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Reflections on a Wandering Life.....
Friday, October 02, 2020
When I started this blog back in 2003, there was no Facebook. I would typically write a blog post and sprinkle it with a few pictures to illustrate what I was writing about. I am now moving those pictures to the Facebook album format. Most of my travel around China has been by train, although I have also used busses extensively in the western mountains where there are no trains.
Hulunbuir is technically classified as a municipality, but the designation is a bit strange, because Hulunbuir is a largely rural area, and it's huge. It's really more like a small province, but it's not officially regarded as a province, because it is inside the province of Inner Mongolia.
- Enhe, Summer 2013
- Enhe is a little village in the north of Hulunbuir. The older townspeople are typically Russian women who married Chinese men who were working in Russia and returned to China with thier husbands. When I approached them, they generally started out talking to me in Russian. Sadly, the town is becoming a tourist area, so it will become more and more unpleasant as time goes on. The grassland is very beautiful. I would generally take my dinner out on the deck and look across the prairie at the sunset as I was eating.
- Manzhouli, Summer 2013
- Manzhouli had its beginings as a stop on the old railroad from Russia to China which was built at the end of the 19th century. But its importance today is as a port of entry—the largest land port of entry in China. Sixty percent of Chinese trade with Eastern Europe goes through this port. What I noticed more than anything is that many, many Russians come to Manzhouli. These are not really tourists in the sense of people traveling around and sightseeing. They are country people from Eastern Russia who come to Manzhouli because they can shop for such low prices that the money they save easily pays for their hotel bill. One result of this is that many if not most of the restaurants in town serve Russian food, and most of the waitresses speak Russian. I mainly went there because the cool summers are such a relief from the summer heat of Beijing.
Xingjiang is now officially the westernmost province in China. Historically, Xinjiang was not considered part of China proper. Travelers left China through a place called “Yumenguan,” the “Jade Gate.” This gate was considered the dividing line between China and the regions beyond to the west. It was located in the far west of Gansu Province, which, of course is on the eastern edge of Xinjiang. It was this gate through which travelers left China for the regions beyond to the west. Chinese government policy to this day is haunted by the traditional belief that the Central Asian people on the west side of this gate are foreigners who represent an existential threat, and can therefore be mistreated. This partially explains the horrific human rights violations going on now in Xinjiang, where at least hundreds of thousands of Uyghur people have been incarcerated in huge internment camps that have shocked the civilized world ever since the BBC published satellite photos of those Kafkaesque internment camps in 2016.
- Kashgar, Summer 2005
- In the summer of 2005, I flew to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, and then took the train for 24 hours across the burning hot Taklamkan Desert to Kashgar, the 2000 year old Silk Road trading post on the far western edge of the desert.
Monday, September 21, 2020
I am not even sure when Blogspot started using labels for posts. I thought the idea was a bit redundant, since, if you type a word in the search box in the upper left corner, Blogspot will use the Google search engine to search only this blog for blog posts that contain that term. So I passed on it for a long time. But much has changed in the years since I started this blog in December of 2003. Many people use smart phones now to read blogs, and I saw that if you are using a smart phone, it is nice to be able to tap a label at the bottom of the blog post and see all blogposts having that same label. So I have started to use them, and then thought it would be nice if I could create a page where readers could see all the topics listed and then click on the label for the topics they were interested in persuing. It will take me some time to get this done--I guess I will be putting in a few topics a day.
I should also remind you that the permalink for a blog post can be obtained by clicking on the date at the bottom of that blog post.
- A World Split Apart
- This is the title of Solzhenitsyn's address to the graduating class of Harvard in June of 1978. This topic includes posts referring to that lecture. If you are just interested in the lecture itself, it is also listed in the title section.
- Blog posts about aviation and outer space.
- American Civil War
- The American Civil War is the centerpoint of American history. Everything that happened before it was a cause of it. Everything that happened after it has been caused by it.
- American Society
- This is a rather large topic right now, because it includes all posts about America society. Since the blog is mostly about China, I think it will be alright for now. I may need to divide it later.
- Apologetics is not about saying you're sorry. It is a term used to define arguments in defense of the Christian faith. So it would be a branch of philosophy, or at least incorporate philosophical ideas. I guess you could say it is the intersection of religion and philosophy, since religion is about what people believe, and apologetics explains why those beliefs are reasonable.
- Obiously, I hope this topic stays small.
- Back to Jerusalem
- These posts have to do with a movement in the Christian church in China (particularly the informal church) dedicated to bringing the Christian message "back to Jerusalem" by way of the Muslim countries between China and Israel.
- Basic Law
- The “Basic Law” is the law establishing the SAR under the “one country, two systems” arrangement.
- I taught extension courses in the spring semester for three years at Beihai College in Beihai during the years that I was teaching at Beihang University in Beijing. Beihai is a coastal city in the south of Guangxi Province.
- Since the incident with the South China Weekly back in 2013, the Party has tightened its grip on the media in China. Up until that time, individual papers were given a measure of freedom to operate as long as they did not openly contradict the Party line. It should also be noted that every country has some censorship. So there is good censorship and bad censorship. But how do we draw the line between the two?
- Chen Guangcheng
- Chen Guangcheng is the blind “barefoot lawyer” from Shandong Province who helped poor people in their attempts to obtain redress of grievances. He was arrested, spent four years in prison and was then placed under house arrest in his village. He escaped, went to the US embassy in Beijing, and eventually got to America.
- China Inland Mission
- The CIM was the mission established by Hudson Taylor in the nineteenth century. After 1949 they changed their name to OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship).
- China Missions
- For a hundred years—from the first half of the nineteenth century to 1949, western missionaries brought Christianity to China. By the time they were kicked out after 1949, the church had already become quite well established and rooted in Chinese soil. Political events after 1949 forced the church underground, which resulted in an already established institution becoming deeply rooted in Chinese soil. So much so, that China today could not be China without Chinese Christianity.
- China Youth University
- I taught at CYU from 2011 until CYU merged with the China Academy of Social Sciences in 2017.
- Chinese Media
- This topic addresses issues re: the Chinese Media. You should know that published news stories are not necessarily directed by the party. But all media in Mainland China is under the Party, and thus must not publish something that does not have the Party’s approval. Hong Kong media is not under the Party, but there is talk that they practice a considerable amount of self-censorship to avoid offending Beijing.
- Chinese Military
- Primary areas of interest here have to do with China’s relationship with close neighbors and the muscle flexing that China sees as a needful part of its diplomacy. I think this saber rattling has often had the opposite of the desired effect.
- Broad range of issues regarding the history and current practice of Christianity in China.
- Cold War
- When we hear the term “Cold War,” we generally think of relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. But China was within the Soviet sphere until 1962, and long after that in the minds of many Americans who did not appreciate the significance of the split between China and the Soviet Union. We now know that Mao feared Russia far more than he feared America
- This topic addresses communication in a general sense, not just in China, because communication is becoming so global. But there are particular issues with respect to China in particular that also need to be addressed.
- China without Confucius could not be China He is fundamental to everything that happens in China, and particularly how countryside people respond to every day situations.
- What is conservatism? Why is it becoming such an issue today? What is the fundamental difference conservatism and liberalism?
- Corona virus 2020
- Blog posts dealing with the corona virus that started in Wuhan, either (as it now appears) at a virus lab or at a local wet market.
- Deadly Force
- Use of deadly force by law enforcement and by citizens.
- Americans believe in democracy and tend to think the world would be a better place if everyone followed this path. But the divisiveness in American political life is a direct result of Americans giving credit to democracy for the freedom that God gave them instead of seeing democracy as a gift by God to a free people. In other words, democracy comes from freedom, not the other way around.
