Thursday, June 07, 2007

Sad News

The Mandarin passed away very suddenly last week. He enjoyed delighting us with his wit and sense of humor and that is something we will always be able to keep with us. We will miss him very much.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Monica redux

The Mandarin was reminded of the Stepford Wives watching Monica Goodling testify the other day, particularly this exchange:

REP. ROBERT C. SCOTT (D-VA): In your testimony, you indicate that you, quote, "may have taken inappropriate political considerations into account on some occasions." Do you believe that those political considerations were not just in appropriate but in fact illegal?

MS. GOODLING: That's not a conclusion for me to make. I know I was acting --

REP. SCOTT: Do you believe that they were legal or illegal for you to take those political considerations in mind? Not whether they were legal or illegal. What do you believe? Do you believe that they were illegal?

MS. GOODLING: I don't believe I intended to commit a crime.

REP. SCOTT: Did you break the law? Is it against the law to take those political considerations into account? You've got civil service laws. You've got obstruction of justice with any laws that you could have broken by taking political considerations into account, quote, "on some occasions."

MS. GOODLING: The best I can say is that I know I took political considerations into account on some occasions.

REP. SCOTT: Was that legal?

MS. GOODLING: Sir, I'm not able to answer that question. I know I crossed the line.

REP. SCOTT: What line -- legal?

MS. GOODLING: I crossed the line of the civil service rules.

REP. SCOTT: Rules -- laws? You crossed the line of civil service laws. Is that right?

MS. GOODLING: I believe I crossed the lines, but I didn't mean to.

The Mandarin doesn't know what kind of law they teach at Ms. Goodling's alma mater, wingnut televangelist Pat Robertson's Regent University ("Christian leadership to change the world"), but in admitting to a blatant violation of the law, Ms. Goodling provided a quote the Mandarin's readers should feel free to use the next time they are pulled over for speeding or summoned into the IRS audit room: "I believe I crossed the line, but I didn't mean to."

That one will take its rightful place alongside "The dog ate my homework," and "The Devil made me do it" in the Lame Excuse Hall of Fame.

And no points for guessing the name of the handsome dude on her arm in the photo above.

Update: John Sherffius nails it in a cartoon here.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Will Maotai soon be just a memory?

Here’s another chapter in China’s incessant drive to ruin its environment through unrestrained commercialism.

China’s most famous liquor, beloved of both Chinese and expats over the years, is called Máotái 茅台 (web site). It falls into the general category of clear spirits, called báijiŭ 白酒 “white spirits” or in the Beijing slang the young Mandarin learned, báigānr 白干儿 “white dry.” It was probably the taste of Maotai that produced the unforgettable prune-faced look on Richard Nixon when he toasted Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai on his trip to China in 1972.

The taste of Maotai is difficult to describe to someone who has never tasted it, partly because – at about 110 proof – the drinker’s taste buds are quickly scorched into a pleasant numbness. “Chinese moonshine” is probably a reasonable synonym for báigānr. A description for Maotai’s “bouquet” is equally elusive – it changes subtly from the first sip to the last. And, a few hours later, when the Maotai drinker is safely back in his hotel, yet another subtle aroma begins to pour from every pore on his body, in what the Mandarin called – when he first experienced it in 1981, the dreaded “Maotai sweats.”

Actually, truth be told, in those days the Mandarin was partial to a rarer Sichuan cousin, brewed in Yibin (Maotai is brewed about 200 miles farther south, in Guizhou – see below) called Wŭliángyè 五粮液 “liquid essence of the five grains.” Wuliangye was a much subtler, more refined variety of moonshine. Smoother, at only 104 proof, and less reminiscent of turpentine or cat urine than Maotai. Also, the odor of Wuliangye in the inevitable night sweats was less obnoxious.

At the other end of the Mandarin’s personal quality scale were two truly nasty (but cheap!) clear liquors: from Beijing, a 110-120 proof concoction called Èrguōtóu 二鍋頭 “top of the second pot” – presumably a reference to being distilled twice, and from
the town of Jiujiang, "Nine Rivers," in Jiangxi, the slightly milder (only 64 proof) Jiŭjiāng shuāngzhēng jiŭ 九江雙蒸酒“Nine Rivers Double-distilled Wine”), made from rice.

Anyway, at the banquets that are indispensable parts of building relationships in China, it is (or was in the
pre-commercial 1980s anyway) de rigeur to have round after round of toasting, usually with Maotai. It was possible for the faint-hearted to toast with beer, or one of the early Chinese grape wines served at that time, or - Heaven forbid! - Kěkǒukělè 可口可樂 "Coca Cola," but it revealed a certain lack of courage, like not eating the obligatory sea slugs ("good for your blood pressure") or duck tongues.

