Monday, December 29, 2008

China's Great Wall of Silence: Dr. Elizabeth J. Perry's Re-Claiming the Chinese Revolution.

Re-Claiming the Chinese Revolution is a bold title. The article so entitled is Elizabeth J. Perry's closing argument to the scholarly community on her career. Dr. Perry used her professional standing to give Re-Claiming the highest possible profile. It is a work of personal importance to her and its words are carefully chosen, so let the analysis begin with the title.

To re-claim is first, to assert that one is the--or a--rightful owner of a thing, second, that someone not the rightful owner has appropriated it, and lastly, that one wants the thing back. Thus the personal is apparent in the title itself. The subject is bold also: the singular--"The Chinese Revolution,"--not a part of it.

Dr. Perry is professor of government at Harvard University and is immediate past-president of the Association for Asian Studies. She is near the close of a scholarly career begun forty years ago as an admirer of Marx, Mao, and, the People's Republic. In the beginning she thought she saw the future down the shining path and this is one source for the personal tone of Re-Claiming. It is part wistful coming-of-age memoir where intentions, friends, and battles waged and won are remembered fondly. Her life's work developed out of the Vietnam War protest movement:

"[M]any budding young Asianists...myself included, were generally united in the conviction that the war in Vietnam represented an epochal clash between a dynamic Asian revolutionary upsurge, stirred by the example of Mao's China, on the one hand, and a destructive American imperialism, bolstered by the work of some prominent members of the Asian studies establishment, on the other." (1148-49)

Tempered political discourse was not characteristic of the time and Dr. Perry retains the patois. In the event, many budding young Asianists, herself included, found themselves unable to attain full revolutionary bloom in the rocky soil that the future chose and now stand with heads withered, drooping, and looking back to the past.

That's what Dr. Perry does in Re-Claiming, she looks back to her past, and China's past. She sees them similarly, but her hindsight is no better than was her foresight. Here's what she sees: a Chinese revolution,

"Created by idealistic young intellectuals yearning to advance the cause of progressive social and political change, not so unlike many of us forty years ago..." (1155)

Here's what others see: "a cynical and sadistic enterprise from start to finish" (1158), "an ever-widening campaign of terror during which...people were tortured, maimed, driven mad, killed or committed suicide," driven on by Mao, "perhaps...vicariously reliving his glory days of mobilizing peasants in Hunan and Jiangxi." (1147-48)

The first quote is Dr. Perry's one-line book review of Mao: The Unknown Story by Chang and Halliday. This book is history's judgment on its subject and it drives former budding young Asianists mad. The second is a quote from Mao's Last Revolution by MacFarquhar and Schoenhals. This book is history's judgment on its subject, the Cultural Revolution, and it tortures Dr. Perry (one-word book review: "grim") because the C.R. coincided with her own beginnings. These two books are part of the scholarly avalanche (1) under which Elizabeth Perry lies.

And the bodies, the weight of the bodies is part of the avalanche too. She says that she is aware:

"My purpose is certainly not to discount or downplay the brutality of China's revolution." (1149)

But it is her purpose and she does downplay it:

"But violence and bloodshed were only part of the Chinese revolutionary tradition. There was, I would like to suggest, another more positive side..." (1149)

She says she didn't know:

"After all, at the outset of the Cultural Revolution, few among us appreciated the extent to which Mao's machinations were generating such extreme manifestations of oppression and alienation." (1149)

But even now, knowing, she euphemizes: "Generating extreme manifestations of oppression and alienation" means "killing thousands, millions."

Her purpose, she writes, is to offer,

"...a more inspiring interpretation of the Chinese revolution." (1150)

This other, sunny side is the "spiritual wealth" (1150) of Mao's revolutionary tradition . Dr. Perry begins in Anyuan, Jiangxi Province, 1922 . There, she writes, Mao and the other founding fathers of the Chinese Communist Party organized a strike of illiterate coal miners. The communists laid the groundwork for the strike by opening schools where the miners and their children were taught to read and write. The strike was successful, non-violent, non-ideological, increased literacy and produced better working conditions and higher wages. Anyuan also left a legacy of goodwill toward the C.C.P.--a spiritual wealth-- that the party could mine for decades, goodwill that is present even today among miners , who look back with fondness at 1922, and with which they negatively contrast their current lives. (1150-1153)

Then from Anyuan 1922 Dr. Perry moves to, actually she stops with Anyuan 1922. A lot of history occurred in China between 1922 and 1976--the founding of the People's Republic, The Great Leap, The Cultural Revolution, various purges--Dr. Perry rests her case on Anyuan 1922.

It is a tendentious argument made desperate because of the personal stake. If her description of Anyuan 1922 is accurate Dr. Perry has shown only that even a muddy river can have snow at its source. She turns the Marxist maxim, "The end justifies the means," onto its head. Her argument is "The means justify the ends," that the millions of missing spirits cannot overshadow the "spiritual wealth" of the "idealistic young intellectuals, not unlike ourselves" who founded the C.C.P. She abuses the language in making her tendentious argument. In some places she writes of the "tradition" of the Chinese Revolution but a tradition is a "continuing pattern of behavior." Anyuan 1922 does not establish a tradition. Behavior without a continuing pattern is aberration.

Re-Claiming is a brief work (sixteen pages) but though the path travelled is short, Dr. Perry cannot keep it straight. She stumbles with the first step. The opening sentence is,

Revolution is unpopular among politicians and scholars today (1147)

However it is with scholars, surely revolution has never been popular with politicians, the incumbents it thrills to overthrow.

The first two pages are a defense of Revolution, Revolution the genus, not the Chinese variable. Revolution, Chinese revolution, The Cultural Revolution, the path turns this way and that. Mao's biography is mentioned in one sentence. MacFarquhar and Schoenhals history of the Cultural Revolution in the very next. Both are on the first page of the article, in the middle of the two-page argument in support of Revolution which starts with a sentence bemoaning the coolness of the political classes to the guillotine, which is mentioned in two sentences on the French Revolution which is coupled with two more on the Russian. Margaret Thatcher gets thrown in too.