- Deng Xiaoping
- Rarely can the conqueror become the day to day administrator. Genghis Khan was the conqueror. But Kublai Khan was the ruler. In the same way, Mao was a very clever military strategist, but a horrible administrator. He ran the country into the ground. In sharp contrast, Deng’s policies pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.
- “Point at a deer and call it a horse.” There is a constant pressure in China to all something one thing while we know it is another. The common expression is “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” But as a professor from Peking University said in a lecture I attended, “Socialism with Chinese characteristics is actually capitalism with Chinese characteristics.”
- Blogs having to do with the dynastic history of China.
- This is a topic I am starting on the nature of education in China and of students in China. What are their needs and what are their priorities?
- What really is spying? What are spies like? What motivates them and what makes them tick? What should be our attitude toward them?
Friday, September 18, 2020
The headline for the story in the Atlantic reads: "Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’." Controversy has arisen about this statement, and whether Trump actually said it. But my concern in this essay is not so much with the statement itself, but with a disturbing trend in modern journalism: We are now supposed to accept as truth a report based on "anonymous sources." We are assured (of course) that these sources have been "confirmed," presumably by other anonymous sources, or by the journalist who claims to have actually spoken with the sources, and not merely made up the story (and the "sources").
But how are we to know? During the Russia Collusion fiasco, I remember Reince Priebus talking about a story in the New York Times—again, based on "anonymous sources"—saying that members of the Trump team were in daily conversation with the Russians. This was nonsense, of course. Since I do not read the Times, I don't know the details of that story, but during that time I did watch CBS News quite a bit, because they have a 24/7 news site accessible from anywhere in the world. I was dismayed by how much American news agencies had turned into propaganda networks. They were clearly assuming something to be true and desperately trying to prove it. To my knowledge, neither the New York Times nor CBS News has ever been called to account for their chicanery.
Before I go further, let me get right to the principle that I have tried to hold to and that I feel is being compromised by modern "journalists." It is based on a passage in the Book of Proverbs in the Bible:
He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him. (Proverbs 18:17)Here's how the ESV (English Standard Version) puts it:
The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.So let me state the principle this way:
No man shall be considered guilty based on testimony which is not subject to cross-examination. Period.By the way, this is one of the strengths of the American legal system. I remember many years ago having a discussion in Beijing with a lawyer friend of mine. He said that the weakness of the Chinese legal system was the lack of independence of the judiciary. What he meant by that is that in China, judicial decisions can be dictated by the Party. In America, a political leader cannot tell a judge how to decide a case.
I said that what was needed was the right of the accused to be represented by counsel of his choice. A very notable example is the blind lawyer from Shandong, whose personal lawyers were not allowed in the courtroom. The government provided other lawyers for him. Sometimes those other lawyers are really little more than prosecutor's assistants.
After having lived in China for years now, I see that my friend's issue (independence of the judiciary) is important. But I also feel that the right to a lawyer of your choice is one of the strengths of the American system. If you are accused, you have a right to face your accuser and question him. Or you can have a professional lawyer question him for you. This is because sometimes accusations are brought forward by people with ulterior motives. A classic example is the Kavenaugh case brought forward by Christine Blasey Ford
Many people thought she sounded very credible. So why didn't she succeed? The answer, of course, is cross-examination. Her story fell apart. The people she named contradicted her and the friend she said was at the party said she did not know Kavanaugh, did not see anything, and later said that the former FBI agent working with Blasey Ford had put undue pressure on her. It was clear that she did not believe her friend's story.
There is some talk that the FBI did not do a thorough enough job in that case. One guy complained that they should have interviewed him because he was a "corroborating witness." He said he had met Blasey Ford in a coffee bar or something in 2016, and she had told him the same story. That's not a corroborating witness. Listen to me. Here is your free civics lesson for the day: A corroborating witness is someone who was physically present at the alleged event, who saw it happen with his own eyes, and can thus corroborate the testimony of the accuser, by virtue of having been there and having witnessed the crime. But this
genius civically challenged product of the American public school system thought he should be regarded as a corroborating witness just because he had heard the same story about an event that took place in 1982, and which he had no knowledge of before 2016, more than 30 years after it happened!
This is the problem, you see. American students are woefully ignorant of basic principles of civics. When I was in middle school in Minnesota, we had to take a civics class. I don't think they even teach it anymore. Over and over I hear Americans saying things that betray their embarrassing ignorance of the most basic principles of justice. I actually heard and saw Senator Coons say that Kavenaugh should have to prove he did not do it. In other words, he should be presumed guilty unless and until he is proven innocent. Anyway, it's all moot now, because we now know that the whole case was a fraud.
Her lawyer has now admitted that they brought the case forward because of Kavenaugh's politics. That's disgusting. In fairness to Blasey Ford, I have never heard her say that. But you can listen to her lawyer Debra Katz say it here.
You don't accuse someone of that kind of crime because you don't like his politics or because you are mad at him for some reason. You accuse him because and only because he has committed a crime and he needs to be brought to justice. But she openly admits that the prosecution was politically motivated. So the whole thing was a fraud.
The Bible teaches (Deuteronomy 19:16-19) that if a person brings forward a false accusation, they should get the same punishment as would have been due to the person they accused if he had been guilty. As a matter of principle, I think Blasey Ford should be given one chance to disavow the statement of her lawyer, since she did deny it in the hearing. But if she supported her lawyer, then they should both go to prison.
And I'm not letting the Republicans off the hook, either. In an earlier case, the Republican Party dropped its support of a Republican Senate candidate in Alabama because of accusations of this nature. Leader McConnell said that their claims "sounded credible." What's that supposed to mean? Let me see if I can phrase the new belief that this kind of statement is based on:
If people sound credible, they must be telling the truth, because if they weren't telling the truth, they wouldn't sound credible.As ridiculous as that sounds, that is literally what modern Americans believe. But if that statement were true, slander would be harmless, because we would always know when someone was lying. The reason slander is so harmful, and why it is illegal, is precisely because slander often sounds credible. Not always, but very often. That's why we can't assume someone is telling the truth just because they sound credible, because that has nothing to do with whether or not they are telling the truth.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, infamous champion of the slaughter of the innocent unborn, has now passed from the scene. The attacks on Amy Coney Barrett (her probable replacement) are going to be mean and vicious. People who have no conscience about killing innocent little unborn children will will be ugly and hateful in their attacks on someone who dares to believe that all children's lives matter. And no one should be surprised if these attacks are based on "unnamed sources." This is the new standard in American journalism. Vicious attacks from unnamed sources who cannot be cross-examined are considered truth. This is immoral, and journalists who expect you to accept this standard are truly enemies of the people.
As a classic example of how short the news cycle is in America, the Trump haters have moved on now to the latest "bombshell." I am speaking of Trump's statements to Woodward about downplaying the corona virus. I think it's much ado about nothing, and it wouldn't really be honest for me to criticize him because I'm a dad. That is exactly the kind of thing I would try to do with my kids. That's what dads are for. We take the worry off our children's shoulders and put it on our own shoulders, and we don't let them see that we're even thinking about it. So I can't really criticize him. But if you want to criticize him, I will listen. But if you're a Democrat, I am going to call you a hypocrite, because it was, in fact, the Democrats who were downplaying it at that point in the history of this virus. After all, it was Trump who closed the border to China and the Democrats who blasted him for it.
But there is something about that news item that does cause me some concern about Trump. Woodward's report presents one more example of Trump's lack of judgment when it comes to dealing with the media. He criticizes them, but he can't resist talking to them. Now, press conferences are one thing--I give him high marks for that. But what in the world was he doing talking to Bob Woodward for hour after hour--eighteen interviews in all? I wouldn't have given Woodward 15 minutes. He built his career on "unnamed sources."
For those of you unfamiliar with Bob Woodward, he has a long-standing reputation for dishonesty. He wrote a book about William Casey, published, conveniently, right after Casey's death, where he claims to have had a deathbed interview with Casey, which the security detail around Casey said could not have happened because Woodword was thrown out when he tried to get to Casey.