The Mandarin word for “study” – as in, “We’ll have to study your proposal further before deciding to do business with you” – is yánjiū 研究 , which sounds suspiciously close to the phrase yānjiŭ 煙酒, “cigarettes and liquor.” So, it was no coincidence that the foreign guest at these banquets was often expected to bring the Maotai, which was rather expensive by the Chinese standards of the day, and sometimes a few packs of duty-free Wànbăolù 萬寶路 cigarettes ("Marlboros") to pass around.

At these banquets, the Mandarin was told many times that his pŭtōnghuà (a/k/a “Mandarin”) became much more fluent after a few Maotais loosened him up. The Mandarin never danced on any tables (as far as he can remember) but did recite a few 8th century poems from memory and once received a memorable compliment: “Shào wài (young foreigner), when you get drunk, your accent reminds me of my grandfather.” The Mandarin’s original teacher spoke a very pure and precise old-fashioned Beijing dialect, as it turned out.

Anyway, to the point:
When Maotai was designated China's official liquor, Premier Zhou Enlai - to preserve the purity of the water used to make it - banned any development or competing distilleries for a hundred or so kilometers upriver of the Maotai distillery, located in the northwestern part of the province of Guizhou, on the Chìshuĭ 赤水 "Red River."

With a Starbucks operating in the Forbidden City these days, should it surprise the Mandarin's readers that Zhou Enlai's ban is no longer enforced? A recent news story [link] reported:

The water purity of a river tapped to make China's national liquor is being threatened by uncontrolled building of other drinks factories along its banks, the official Xinhua news agency reported Monday.

Kweichow Moutai, maker of the fiery Maotai drink served at Chinese state banquets and used to toast guests ranging from Margaret Thatcher to Kim Il-sung, draws water for the brew from the Chishui River in remote southwest Guizhou province.

But authorities are investigating how 39 illegal alcoholic drinks plants have sprung up by the river, polluting both the air and water, Xinhua said.

[The Mandarin suspects the water of the Red River may at last be living up to its name....]

"It seriously threatens the environmental security of the Chishui River and the production base of Maotai," it added.

The illegal factories have been fined and ordered to close, the report said.

Well, given the track record of the Chinese government in enforcing such environmental orders in Beijing itself, never mind in a fairly remote corner of a fairly backward province in the southwest, the Mandarin isn't holding his breath (as he used to when downing shots of Maotai).

So, it looks like the taste and bouquet of China's national drink may be changed forever by unwanted chemical additives flowing down the Red River. But true Maotai aficionados need not despair. The distillery also sells, at some astronomical prices, Maotai aged 30, 50, and even 80 years. And if you believe the stuff in that bottle of 80-yr-old Maotai was distilled in 1927, the Mandarin has a bridge he would like to sell you. We can toast the sale by trading shots from that 80-year old bottle.

Postscript: the next installment of the Mandarin's tasting notes may deal with liquor distilled with special ingredients specifically aimed at ensuring the potency of older gentleman, among them Guīshéji
ŭ 龜蛇酒 "Turtle and Snake Wine," and the granddaddy (pun intended) of them all: Sānbiānjiŭ 三鞭酒 "Three-Penis Wine." And the answers to your obvious next questions are: 1) yes, in powdered form, and 2) deer, dog and seal (apologies to Heidi Klum).

Saturday, May 12, 2007

"Unclear on the concept" - an occasional series

When the Mandarin moved back to California in 2000 after many years in Hong Kong (we'll just leave out the short stint in Charlotte), he rented the first nine months in the posh L.A. bedroom community of La Cañada-Flintridge, which sits north of the city in the foothills of the Angeles Crest mountains and adjacent to a national forest. One charming thing about LCF, as locals often shorten the name, is the frequent sight of deer and other wildlife wandering the lanes at certain times of the year.

One morning, the Mandarin noticed a pair of notices stapled to a phone pole near his house. The top one, slightly weathered, showed a drawing of a mountain lion and read:


A mountain lion was sighted in your neighborhood.

Take proper precautions and keep an eye on children and pets. Bring your pet food inside. When you venture outside, make plenty of noise to alert the animal if it is near. If the lion is sighted, do not run or turn your back on it. Make yourself appear as large as you can and walk away slowly. If attacked, do not play dead as you would with a bear. You must be aggressive.


Stapled below was a much newer flyer, with a grainy photograph of a Burmese cat, that read:


"Fluffy" is a neutered, short hair, large, slightly fat cat, with yellow eyes and hopefully a red/pink collar.


Please call (818) 414-xxxx (24 hrs.)"

Hence the title for this occasional series: "Unclear on the Concept."

Next in the series: "Shotgun" Cheney goes to Iraq to tell them to run an open and honest government and be fair to political opponents or risk further polarizing and possibly destroying their country. Tom Toles nails it.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Have the Italians forgotten where they got the idea for spaghetti and ravioli!?

When the Mandarin read this, he saw patriotic Maoist red:

The local government in Treviso has ordered the northern Italian city's Chinese restaurants to remove red lanterns from their windows because they look too "oriental."

