. At first they were only doing low value added things like drawing simple characters and making them move. Eventually, the founders of Studio Ghibli decide to creat something bigger. Something with spirit, with Japanese values.

While all this was taking off in Japan, China was in the middle of the Cultural Revolution and there is virtually no animation being produced. My grandparents have told me a lot about this period. People say the Chinese are rude, petty, untrustworthy and will take advantage of you. My grandparents say this all happened because of the Cultural Revolution. General trust in society was completely destroyed.

Fast forward to today, Japanese animation is really popular in China. First because it’s really close, second because we share the same written characters. The first really big hits I can think of were Doraemon and Dragonball. Also sasae-san which you can’t say was for kids only. It reflects so much about pre and post-war Japanese life.

Who watched these animations in China? Adults? Children?

Everybody liked it actually.

Did the Chinese audience appreciate the subleties of Japanese animation? Did they relate to it in a comparable way to the Japanese?

There are many themes in Japanese animation. There’s the mitsugetsu stuff, the really inspiring, courage and action filled stuff. When it comes to that kind of animation there may be no relation to real life but it can inspire you anyway and people in China like that stuff. But I think the problem in China now is that there is a disconnection between life and animation unlike in Japan where it reflected real things happening in real people’s lives. Adults in China look at their animation and say “why would I watch that? It’s crap.” They can’t find anything there.

Does censorship have something to do with that?

Exactly. When I was in contact with a professor at the Peking University Institue for Cultural Industries she told me, “come on, I can’t talk about this on camera. I’m not just a researcher, I’ve been involved in the animation industry for over 25 years. We have been suffering censorship for quite a long time. The problem is the system.” You always hear a lot about the system. “I know we work under this system, but I can’t talk about it on camera. Because it jeopardizes my future, my career.” With her long experience, she says it’s definitely censorship that has hindered any development of Chinese animation.

Let’s look at the government film and animation censorship rules. There are 10 rules, each one sentence long. They have to do with not damaging traditional Chinese values and not spreading sexual or violent content to children. But it’s pretty vague. It’s open to interpretation. Actually it’s rubbish. How do you define “traditional Chinese values?” How do you define excessive sexuality or violence? Some animations that have lots of violence will pass censorship, but for some reason others, like Deathnote, are offically banned in China.

Well, if we look at Deathnote, there were stories of Japanese school kids writing down other kids’ deaths and there’s the potential that someone acts on that. In the US some people blame video games for violent behavior. So, is the Chinese government on to something?

Well, these things influence people, but not in a really important way. Some psychologists have suggested that violent video games are actually a good thing because they channel violent behavior into a virtual world rather than have it act out in the real world.

What’s the trend now? Will there be more “serious” animation produced in China in the near future?

I really don’t think so. If you look at the big animation studios, their productions are so…boring! There’s an invisible chain on the production. It can’t do too much. However, if you look at the work of individual freelancers, you can many creative ideas and people doing what they want.

Also, the Chinese market for animation is still opening. The government can start to see animation as an industry. So, knowing that there is more demand for more creative animation, more entrepreneurial firms may start taking risks in producing something more sensitive, something that may cross the line a little bit. They may try to get around censorship laws simply because the laws are open to interpretation. They can just explain their actions in a way that will follow the law. The Chinese government is realizing the potential of the animation market because it’s so profitable. They’re being more indulgent and investing lots of money in many studios.

What’s the future then?

As long as the Communist Party is in China, as long as animation is regarded as ideological promotion, it can’t just be a free market where ideas that are anti-socialist or that may undermine state interests are allowed. Such productions will never happen in Chinese animation.

What about Frozen? That movie is immensely popular here and kids here just as I presume everywhere are singing “Let It Go.” That song is about individualism and going your own way. Why can a movie with a song like that be allowed? Is it because the movie is too childish? Is the message not obvious enough?

Well, the content of this movie is not the main concern. It’s profit. If the Chinese government can make a lot of money from this thing, why not just introduce it? Also, it’s a Hollywood thing. People buy Hollywood. It’s a win-win. Hollywood makes money and the Chinese government makes money. We can twist the interpretation of the laws and explain away any messages we like and we can make more money. That’s it. That individualist message in the song is not the main point of the animation so it can be looked over.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story…

D-Day + 70 Years

An American flag is hastily put together

The Stars and Stripes being stitched together.

In 2008 I spent a short summer semester in Paris. A group of friends and I took a train ride up to Normandy to visit the landing beaches. We decided to get something to eat in a small restaurant near the station. A sign on the door said “Welcome to Our Liberators” on it. We all ordered the croque monsieur and it was a crock of merde.

We didn’t know where we were going exactly. We picked a road and starting walking. People were scarce and the view all around was wide open. Eventually we came to Sainte-Mère Église and found a bus to the museum near the beach.

