Saturday, March 24, 2007

The creeping authoritarianism

Digby has another fantastic post--this time, a smack down of Michael Kinsley, who seems to be averse to the Democrats using their subpoena power to investigate Bush administration's scandals. Kinsley thinks it all should just be a question of voters deciding at the ballot box. Digby responds:

If Kinsley truly believes that the way to deal with this kind of thing is simply to win elections (and I assume lead by example) then it's doubly important to rein in this authoritarian impulse and establish with the public that they will not play the game this way. It is not enough in our cynical time to simply say that they will turn over a new leaf. They must show how far the other side has gone and ensure that they are held responsible for it.

I've watched this creeping authoritarianism for more than 30 years now. It's not a figment of my imagination and I'm damned tired of jaded political pundits telling me to lighten up. These same people told me that it didn't matter if Ronald Reagan had a secret government working out of the basement of the white house (Oliver North is so awesome in his uniform!) and it didn't matter if George Bush Sr pardoned all the criminals in that scandal and it didn't matter if a partisan congress impeached a president over sex. We were told to "get over it" when Bush's henchmen manipulated every political lever they could find in his brother's and father's political machinery to take office in 2000 --- and then decided to govern as if they'd won in a landslide. Then came illegal war, torture, spying on citizens, denial of habeas corpus and all the rest. Excuse me, but I'm not going to sit around and chuckle knowingly that this is "just the way it is." It isn't. History proves that very bad things can happen to good countries. Only fools pretend that great nations can't go down the wrong road.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Destination or Process?

Some people view life as a destination to be reached. They speak in terms of settling down, reaching one's life-goals--an arrival. To them, the ends are more important than the means. Mistakes along the way are viewed as failures. Their view of research is the same: it is either right or it is wrong. They dismiss an entire work because of the presence of a few factual errors.

There is another group--into which I am more likely to fit--that views life more as a process, a series of stages, mile points, cyclical motions, falling down, getting up, being stupid, figuring things out. From this perspective, the mistakes and failings are all part of the journey, rather than just pitfalls to be avoided. Well, one can only hope that the product of previous mess-ups (if one has a mind to learn) would be increased wisdom, and the more wisdom, the fewer mess-ups. But that is different than saying one has arrived somewhere permanently.

Monday, March 19, 2007

This is just ridiculous!

Why can't the Democrats do a better job guarding their headquarters? I don't know how many times I've heard about break-ins at Democratic headquarters, going all the way back to the Watergate break-in. Perhaps there were other such happenings before that. Now there's this!!! Just hire a security company. Put up cameras. And don't let them steal your game plane, or commit other such mischief.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Flags are powerful symbols

From the AP:

When artist John Sims sees the Confederate flag, he sees "visual terrorism," and a symbol of a racist past. When Robert Hurst sees the flag, he is filled with pride as the descendant of a soldier who fought for the South during the Civil War.

Their differences have flared into a war of words, catching a local museum in the middle.

Hurst walked into the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science this past week and saw an exhibit by Sims, including a Confederate flag hung from a noose on a 13-foot gallows in a display titled "The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag."

Hurst asked the museum to remove the display, along with 13 other pieces by Sims.

The museum, however, announced Friday it is standing by Sims' work, on display since Feb. 26, because it wants to inspire dialogue in the community about a symbol that engenders a diversity of strong responses.

"There's a balance between the nature of the art that we show and the outcome that we seek, which is to promote dialogue and conversation, and have you maybe think of something in a slightly different way," said Chucha Barber, the museum's executive director.

In this case, I would likely stand behind the museum and the artist. I am not in all cases against the display of such flags and symbols; it all depends on the purpose of the display. Is it because you want to glorify (and bring back) what is being represented? Or do you have educational purposes? Are you saying that what is being represented should never happen again? Are you trying to get people to think?

I liked the museum's reaction to protests against its display of the confederate flag:

The museum, however, announced Friday it is standing by Sims' work, on display since Feb. 26, because it wants to inspire dialogue in the community about a symbol that engenders a diversity of strong responses.

"There's a balance between the nature of the art that we show and the outcome that we seek, which is to promote dialogue and conversation, and have you maybe think of something in a slightly different way," said Chucha Barber, the museum's executive director.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Update on the potential problem of romanticizing Nazism in Taiwan

Some of you may remember a couple of posts (see here and here) I wrote last year about a Nazi flag I saw hanging from someone's window as I was traveling on the Danshui line of the metro. Most people thought I was making a big ado about nothing. I described at the time a debate I had with a friend about the display of a Nazi swastika:

He thinks that these displays of Nazi-era Germany are meaningless, and that the people displaying them are clueless about what happened. They are just doing it for fun. Or else it is just a small clique within Taipei society--the displays part of their fashion.

It is possible that this is a harmless fad, a group of people who think it is all a fun game, and that the symbols look cool. It is also possible that they are unfamiliar with the holocaust. I remember visiting Dachau when I was in college and seeing the George Santayana quote for the first time: "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."

The making light of the holocaust by displaying its symbols for fun is already a dangerous act; it is a forgetting. Is it possible that children in Taiwan--that children anywhere--aren't learning about the holocaust. I don't mean to focus solely on what happened in Europe; genocides have occurred throughout history and humankind still has not learned.

But I also wonder if there is something more nepharious afoot. Is someone purposely exporting the items to Taiwan and elsewhere--either a local or a foreigner--as a way of propagating some kind of ideology? How was it that these symbols came to Taiwan? And how do the people who display them interpret them?