"It's spoiling the appearance of the city," the head of the council's town planning department, Sergio Marton, told Corriere della Sera daily.

"The Chinese put up all sorts of stuff: lanterns, lions, dragons, there's even one (establishment) that did its whole front in oriental style."

Treviso, just outside Venice in the north-eastern Veneto region, is run by the populist, anti-immigrant Northern League. ...

"Treviso is a city of Veneto and Padania, it's certainly not an oriental city," deputy mayor Giancarlo Gentilini said, justifying the order to take down the lanterns within 10 days. ...

"From now on we'll be making regular checks and after the lanterns we'll be looking at all the other decorations around the entrances of the oriental restaurants," Marton warned.

Oh, the horror! What's next? Sushi bars with plastic sushi in the window?

Have those Italians forgotten where they got the idea for noodles and ravioli in the first place!? After all, it was the Chinese -- well, actually the Mongols who conquered China in 1280 and ruled it until 1368 -- who were nice enough to load Marco Polo up with lamian 拉麵 (Japanese: ramen, Italian: spaghetti) and jiaozi 餃子 (Japanese: gyoza, Italian: ravioli) so he wouldn't starve on the long trip back to Venice.

And this is the thanks they get?

What if China had put up a high fence along its border with the barbarians and kept Marco Polo and all the other illegal immigrants out. What would the Italians be eating now? Probably just boiled cornmeal (polenta) and a primitive grain called farro. Yummy.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Curious George misses the point

The Mandarin is continually amazed at the absolutely intractable density of our Decider-in-Chief. Especially his tantrum today:

I strongly reject the artificial timetable for withdrawal and/or Washington politicians trying to tell those who wear the uniform how to do their job.

Listen, former 1LT Shrub, TxANG (click here to see how he dishonored his uniform), those politicians, not to mention the voters who sent you a Democratic Congress, are not telling your Generals how to do their jobs, they are telling YOU (a Washington politician) how to do YOUR job. Get it?

How do you say "Duh!" in Mandarin?

Cross-posted at Watching Those We Choose.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

China's domestic car makers - heading the wrong way?

Here's another in the Mandarin's continuing series of letters to the editors of the Wall Street Journal that they won't print:

The Mandarin couldn't help laughing when he saw the articles in the March 20, 2007 edition of the Wall Street Journal on Roewe and Wuling, two up-and-coming Chinese car makers who are challenging the US and European majors in the Chinese home market.

In an era where no piece of intellectual property seems safe in China, trademarks are no exception. "Wuling" 五菱means "five diamonds" (well, literally "five water chestnuts," but you get the idea) and the name and logo are obvious rip-offs of Mitsubishi 三菱, which means "three diamonds" (san ling in Mandarin). If three diamonds are good, then five diamonds must be better.

And Roewe 荣威 is not just an obvious imitation of "Rover," it is also another of those notorious Chinese malapropisms: the two Chinese characters used to write Roewe are pronounced in Mandarin as rong wei. Another target for Beijing's pre-Olympic language police?

Of course, on the off chance that the WSJ actually does print the Mandarin's letter, then his cover will be even flimsier. Unless his loyal reader(s) can keep a secret....

Friday, April 20, 2007

Alberto's "Eagleton Moment"

Yesterday, after a performance in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee described by one anonymous White House insider as "like clubbing baby seals," attorney General Alberto Gonzales had his Eagleton moment. Shrub's acting Press Secretary Dana Perino was asked:

Q Dana, does Attorney General Gonzales's testimony on Capitol Hill have any bearing whatsoever on his job status?

MS. PERINO: As I've said many times, the President has full confidence in the Attorney General. The Attorney General looked forward to the hearing that is taking place right now. Of course, the President has not seen any of that testimony....

Q So is it fair to say that no matter what the testimony, no matter what the back-and-forth, that the President plans to stick with Attorney General Gonzales?

MS. PERINO: I think -- yes. I think the President has full confidence in the Attorney General and whenever that changes for any public servant, we'll let you know, and I see no indication of that.

This reminded the Mandarin of 1972, when George McGovern gave a ringing endorsement of his initial Vice-Presidential running-mate, Senator Thomas Eagleton, when Eagleton revealed he had once been treated for depression: he was behind Eagleton "one thousand percent." Three days later, Eagleton was a footnote to history.

There are also obvious echoes of Shrub's steadfast support of Donald Rumsfeld right up to the eve of his firing the day after the 2006 mid-term elections.

Also, Alberto has clearly satisfied the requirements of the "Galbraith Rule" (anyone who denies four times that he will resign, will resign).

Alberto is clearly toast.

Something tells the Mandarin that John Ashcroft is sitting by the phone somewhere, tanned, rested and ready. And if his phone rings, we better raise the threat level to ultra-violet.

Cross-posted at Watching Those We Choose.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Counting Bodies

The story of the 32 people shot today at Virginia will unfold in its full horror over the next few days. There will be inevitable comparisons to Charles Whitman, who killed 15 people on August 1, 1966, of whom 13 were shot from the emblematic Texas Tower on the University of Texas campus in Austin. Today’s killer has more than doubled Whitman’s body count.