It is jarring these days to read the Manichean language of the Marxist dialectic: "Dynamic revolutionary upsurge," "destructive American imperialism," and "establishment" sound lifted from a parody rather than a current scholarly article, as does the tortured reasoning. In cautioning scholars against connecting the dots--against the "path dependence--of the Red Terror of 1927 Hunan and Jiangxi and the Red Terror of the 1967 (2) Red Guards, Dr. Perry writes this:

"To be sure, student Red Guards who placed dunce caps on their victims in the Cultural Revolution and paraded them through the streets of Beijing and Shanghai were imitating behavior that Mao had described in his 1927 Hunan report." (1158)

Dr. Perry then attaches a footnote which reads:

"As Mao had written approvingly in 1927, "At the slightest provocation [the peasants] make arrests, crown the arrested with tall paper hats, and parade them through the villages...Doing whatever they like and turning everything upside down, they have created a kind of terror in the countryside."

She then writes the following:

"But such connections do not establish any predictable or preordained route that the Chinese Revolution was destined to travel."

Actually, that is exactly what that connection establishes.

Dr. Perry delivered Re-Claiming to a captive audience of members of the Association for Asian Studies in her "Presidential Address" (fittingly, she is now past-president). The article is also the lead in A.A.S.'s "The Journal of Asian Studies" (3) and is atop the back cover index. She wanted Re-Claiming to reach the widest possible audience.

I am Benjamin Harris, and I have done my part.

1. See e.g., Youqin Wang, Chinese Holocaust Memorial, Memorial for Victims of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.; Jaspar Becker, Hungry Ghosts, Mao's Secret Famine (1998); Li Shi-Zui, The Private Life of Chairman Mao (1996); Nien Chang, Life and Death in Shanghai (1988).

2. The Red Terror of the Cultural Revolution was in 1966, not 1967.

3. Volume 67, number 4, November 2008. The cover contains a reproduction of a typical Cultural Revolution propaganda painting, March to victory with Chairman Mao's line on revolutionary culture, 1968.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

China's Great Wall of Silence: Justice

In 1968 in the State of Ohio, U.S.A., a 15 year old girl was raped and murdered. Today I ran into a D.C. homicide detective, a friend of mine. He told me that some weeks ago he had gotten a call from the authorities in Ohio asking if he would follow up on a tip that the suspect was homeless but somewhere in D.C. Homeless and somewhere in D.C.: not much to go on. But my friend found him, arrested him and sent him back to Ohio to stand trial.

This is why I do what I do. Everyone I talked to in Beijing about Bian's case asked me, "Why are you doing this?" This is also why I do that.

I do not believe in exceptionalism, American exceptionalism or Chinese exceptionalism. Justice is not an American value, or a western value, it is a human value.

Justice is mourning + punishment. A just punishment is not vengeance, vengeance is an individual act. Just punishment is done in the name of the people, by the people's law enforcement representatives. Justice reaffirms the values of its people. In dramatic cases like the one above the publicity generated carries that reaffirmation into the homes of every person with a TV, a radio, or a newspaper.

Whether in America or China, people say that they believe that every human life is valuable. To animate that belief however, we...must...act.

Even 40 years after a young girl is raped and murdered in a state over which Washington, D.C. detectives have no jurisdiction.

Even 42 years after a middle-aged teacher is murdered in a country in which I have no jurisdiction.
I am Benjamin Harris.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

China's Great Wall of Silence: Ye Weiyou


(In 1980)

By Ye Weiyou

Mao, as an unusually famous person in China’s history, has been dead for over four years, but I just can’t help recalling him and the change in my feelings toward him and, I should say, recalling this makes me sad.

New China was founded on October 1, 1949. Influenced by my parents, I, a first year primary school girl, was delighted. Holding the newspaper with a colored portrait of Mao, I learned to read a bright name, Mao Zedong! “Look, what a kind face he has! China will certainly have a spell of fortune…” Those words of my mother’s still seem to ring in my ears today, though then I could not fully understand the real meaning of “a spell of fortune.” The first song I was taught at school was “The East Is Red” (an ode to Mao and CPC), while the first slogan on the first page of our Chinese textbook was “Long Live Chairman Mao!” From then on, the idea “Chairman Mao is our great saviour” began to take root in the bottom of my heart.

Through learning Chinese history, especially its modern part which was full of foreign aggressions, through seeing and hearing about the great happy changes that took place in our country before 1955, my love and respect for Mao became deeper and deeper. Like most of my countrymen, I felt so lucky to be a citizen of New China and so proud of having such a wise leader as Mao to guide us. I knew well that my country was still quite poor and backward; however, I believed she would turn stronger and stronger under the guidance of Mao and his party.

On National Days or Labor Days, whenever I heard the cheerful shouts “Long Live Chairman Mao! (ten thousand years of life!)” over the radio, I would often shed tears of joy and excitement for that was also the voice in my own heart. On a November evening in 1954, Father took me to Huai Ren Tang, a large hall in

Zhong Nan Hai (Central South Sea) where Mao and the group of top leaders lived, to see a Beijing opera. I’ve never like seeing that kind of show but, in order to have a chance to see Mao, I asked to go. It was 7:30 p.m. The music “The East Is Red” began to play. Mao entered the hall with steady steps. He looked both dignified and amiable. Holding his right hand half up, Mao walked around the hall, smiling at all the people standing and clapping. My heart beating fast, with bated breath, I stared at Mao’s kindly face when he passed me. Being excited, I could not get to sleep as fast as usual that night. “If only I were my father, who has the honor to listen to Chairman Mao often and to be received by him…” I was dreaming.

One October afternoon in 1964, I heard from Father that China had exploded its first atom bomb, just the next day (October 16, 1964) when Khrushchev* was relieved of his office. I jumped up with excitement. “Mao is really a great man!” The memory of that still lingers, how feelingly Father said this to us. Then I walked back to my own room, opened my diary, and kissed the picture of Mao with profound thankfulness. I did so more than once, whenever I heard something about Mao’s greatness or kindness. In the autumn of 1965, being upset/disturbed by Mother’s neurotic trouble, I suffered a lot from neurasthenia (strain). Knowing that I was in a very low spirits, one of my aunts gave me a book Overcome Disease With Revolutionary Spirit, written by Deng Yingchao, Premier Zhou Enlai’s widow. In this book there was a chapter which told how Mao encouraged a well-known veteran cadre, Wang Guanlan, to struggle with his illness, including his serious insomnia.