The comparison between these two news stories and the two impeachment inquiries is interesting. In both cases, the first was completely bogus—based on unnamed sources, and the second was a matter of interpretation over a conversation, the details of which are not in dispute.
But let's get back to the Atlantic story. What has happened since it was written, is that so many people who were on that trip (where Trump supposedly made disparaging comments about American troops) have come forward to say that they did not hear him say anything of the kind, that there aren't enough people left to be the "unnamed sources." According to Brieitbart, the Ambassador to France has also come out against it. Now, I know many consider Brietbart to be a propaganda paper, but in this instance, Breitbart was the one news entity doing actual journalism. Why? Because they named the source. You can go to him and ask him and verify the report.
Everybody else just seems to think that we are obligated to take their word for it. This includes Jennifer Griffin of Fox News, who claims to have "confirmed" the story. She got a lot of flak for that. Trump demanded that she be fired. Then some of her colleagues at Fox came to her defense. OK, I am willing to accept, based on their character reference, that she did not just make up a story and call it unnamed sources. But I would also have to say that she is unprincipled. Why? Because she also expects us to believe a story based on "unnamed sources." That's just not something a man or woman of integrity would do. Of course she says they are "confirmed." But what does that mean? I'll tell you what it is supposed to mean. It is supposed to mean that the information provided by unnamed sources has now been confirmed by other courses that can be verified. But for these modern "journalists" it means...who knows what it means? Again, here is the principle:
The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17)Apparently according to Jennifer Griffin (and other "journalists" who are as unprincipled as she), the word "confirmed" means that unnamed sources have been confirmed by other unnamed sources, so that "proves" that he said it. What nonsense.
So what is the solution to this? It is very simple. Build your life on the time honored principles in the Bible, and DO NOT WAVER FROM THEM no matter how much unscrupulous "journalists" try to convince you that God won' t mind if you throw his principles to the wind just this once. Friends, slander is one of the purest forms of evil. If you pass on slander and someone believes it, you are responsible for that. And if they pass it on, and other people believe it, you are also responsible for that. God is not mocked. You will reap what you sow. (Galatians 6:7)
So what will come of this? Well, if the "unnamed sources" come forward, I will eager to hear what they have to say, but I would expect that some of them would have to be the same people who denied that Trump said those things, because, as the Breitbart article points out, there aren't enough people left who haven't already denied that Trump said anything like that. On a trip like that, every contact a president has is a matter of record. He can't just break away from the group and walk down to the store or something. We know exactly who he encountered, and one after another they have come forward to dispute the story.
My prediction: I don't believe they will ever come forward. Jeffrey Goldberg, the
journalist propagandist who wrote the original piece for the Atlantic, says they are afraid to come forward because they might be teased on Twitter. Really? So it's perfectly fine to trash Trump on Twitter about statements he has denied and which are based on "unnamed sources," but it is not appropriate for those “unnamed sources” to face criticism (examination) for their statements? Have you ever known Trump to hold back from speaking the truth because he was afraid of being bullied on Twitter? Trump says what he thinks even if he knows he is going to be ciriticized for it. Some people hate him for that. Are you one of them? So you would rather put your faith in those pathetic souls who hide behind unscrupulous "journalists" like Jennifer Griffin and Jeffrey Goldberg so they can pour out their vile without having to answer for it because they haven't got the manhood to be held to their convictions? I pity you.
Again, I cannot say this with enough emphasis. Expecting a man to be regarded as guilty without allowing him to face his accusers is unspeakably dishonorable. One more time, here is the principle:
The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17)Journalists who throw this principle to the wind and expect you to regard gossip as truth are not nice people. But this is the new normal now, you guys. We are supposed to accept unnamed sources as truth. It's partly the fault of the gullible America public, who swallows this stuff far too easily. And it's also partly the fault of unprincipled "journalists" like Jennifer Griffin and Jeffrey Goldberg, who ask us to believe vicious accusations without a shred of evidence. And no, unnamed sources are not evidence. The legal term is "hearsay." Hearsay is not admissible as evidence in a court of law. I think this is going to backfire on the Atlantic. I am old enough to remember when the Atlantic was a respectable periodical. Now it has been shown to be a rich person's propaganda rag, trading on the light of its former reputation, which is fading fast.
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Click to see Solzhenitsyn's reflections on his Harvard commencement speech in June of 1978
I graduated from college (Oregon College of Education) in June of 1978. The commencement address was given by a Congressman, who lectured us about the evils of inflation. I was left feeling empty by such a morally vacuous speech. A few days later, I opened the Portland Oregonian and saw the text of Solzhenitsyn's address to the graduating class at Harvard. The reaction to his speech is a study in itself, but rather than discuss that right now, I will let you read the speech and then, if you like, you can read his own reflections by clicking on the photo above.
A World Split Apart
An Address by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
I AM SINCERELY HAPPY to be here with you on this occasion and to become personally acquainted with this old and most prestigious university. My congratulations and very best wishes to all of today's graduates.
Harvard's motto is Veritas. Many of us have already found out, and others will find out in the course of their lives, that truth eludes us if we do not concentrate with total attention on its pursuit. And even while it eludes us, the delusion still lingers of knowing it, and that leads to many misunderstandings. Also, truth seldom is pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter. There is some bitterness in my speech today, too. But I want to stress that it comes not from an adversary but from a friend.
Three years ago in the United States I said certain things which at that time appeared unacceptable. Today, however, many people agree with what I then said . . .
The split in today's world is perceptible even at a hasty glance. Any of our contemporaries can readily identify two world powers, each of them already capable of entirely destroying the other. However, understanding of the split often is limited to this political conception, to the illusion that danger may be abolished through successful diplomatic negotiations or by achieving a balance of armed forces. The truth is that the split is a much profounder and more alienating one, that the rifts are more than one can see at first glance. This deep, manifold split bears the danger of manifold disaster for all of us, in accordance with the ancient truth that Kingdom---in this case, our Earth--- divided against itself cannot stand.
Then there is the concept of the Third World: thus, we already have three worlds. Undoubtedly, however, the number is even greater; we are just too far away to see. Any ancient, deeply rooted, autonomous culture, especially if it is spread over a wide part of the earth's surface, constitutes an autonomous world, full of riddles and surprises to Western thinking. At a minimum, we must include in this category China, India, the Muslim world, and Africa, if indeed we accept the approximation of viewing the latter two as compact units. For one thousand years Russia belonged to such a category, although Western thinking systematically committed the mistake of denying its autonomous character and therefore never understood it, just as today the West does not understand Russia in Communist captivity. It may be that Japan has increasingly become a distant part of the West, I am no judge here; but as to Israel, for instance, it seems to me that it stands apart from the Western world in that its state system is fundamentally linked to religion.
How short a time ago, relatively, the small new European world was easily seizing colonies everywhere, not only without anticipating any real resistance but also usually despising the conquered peoples and denying any possible value in their approach to life. On the face of it, it was an overwhelming success. There were no geographic frontiers to it; Western society expanded in a triumph of human independence and power. Then all of a sudden, in the twentieth century, came the discovery of its fragility and friability. We now see that the conquests were short-lived and precarious, and this in turn points to defects in the Western view of the world which led to these conquests. Relations with the former colonial world now have turned to the opposite pole, and the Western world often goes to extremes of obsequiousness, but it is difficult yet to estimate the total size of the bill which former colonial countries will present to the West, and it is difficult to predict whether the surrender, not only of its last colonies, but of everything it owns will cover the bill.
But the blindness of superiority continues in spite of all and supports the belief that vast regions everywhere on our planet should develop and mature to the level of present-day Western systems, which in theory are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is this belief that all those other worlds are only being temporarily prevented by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity and incomprehension from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the basis of their progress in this direction. However, this is a conception which developed out of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, out of the mistake of measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet's development is quite different.