Fifteen then and 32 today are both shocking numbers. And while the Mandarin has no personal connection to Virginia Tech, he had been a member of the Austin High School class of 1966 before moving away the year before. So he was not in Austin that day, by the grace of God not hanging out on “the Drag” like his friends and classmates Paul Sonntag and Claudia Rutt, who were bodies #12 and #13.

The murder of 15 or 32 people all at once seems shocking in a supposedly peaceful country like ours, but consider two things.

First, there were approximately 10,000 people killed by guns in the U.S. in 2005. That works out to one Virginia Tech every 28 hours. Not all in one place, not all killed by the same person, but on average, in our country, one person is killed by a gun every 50 minutes, day in, day out. And the Mandarin wagers that very few of the killers were part of “a well-regulated militia,” thus Constitutionally permitted to keep and bear arms.

We need gun control in this country, and we need it now. Write your Congressional Representatives and let them hear your voice.

Second, look at Iraq. Iraq’s population is about one-twelfth of the U.S. In the four years since Shrub’s 2003 invasion, perhaps 64,000 civilians have been killed by us or by each other. That is an average of about 45 a day. The impact of death at that rate would be like the U.S. suffering almost 800,000 civilian deaths: 530 a day, day in, day out, for four years.

Or one Virginia Tech every 90 minutes.

We to get our troops out of Iraq now. Write your Congressional Representatives and let them hear your voice.

Cross-posted at Watching Those We Choose.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Well, it had to happen: the Mandarin is banned in China

Yesterday, the Mandarin was browsing some of the other blogs in a grass-roots group called "Out of Iraq Blogroll." Scroll down a bit and you'll see the list on the right-hand side of this page.

One of them, "Real's World," displayed a banner that said it had been banned in China. There was a hot-link on that banner to a web site called Red Firewall of China where anyone can test a web link to see if it will get through the firewalls run by the censors of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Well, sure enough, the Mandarin is banned in China, along with such other subversive sites as Wikipedia, CNN, IMDB, the BBC, the Vatican, the list goes on and on.

It must have been the Martin Scorsese review.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Name, rank, serial number and date of birth

Not to be mean to our gallant British allies or anything , but the Mandarin was stuck in a time warp during the recent captivity of the "heroic" British sailors and marines in Iraq. The time warp was a trip down memory lane to the summer of 1969, when Private Mandarin (not Lieutenant Mandarin yet, that came later) was in basic training at Fort Bragg, NC.

A lot of us had orders for Vietnam at that point, so we were taught that we were expected to do everything humanly possible to avoid capture, including, believe it or not, fighting back unless we were out of bullets or something. If captured, we were expected to reveal only our name, rank, serial number and date of birth. Beyond that, we were to say nothing. We were to resist our captors to the maximum extent possible, and to make every reasonable attempt to escape. Cooperating with our captors in any way, no matter how small, was, as the British say, right out.

Now, the Mandarin was not present when these British sailors and Marines were captured a couple of weeks ago, so his comments are in the realm of the hypothetical, but if we were still in the simpler world of 1969, and if some hypothetical American sailors and Marines had been released after behaving as this lot did in captivity, they would not have been welcomed home as heroes.

They would have been in deep and serious trouble.

Oh, by the way, here is the quaint little litany we had to memorize back then. We also got it on little laminated wallet cards, although we weren't supposed to take our wallets into combat and the Viet Cong would probably have taken them away from us anyway...

It was called the "Military Code of Conduct:"

1. I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

2. I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.

3. If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and to aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.

4. If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.

5. When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.

6. I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

Leaving aside whether the war in Iraq satisfies the condition of article 1,
the fighting in defense of our way of life bit, the way the Brits handled themselves seems to have been as the Brits say, a bit dodgy.

But that was then and there. And this is here and now.

Crossposted at Watching Those we Choose.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Calm down, little Shrub, or Mommy spank!

Shrub seems a little nervous, even though Speaker Pelosi had told him earlier that day to "Calm down with the threats, there's a new Congress in town."

Anyone know where the Mandarin can get a "Nancy for President" bumper sticker?

Original photo caption: U.S. President George W. Bush (R) reacts as he listens to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner at a hotel in Washington March 28, 2007. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES)

Crossposted at Watching Those We Choose.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Daddy's little girl

Here's one kinky lifestyle innovation for which the Mandarin and his fellow boomers can't claim credit: purity balls.

No sex please, we're daddy's little girls

It has all the ingredients of a wedding. The proud tuxedo-clad father, the frosted white cake, the limousines and an exchange of vows.

But there is no groom and the girl in the long gown is no bride. She's daddy's little girl, there to take a vow of chastity.

In what is becoming a trend among conservative Christians in the United States, girls as young as nine are pledging to their fathers to remain virgins until they wed, in elaborate ceremonies dubbed "Purity Balls."