Deeply affected by Mao’s words, I bought a portrait of him from a bookstore and put it up on the wall facing me where I could see it when lying on bed. Every night, after _______________

*By that time, the relations between China and the USSR had been broken, and this break happened in the very days of Khrushchev.

doing keep-fit massage, I would look at the affable and gentle face of Mao for a while before finally going to sleep. From this, I seemed to get confidence and strength to despise and fight against my painful insomnia. (Subconsciously, I took Mao as a kind of god.) It was from then on that I started studying Mao’s works conscientiously and tried to learn some by heart. Through my hard work, and owing to my good memory, I was soon able to recite several of his essays and his famous thirty-seven published poems, which are really wonderful. Mao was indeed a great poet.

In spite of the fact that I began to feel some lack of freedom during my high school days (too many political activities and too much physical labour interfering with our studies and hobbies), my enthusiasm for following the socialist road under the leadership of the Party and Mao was not chilled a bit. And my love for Mao and the Party was almost as deep as before. In 1957, the first unforgettable event after liberation—the Anti-Rightist Campaign—burst out. Like millions of intellectuals, Father was labeled a “rightist” and therefore demoted (from rank 8 to rank 13, while his salary was reduced from 287 yuan to 155.55 yuan a month). Despite this, with the belief in the publicity about the campaign, I firmly trusted Mao and felt ashamed for Father’s so-called Anti-Party thoughts, thinking that he had let the Party and people down. (I have a specific essay on that campaign.) During the economic crisis of 1959-1961, when we common Chinese often went hungry, I did not let my spirit flag and never lost the faith in Mao and the Party. I knew the difficulties were temporary though, like numerous common Chinese, I fell ill with dropsy from malnutrition.

On August 18, 1966 (the year the Cultural Revolution started), after watching Mao’s first review of the Red Guards on Tien An Men Tower (Gate of Heavenly Peace) on TV in an office (The common Chinese did not have TV sets until the 80s), I wrote in my diary the following: “I wish I could be received by Chairman Mao for my great contributions to my country, even if it meant that I would then have to end my life soon…” Look, how loyal to Mao I was! This seemed something like the Japanese bushido'’ spirit, and now I know how pitiably ignorant and stupid I was! Unexpectedly, the situation then changed rapidly. Three weeks later, our house was searched and our belongings confiscated. Over a year after that, Father was detained in his office for about three weeks and then put into prison. (About this history, I have another tow essays titled “What Happened to My Family during the Cultural Revolution.” and “A Visit to A Political Prisoner”) Although I didn’t understand it and found it hard to accept, I thought that might not be Mao’s idea, and I trusted he would probably correct all those extreme leftist acts sooner or later, and our country would soon be all right. I had confidence in this and still remained respectful to Mao, the Supreme Commander of China.

But, as the Cultural Revolution unfolded, there appeared more abnormal and tyrannous things. I began worrying about our state… Particularly, seeing with my own eyes how my students, like other adolescents, became worse and worse, I started to doubt the correctness of the Cultural Revolution and the greatness of Mao. One summer morning in 1969 or 1970, at about 11 o’clock I walked out of a large department store in Wangfujjing and stopped before a huge poster of Mao in uniform waving to jubilant crowds in red flags. Staring at Mao’s kindly smiling face, I murmured: “Oh, Chairman Mao, don’t you know that your innocent people, your loyal subjects, are killing each other in the Cultural Revolution you launched? Do stop it, I beg you, beg you…” In tears, I left quickly, thinking people who had noticed it might take me as somewhat insane. My first doubts arose during the year. (It was the time of group fighting between masses in high tide with military units involved in some areas. Terrible!) Though, doubting his correctness as I was, I still took Mao as a god-like man subconsciously.

In November of 1971, I, like everyone in China, was shocked and, I should say, amazed in some way, at the “9.13 (September 13) Event,” the Lin Biao Event. And it was this very incident that made me and quite many Chinese much clearer about the so-called unprecedented, great Cultural Revolution and the character of the “Wise Leader” Chairman Mao. I felt more and more anxious for our nation and, in the meanwhile, my former adoration of Mao started to change to sorrow and even to hatred. One dark afternoon afterwards, being upset by the endless Cultural Revolution, I fetched out my diary, reread the page written on August 18, 1966, and tore it to pieces depressedly and angrily.

Then came the eventful year 1976. Soon after Premier Zhou’s death, the well-known “4.5 (April 5) Movement (or, Rebellion, then called) broke out. That was the result of the terrible autocratic rule of Mao’s regime and it was also our first half-open protest against the Dictator in the long 27 years since “Liberation!” I was deeply touched by the thousands of moving poems and the solemn and stirring scene in which people expressed their mourning for Zhou’s passing away and their indignation at the extreme autocracy of Mao and his followers. Through that rebellion I came to know more about the socialist power and, consequently, my hatred for the “Great Leader” and his ruling circle grew even stronger. Unfortunately and also expectedly, the people’s protest was immediately put down and thousands upon thousands of men were involved in it, many being put into prison. The Memorial Stone table to the Martyrs on Tian An Men Square was heavily smeared with blood. Despite this, the unprecedented people’s rebellion shook Mao’s prestige to a certain degree and educated and encouraged the oppressed common Chinese! Fortunately or unfortunately, I did not get involved in it, owing to my far-away workplace in the suburb. I was able to return home to see my small boy only once or twice a week, and my home was in another suburb. So far I still take it a pity that I didn’t go to the Square on the very evening of the event, April 5. Had I expected it earlier, I would certainly have gone there to see, to witness the government’s savage act. Not listening to my mother’s dissuasion, my brother hurried to the Square when he heard something, but he was lucky enough to have escaped from the ring of encirclement formed by the Capital Militiamen holding thick sticks/rods. The next day, April 6, the Party Central Committee declared the event counter-revolutionary and made a decision dismissing Deng Xiaoping, disgraced from all his posts inside and outside the Party and the government, accusing him of being the chief backstage supporter of the incident. The second struggle against Deng was therefore in full swing throughout the country. (The first one was in 1966 with the late state Chairman Liu Shaoqi, but at that time Deng was not as openly attacked and criticized as in 1976, which was Mao’s intention.) Disturbed by this, schools and colleges which had been getting a little better as a result of Deng’s reinstatement in the government for two years, turned turbulent again. Like most Chinese, I got more confused and irritated. “Where on earth would Mao lead China?!” Several times after the tedious classes, I took up a padlock in my small room and threw it at the portrait of Mao again and again to give vent to my anger and exasperation, thinking he was the chief culprit in all those wrong doings. (I had a small room to myself in the high school I taught from 1965-1978.)