Anguish about our divided world gave birth to the theory of convergence between leading Western countries and the Soviet Union. It is a soothing theory which overlooks the fact that these worlds are not at all developing into similarity; neither one can be transformed into the other without the use of violence.Besides, convergence inevitably means acceptance of the other side's defects, too, and this is hardly desirable.
If I were today addressing an audience in my country, examining the overall pattern of the world's rifts, I would have concentrated on the East's calamities. But since my forced exile in the West has now lasted four years and since my audience is a Western one, I think it may be of greater interest here to concentrate on certain aspects of the West in our days, as I see them. A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party, and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression that the loss of courage extends to the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions, in their statements, and most of all in their theoretical reflections intended to explain how realistic and reasonable as well as intellectually and even morally warranted it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. The decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of those same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries that are not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.
Should one point out that from ancient times a decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?
When the modern Western states were created, the following principle was proclaimed: governments are meant to serve man, and man lives to be free and to pursue happiness. (See, for example, the American Declaration of Independence.)
Now at last, during recent decades, technical and social progress has permitted the realization of such aspirations: the welfare state. Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and of such quality as to guarantee in theory the achievement of happiness, in the morally inferior sense which has come into being during those same decades. In the process, however, one psychological detail has been overlooked: the constant desire to have still more things and a still better life, and the struggle to obtain them, imprints many Western faces with worry and even depression, though it is customary to conceal such feelings. Active and tense competition permeates all human thoughts without opening a way to free spiritual development. The individual's independence from many types of state pressure has been guaranteed; the majority of people have been granted well-being to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about; it has become possible to raise young people according to this ideal, leading them to physical splendor, happiness, possession of material goods, money, and leisure-to an almost unlimited freedom of enjoyment. So who should now renounce all this? Why and for what should one risk one's precious life in defense of common values, and particularly in such nebulous cases as when the security of one's nation must be defended in a distant country?
Even biology knows that habitual extreme safety and well-being are not advantageous for a living organism. Today, well-being in the life of Western society has begun to reveal its pernicious mask.
Western society has given itself the organization best suited to its purpose, based, I would say, on the letter of the law. The limits of human rights and righteousness are determined by a system of laws; such limits are very broad. People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting, and manipulating law, even though the laws tend to be too complicated for an average person to understand without the help of an expert. Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law, and this is considered to be the supreme solution. If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required; nobody may mention that one could still be not entirely right, and urge self restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice, and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of the legal frames. An oil company is legally blameless when it purchases an invention for a new type of energy order to prevent its use. A food-product, manufacturer is legally blameless when he poisons his product to make it last longer: after all, people are free not to buy it.
I have spent all my life under a Communist regime and I will tell that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but legal one is not quite worthy of man either. A society which is based on letter of the law and never reaches higher is scarcely taking advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man's noblest impulses.
And it will be simply impossible to survive the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a legalistic structure.
In today's Western society, the equality has been revealed between freedom to do good and the freedom to do evil. A statesman who wants to achieve something important and highly constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even timidly; there are thousands of hasty and irresponsible critics around him, parliament and press keep rebufling him. As he moves ahead, he has to prove that each single step of his is well-founded and absolutely flawless. Actually, an outstanding and particularly gifted person who has unusual and unexpected initiatives in mind hardly gets a chance to assert himself; from the very beginning, traps will be set out all around him. Thus mediocrity triumphs, with the excuse of restrictions imposed by democracy.
It is feasible and easy everywhere to undermine administrative power, which, in fact, has been drastically weakened in all Western countries. The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.
Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. This is considered to be part of freedom, and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people's right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.
And what shall we say about the dark realm of criminality as such? Legal frames (especially in the United States) are broad enough to encourage not only individual freedom but also certain individual crimes. The culprit can go unpunished or obtain undeserved leniency with the support of thousands of public defenders. When a government starts an earnest fight against terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorists' civil rights. There are many such cases.
Such a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil has come about gradually, but it was evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent in human nature; the world belongs to mankind and all the defects of life are caused by wrong social systems which must be corrected. Strangely enough, though the best social conditions have been achieved in the West, there still is criminality, and there even is considerably more of it than in the pauperized and lawless Soviet society. (There is a huge number of prisoners in our camps who are termed criminals, but most of them never committed any crime; they merely tried to defend themselves against a lawless state, resorting to means outside of a legal framework.)
The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word press to include all media.) But what sort of use does it make of this Freedom?
Here again, the main concern n is to avoid infringing the letter of the law. There is no moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist have to his readers, or to history? If he has misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases where the same journalist or the same newspaper has publicly recognized and rectified such mistakes? No, it does not happen, because it would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the journalist always gets away with it. One may safely assume that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance.
Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none of them will ever be rectified, they will stay on in the readers' memory. How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification? The press can both stimulate public opinion and mis-educate it. Thus we may see terrorists turned into heroes, or secret matters pertaining to one's nation's defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusions on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: "Everyone is entitled to know everything." But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era: people also have the right not to know, and it is a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information.
Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the twentieth century, and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press. In-depth analysis of a problem is anathema to the press. It stops at sensational formulas.
Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. One would then like to ask: By what law has it been elected and to whom is it responsible? In the Communist East, a journalist is frankly appointed as a state official. But who has granted Western journalists their power, for how long a time, and with what prerogatives?
There is yet another surprise for someone coming from the East, where the press is rigorously unified: one gradually discovers a common trend of preferences within the Western press as a whole. It is a fashion; there are generally accepted patterns of judgment and there may be common corporate interests, the sum effect being not competition but unification. Enormous freedom exists for the press --- but not for the readership, because newspapers mostly give stress and emphasis to those opinions which do not too sharply contradict their own, or the general trend.
Without any censorship, fashionable trends of thought and ideas in the West are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally, your researches are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevents independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life. There is a dangerous tendency to form a herd, shutting off successful development. I have received letters in America from highly intelligent persons, maybe a teacher in a faraway small college who could do much for the renewal and salvation of his country, but his country cannot hear him because the media are not interested in him. This gives birth to strong mass prejudices, to blindness, which is most dangerous in our dynamic era. There is, for instance, a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation. It works as a sort of petrified armor around people's minds. Human voices from 17 countries of Eastern Europe and Asia cannot pierce it. It will only be broken by the pitiless crowbar of events.
I have mentioned a few traits of Western life which surprise and shock a new arrival to this world. The purpose and scope of this speech will not allow me to continue such a review, to look into the influence of these Western characteristics on important aspects of a nation's life, such as elementary education, and advanced education in the humanities and in art.
It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world a way to successful economic development, even though in the past years it has been strongly disturbed by chaotic inflation. However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of not being up to the level of maturity attained by mankind. A number of such critics turn to socialism, which is a false and dangerous current.
I hope that no one present will suspect me of offering my personal criticism of the Western system in order to present socialism as an alternative. Having experienced applied socialism in a country where that alternative has been realized, I certainly will not speak for it. The well-known Soviet mathematician Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind unto death. Shafarevich's book was published in France almost two years ago, and so far no one has been found to refute it. It will shortly be published in English in the United States.
But should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive. Even those characteristics of your life which I have just mentioned are extremely saddening.
A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human beings in the West, while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger. Six decades for our people and three decades for the people of Eastern Europe; during that time we have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western, experience. Life's complexity and mortal weight have produced stronger deeper, and more interesting characters than those generated by standardized Western well-being. Therefore, if our society were to be transformed into yours, it would mean an improvement in certain aspects, but also a change for the worse on some particularly significant scores. It is true, no doubt, that a society cannot remain in an abyss of lawlessness, as is the case in our country. But it is also demeaning for elect such mechanical legalistic smoothness as you have. After suffering decades of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today's mass living habits, exemplified by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music.