The gala affairs are intended to celebrate the father-daughter relationship.

The highlight is when the fathers and daughters exchange vows, with dad signing a covenant to protect his daughter's chastity by living an unblemished life and the daughter promising not to have sex until marriage.

Many fathers at the ceremonies also slip "purity rings" around the finger of their misty-eyed daughters or offer them "chastity bracelets" and other jewelry that the girls can entrust to their husbands on their wedding night.

Well, as long as Daddy is slipping a ring or a bracelet on his little girl, why not just cut to the main event: the chastity, oops, "purity" belt? She can add the key to the wedding night swag bag she's saving for her future husband.

Oh, it gets better:

Mike Parcha, who recently attended one of these balls with his 11-year-old daughter Lora in the western state of Colorado, said the events reinforce his family's Christian beliefs.

"We realize that purity is a lifestyle, not an event, and this is just a celebration of that lifestyle and of that relationship that I have with my daughters," he said. ...

His two older daughters, aged 11 and 18, have attended the balls while the youngest, aged 4, must wait a few years.

Let's do some purity math. How old will a four-year-old girl be in "a few years?"
The Mandarin has to ask his loyal readers, does the mental image of an adult man standing next to his pre-pubescent daughter in a wedding dress, taking a vow together and slipping a ring on her finger give any one else the creeps?

The three girls, along with their three brothers, are all home schooled. Parcha's oldest daughter Christy, who recently graduated from high school, is now working on a fictional book about "the emotional purity of a young girl as she grows up."

[Cue Homer Simpson's voice] "Hmmm... Fictional book...."

UPDATE (24 Mar 07) - The Mandarin was amused to see Bill Maher making the same joke a day later on his show. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Bill....

Friday, March 16, 2007

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: "I shot Buckwheat"

As part of his recent rambling confession to almost every real or imagined terrorist plot, attack, or pipe-dream of the last dozen years, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (affectionately known as "KSM" to his CIA jailers at their secret prison in Poland over the last few years) has confessed to the last major unsolved crime of the 20th century: Who Shot Buckwheat.

Whether KSM really shot Buckwheat, or is just feeding his allegedly massive ego, or is simply padding his resume in anticipation of immanent martyrdom down at Guantanamo, or is trying to draw attention away from the real jihadist mastermind who planned the assassination of Buckwheat, well,... we may never know.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Harvesting organs from prisoners moves closer to home

As an update to the Mandarin's recent post on the Chinese government's practice of harvesting organs for transplant from prisoners, especially those imprisoned for merely practicing their religion, here is a recent headline from our own, more enlightened country:

South Carolina lawmakers may cut jail time for inmates who donate organs

COLUMBIA, South Carolina: Inmates in South Carolina could soon find that a kidney is worth 180 days.

Lawmakers are considering legislation that would let prisoners donate organs or bone marrow in exchange for time off their jail sentences.

A state Senate panel on Thursday endorsed creating an organ-and-tissue donation program for inmates. But legislators postponed debate on a measure to reduce the sentences of participating prisoners, citing concern that federal law may not allow it.

"I think it's imperative that we go all out and see what we can do," said the bills' chief sponsor, Democratic Sen. Ralph Anderson.

Well, this isn't the same thing as killing prisoners to harvest organs for a profitable transplant business, as in China. And, the Mandarin (who had his own kidney disease as a child) would love to see more people donate organs, but somehow the quid pro quo here just doesn't seem right. Does it?

Crossposted at Watching Those We Choose.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Cheney chooses outpatient treatment for his clot

rather than check into Walter Reed, as he always used to do when he had these little health issues, like heart attacks, etc.

And the Mandarin has been down with some kind of pesky flu-bug for a week, but will be back on top of his form soon.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Cheney finally hears a shot fired in anger

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 22, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Curious George goes to Peoria

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

Well, Mouseketeers, did he play in Peoria?

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

Monday, February 05, 2007

Religious freedom in China and the Falungong body snatcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crossposted at Watching Those We Choose.

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

Monday, January 29, 2007


If you thought the unexpurgated title was "clusterbomb," give yourself a point.

It turns out that a significant part of those Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (a/k/a cluster****s) the Mandarin wrote about recently were made in the good old U S of A and sold to Israel on the condition they not do exactly what they ended up doing after all: firing them into civilian areas.

Leaving a lot of unexploded bomblets that look like the photo - the kind of
brightly-colored thing that a kid might pick up. With allies like these, who needs enemies?

Yes, Yogi, its déjà vu all over again.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why is this man smiling?

I get the feeling he knows something we don't know. Jeez, I hope the word "Iran" isn't in there anywhere....

Bizarro Condi Rice: Bizarro President! The situation in Iraq is hopeless!

Bizarro Shrub: Excellent news! Send in more troops!

Bizarro Condi Rice: That will make Iran very happy!