I went through another several months of sufferings and privation. Then, on July 28, what a horrible earthquake in Tangshan we had! I thought it might be the result of, as the Chinese saying goes, “Gods/Heavens get angry and people resentful.” One night after that, being unable to fall asleep, I rose, knelt down before the portrait of Premier Zhou drawn by me after his death, and began to mutter with a film in my eyes: “Beloved Premier Zhou, if you could show any supernatural power, please let Mao either change or die. He is too old and too stupid to be the leader of our nation. Stop him and other treacherous ministers of state from harming China irreparably. Do, please!” Oh, Heaven, I began cursing, cursing a man, a giant, whom I once worshipped, but then hated intensely. “Am I to blame?” I asked myself. “No! Either worshipping or hating him, the change of my mind comes merely from love for my nation.” I had never been taught to hate anyone but, as for Mao, I couldn’t subdue my hatred because he and his regime, the ruling class, ruined China relentlessly, even if unintentionally. From then on, nearly every night before going to sleep, I would pray to Buddha to give China a great change, to save us poor Chinese from these spiritual shackles as soon as possible. I knew well that a great number of people, who had begun to be disillusioned, were expecting Mao’s death every day, every minute, and every second! One afternoon, my brother-in-law, the eldest sister’s husband, who was working as film-photographer in August 1 Film Studio (military film studio) told us that after the earthquake, a group of young musicians played Beethoven’s mourning music, Funeral March, in front of the huge statue of Mao on the compound of the film studio. And, of course, these youngsters were captured soon.

Thank Heavens, over a month later, on September 9, 1976, Mao’s long life ended at last! (He died at the age of 83, full year; but by the lunar year calendar he died at the age of 84, which is said to be a dangerous block year for people to die very possibly. Another year block is 73, lunar New Year calendar.) That good news especially pleased and excited millions of cadres, professionals, and intellectuals, though they had to pretend “deeply grieved” in public. My sister said, “To squeeze a drop of tear, I had to recollect the unhappy things in my life…” This was in sharp contrast to the mood of people after Zhou’s death. That national funeral ceremony on Tian An Men Square was held quite solemnly. A mourning hall was installed in every unit. Besides the collective mourning ceremony in the hall, almost all staff had to stand guard by Mao’s portrait for at least two or three hours. I was told to stay at night from 11 to 2 o’clock. Hearing a very solemn and sad Chinese morning melody and peering at Mao’s kind, woman-like face, I shed tears like many other foolish Chinese. However, my tears were not at all for his death, but for his past contributions before and in the first few years after the founding of New China. I wondered whether Mao’s soul would regret what he had done in the later part of his life, and I was eager to know when in the world China, a country that had endured so many sufferings for the past 100 years, would really have a spell of fortune as my mother had once expected on October the first, 1949.

Well, that is how my feelings about Mao changed over the 30 years of his rule… I think this is not only the change in my feelings but also that of many, many other aware and patriotic Chinese.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"Born of a Dream, Died of a Dream."

The words are those of Wang Jinyao, on Communism in China.

Communism is an evil system, but when it began it embodied the hopes of many.

There is no more moving national anthem than that of the former Soviet Union. The lyrics that accompany the version below were those in effect until the downfall of Communism. This epic melody has been retained by Russia, but the original lyrics convey the supreme hope embodied in the Communist experiment in the U.S.S.R., and in its founder, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

One can celebrate the death of a system while still feeling the sorrow for those who believed in it so completely.

This is the most compelling of the video accompaniments to the anthem. It crests at :50, 1:57, and 3:07. "Oh Party of Lenin!" is both shouted and wailed by the Red Army Choir as the videographer juxtaposes dramatic images of Lenin.

It does feel like a new day, a completely new day. Our new president is a good man. This is a good day.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Internationale, Beijing 1965

Appealing melody and inspirational lyrics form the anthem of the most murderous political ideology of man's creation. Here is the most moving version ever performed.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"Is it appropriate to vote for Obama because he is black?"

Again the exact wording of the question was,

"In your opinion is it appropriate to vote for Obama, even in part, because he is African-American?"

Nicholas Kristof, the W/M, 50's, liberal D columnist at The New York Times chimed in on this question this past Wednesday.  I have edited out parts of Mr. Kristof's column.

Rebranding the U.S. With Obama

Published: October 22, 2008

The other day I had a conversation with a Beijing friend and I mentioned that Barack Obama was leading in the presidential race:

She: Obama? But he’s the black man, isn’t he?

Me: Yes, exactly.

She: But surely a black man couldn’t become president of the United States?

Me: It looks as if he’ll be elected.

She: But president? That’s such an important job! In America, I thought blacks were janitors and laborers.

Me: No, blacks have all kinds of jobs.

She: What do white people think about that, about getting a black president? Are they upset? Are they angry?

Me: No, of course not! If Obama is elected, it’ll be because white people voted for him.

[Long pause.]

She: Really? Unbelievable! What an amazing country!

We’re beginning to get a sense of how Barack Obama’s political success could change global perceptions of the United States, redefining the American “brand” to be less about Guantánamo and more about equality. This change in perceptions would help rebuild American political capital in the way that the Marshall Plan did in the 1950s or that John Kennedy’s presidency did in the early 1960s.

In his endorsement of Mr. Obama, Colin Powell noted that “the new president is going to have to fix the reputation that we’ve left with the rest of the world.” That’s not because we crave admiration, but because cooperation is essential to address 21st-century challenges...

