Dokdo Island is press, no crease

So, yeah, in case there was any question: My dry cleaners are Korean.

Sorry about the glare in the second picture. The text on the bag says:

For the last 2,000 years, the body of water between Korea and Japan has been called the “East Sea”. Dokdo (two islands) located in the East Sea is a part of Korean territory. The Japanese government must acknowledge this fact.

Conventional drift, stated with eloquence

Andrew Sullivan’s post, which was written before Obama’s speech, seems about right to me:

... everything I hear sounds like conventional drift to me – Bush’s policy with a much more interesting and intelligent discussion beforehand. So instead of staying in neo-colonial occupation against an insurgency that now feeds off US intervention with no real strategy, we will stay in neo-colonial occupation against an insurgency that now feeds off US intervention with lots of super-smart defenses of the indefensible. Great.

I guess my general feeling is that I’ve heard nothing that makes Afghanistan deserve such a special place in our foreign policy planning. Sure, it’s a war-torn place rife with religious extremism, but unfortunately, that doesn’t make it unique in this world. The next September 11th could come out of Somalia, say, or any of a dozen other hotspots on the planet. Are we really saying it’s our job to occupy and economically develop every last one of these places for the next few decades? Empires decline when they overreach.

I can’t say I’m super-disappointed in Obama, though. He’s not King; he’s President, and he reports to an entire country of people, many of whom can’t stomach anything that looks like surrender. Personally I think there’s no shame in acknowledging past mistakes and changing direction, but then nobody would be fool enough to vote for me as President.

Anti-semitism, the Durban Declaration, and reparations

I’ve subscribed to Harper’s Magazine for almost 20 years: It never stops being incisive, or surprising, or discomfiting. Case in point: Naomi Klein’s September cover story, covering the misinformation surrounding the United Nations’ 2001 World Conference on Racism held in Durban, South Africa. Some countries did inject harsh anti-Israel language into an early draft, and a parallel meeting of NGOs included some horrifying anti-Semitic incidents. However, the official, final Durban Declaration did not contain the vicious anti-Semitism claimed by many of its detractors:

... the BBC World Service ran a revealing segment on that original Durban Declaration. The host was Julian Marshall, and one of his guests was Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Marshall began by asking what all the fuss was about: “Why exactly is Israel staying away from the U.N. racism conference?” Palmor replied that it was “because it isn’t a U.N. racism conference, it is a conference about Israel-bashing, just like its predecessor.” He told Marshall that “in the previous conference, Israel was singled out as the most racist state on earth, probably almost the only racist state” and that these claims were not made in a few inflammatory speeches but in the conference’s official final declaration.

At this point Marshall stopped Palmor, saying that he had been reading that much-maligned sixty-one-page Durban Declaration and had been unable to find anything in it that fit Palmor’s description. He then proceeded to do what almost no journalist had done before. He quoted, at length, the specific clauses in the 2001 Durban Declaration that have to do with anti-Semitism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the ones that supposedly accused Israel of being “the most racist state on earth” and were so unfair that the U.S. government could not attend any conference that “reaffirms” them. Here are those dastardly passages:

Paragraph 58: We recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten;

Paragraph 61: We recognize with deep concern the increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in various parts of the world, as well as the emergence of racial and violent movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities;

Paragraph 63: We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation. We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State and we recognize the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel, and call upon all States to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion.

As Marshall read these statements, each less offensive and more banal than the one before, Palmor became increasingly agitated. “I’m not sure we’re talking about the same conference,” he said, “because even though I don’t have the text in front of me, I remember quite precisely some quotes that were completely contrary to those that you’ve just quoted. So we must be speaking about two different documents.”

So why is Durban maligned as an example of the United Nations being too spineless to stand up to anti-Semitism? Klein offers a few causes, one of which is the unfortunate date that the Durban Declaration was finalized: September 9, 2001.

Continue reading “Anti-semitism, the Durban Declaration, and reparations” »

The shadow over Taiwan

So maybe you’re an American leftist who’s enraged with our recent slide towards klepto-theocracy, and you’ve given serious thought to the idea of leaving the country. Canada’s probably high on your list, but if you want to put a few more kilometres behind you, you might also be considering France, since a Gallic expatriation has the added bonus of pissing off all those conservative Francophobes. But keep in mind that any country is bound to have at least a few sores on its body politic. Take, for example, last week’s news that French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, while visiting China, stated that France has no issue with China’s recent law warning Taiwan not to declare independence. So, Monsieur Raffarin, if China invades Taiwan and imposes a brutal imperial regime, which is that? Liberté, Egalité, or Fraternité?

The Prime Minister didn’t fly all the way to China just to greenlight a pre-emptive declaration of war; he’s also pushing the international community to lift the Chinese arms embargo. This is most likely part of a plan to get French companies more access to the booming Chinese consumer market, and France certainly isn’t the only one currying favor with the Chinese Communist Party for this reason. Still, I can’t help but think that France is crossing a dangerous line, not to mention making China policy the only area in which Rupert Murdoch acts with a higher moral accountability than the Prime Minister of France. Sure, Murdoch’s media empire downplays China’s human rights abuses so he can sell cable subscriptions to the sino-bourgeoisie, but as appalling as that is, it’s only words. Murdoch isn’t the one trying to sell weapons to the Chinese—the very weapons that they could plausibly use, in a few months or years, to massacre the Taiwanese.

Last December, I had the good fortune to travel to Taiwan to speak at their Regeneration of Digital Art symposium. I spent six days there, eating copious amounts of Chinese food, being shuttled around by attentive grad students, and getting into great (English) conversations with many different people. You can’t learn much about a culture in six days, of course. But one thing I did notice is that the threat of invasion by mainland China is a shadow that looms over any discussion of Taiwanese politics and society. One of the Taiwanese newspapers was avidly following the progress of the U.S. missile defense program: When you’re 90 miles away from a nuclear power that considers you a renegade province, missile defense is more than a pointless boondoggle. And more than once, a conversation veered from the topic of Taiwanese democratic culture to the possibility of invasion by the People’s Republic of China. The line of thinking is, roughly, that the young people of Taiwan should be more politically involved, but the danger is that with their idealism they’ll demand independence, at which point the PRC will invade and kill everybody. Try building a functioning democracy and not obsessing about that. It’s like not thinking of an elephant.

Continue reading “The shadow over Taiwan” »