I can’t remember anything from inside the museum. What I’ll never forget is the crosses – the graves of the soldiers who died that day. I wanted to read every single name. I remember feeling their presence. Reading each name I imagined a face and a life. And I remember the walkways, walking where men who had done something mythical walked and relived memories I can scarcely imagine.

We descended the hill to the beach. It was slightly windy with patches of gray. We all meandered along in the sand, each enjoying some quiet time. I collected some sand to bring home.

As we walked back up and exited the museum, we found that we missed the last bus. We started walking along the road again. There are still ghosts in that area. At least it feels like it. I could swear there were soldiers lying in the tall grass in those fields, on their back, face up, bathing in the sun, not knowing they were no longer part of this world.

We walked into a small guest house on the road and called a cab to take us back to town. Going through the winding Normandy roads I fell asleep, then woke up in Paris. A free Paris.

Guilty of Being White

By Minor Threat.

Minor Threat frontman Ian MacKaye (rhymes with eye) is one of the five children of William R. MacKaye and Mary Anne MacKaye.


William MacKaye was a Washington Post reporter and religion editor who, as a White House reporter, was in JFK’s motorcade in Dallas on November 22, 1963, when Ian was a year old. He’s since been a prodigious editor of the Post’s crossword puzzles. The family relocated from D.C. to Palo Alto, California for just under a year when William went for a fellowship at Stanford University, when Ian was 12.

Fellow D.C. punk rocker and longtime friend of Ian’s, Henry Rollins, has remarked that the MacKaye household was an intellectual one, so it was probably no surprise that Ian felt estranged from his friends and peers in the high school years. When he came back from California he found that some of his friends were getting into drinking and drugs. He explains in the 1982 documentary “Another State of Mind,”

“People our age group used to get…sit around, get fucked up, throw bottles, you know drive fast and you know, whatever. Be ruckus and be rowdy and all that shit. That was 5 years ago and when I became a punk my main fuckin’ like…my main fight was against the people who were around me. The kids…my friends, the people I saw. And I said ‘God I don’t wanna be like these people man,’ I didn’t feel like I fit in at all with them. So we said…we found an alternative. And now…a lot of people…what will punks be doing now? Sitting around, getting fucked up and being rowdy. That’s…I don’t wanna be that. I wanna beat that, man, and I know that we can.”

The critical reporter in William MacKaye must’ve rubbed off on Ian. He goes on to explain in the documentary that he was always really observant of his friends and how a “deep, deep hate” for what they were into was instilled in him. A lot of those experiences translated into songs. As the 19 year old singer for Minor Threat he penned a verse, screamed 3 times in 1 minute 19 seconds, that went,

“I’m sorry for something that I didn’t do.
I killed somebody, but I don’t know who.
You blame me for slavery
100 years before I was born

 

(I’m) guilty of being white.

 

I’m sorry for something that I didn’t do.
I lynched somebody, but I don’t know who.
You blame me for slavery
100 years before I was born.

 

Guilty of being white.”

And a breakdown that went,

“I’m a convict,
Guilty!
of a racist crime.
Guilty!
I’ve only served,
Guilty!
19 years of my time.”

The song smashes you over the head and is over before you know it. And that’s the beauty of it. It’s loud. It’s fast. It’s simple. It’s pissed. The only changes that could’ve been made to it were made by Slayer on their cover of the song from their 1996 “Undisputed Attitude” album where they tweaked the words to,

“I’m sorry for something that I didn’t do
I killed somebody, but I don’t know who.
You blame me for everything
100 years before I was born.

 

Guilty of being white.
Guilty of being right.”

In September 1983 Ian MacKaye sat down for a discussion – called the “Rap session!” – for Maximumrocknroll magazine with Vic Bondi of Articles of Faith and Dave Dictor of MDC – two other prominent bands of the time – where Ian got into the reasons behind the song. Behold the early trickles of the flood of politically correct sludge we are up to our eyeballs in today. And imagine the career killing, lawsuit bringing, offensive, insensitive, comment this would be coming from any musician or artist today. Hold on to your pearls ladies,

Ian MacKye: We have a song, “Guilty Of Being White”, which definitely deals on a political level.

Vic Bondi: What does “Guilty Of Being White” mean? That’s a song that can be mis-construed.

IM: Not at all, I don’t think. But I’ll explain it. I live in Washington, D.C., which is 75% black. My junior high was 90% black. My high school was 80% black, and throughout my entire life, I’ve been brought up in this whole thing where the white man was shit because of slavery.

So I go to class and we do history, and for 3/4 of the year slavery is all we hear about. It’s all we hear about. We will race through the Revolutionary War or the founding of America; we’d race through all that junk. It’s just straight education. We race through everything, and when we’d get to slavery, they’d drag it all the way out.