In his endorsement, Mr. Powell added that an Obama election “will also not only electrify our country, I think it’ll electrify the world.” You can already see that. A 22-nation survey by the BBC found that voters abroad preferred Mr. Obama to Mr. McCain in every single country — by four to one over all. Nearly half of those in the BBC poll said that the election of Mr. Obama, an African-American, would “fundamentally change” their perceptions of the United States.

Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, which conducted the BBC poll, said that at a recent international conference he attended in Malaysia, many Muslims voiced astonishment at Mr. Obama’s rise because it was so much at odds with their assumptions about the United States...To them, Mr. Obama’s rise triggers severe cognitive dissonance.

As for Africa, Mr. Obama’s Kenyan father was of the Luo tribe, a minority that has long suffered brutal discrimination... The bitter joke in East Africa is that a Luo has more of a chance of becoming president in the United States than in Kenya.
Look, Mr. Obama’s skin color is a bad reason to vote for him or against him. Substance should always trump symbolism.

Yet if this election goes as the polls suggest, we may find a path to restore America’s global influence — and thus to achieve some of our international objectives — in part because the world is concluding that Americans can, after all, see beyond a person’s epidermis...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Is it appropriate to vote for Obama because he is black"

I posed that question to several friends after one of them, a Republican, said that he didn't think it right that McCain supporters were being accused of basing their decision on race, and another friend, a Democrat, worried about the reverse, the so-called "Bradley Effect."  

The exact question was,

 "In your opinion is it appropriate to vote for Obama, even in part, because he is African-American?"  

To my knowledge none of the respondents knew how any others had answered before answering themselves.

Below are the initial responses, verbatim, as well as basic demographic info.

W/M, 40's, liberal D:

All of Western Pennsylvania is NOT voting for him for this reason... so it seems only fair to me.

Sorry. Was this a serious question?

My opinion is that the Presidency is no place for affirmative action policy. However, the fact that Obama is African-American has IMMENSE benefits to US interests. In Europe and much of the Third World, he's so well-liked that just by electing him we would erase a lot of the enmity we've accrued over the last 8 years. Also, to elect a Black guy in a country that's only 12% Af-American reinforces what I think the rest of the world (and we) like to believe about America: that we're a progressive country that values merit above all else.

So yes.

W/M, 50's, moderate D:

Clearly it's racist to vote against him for that reason, but your question, taken in a general sense, has troubled me for a long time. I THINK the answer is no for a number of reasons. 1) One can vote for him, IN PART, for that reason and not be a racist in fact. It doesn't work the other way. 2) I believe that voting for him IN PART because of his race serves a greater purpose than the race issue itself. 3) There are more reasons, but my brain is too small to articulate them.

W/F, 50's, liberal D:

Since he's so clearly the most intelligent, least calcified, person running, I don't need to get to color, for or against it. This guy in the last 21 months has debated the best people in the US Senate, taken on and won the Clinton machine, them the Repulican machine, and has made 1 real gaffe in 21 months (cling to guns and religion). He's surrounded himself with the best people and has never, never, lost his cool, nor his eye on the ultimate prize during all the vagaries and ups and downs of two intense campaigns.

However, if all things were equal (they are not in my opinion--McCain is a B actor and needs to remain 1 of a 100, at best) I would definitely take into account that my vote would advance diversity, send a signal to the mostly non white world that this, too, is America, uplift present Americans of that color, race, gender, ethnic group, and thus reinforce their pact with the American experiment, etc etc. I got no problem including factors such as color as part of my overall decision. It's all a cost benefit analysis and the benefit of a woman, Black, Hispanic, Muslim, Jew, Catholic, Atheist, Asian, president would break us from this historical tyranny of maintaining power for a certain model, and free just a little more from our definition of power and who should be trusted with it. All that advances my country's best principles and reinforces a nation of laws, and not men.

What's your answer! Email

W/M, 50's, I:

This question troubles me.  I've been thinking about it and it hurts my head.

Jeremy's afraid of a "Bradley effect" but I think the reverse may be more important this election and I KNOW that there are some people who ARE voting for Obama, at least in part, based on race.

I'm having trouble wrapping my pea brain around this one but it strikes me as similar to the arguments over affirmative action. The intent of a.a. was to do a good thing, to help a.a.'s. To attempt to do a good thing is...good! But in doing so a.a. did discriminate against all other races and ethnicities and that was bad and the courts cut it way back. The first time I ever broke with my party on an issue was this one. I wrote against it (in my dad's paper) in 1978 and I've never changed my mind.

I reserve the right to change my mind on this variant but at this point in my "thinking" I believe it would be wrong to have race play any part in this vote. I can't get around this simplistic (simple is sometimes good) point: if it's ok to vote FOR Obama because of his race, is it ok to vote for McCain because of his race? My answer to both is no.

W/M, 40's, liberal D:

Have to think about it and I am going crazy right now at work and am leaving on vacation tomorrow. in sum, I don’t see a black voting for  ob because he is black as the same as I do if a white voting against ob because he is black. Double standard? Maybe? Do I give a shit? No

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Presidential Campaign

We are now about three weeks from election day.  For a couple of weeks it has seemed very likely that Barack Obama will be our next president. For me, and apparently some other independent voters, Sarah Palin is the reason that we will vote for Senator Obama.

The American presidential election process is justifiably derided as too long, as giving inordinate weight to small states, as concentrating on irrelevancies to leadership like fund-raising ability, campaign organization, gaffes, and oratorical flourishes.

Defenders of the process say that it tests the candidates, that over the two years that the campaign season now stretches, voters get opportunity after opportunity to know the candidates. This is especially important when one of the candidates is a complete unknown. 

Senator Obama was an unknown but it says here that he benefited by this marathon, as did we voters.  He is much better versed in the issues now than he was at the beginning, when he was an accidental senator halfway through his first term.  For many of us, there has been no evidence that this lack of experience at the beginning has left him uninformed now.

For Senator John McCain the campaign has done the opposite.  A good man who would make a good president, Senator McCain has given two alarming insights into the way that he would make decisions as president.

The selection of Governor Palin took everyone, including those within his own campaign, by surprise.  By all accounts it was a gut pick, not one completely thought through.

Then his decision to suspend his campaign to hurry back to Washington to deal with the financial crisis occurred.  Supporter William Kristol in an otherwise favorable column characterized the move as "impetuous."  Impetuous means acting without having thought things through.  It is close in meaning to reckless.