All this is visible to observers from all the worlds of our planet. The Western way of life is less and less likely to become the leading model.
There are various meaningful warnings which history gives a threatened or perishing society --- the decadence of art, for instance, or a lack of great statesmen. There are open and evident warnings, too. The center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, then; the social system quite unstable and unhealthy.
But the fight, physical and spiritual, for our planet, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future: it has already started. The forces of Evil have begun their decisive offensive, you can feel their pressure, and yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about?
Very well-known representatives of your society, such as George Kennan, say: We cannot apply moral criteria to politics. Thus we mix good and evil, right and wrong, and make space for the absolute triumph of absolute Evil in the world. On the contrary, only moral criteria can help the West against Communism's well-planned world strategy. There are no other criteria. Practical or occasional considerations of any kind will inevitably be swept away by strategy. After a certain level of the problem has been reached, legalistic thinking induces paralysis; it prevents one from seeing the size and meaning of events.
In spite of the abundance of information, or maybe because of it, the West has difficulties in understanding reality such as it is. There have been naive predictions by some American experts who believed that Angola would become the Soviet Union's Vietnam or that Cuban expeditions in Africa would best be stopped by special U.S. courtesy to Cuba. Kennan's advice to his own country ---- to begin unilateral disarmament --- belongs to the same category. If you only knew how the youngest of the Moscow Old Square officials laugh at your political wizards! As to Fidel Castro, he frankly scorns the United States, sending his troops to distant adventures from his country right next to yours.
However, the most cruel mistake occurred with the failure to understand the Vietnam War. Some people sincerely wanted all wars to stop just as soon as possible; others believed that there should be room for national, or Communist, self-determination in Vietnam, or in Cambodia, as we see today with particular clarity. But members of the U.S. antiwar movement wound up being involved in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in a genocide, and in the suffering today imposed on thirty million people there. Do those convinced pacifists hear the moans coming from there? Do they understand their responsibility today? Or do they prefer not to hear? The American intelligentsia lost its nerve, and as a consequence thereof danger has come much closer to the United States. But there is no awareness of this. Your shortsighted politicians who signed the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree breathing space; however, a hundredfold Vietnam now looms over you. That small Vietnam had been a warning and an occasion to mobilize the nation's courage. But if a full-fledged America suffered a real defeat from a small Communist half country, how can the West hope to stand firm in the future?
I have had occasion already to say that in the twentieth century Western democracy has not won any major war without help and protection from a powerful Continental ally whose philosophy arid ideology it did not question. In World War II against Hitler, instead of winning that war with its own forces which would certainly have been sufficient, Western democracy cultivated another enemy who would prove worse and more powerful yet: Hitler never had so many resources and so many people, nor did he offer any attractive ideas, or have such a large number of supporters in the West --- a potential fifth column --- as the Soviet Union does. At present, some Western voices already have spoken of obtaining protection from a third power against aggression in the next world conflict, if there is one; in this case the shield would be China. But I would not wish this on any country in the world. First of all, it is again a doomed alliance with Evil; also, it would grant the United States a respite, but when at a later date China with its billion people would turn around armed with American weapons, America itself would fall prey to a genocide similar to the one perpetrated in Cambodia in our days.
And yet ---- no weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of will-power. In a state of psychological weakness, weapons become a burden for the capitulating side. To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well being. Nothing is left, then, but concessions, attempts to gain time, and betrayal. Thus, at the shameful Belgrade conference, free Western diplomats in their weakness surrendered the line where enslaved members of Helsinki Watch groups are sacrificing their lives.
Western thinking has become conservative: the world situation should stay as it is at any cost, there should be no changes. This debilitating dream of a status quo is the symptom of a society which has come to the end of its development. But one must be blind in order not to see that the oceans no longer belong to the West, while the land under its domination keeps shrinking. The two so-called world wars (they were by no means on a world scale, not yet) meant the internal self-destruction of the small progressive West, which has thus prepared its own end. In the next war (which does not have to be an atomic one, and I do not believe it will) may well bury Western civilization forever.
Facing such a danger, with such historical values in your past, at such a high level of realization of freedom and apparently of devotion to freedom, how is it possible to lose to such an extent the will to defend oneself?
How has this unfavorable relation of forces come about? How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present sickness? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing socially in accordance with its proclaimed intentions, with the help of brilliant technological progress. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.
This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression starting in the period of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists.
The turn introduced by the Renaissance evidently was inevitable historically. The Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, becoming an intolerable despotic repression of man's physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. Then, however, we turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal. This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man, nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend toward worshiping man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the range of attention of the state and the social system, as if human life did not have any higher meaning. That provided access for evil, of which in our days there is a free and constant flow. But freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life, and it even adds a number of new ones.
At that, in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God's creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, on the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred years ago --- even fifty years ago --- it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries, with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. Meanwhile, state systems were becoming increasingly materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man's sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer. In the past few decades, the legalistic, selfish aspect of Western thinking has reached its apogee, and the world is now in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the glorified technological achievements of Progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the twentieth century's moral poverty, which no one could imagine even as late as in the nineteenth century.
As humanism in its development became more and more materialistic, it made itself increasingly accessible to speculation and manipulation, at first by socialism and then by Communism. So that Karl Marx was able to say in 1844 that "Communism is naturalized humanism."
This statement turned out to be not entirely meaningless. One does see the same stones in the foundations of a despiritualized humanism and of any type of socialism: endless materialism; freedom from religion and religious responsibility, which under Communist regimes reaches the stage of anti-religious dictatorship; concentration on social structures, with a seemingly scientific approach (this is typical of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century and of Marxism). Not by coincidence, all of Communism's meaningless pledges and oaths are about Man, with a capital M, and his earthly happiness. At first glance it seems an ugly parallel: common traits in the thinking and way of life of today's West and today's East? But such is the logic of materialistic development.
The interrelationship is such, too, that the current of materialism which is farthest Left always ends up being stronger, more attractive, and finally, victorious, because it is more consistent. Humanism without its Christian heritage cannot resist such competition. We watch this process over the past centuries and, especially in the past decades, on a world scale, as the situation becomes increasingly dramatic. Liberalism was inevitably displaced by radicalism, radicalism had to surrender to socialism, and socialism could never resist Communism. The Communist regime in the East could stand and grow, thanks to the enthusiastic support of an enormous number of Western intellectuals who felt a kinship with Communism and refused to see its crimes. When they could no longer ignore them, they tried to justify them. 'In our Eastern countries, Communism has suffered a complete ideological defeat; it is zero and less than zero. But Western intellectuals still look at it with interest and with empathy, and this is precisely what makes it so immensely difficult for the West to withstand the East.
I am not examining here the disastrous case of a world war and the changes which it would produce in society. As long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we have to lead an everyday life. There is a disaster, however, which has already been under way for quite some time. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness.
To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging and evaluating everything on earth. Imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes which had not been noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split in the world is less terrible than the fact that the same disease is plaguing its two main sections.
If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty, so that one's life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible to reduce the assessment of the President's performance to the question of how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntarily inspired self-restraint can raise man above the stream of materialism.
It would be retrogression to attach oneself today to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. Social dogmatism leaves us completely helpless before the trials of our times.
Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction. We cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Higher Spirit above him? Is it right that man's life and society's activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?
If the world has not come to its end it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern Era.
This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropological stage. No one on earth has any way left but --- upward.
(From National Review, July 7, 1978; pages 836-855)
Friday, September 04, 2020
Technical Note: I have gotten feedback that this video may be blocked in some places in America due to copyright issues. I live in China, so it is very hard to verify that. Please let me know if there are any issues.