In my second post on the subject, I felt the need to clarify some issues. One was that I knew the Nazis had co-opted an ancient symbol; I knew (and know) that Buddhists (and others) have a similar symbol. The following was also important for me to say:

Lastly, I would like to clear up a few points in my last post. I was not arguing that Taiwanese people are anti-semitic. The thought never even crossed my mind. I wasn't even making a case about anti-semitism. The latter is partly because I prefer not frame this kind of phenomenon as "what they did to us," but instead choose the frame: "what humans have done to each other." To me, the swastika is but one symbol of mass violence that humans have produced, and there is the potential for such violence in any society. That is why we should remember--to prevent it from happening again and to not glorify or romanticize the symbols of its manifestation in former times.

Months passed and I stopped thinking about the issue. Then, a few days ago, a friend of mine--Angelica Oung--who is a reporter for the Taipei Times told me about an article she read in the Apple Daily, which discussed a group of students in Taiwan who have formed a Nazi organization. As Michael Turton mentioned on his blog, Taiwan News then picked up the story:

Twenty university students yesterday founded an association with Adolf Hitler as its inspiration, and set themselves the goal of turning Taiwan into a Nazi country in a bid to show their extreme dissatisfaction with the continuous political squabbling that pervades life in Taiwanese society these days, according to local Chinese-language media reports.

The National Socialism Association presently has over 800 members on its books, most of whom are university or high-school students, according to information on the association's Web site.

One co-founder of the association, surnamed Hsu, announced plans to invite all members to hold a meeting next Saturday, explaining that supporters will be clearly told that the NSA aims to seize the reins of government.

"We will find a quiet place to discuss the association's future with our members earnestly," the 22-year-old Hsu was quoted as saying.

Hsu, who graduated from the political department of Soochow University last year, noted that she was so fed up with all the political wrangling between the ruling and opposition parties that she and several other followers of Nazi ideology decided to found the association.

It is hoped that they could transform Taiwan into a Nazi country, said Hsu.

Angelica and I then met in Beitou this past Sunday. She was writing a story about this new Taiwanese Nazi party and wanted to interview me about my reaction when I first saw the swastika from the metro:

What Alberts saw was a red swastika flag hanging from a window in an apartment building near the MRT line.

"It is a very ... potent symbol. I couldn't help but notice," Alberts said. "What is it doing in Taipei?"

After the interview, we then walked to the apartment building with the Nazi flag. The big question was whether or not this person was connected to the Nazi association.

My initial thought when Angelica mentioned a Nazi group in Taiwan, especially after seeing their website, was that they were children of conservative families who came from China in the forties, which still held a grudge over the loss of the "mainland"--families that still dreamed of the heyday of their beloved Republic of China and that weren't exactly happy with the move to multi-party democracy. Just a hunch.

I'll let Angelica, who has since written the definitive story on the subject up to this point, finish the story:

With Alberts' help, the Taipei Times located the apartment in which the Nazi flag was displayed. It was located in a gated community in Tienmu. A man in his late thirties answered the door and agreed to speak to us, on condition of anonymity.

"Hitler did a lot of bad things which I don't condone, but he also turned Germany from a weak and divided nation into a world power," he said. "I admire that because unity and strength is what Taiwan needs. Democracy and capitalism have their good qualities, but they have left our collective spirit chaotic, flagging and mired in defeatism."

These comments mirrored the rhetoric found on the NSA blog.

"We have seen relentless societal and political chaos since democracy was instituted in this country ... wake up, youths of Taiwan!" an open letter said.

However, the man claimed he had never heard of the NSA and had a view of the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) legacy that was diametrically opposed to Hsu's.

"Taiwan used to be a part of the axis as a part of Japan," he said. "Who did more for Taiwan than Goto Shinpei as the governor-general?"

"When the KMT came, they were the brutal occupiers, they oppressed the Taiwanese," the man said.

Asked if he believed he would have fit in society if Taiwan were still under Japanese occupation, the man replied: "I am in contact with hard-right [sic] elements in Japan ... they all love Taiwanese people. If the KMT did not take over Taiwan, I believe that in time we would have been accepted as Japanese." Read the whole article...

Two similar yet opposed views both identifying with the same political symbol, the same powerful leader, the same ideology--both looking to an earlier time before democracy and capitalism--both lamenting the current weak state of their country and dreaming of a time when there was unity and strength and prosperity. Funny (or not so funny) how both selectively overlook the tremendous loss of life that was the flip side of their naive daydream.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Duty of the Press

Digby says:

This isn't brain surgery. A reporter's privilege should not be used to help powerful people in government lie to the public about what it's doing or punish its enemies for speaking out against it. It exists to protect people who are risking their livlihoods by speaking out against those same powerful people. This is not hard for rational people to understand and yet in Washington they are so confused by their relationships with the powerful that they seem to be speaking in tongues on this issue.

The political press is not a monolith. There are incredible reporters like Priest who have done extraordinary work under very difficult circumstances. We can't do without them. But the insider culture of Washington that McEnroe describes in his piece above is a decadent and insular little circle of celebrity and power that has affirmatively harmed this country. The Libby trial opened up that fetid boil and did this country a favor. I'm not surprised that they are squealing as loudly as they can --- or that the rightwing freakshow is behaving as if they were born yesterday. After all, they all know they are compromised. They just didn't think we did.

Read the whole post...