By contrast Senator Obama's initial response to the financial crisis was to call for "calm."  That, in a panic-filled environment, is just what was needed.

By contrast Senator Obama more thoroughly vetted his vice presidential selection and noone can gainsay Senator Biden's qualifications for the office.

Then there is the matter of the decisions that will be the product of these different decision-making processes.  I am probably more sanguine with those of Senator McCain.  Senator Obama has a very liberal voting record, to the extent that he has any voting record.  His positions, when articulated, are liberal.  More often than not though, his positions are so vaguely articulated that it is hard to know what they really are.  

The most notorious example is his Green Bay speech in which he laid out his "plan" for dealing with the financial crisis.  It was almost a parody of the political speech.  It was as if Bill Murray or Professor Irwin Corey had written it.  Senator Obama's policies remain inexcusably vague.  

By contrast, Senator MCain has been by far more specific--on Iraq, on the financial crisis, on energy policy, on foreign policy in general.  To some extent, I and other independents who will cast our votes for Obama, do so on faith.  I hope that President Obama will learn and not fear to change his policies when facts on the ground conflict with his instincts.  He has given evidence that he will do that.  He makes decisions rationally, not at a gut level as does Senator McCain.

The McCain campaign is in critical condition at this time because of the financial crisis.  I make no pretension to understanding it but my sense is that we are in this pickle in some significant part because of the cumulative effect of years and years of deregulation of the economy under the Republicans.

I share an American character trait that makes me wary of Bigness in every form.  In governmental structure I wish that there were "sunset" laws on, for example, new legislation, new taxes, new government financed benefits, programs, and cabinet departments.  The most pernicious development in my political life was the War Powers Act which gave to the president powers previously reserved by the Constitution for Congress.  It has led to what others have described as the "Imperial Presidency."

Likewise, and I get back to the point here, I have been disturbed by the growth of huge corporations which grow bigger by buying up competitors, as if the U.S. had no anti-trust laws.

A McCain administration, with economic advisors like former Senator Phil Gramm and all of those Republicans who voted against the $700 billion "bailout" will only increase the bigness of Big Business while my sense is that we have to go--and significantly so--in the opposite direction: toward more regulation and more stringent enforcement of the anti-trust laws.

And so, on both the process of decision-making and on perhaps the most serious policy issue that will confront our new president, I believe that Senator Obama is the better choice.  But personally, I feel fortunate to have two men of such quality to choose between.  I am Benjamin Harris.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Joy of America: Alabama's "Dixieland Delight."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Presidential Campaign

We have two good men running for president. The first debate did not change my mind on that, or my probable choice, Senator Obama. The debate also did not change my mind on a political development, not new, but reemphasized, to my surprise and chagrin, since 9/11.

Shortly after 9/11 the blame game began: Bush, the gentleman's-C student, missed the signs; No Clinton did; No Bush; No the entire CIA. President Bush looked forward, and acted. It was a time for all Americans to come together and Bush led.

I can't balance my checkbook so I have no idea what this financial crisis we're in is about. But a lot of smart people from both parties have been throwing around the "D" word and I can see the parallels: a lack of regulatory reform leading to paper financial tigers that crumble with first wind and voila we're in a depression.

We have to look forward, not back, we have to come together, not blame, we have to act. Both candidates were more specific on what they would do on the issues, a welcome change in particular from Senator Obama, whose gauzy speech on the financial crisis was virtually a parody of the political art form.

But what most disappointed in the debate was the blame game.

Obama: Now, we also have to recognize that this is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain, a theory that basically says that we can shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to the most, and somehow prosperity will trickle down.

This was Senator McCain's response:

I've been not feeling too great about a lot of things lately. So have a lot of Americans who are facing challenges. But I'm feeling a little better tonight, and I'll tell you why.

Because as we're here tonight in this debate, we are seeing, for the first time in a long time, Republicans and Democrats together, sitting down, trying to work out a solution to this fiscal crisis that we're in.

Obama: The question, I think, that we have to ask ourselves is, how did we get into this situation in the first place?


On Iraq:

Obama: Well, this is an area where Senator McCain and I have a fundamental difference because I think the first question is whether we should have gone into the war in the first place.

McCain: The next president of the United States is not going to have to address the issue as to whether we went into Iraq or not. The next president of the United States is going to have to decide how we leave, when we leave, and what we leave behind. That's the decision of the next president of the United States.

On troop-funding:

Obama: And the strategic question that the president has to ask is not whether or not we are employing a particular approach in the country once we have made the decision to be there. The question is, was this wise?


Obama: Now, keep in mind that we have four times the number of troops in Iraq, where nobody had anything to do with 9/11 before we went in, where, in fact, there was no al Qaeda before we went in...

The last answer is a blooper that Senator Obama didn't get called on, to my knowledge. Saddam Hussein didn't have anything to do with 9/11, nor did his government, but Al Qaeda was represented in Iraq at the time and Osama Bin Laden himself slipped through our hands and across the border into Afghanistan.

It is inevitable for the candidate of the party out of presidential power to point to the failings of the party in power, and to it's candidate, but one does so at the risk of being only a politician, not a leader. Senator Obama's reply to Senator McCain's call for bipartisanship in addressing the financial crisis, that "The question...that we have to ask ourselves is, how did we get into this situation in the first place?", is not the reply of a leader. His remark that the strategic question in Iraq is, "was it wise?" to be there in the first place... is not the strategic question in Iraq.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Presidential Campaign

A few days ago I revealed to a waiting world, comprised of three Americans and five Chinese, my probable choice for president:  Barack Obama.  I must have the same sense of direction in politics that I have in driving. This is his "plan?" He could have been talking about anything here. CNN:

At a campaign event in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Obama laid out the reforms he would pursue as president to avoid another economic crisis.

I must have the same sense of direction in politics that I have in driving. This is
his "plan?" He could have been talking about anything here. 

First, Obama said that he would reform "our special interest-driven

Obama said he would make the government "open and transparent"

Secondly, Obama said he would "eliminate the waste and the fraud and
abuse in our government."