Bizarro Shrub: Just what I didn't intend! Time for me to wake up from my nap! [falls asleep with loud thunk as his head hits his desk]

Apologies to Saturday Night live. And to my reader(s) for using Bizarro twice.

Original photo caption: President Bush arrives on the South Lawn of the White House, January 22, 2007. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Chuck Hagel said it best....

What a speech. Click me.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Oh, lovely. China can shoot down satellites now.

The newspapers are reporting that China shot down one of its old weather satellites last week with a ground-launched missile, something only the US and the former Soviet Union had managed to do until then. The satellite was in orbit about 500 miles up.

As a grad student in Chinese Classics back in the early 1970s, the Mandarin learned an important lesson about China from an old professor. The professor, referring to the year the Mongols conquered China, said: “Remember, young Mandarin, in China, everything after 1280 is journalism.” China takes a very long view of history and the place of “the present” in history. What happened yesterday or last week may not ring the kind of alarm bells for them that we hear in the West.

So, keeping in mind that “too soon to tell” has a long fuse in China, there are a couple of worrisome points to consider. One is the threat from such a weapon in China’s active arsenal, and the other is the threat of future sales of that weapon to others. Iran comes to mind.

China’s military forces are large, but generally regarded to be poorly equipped, at least when compared to first-world forces like ours or Britain’s. A lot of our military advantage is based on advanced technology. A missile that can shoot down our spy or communication satellites would be an effective way to partially blind our theater forces and make the battlefield more level for the Chinese, with millions of infantrymen fixing their bayonets. Public information sources suggest the elliptical orbits of our recon satellites have maximum and minimum altitudes of about 600 and 160 miles respectively. So a missile like the one the Chinese fired is right in that ballpark.

China is thought to export about $1 billion in arms a year, though sophisticated weapons may not make up a large portion of that. Chinese weapons performed poorly during the Gulf war, which hurt their reputation. In the particular case of Iran, however, China has been a major supplier of missiles over the years, beginning with anti-ship cruise missiles like the NY-2 Silkworm in the 1980s and the newer C-801 and C-802 in the 1990s.

More disturbing have been China’s sales of ballistic missiles to Iran, including an export model (the M-11) of their famous Dongfeng 東風 (“East Wind”) series. Now, admittedly, these aren’t the ICBMs that had many of us early-cohort Baby Boomers hiding under our wooden school desks back in the late 1950s. They have a maximum range of less than 400 miles. The point is that Iran is a long-time client of China’s missile sales force, and with China’s demand for petroleum, especially motor gasoline, soaring, the banker in me sees an obvious deal lurking in there somewhere.

And, don’t forget that Pakistan has a long history of writing big checks for China’s latest models of export missiles as well, so the plot in that whole neck of the woods could definitely thicken.

As the new Congress settles down to business, it will also be interesting to see if this somehow percolates into the Congressional debate, but -- as the Mandarin said -- it is “too soon to tell.”

Unless of course, the Chinese missiles pop a couple of our GPS satellites and then millions of Americans in SUVs, wandering around lost and low on gas with their fancy $2,000 navigation units on the fritz, pull over at the next payphone and call their Congressmen to complain.

Footnote: The Mandarin just took a quick peek at the mainland Chinese-language blogosphere, and an unscientific impression was that the hits on “satellite” (卫星) and “missile” (飞弹) were dwarfed by the ongoing tizzy over a Starbucks cafe in the Forbidden City.

Cross-posted at Watching Those We Choose

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" and the Buddhist concept of Hell

The Mandarin is a bit of an awards show junkie, so he was curled up in front of the TV last night watching the Golden Globe awards. (His excuse was that it was business related, since the Mandarin’s day job is somewhat related to the entertainment industry.)

During the show, one of the presenters mentioned that William Monahan, who wrote the script for Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” based his script on Siu Fai Mak’s original screenplay for the 2002 classic Hong Kong film, “Internal Affairs.”

At that point, the Mandarin switched back to “Mandarin mode.” Because she got it wrong, a mistake the Mandarin has noticed too often in reviews and discussions of Scorsese’s excellent film. The English title of the original film was “Infernal Affairs,” with an “f.” And the Mandarin being the Mandarin, prepare yourself for the explanation.

The basic plot setup of both films is the same: two young police academy graduates are chosen for dangerous undercover assignments. One is assigned by the head of Internal (with a “t”) Affairs to be convicted of a crime, go to prison, and infiltrate a major crime family. The other is secretly already connected to that crime family and is assigned by its head to infiltrate the police hierarchy. Each becomes a mole in the other’s organization and neither knows of the other’s role. Years pass (ten years in the original) and each group begins to suspect they are penetrated by a “mole” from the other. The irony sharpens when each mole is assigned to discover the identity of their opposite number.