Very informative documentary on Xinjiang. Their estimate for the number of Uyghurs interned in concentration camps is two million. I think that number is high, but I think it is safe to say that there have been several hundred thousand. We have been hearing reports that the camps have now been closed (the documentary also mentions this), but I am skeptical, because many of those who had disappeared have still not been heard from. It could be that they have been sent to work camps. I have several times heard reports that some Uyghurs have been transfered to other provinces to be used for labor. Whatever the case may be, there is no question that a massive, horrifying abuse of human rights has gotten the world's attention. I don't think China expected this. I think they thought they were going to get away with it. The world largely ignored the removal of crosses in Wenzhou in the summer of 2014.
But this is very different. This involves locking up many, many innocent people because of their ethnicity. These people have committed no crimes, and most of them have no political involvement. But they either have relatives abroad, or have expressed too much interest in Islam or some such thing.
In my opinion, it was a colossal error in judgment on the part of the Communist Party. There is no question that has been a public relations disaster. When I first came to China, there was some kind of television program or movie where all the bad guys had Henan accents. Lots of people in Henan complained, but it brought up discussion about Henan's reputation. I was intrigued, because I had never heard about this before, and it turns out that I had quite number of friends from Henan province, perhaps mainly because the house church movement is especially strong there. So I asked one of my Henan friends, "What's this about Henan? Why do people think that people from Henan are bad?
She said, "Henan is to China what China is to the rest of the world." That was a signitficant statement about Henan (whether or not it's true), but an equally significant statement about China. There are times when it seems for all the world like the boys at Zhongnanhai want to make sure China doesn't lose that reputation as the "bad boy" of Asia. So China has come under significant criticism for this great injustice toward innocent people.
But I also see a problem with their critics. They often use the term "genocide" when referring to what China is doing to the Uyghur people. I don't like this, because it isn't honest. Words have meanings. Genocide means mass killing. The Communists are putting the Uyghurs in concentration camps. They are not putting them in gas chambers. The problem with using emotionally loaded terms like "genocide," is that you turn the perpetrators of the injustice you are fighting into victims, because you're saying something about them that is not true, so that creates an opportunity for them to deny everything you're saying about them. Then, suddenly, people are saying, "I guess it's not so bad for them to be putting people in concentration camps as long as they are not executing them," and this becomes the new normal.
No. As I have said previously, deprivation of liberty without due process is a violation of human rights. If you house me in a palatial mansion, give me servants who wait on me hand and foot, and server me sumptuous meals on solid gold dinner ware, you are still violating my human rights if you are keeping me there against my will. We must not back down from this. I suspect that the reason the "supporters" of the Uyghurs use emotionally loaded terms like genocide, is because in their heart of hearts they don't really believe that deprivation of liberty is that bad. So how, then, are they any better than the Communists, who are putting people in concentration camps labeled as training centers because they also do not believe deprivation of liberty is that bad as long as you can convince yourself that you are doing it in the best interest of the people?
What about cultural genocide? Yes, that is a legitimate issue, but a lot more research needs to be done about this. I have heard information in the years since the summer of 2005 when I was in Kashgar about destruction of traditional Uyghur communities. And there is some talk that traditional Uyghur activity is being replaced by fake displays. More recently, the government is scaling back the teaching of the Mongolian language in Inner Mongolia. Reports like this are deeply troubling, and if focus is placed on this issue and held there, I am all for that. But too often what happens is that they start out talking about cultural genocide, and then gradually, quietly drop the "cultural" off the term and we're back to genocide. That's wrong both because it takes the focus off cultural genocide, which is a real issue, and puts it on genocide (such as Hitler putting six million Jews in gas chambers) which is a phony issue with respect to Xinjiang, but also because, again, it puts deprivation of liberty on the back burner so to speak, with the implication that it is not really sufficiently unjust to stand alone as a singularly eggregious violation of human rights. We need to go back to the Magna Carta.
The other problem I have with those who claim to be defending the Uyghurs is that they talk about Xinjiang being an independent country as the ideal. I do not agree. The country name that I see mentioned on Twitter is "East Turkestan." But I'm quite certain most of the people who support the idea of Xinjiang as an independent country do not know where that name came from. It was not a name created by Uyghurs to identify their own country. It was invented by the Russians as an attempt to replace the British name, which was "Chinese Turkestan." The British name was no doubt frustrating to the Russians, because in using that name, the Brits were giving it to China to keep it from Russia.
Back in 2005, I traveled to Xinjiang. I flew to Urumqi and took the train 24 hours across the burning hot Taklamakan Desert to Kashgar. In Kashgar, I stayed at a place called the "Seman Binguan." Behind the Seman Binguan was the old Russian Conuslate, looking exactly like it did in 1890. Across town, behind the Chinibagh hotel was the old British Consulate. The Brits and the Russians were in competition for India--what Rudyard Kipling called "The Great Game." It was the "Cold War" of the nineteenth century, and Kashgar was considered "neutral territory." It was clearly in the interest of the Brits for Xinjiang to belong to China. The Brits never had any designs on Xinjiang. Not so with Russia.
Here's the bottom line: Historically, Xinjiang was either going to be part of Cnina or part of Russia. Which would you prefer? Those who advocate independence for that area seem to believe that the world would be a safer place if we just had one more Islamic Repubic. I rather think not. So you see, the solution to the problem is not to make Xinjiang independent. Who's army would defend its independence?
But that having been said, it must be admitted that China's administration of Xinjiang has been clumsy at best. I have always felt that the people of Xinjiang would have been so much better served if the Chinese government had attempted to hear from the Uyghur people about what their concerns were. But the powers that be in China seemed to be determined to forget about the needs of the people and focus on controlling them. And in 2016 they began to move from control to abject cruelty.
The government policy toward Uyghurs is essentially racist. A couple years ago one of my students told me her family was going to take a trip to Xinjiang. I told her to be careful. She assured me that they had nothing to worry about because they were Han people. She said that without batting an eye. This is not to say that all Han people are hostile toward Uyghurs. Not at all. There are many Han people who are very friendly toward Uyghurs. But they don't seem to feel that Uyghurs should enjoy the same rights that they, as the majority people group in China, take for granted.
Monday, August 31, 2020
I am all for making literature relevant. That's part of a teacher's job. But if you change the literature so much that it bears little resemblance to the original, you haven't really made it relevant, you have made it meaningless.
I hate standing in church and singing dumbed down hymns. I guess they don't think we'll get the poetry, so they make it easier. Here's an example:
Original version:So how do I know that the second one is a dumbed down version? Because of this verse from the book of 1st Samuel:
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I'm come;
Dumbed down version:
Here I find my greatest treasure;
hither by thy help I've come;
Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us. (1st Samuel 7:12)The Hebrew word Ebenezer means "stone of help." So the phrase is rich with meaning. It should be explained or studied until it is understood. But no, that would be too much work. So just make it easy.
But what about Bible translations? Should we make everybody use the King James? First of all, that's a different issue, because the King James is not original literature, it is a translation. No translation has any more claim to originality than any other. Translations are translations. But that being the case, I still think there is a value in learning something about great works of literature, including the King James.
What about children's versions of literature? Mom and Dad gave Mel and I our own Bibles on my eighth and her seventh birthday. I got a blue one and she got a pink one. It was a King James Bible. I thought I should read through it. I tried several times, but I always choked on Leviticus. I didn't realize that Leviticus is a law book. It's not filled with interesting stories like Genesis and Exodus. If I had managed to suffer through Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, I might have sailed through the historical books. But I didn't know that.
So what to do? In our house, we had a book called "Egermeier's Bible Story Book." It was a big book with lots of pictures and short Bible stories covering the main stories in the Bible from beginning to end. I grabbed that thing and read through it, and that really helped me to sort of get my arms around what the Bible was about. But I never, never intended that to replace the Bible. Once I got through it, I put it aside and never looked at it again. It had served its purpose. So if simplified versions can help you to relate to great works of literature, that's fine. But if they replace great works of literature, that's very unfortunate.