Then everything has to do with slavery or black people. You get to the 1950’s, they don’t talk about nothing except the black people. Even WWII, they talk about the black regiments. In English, we don’t read all the novelists, we read all the black novelists. Every week is African King’s Week. And after a while, I would come out of a history class, and this has happened to me many times, like in junior high school, and you know that kids are belligerent in junior high, and these kids would jack my ass up and say, “What the fuck, man, why are you putting me in slavery?”

To me, racism is never going to end until people get off this whole thing. It’s going flim-flam, back and forth. When people will just get off the whole guilt trip… First, all the white people were like “Fuck the niggers”, and all of a sudden, it’s “The black man is great. We love him. We’re going to do everything for him,” all the time. It’s never going to get anywhere, because one generation it’ll be the KKK, the next generation it’ll be the Black Panthers. Now we see the KKK come back in again, more popular.

I think the best way we’re going to have to deal with it is that if I am able to say “nigger” without everyone gasping, and if I’m able to say that word, because I don’t have any problems with that word. I say “bitch”, and that means a girl asshole. I might say “jock”, which means an athletic asshole. But you say “nigger”, which means black asshole, everyone flies off the handle.

That’s where the racism thing is kind of fucked. That’s where the whole thing gets out of hand. I think it’d be great if people could come down from that…”

The other two counter that black people still face systemic disadvantages in American society and that Ian doesn’t recognize his white privilege,

Ian MacKaye: I understand what you’re saying. The point is that there are still ugly feelings. The main thing is that they’re a different color, and that’s the worst part. But what is guilt going to lead to? Dave?

Dave Dictor: I don’t think guilt is good at all.

IM: No, I’m saying if someone made you constantly feel guilty, what do you think that may result in?

DD: A resentment..

IM: Thank you. And what would that resentment lead to? You just go right back. They’re going to beat me over the head about African kings and stuff to the point where I’m going to say “Well, fuck the African kings. And fuck the black people too. Fuck all this shit. I’ve had it, blah, blah, blah…” Guilty of being white. Well, fine. I’m not going to play it like that. It’s an unfortunate thing, but when I’m in Washington, D.C., I’m the minority, so I have a totally different view.

MacKaye has told of times when white supremacists from around the world have thanked him for “speaking for the white man,” but he insists people are reading too much into the message. When you hear the song and read the lyrics, it’s pretty hard to confuse the message. It’s straight forward – judge me and treat me as an individual and I’ll give you the same. This simple idea is having a rough time at the moment (well, it always has, everywhere) when it comes to the topic of race in America.

It all gets so tedious it makes you wanna pull your hair out. I for one thank God that we have ass kicking music like Minor Threat to shake us up and drown out the busy bodies.

All Quiet at Tiananmen Square

IMG_5568Not so undercover officer.

An edited version of this appeared in Vice News

Today is the 25th anniversary of the “June 4th Incident.” Given all the arrests of lawyers and activists in the last few weeks, and knowing that security would be extra high, I don’t think anyone was expecting anything big today. But with what I saw last year in mind, I wanted to go anyway.

Normally when you go to Tiananmen Square foreigners are waved through the ID checks if there are any. But today, right after coming out of the subway exit, a police officer asked for my and my girlfriend’s passports. Mine is in the PSB getting a visa renewal right now and she forgot hers. I handed over my California driver’s license, which expired 3 years ago, and the officer put it on a desk where another officer was going through another guy’s papers. The second officer was flipping through his US passport and I could see an ID card that said “Press Card” on it, though I couldn’t see his name.

The officer was on his walkie-talkie trying to determine what to do with the “美国记者” – American journalist. While waiting for a reply he motioned for our passports. I told him we didn’t have them and pointed to my license with a 10 year old picture of me on it. He waved us through.

We had to wait in another area before going down the stairs to cross into the Square. Once in the tunnel, there was another checkpoint for bags and guards searching people with handheld metal detectors. It was about half an hour from the time we exited the subway to when we entered the Square.

DSC_0030The queue to the queue to get in.

The flag of Kuwait was flying and it felt hot enough to be in that country. It was noon and the Square was the emptiest I have ever seen it. The relatively low number of tourists accented the high number of police. We walked around trying to be tourists, posing in front of the landmarks and pointing at things. An officer rolled up to us on a segway scooter. He asked for our passports. “We don’t have them,” I told him. “What? Then how did you come to China?” he asked. I said I owned one, I just didn’t bring it today. “I have my driver’s license if you want to see that.” He took it and didn’t look at it. He tested our Chinese, asking us where we live and what we do. “Why did you come to Tiananmen Square today?” he asked. I made up some stupid answer about the weather being nice and he seemed satisfied with that. “You should remember to carry your passport at all times. It’s the law.” Then he segwayed away.