The Chinese title of the original film is 無間道, Mou gaan dou in Cantonese. (It is Wu jian dao in Mandarin, but because the original film is in Cantonese, the Mandarin will use Cantonese here.) Dou 道 (rhymes with "no") is the usual word for “road.” Mou gaan, literally “without gaps,” or “uninterrupted,” is an abbreviation of mou gaan dei yuk 無間地獄, a translation of the Sanskrit Buddhist term avīcinakara, the “endless hell.”

Unlike popular Christianity, with its one hell where souls suffer for eternity, popular Buddhism has over a hundred different hells. Some are cleverly designed on the principle that the punishment should fit the crime, for example one where gluttons suffer in a hell that is a perpetual banquet where they cannot eat anything because their mouths are too small for even a crumb of food to enter. There are sixteen principal hells, eight “cold,” and eight “hot.” Mou gaan dei yuk is the eighth and lowest, or “hottest” of the hot hells.

Most Buddhist hells are different from the Christian hell in one key way: after a period of suffering sufficient to compensate for their bad karma (“deeds”), souls reenter the cycle of rebirth and have another chance to live a better life on the path to nirvāna (imagine a dot under the second “n”), or enlightenment. In this way, Buddhist hells are more like the Catholic Purgatory. Once their punishment ends, the Catholic soul in Purgatory goes to Heaven and the Buddhist soul in hell is reborn on Earth.

All except souls in the mou gaan hell. Among those hundreds of Buddhist hells, this one is the real Hell. The meaning of mou gaan dei yuk, or avīcinakara, is “the hell without any interval (of rebirth).” The soul in the mou gaan hell effectively never gets out: the instant they are reborn, they end up right back where they were: in hell. Sort of like Michael Corleone’s famous line from “The Godfather, Part III:” “Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in.”

This concept of endless, unremitting hell is why, despite the prominent role of police internal affairs in the story, the Chinese title is translated “Infernal Affairs,” as in Dante’s “Inferno.” The Chinese title means simply, “The Road to Hell.” The English title is a clever play on words.

For the Mandarin to explain in detail how the concept of the mou gaan hell works itself out in the plot would spoil the film, but those of you loyal Mandarin readers who have seen it will understand.

As a final footnote (the Mandarin never met a footnote he didn’t like), there is also another – unintentional? -- play on words in the title. The intended reading of the title is “The Road (dou) to Hell (mou gaan).” The words mou gaan dou can also be read as “the uninterrupted (mou gaan) path (dou),” which translates another Buddhist Sanskrit term: ānantayamārga, the uninterrupted path to nirvāna, in which all impediments are removed in one lifetime and no further rebirths are needed before the soul achieves enlightenment.

It seems to the Mandarin that this contradiction of opposites, a phrase (mou gaan dou) that can mean both the road to endless torment in the mou gaan hell, and the short path to enlightenment, is actually a symmetry of opposites. It mirrors the theme of the movie, a kind of cinematic analog of the ubiquitous Yin-Yang symbol. The black of the crime family and the white of the internal affairs officers, locked in a rotating cycle of eternal interdependence. And in each half, a tiny kernel of the other, the “mole” of the opposite color, at its center.

And who knew all those long afternoons in Professor Chi's graduate seminar in "Chinese Buddhist Literature" back at Indiana University in the 1970s would bear such unlikely fruit thirty years later: an on-line movie review. Must be the Mandarin's karma.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Condi stands by her man

Shrub, ignoring the Mandarin’s recent lecture on Confucian “Rectification of Terms,” went on TV last night to tell the nation:

1) “Stay the course” is out and we have a whole new strategy, which basically looks like staying the same course with some modest changes in tactical focus, and... oh, by the way,... 22,500 more troops going in, mostly to try to occupy and hold Baghdad’s Shiite stronghold Sadr City by force. Oh, lovely.

2) Sending 22,500 more troops into Iraq isn’t an “escalation,” it is just a harmless little “surge.” Kind of like when the tachometer needle on your car fluctuates up and down a bit when you are at a stop light instead of pointing at the same number all the time.

3) Despite having promised to give every consideration to the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, he incorporated (almost?) none of them into his “new” so-called “plan,” and is doing the exact opposite of one key ISG recommendation, to get US ground forces out of the business of trying to prevent Baghdad’s ongoing (Fawlty Towers flashback: “Don’t mention the (Civil) War”) factional struggle.

4) We know Shrub has a short memory, but to have forgotten a humiliating drubbing by the voters in the recent elections, and instead of using his speech to try to persuade the American people that they should support his strategy, he merely listed the things he was going to do, whether they (we) like it or not. He’s the decider and he’s decided.

That kind of hubris takes balls. Big ones.

And Condi, who should know, is showing us exactly how big they are in the photo above.

Original photo caption: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 11, 2007. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Iraq war as a metaphor for adjusting lawn sprinklers

Today, the Mandarin took advantage of a warm sunny day in Southern California to adjust his lawn sprinklers. His neighbors recently built a "small" retaining wall that - besides encroaching about 18" into the Mandarin's yard - left a strip of bare dirt along the foot of the wall where a swath of Mrs. Mandarin's carefully tended ground-cover (Lampranthus productus a/k/a "Purple Ice-plant") had been trampled to death by the neighbor's crew. So, after she replanted the affected area this morning, it was the Mandarin's job to adjust the sprinklers in that part of the yard so the tender new plants would get enough water to prevent transplant shock.