So how do we make literature relevant? First, let's all just be honest and admit that reading great works of literature can be a real chore. But if we take the time to break it down and talk about plot, characterization, and theme, it can be an enriching experience. We should also remember these words of wisdom from Solomon:
And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ecclesiastes 12:12)So we should be judiciuus. A big part of becoming literate is the realization that we will never be able to read everything. We won't even be able to read more than a tiny percentage of the best books that have been written. So we need to specialize. Focus. Constantly work the balance between the importance of general knowledge, and the value of being really good at something that not everyone can do. Intersperse difficult works of literature with easier to read stuff. If it's really tough, read a few pages a day. A couple years ago I decided to rectify a deficiency in my study of the American Civil War: I had never read Gone With the Wind. So a couple summers ago, I put everything else aside and started plowing through it. I did what I often do with books like that--I worked my way through the first half as soon as possible and then kicked back and took my time getting through the rest of it. I finished it some time ago, but I just finished entering my notes for it in my database a few weeks ago. It was work. But now that it's done, the benefit of that learning stays with me and enhances my perspective on a very important event in history.
Friday, July 31, 2020
"Andy Ngo, a journalist who is covering the riots every night, has reported that many of the “moms” are far-left activists who change into the standard black clothes and join the violent protests later in the night." Click on the picture to read the article.
Should the United States send Federal law enforcement to cities that are troubled by violence even if local leaders don't want their help?
I don't know how many of you have been to Portland, Oregon, but it is one of the most beautiful cities in America, and believe me, I've seen them all. The horror that you see every night on TV is not anything like the Portland I know. So Trump has decided to send federal troops to Oregon to protect the federal building, which has been under seige for many weeks. If you counted the total number of protesters in Portland (both daytime and nighttime), perhaps you could say that most of them are peaceful. But if we're talking about the perimeter of the federal building, especially at night, the majority are quite violent.
Below is a brief debate on this question. Some have said that what the federal government is doing is ilegal. Not true at all. It has been done several times in recent history. The most notable example, I suppose, was in 1957, when Arkansas governor Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to prevent children from going to school. Eisenhower responded by federalizing the Arkansas National Guard so that they were under him and not under the governor. Then he sent the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to enforce allowing Black kids (sometimes called the "Little Rock Nine") to go to school.
Another example is the story dramatized by the film Mississippi Burning, where the federal government sent the FBI to Mississippi to investigate the murders of three members of the Freedom Summer campaign.
Sometimes you need to bring in the feds if local law enforcement is unable or unwilling to deal with the local situation, or even worse, it complicit in the criminal activity. So the legality of this kind of action is not up for question. Of course it's legal. But the fact that something is legal does not mean it is advisable. Legality and propriety are not the same. So debate is not about whether nor not it is legal. Clearly it is. The debate is about whether or not it is a good idea, and there are arguments worth considering on both sides.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced yesterday that the federal officers would be withdrawn, but both Trump and the head of Homeland Security are telling a different story, so we'll see.
Recently the head of the NAACP in Portland has spoken out on this issue. He said that the Portland riots are becoming a "white spectacle." This is an interesting feature of the Portland demonstrations/riots: This whole thing is not being pushed by Black people. It is being pushed by angry White people. And Portland is becoming known as the "Whitest city in America." What many also do not know, is that many years ago, the Klan was very strong on Oregon. I attended a Black church a few years ago that had actually been financed by the Klan because the Klan wanted them to move out of a White community.
The short video below addresses this issue. There is nothing so special about this debate over any others. I picked it because it is relatively short—the video is 11 minutes long, but the debate starts at 3 minutes in—and because it touches on the main issues people seem to be arguing about. There are six people that you see here, but Shannon Bream, after an introductory statement, does not participate that much in the argument. Here's a little info about the others:
Juan Williams is a liberal/moderate Democrat. I say that as an observation. Perhaps he would identify himself as a moderate--the designations are always hard when you're talking about liberalism. In American politics, conservatism is the core and liberalism pulls against the core, so liberals are destined to become more liberal. Yesterday's lefty looney is today's moderate. But I have listened to Juan Williams over the years, and I think he is pretty good at articulating the classic Democrat position on a given issue. He is also a really nice guy. I don't agree with him very often, but he does make some good observations, and especially brings in useful information that the others may not be inclined to mention, such as the republicans who disagree with Trump's policy.
Jesse Waters is the lead "in your face" conservative in this debate. Not surprisingly, he argues with Juan Williams a lot. Also, his mother sometimes sends him text messages while she is watching the show. Sometimes he reads them on the air. One time she told him to apologize. He is good at articulating the conservative position, and identifying the issues conservatives tend to be interested in. He doesn't miss much.
Kennedy is important for this debate because she is from Oregon and her brother was was in law enforcement near Portland for a number of years. She opposes Federal people coming from outside, but is also critical of the mayor.
Greg Gutfeld is a Libertarian atheist. Libertarians are a combination of left wing and right wing. But my feeling about Libertarians is that it is virtually impossible to be perfectly balanced between the two. When I was a kid playing on the playground at Lewis and Clark School, I used to stand on the teeter totter and see if I could keep it balanced so that neither side could touch the ground. I could never do it for more than a few seconds. This is the way it is with Libertarians. They are neither Democrat nor Republican, but in fact you will find that Libertarians eventually lead toward one or the other. So there are Democrat libertarians and Republican Libertarians. Greg Gutfeld leans more to the right, I think. But not entirely. At the end of the day, he is a Libertarian, not a classic conservative.
All of the above are employed by Fox News.
Thursday, July 30, 2020
The construction of the International Space Station began in the late 90s. It has been occupied continuously for almost 20 years. Always someone there.
So what good is a laboratory in space? The key is that certain things can be done in a weightless environment that cannot be done on earth. So lots of science is happening all the time—not 24/7, they do sleep—but continuously throughout the year. In actual fact, the space station environment is not truly weightless. Gravity in the space station is about 90% of gravity on earth. But orbit is a process of continuously falling. That "always falling" state produces an effective weightlessness.
This tour is really quite well done, I think. It is casual and not tightly scripted, but I like it better that way. It is really good to let scientists like this talk freely and explain the life and activity they live with every day.
As I mentioned in the Science Night post on the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station was built of components which were shipped to space on the Shuttle. Now that the Americans have phased out the Space Shuttle, it would be really tough to try to build a station of this size. But not to worry—the Space Station is expected to operate until 2030.
I strongly encourage you to get a cup of coffee and enjoy this casual tour of the International Space Station. This is really good science.
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
It's an important question to ask, because this case has caused a lot of confusion about the role of police, with some wondering if they are even necessary. And in this picture, we see a use of force that I think we can all agree is not acceptable (given the length of the video), but that does not mean that force is never acceptable. So what kind of force is acceptable, and why do we single out this cop as having used force that goes too far? This was brought to my attention several days ago when I saw a short video on Twitter that a guy filmed with his cell phone camera. It showed a cop struggling with a demonstrator and forcing her arms behind her back. The guy taking the video with his phone was yelling at the cop to get off her. I thought, What an idiot! The woman was resisting arrest, and the cop was trying to get the cuffs on her. That's his job. That's what we pay him to do.
But after thinking about it, I realized that maybe the guy doing the filming did not know the difference. Maybe he really did not comprehend the line Derek Chauvin crossed, and why it is perfectly acceptable and even necessary for a cop to wrestle someone to the ground to accomplish the task at hand. There is a level of force the police are allowed to use, that they sometimes have to use. But there is a line they're not supposed to cross.