Obama also said that he and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, would
crack down on excessive spending from both parties and close loopholes
for big corporations.

Obama said he would pursue "updated, common-sense regulations" in the

financial market.

Obama has said several times since the recent Wall Street crisis that,
in meeting with top economists, he was encouraged to not roll out a
specific plan for fear of overly politicizing the work of Congress on a
government bailout of financial firms.

Well, he accomplished the last one.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Presidential Campaign

I joined the 21st century in politics today.

Up to now I had formed my impressions of our two presidential candidates the way that Americans did before 1932, certainly before 1960, that is without television or radio.  I own neither.

Today while surfing, I decided to watch Governor Palin's and Senator Obama's convention speeches on YouTube. I watched Palin's first because I was so charmed by what I'd heard and read and by the still photos I'd scene. She was everything that I had thought, and almost all of that was positive. Then I watched Obama's.

There was no comparison.  Next to a younger, prettier, more vivacious Ann Richardson, I saw a leader.

Our political discourse today is dominated by what the qualifications for vice president are, and whether Governor Palin meets them.  I don't know what they are but I know that being a mayor of a small town and a two year governor of Alaska aren't.  

Alaska is the most unrepresentative state in the Union.  I would guess that it's ethnic distribution is something like 70% white, 20% moose, 9% Eskimo and 1% other. 

Alaska has one-fourth the population of the borough of Brooklyn, New York.

While those of us who live in the "lower 48" struggle with gas prices, Alaskans get a yearly oil revenue dividend, and have for thirty years. 

All of this is not a criticism of Governor Palin:  Alaska has to have a governor and Wasilla had to have a mayor.  It's a criticism of Senator McCain.  The pick showed arrogance: if Governor Palin is qualified for the vice-presidency then it's hard to imagine who isn't.  

For me, Senator McCain's great draw was his experience.  Senator Obama is the luckiest politician in the world.  Only when his Democratic primary opponent and then his Republican general election opponent got caught with a live boy or a dead girl did this unknown state senator and community organizer become a U.S. Senator.  And he was only half-way through his first term when he announced his presidential candidacy.  

I don't want another Jimmy Carter, someone who is clearly out of his league in the presidency.

But experience is only important if it informs decision-making.  George H.W. Bush was the most prepared man ever for the presidency, and he showed the qualities of a career underling and yes-man, lacking "the vision thing."  He chose Dan Quayle for his running mate.

Experience also did not inform Senator McCain's choice for vice-president.  Instead,  it suggested that he would make a decision as an old person does, one who doesn't have the energy any longer to think things through.  The choice surprised his closest campaign advisers. It was impulsive, reckless, in my opinion, a "gut" decision.  Gut decisions are often those that are made by the intellectually lazy, or fatigued.  In his first meeting with Vladimir Putin, President George Bush famously said that he had looked the man in the eye and trusted him. Vladimir Putin, the former head of the Soviet KGB, and future Russian autocrat.  

Governor Palin has made her wonderful family story a compelling drawing point of her candidacy.  If that story is relevant, and I believe that all candidates' histories are relevant, then she cannot inoculate herself from the warts. Seventeen year old Bristol's pregnancy indeed may be a thing that happens to many American families, but that does not make it a qualification for vice-president. And because Governor Palin has made her family an important part of her candidacy, voters may fairly consider what Bristol's pregnancy says about Sarah Palin as a person.  

Governor Palin is socially, rigidly, conservative, that is the reason that Senator McCain chose her.  She is against abortion.  A lot of Americans are.  But then there are the alternatives, and those who believe as Governor Palin does must choose alternatives in 21st century America. And the rest of us must evaluate.  If she preached abstinence to Bristol, then she is as unrepresentative of America as is her state.  If she preached the use of condoms then her ability to lead her own daughter failed.  

It is also inspiring that the Palins decided to keep Trig after they knew that their little one had Down's Syndrome.  But as one woman was quoted as saying in the New York Times, "How exactly is this going to work?"  How is this socially conservative mother going to be a good mom to five children, one with Down's Syndrome, and a grandmother, nay a mother, to Bristol and "Sex on Skates" Levi, by whom her teenage daughter is pregnant?  

Is Palin going to move to Washington, D.C. and uproot her family if she and Senator McCain are elected?  Or is she going to commute to Alaska?  If she moves to Washington, will Levi move with her?  It's hard to believe that that would happen, and if it doesn't that would mean one more child growing up without a dad.  

If she moves to Washington  and leaves her family in Alaska and commutes how is that going to effect her ability to carry out first, for the country,, her job responsibilities, and second, her family responsibilities.  If she moves the whole kit and caboodle to D.C., what is that mother-of all-culture-shocks going to do to her family? It has to be one or the other, and how are either consistent with putting family first, another name for being socially conservative, which is the reason McCain chose her?

If Barack Obama, the son of a bigamous Kenyan man and a white Kansan woman, had a daughter who was pregnant at 17, Republicans--and I--would not be processing it as a sign that Obama was experiencing the same problems as the rest of us.  We would be saying, or thinking, that it was just another depressing reinforcement of a Black stereotype.

No, this will not do.  

The country deserves a president who is going to make rational decisions, not those based on his gut.  

No, being governor of Alaska is not a qualification for vice-president, whether or not it is a disqualification.  

No, having five children and still being with "her guy" is not a qualification.  

And certainly no, putting one's career over family-especially this challenging, needy family-is no qualification for being vice-president.

There is one sense, and a very important one, in which Sarah Palin is qualified to be vice-president, and that is that she is a wonderful, charming person who makes a visceral connection with people. She makes people like her, and like themselves.  That is a fantastic asset for a national leader. However, taken as a whole, this uniquely American personality should not be the proverbial "heartbeat away from the presidency."  That is not her fault.  It is Senator McCain's. I expected more from him.  So, I have gone from a fence-sitter to an Obama probable.  I am Benjamin Harris.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Joy of America: Lucinda Williams' "Passionate Kisses"

Friday, September 05, 2008

The memorial
to Clover Adams,
a suicide, designed
by Augustus Saint
Rock Creek
Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Joy of America: Belinda Carlisle

Watch and listen to Heaven is a Place on Earth and try your best not to smile. This charming video was directed by Diane Keaton.  