IMG_5561Tourists near the big screens – Fortune and Power, Democracy, Civilization, Harmony, Freedom, Equality, Fairness, Rule of Law, Patriotism, Dedication (to one’s work), Honesty, Friendliness. 

We wandered around for about an hour. Uniformed and plain-clothed police would come up close to us and follow us for a minute. We’d pose for more pictures. They’d move on. A small group of officers was filming the Square with a big camera on a tripod. I tried to imagine the events that took place a quarter of a century ago, to imagine who was walking among all these people for their own commemorations. How many people there knew what day it was? What were the people who did know thinking and feeling? I couldn’t exactly go and strike up a conversation about it, so I can’t say. How long until people will be able to stand in that huge space and openly say what the summer of 1989 means to them? We’ll see.

Considering Maya Angelou

The first time I can remember hearing Maya Angelou’s name it wasn’t even about her. It was through the David Alan Grier parody of her on Saturday Night Live that I was introduced to her. She was America’s most famous living poet until a few days ago but I couldn’t think of a single line she wrote. Something about that parody told me I didn’t have to. Did I read her in school like everyone in my generation did? Probably.

So, after hearing about her death, I’ve spent a few hours watching old interviews, reading some of her stuff and reading obits from people who were around when she was at her height. As usual, there were the “what team was she on?” evaluations. A lot of writers of the Right seemed slightly nitpicky with their criticisms, but nothing mean or disrespectful as some of the leftier writers, like this guy at Salon, got all butt hurt about. After all, her “memoir ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ is widely seen as a touchstone of the Civil Rights movement…” One critic was way out of line and had no credit because he took issue with another “widely praised” essay. And as everyone knows, things that are “widely praised” or “widely seen as” anything are beyond question.

I wish I knew what rapper Common was saying in his remembrance, but I will say I’m glad he’s bringing back the Olde English technique of capitalizing proper nouns (and pronouns for the funk of it) and was cool enough not to get all blackety black about it,

“God gave us an Angel and we got to witness that Angel for a beautiful time of life. And though that Angel has returned to her maker, Her Work, Her Spirit, Her Words—aw man, Her Words—Her passion, Her heart, Her Love, Her Greatness, Her Royalty, Her Strength, Her Wisdom, Her Divinity, Her Angel will always be here with us. For my daughter’s daughters, your daughter’s daughters, and forever more. Love you, Dr Maya Angelou.
Love, Common”

From what I can see, she wasn’t on any team. If she was, it was, for serious lack of a better term, Team America. When asked by Larry King to recite her poem “National Spirit” (can poets even write such a thing anymore?) she said,

“well let me recite a little bit of another poem because that…it’s so new I don’t have it (memorized). But I do have ‘And Still I Rise.’ And this is for all Americans. We don’t have to apologize, to…or try to defend ourselves when Europeans say ‘oh what a shame you black people, oh what a shame. You’re so under…underclass and so bad and people hate you so in your country. Listen. You may write me down in history, with your bitter, twisted lies, you may trod me in the very dirt, but still like dust, I’ll rise. This is what we do. Americans. We rise.”

It verges on fuzzy ‘we’re all one big happy family’ stuff, but I’ll take any household name who will happily say that as a public figure. The praise she gives Will.I.Am in that interview is iffy, but big deal. She probably didn’t know who he was.

Asked by a BBC interviewer if she was bitter about her early life experiences like being raped at 7 years old by her mother’s lover, and then having her relatives kill the guy,

“I have no bitterness,” she said. “None. None.”

Why?

“Well, bitterness is like, like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do a damn thing to the object. It can eat the host to death…I don’t harbor and nurture a little kernel of bitterness, oh no, I know it will eat me up. And I’m here to stay.”

Right on. The same interviewer later asks,

“you write with a glass of sherry don’t you?”

“A bottle!…a Bible, Roget’s Thesaurus, a good dictionary and a bottle of sherry.”

Ah, what a lady.

Watching those old clips I can’t help but like her. The shittier things that can happen in life came early to her, and it seems like nothing could really get to her after that. I get the feeling you could approach her and pick up a conversation and you’d both be happy you did it. She was one of those people who have rhythm stamped in the movement of their body. That rhythm is one of the merits of her poetry. It’s nice to read and to hear. But that’s about as far as my admiration for it goes. The content of her poetry just doesn’t do it for me.

I’m not going to pretend to critique her oeuvre here. She has passed away and her being a national treasure and all, I feel obliged to know about her and say how she impacted me as an American. I can’t think of how she did. But I would’ve liked to have met her.

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