In the process of experimenting with different spray heads and aiming patterns, the Mandarin realized his struggle was a metaphor for Shrub's war in Iraq. Or more accurately, the struggle of Shrub's handlers to manage the war in Iraq by manipulating the contents of Shrub's head. Since the neocons are out and President Bush (#41) has mobilized his alumni network to attempt resuscitating Shrub's presidency, their first task - actually going on this week - is to empty out the bad old Iraq ideas in Shrub's head and replace them with new ones they hope will finally do the trick.

The little hollow tube gizmo in the picture is called a Shrub Head (made by "Lawn Genie").

The way a shrub head works (the kind in the picture anyway), is that you attach it to the sprinkler pipe, and then any one of a number of different inserts can be screwed into the empty space in the middle: 1/4 circles, 1/2 circles, full circles, adjustable inserts,... you name it, they make it.

So, if you screw a 1/4-circle insert into Shrub's head (sorry, the Mandarin can't help mixing metaphors here), then the fully-assembled shrub head will do one thing and one thing only, come hell or high water, till the sun cools and the stars go dark, and that is spray water in a 1/4-circle pattern wherever you have aimed it. Nowhere else.

Well, after two trips to the local hardware store and several mini-soakings, the Mandarin finally found the combination of shrub head inserts to do the trick. As an old Army Stability Operations geek, it gradually dawned on the him that getting good coverage with lawn sprinklers is a lot like stability operations. The trick is making sure the plan makes sense, the correct resources are available, and the implementation is effective.

And to do that, sometimes you have to empty out the old contents of your shrub head, flush it out with clean water, then screw in something new, turn it on, cross your fingers, and stand back. Way back.

Photo courtesy of Home Depot.

Monday, January 01, 2007

"Shrub mourns death of 3,000th U.S. soldier in Iraq"

When the Mandarin read the article under that headline, all he could think of was young ex-Lieutenant John Kerry's riveting question to a Congressional committee back in 1971: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam -– How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Shrub, of course had Daddy fix it so he didn't have to worry about that particular honor.

Footnote: Just over 95% of those killed (2,863) have died since Shrub announced the "end of major combat operations" under the now-infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner.

He should be ashamed.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

News headline: "Pope makes Christmas appeal for children"

While the rest of us were hoping for an iPod or a plasma TV, the Pope's Christmas wish -- despite all the bad press the Roman Catholic priesthood has been getting in recent years -- appeared in the headlines as:

Pope makes Christmas appeal for children

The Mandarin wonders who was duty editor the night some bored wag came up with that headline....

Original photo caption: Pope Benedict XVI greets a child as he celebrates the midnight mass in St Peter's basilica at the Vatican. The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem has urged Middle East leaders to become "peacemakers" as the pope used his Christmas message to appeal for respect of the "dignity of children."(AFP/Patrick Hertzog)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Get ready, boys and girls

An old professor of the Mandarin's, in the context of analyzing some peculiar laws instituted during the Tang Dynasty in China (618-907), made this pithy observation: "Governments don't pass laws against things that nobody is doing."

In that vein, the Mandarin was intrigued by this little bit of bureaucratic doublespeak:

The Selective Service—the federal agency that would be integral to any draft effort by the Bush administration—will perform tests on its system equipment, The Associated Press is reporting.

Selective Service "is planning a comprehensive test of the military draft machinery, which hasn't been run since 1998," writes Kasie Hunt. "The agency is not gearing up for a draft," an agency official told Hunt, and "the test itself would not likely occur until 2009."

Bush's Secretary for Veterans Affairs, Jim Nicholson, meanwhile remarked that "society would benefit" should the draft return; he later issued a press release stating "he does not support reinstituting a draft."

And the Mandarin means that "boys and girls" in the title literally. Equal rights carry equal responsibilities, don't they? Will we see the Roberts-Alito-Scalia-Thomas "axis of evil" go after Rostker v. Goldberg next?

Anyway, the Mandarin (Selective Service Classification 4-A: "Registrant who has completed military service") wishes today's crop of cannon fodder between the ages of 18 and 26 the best of luck in dealing with their local Draft Boards when the time comes. Or doesn't come, depending on which side of his mouth Jim Nicholson is speaking out of at any given moment....

One of these days, the Mandarin may share a cautionary tale with his loyal reader(s) about his own experience with the Selective Service System, including such highlights as 1) his having received a draft notice while attending graduate school under the G.I. Bill as an ex-Army officer, and 2) a testy meeting with the head of the Tennessee Draft Board, whose name was Col. Sanders. (Would the Mandarin kid you about something like that?)