If you see real love and passion in the twenty-nine year old Ms. Carlisle's interaction with her male lead, do not think she is Oscar-worthy, just truly in love and lust.  Her (then and now) husband Morgan Mason, former acting Chief of Protocol of the United States and son of actor James Mason, stars with her.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

There Will Always Be An England

Soviet Russia, of course, signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany at the beginning of World War II only to have the latter terminate the treaty with extreme prejudice with Operation Barbarossa.  Thereupon, the Russians became best buddies with the U.S. and U.K. The following is a perhaps apocryphal anecdote of the extent and suddenness of the change. The occasion was the visit of a British delegation, including Prime Minister Churchill, to Moscow in September 1941:

"[English General Ismay's] orderly, a Royal Marine, was shown the sights of Moscow by one of the Intourist guides.  'This,' said the Russian 'is the Eden Hotel, formerly Ribbentrop Hotel.  Here is Churchill Street, formerly Hitler Street.  Here is the Beaverbrook railway station, formerly Goering railway station.  Will you have a cigarette, comrade?'  The Marine replied, 'Thank you, comrade, formerly bastard!' "*

*Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, vol. 3 "The Grand Alliance," (374).

Friday, August 08, 2008

Blue Rose

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

China's Great Wall of Silence, The Murder of Bian Zhongyun: Current Photos of Song Binbin

This is the iconic photograph of Song Binbin (宋彬彬) pinning a Red Guard armband onto Mao Zedong in 1966, marking the official beginning of the Cultural Revolution. The photo and caption are reprinted from MacFarquhar's and Schoenhals Mao's Last Revolution.

Above right is the photograph of Song used in Carma Hinton's propaganda film Morning Sun, and above left is a 2005 photograph of Song taken at the memorial service in Beijing for her father.
To our knowledge this is the first time that a current photograph of Song has appeared in any English language publication in America, where Song lived until recently retiring to Beijing.

Song's father was a Chinese Communist Party official. In 1966, she was 19 and a student at the elite Girls Middle School attached to Beijing Normal University.

Mao started the Cultural Revolution in secrecy in the spring of 1966. Violence followed. That summer while Mao was away from Beijing plotting, his uninformed head of state, Liu Shaoqi, attempted to control the violence without stopping it in a way that he hoped Mao would approve. Liu sent in "work teams" to the various middle (high) schools and universities around Beijing. Bian Zhongyun, the vice principal of the Girls Middle School, was denounced and "struggled" (beaten) on June 23.

On August 1, Mao made a triumphal return to Beijing. Immediately he ordered the removal of the work teams, thus turning over control of the schools, and the violence, to the students. Mao's order also was the beginning of the swift purge of Liu Shaoqi. Violence increased.

In "Red August" and September of that year over 1700 innocent people were murdered in torturous ways. Song Binbin, one of the most prominent Red Guards in Beijing at the time, was the head of the in-charge Revolutionary Committee at the Girls Middle School where Bian was vice principal. On Song's watch Bian was beaten again on August 4.

In the afternoon of August 5 Bian was paraded out of the school by Song's Red Guards. This is how two leading historians describe what happened next:

"The headmistress [Bian], a fifty-

year-old mother of four, was

kicked and trampled by the girls,

and boiling water was poured

over her. She was ordered to

carry heavy bricks back and

forth; as she stumbled past, she

was thrashed with leather army

belts with brass buckles, and with

wooden sticks studded with nails.

She soon collapsed and died." (1)

Bian's body was placed in a garbage container and deposited in front of a hospital right across the street from the school.
Bian's murder is the most notorious of that time first, because it was the first instance in Beijing of a teacher being murdered by her students; second, because of the torture; third, because all of the murderers were girls and fourth, because the girls who attended the school were the best and brightest of Beijing with many coming from the elite families of the C.C.P. (2)
In her capacity as head of the committee in charge of the school Song Binbin went to Beijing deputy mayor Wu De to officially inform him of Bian's murder.

Thirteen days after Bian's murder Mao made a dramatic predawn appearance in Tienanmen Square. The occasion was the first rally of the Red Guards. Over one million were in attendance. Up on the reviewing stand Red Guard leaders were given the honor of appearing with Mao. Some Red Guards pinned armbands on government officials, including Mao himself:

"A leading perpetrator of the

atrocities in the girls' school

where the headmistress had

just been killed was given

the signal honor of putting

a Red Guard armband on

Mao. The dialogue that fol-

lowed was made public:

'Chairman Mao asked her:

"What's your name?" She

said "Song Binbin."

'Chairman Mao asked: "Is

it the 'Bin' as in "Educated

and Gentle?" She said:

"Yes." Chairman Mao said:

"Be violent!' " (3)

The photograph above records that moment. It represented Mao's symbolic approval of Red Guard violence and the official start of the Cultural Revolution which was to last ten years and claim an estimated 3,000,000 lives.

Song Binbin changed her name to Song Yaowu, "Be Violent." Her school was renamed the "Red Be Violent" school too.

On August 20 an article in People's Daily appeared signed by Song Yaowu describing her ecstatic experience with Mao.

Song immigrated to the United States in 1980. She got her Ph.D from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1989 under the name of "Yan Song" and for some time thereafter worked for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as an environmental researcher. She and her husband lived first in Lexington and then Concord, Massachusetts. Their son currently attends Stanford University.

To this day Yan Song, aka Song Yaowu, nee Song Binbin has refused to be questioned about the subject. Song and her friends, Carma Hinton,(4) and fellow Red Guard Weili Ye and others have gone to great lengths to defend her and to protect even her true identity.

Below is another picture of Song taken at her father's memorial as well as a third taken at a party. (5)
The publication of these photographs represents a small crack in China's Great Wall of Silence. This is Public Occurrences.

Anyone with information on the
identities of those involved in
the torture and murder of Bian
Zhongyun, contact us at

(1) Mao, The Unknown Story. Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, p. 506
(2) Among those were the daughters of Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiao-ping.
(3) Chang and Halliday, p.506.
(4) See Carma Hinton's "Interview" of Song Binbin" below, March 19, 2007.
(5) The party photo is from the blog of a young Chinese photographer. The blog can be found at

(First published May 4, 2007)