This essay will not generate very much debate, because what I'm going to share with you is pretty straightforward and obvious. I know that this case has inflamed the passions of a nation, because of the image a cop putting his knee on someone's neck until he is dead. But what I want to explain to you is that what Derek Chauvin did would have been violation of George Floyd's civil rights even if he hadn't died—even if he had not been hurt that badly. And don't say, "Of course! He was on top of him!" So? Police have to wrestle bad guys to the ground and get on top of them to restrain them all the time. That's part of their job. That's not a violation of civil rights
But in the case of Derek Chauvin it was. Why?
So we need to take this apart. The details seem complicated, but the rule is really simple: The police are allowed to use as much force as is needed to restrain the suspect. Period.
Why is this true? Because one of your rights in a civil society is the right not to be punished by the police. In a civil society, you don't get punished unless and until you are convicted by a jury of your peers in a court of law. So that is the principle that underlies this whole issue: In a civil society, the police are not allowed to punish. The landmark case that addresses this issue is the Rodney King beating in 1991 in Los Angeles. If you have not studied this case, you need to, because it will almost certainly be referenced in the trial of Derek Chauvin.
Four officers were tried in state court, with three of them acquitted and the jurors unable to reach a verdict on the fourth. But they were all tried again in Federal Court on civil rights charges, and two of them went to prison. I remember vaguely the judge in one of the courts—can't remember now if it was the state court or the federal court—telling them that they were not wrong to beat Rodney King, but they were wrong to beat him more than was necessary to restrain him. This is a very important principle in American law, and in any civil society. America is not a police state. The police are not allowed to punish. Not so with China. China is a police state, and the police do have the prerogative to "teach 'em a lesson." I have seen it done. A lady was selling stuff to eat by the side of the road. Apparently she did not have the proper license. The cop did not issue her a citation and tell her to appear in court. He threw her stand over.
I do not mean by this that in a police state like China, all police are monsters. Not at all. I have encountered many very nice police men (and women). Many years ago, when I was summering up on the Tibetan plateau, I was in a little restaurant in the evening. A lady came and sat down at my table. She said, "I am a police woman."
I took her hand and said, "God bless you. Thank-you for keeping me safe." She was rather flustered and soon returned to her table. A few minutes later, she brought me her soup.
So when I talk about China being a police state I totally do not mean that all cops are tyrants. What I mean is that if for some reason the police in a given place have it in for you, or more importantly, if a party boss somewhere has ordered the police to move you out or give you some measure of grief, you cannot appeal to law, because the power of the party (and the police under them) supersedes law. It it's a local matter, you can sometimes solve the problem by moving to a different police district. But you cannot solve the problem by suing them.
But in America, the police are not supposed to be the punishers. They are only supposed to be the apprehenders. Because people do not understand this distinction, we now have people berating the police for just doing their jobs, as if they are not supposed to use any force. That's ridiculous.
I said all that because of one fact that has gotten scant mention in the media: By the time Derek Chauvin had his knee on Floyd's neck, Floyd was ALREADY HANDCUFFED! Now I'm pretty open minded about tactics police use if the suspect is resisting arrest and has not yet been cuffed. But once you have handcuffs on the guy, what possible reason do you have for putting your knee on his neck? How can that not be punishment? That's a federal civil rights violation.
So the guy I saw in that other instance who was taking a video with his cell phone and yelling at the cop to get off her was clueless. She was resisting arrest and he had not gotten the handcuffs on her yet. But in the case of George Floyd, as I understand it, he allowed them to put handcuffs on him.
But then the problem started. He refused to get into the car. He assured them that he was not resisting arrest, but that he had claustrophobia. It is possible and even likely that his discomfort was related to the effects of the drug he was on. Anyway, one of the officers was struggling with him for at least a minute on the left side of the car, trying to get him into the car. What happened next is very important, because it is what led to his death. Derek Chauvin reached over through the back seat from the right side of the car, pulled Floyd through the car and out the right side door. Floyd fell to the ground.
Why did Derek Chauvin do that? Why did he actually pull Floyd out of the car? I believe that he wanted to "teach Floyd a lesson," and that is where Chauvin crossed the line. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems clear to me that Derek Chauvin had decided to punish George Floyd for not getting into the car. He kept his knee on Floyd's neck for eight minutes or so, and all of what I just relayed happened after George Floyd was handcuffed. Remember the rule.
So how do we respond to this. On the left, you have people saying, "Defund the police!" Some of the more moderate ones are trying to walk it back and say that it doesn't really mean that. Yes it does. If you don't really want to see the police defunded, find a way to express yourself that doesn't require you to eat your words every time you say it. Sorry. I'm an English teacher. Words have meanings. Don't say them if you don't mean them.
On the right, I sometimes see a video on Twitter depicting violence in the streets, with a caption that says something like, "Why don't you call a social worker?"
Here's the irony: In the case of George Floyd, a social worker was really what he needed. Maybe not a social worker, but some sort of specially trained police counselor. I've been thinking about this...see if you don't agree with me. If there had been someone there who could talk to George Floyd kindly and assure him that he would be alright, don't you think there is a pretty good chance he could have been persuaded to get into the car? Consider these facts, which are not disputed:
- He was not violent. He did not attack the police.
- I guess there was a brief struggle, but he basically allowed the police to put the handcuffs on him.
- He was on drugs and not feeling well.
- He complained about breathing difficulty even before Floyd was on top of him.
- He was probably having panic attacks. He seemed genuinely afraid to get in the car.
Whatever the case may be, there are lessons to be learned from this. A change is needed. Maybe it would involve having additional trained personnel who would be able to deal with the issues around Floyd's drug use. Or maybe it would involve giving that kind of training to the officers themselves.
But we also need to do a lot more to teach young people about these things—I mean not only such issues as civil rights, but also the importance of the police and the important work they do. How did we ever get to the place where even ordinary citizens are calling for the defunding of the police? The Bible says that they are God's servants for our good (Romans 13:4)
I suppose we could use radar and computers. But the loss of humanity would be hard to bear. Maybe at intersections radar can replace police. But radar can easily be misused. Often it is contracted out to private companies who place the radar in such a way that they catch people who have just been made aware of a speed change and are in the process of slowing down when they are caught. A human officer knows this and can take it into account.
During the years I was on the road, I remember a livestock hauler talking one time about getting pulled over. In the trucking industry at that time, typically bull haulers would be paid a different rate per mile depending on whether they were loaded or empty. Not surprisingly, they tended to drive faster when they were empty. Anyway, it was the middle of the night and this guy was flying through Kansas I think it was, wanting to get to this next load as soon as possible. I don't remember if he said he had his bird dog on, but for some reason he got pulled over.
The officer comes up to his window and says, "Can I see your pilot's license since you're flying so low?" As it turned out, this guy had a private pilot's license, and he had just gotten his physical so his medical—everything was up to date. So he pulls out his pilot's license and hands it to the officer. The officer was flabbergasted and speechless. Now, the driver in question freely admitted that he had really been flying through there. But he was, after all, duly licensed to fly. So the officer says, "We're doing 65 down here on earth, you think you can handle that? He gave the driver back his license and let him go.
I said, "I bet you slowed down."
He said, "I crawled through that state."
Another time I had a load going into Canada. I stopped at a truck stop near the Canadian border and I met a young lady who just seemed to be hanging out and not doing much. Turns out she was also a bull hauler. She told me that she had to wait for another driver from her company because she couldn't get into Canada. I said, "Why couldn't you get into Canada?"
"They kept you out of Canada for a speeding ticket? How fast were you going?"
"Hundred and ten."
I was incredulous. "You were doing a hundred and ten miles an hour?? What were you running?"
Listen to me: A truck driver's daughter barreling down the highway in a big rig with the pedal to the metal doing a hundred and ten miles an hour is a threat to public safety. We do need cops, you guys. We can make changes. Better training. In some cases, more personnel. Maybe even volunteers who ride with cops and help people like George Floyd who do need to be arrested because they are not safe, but who also need help. These kinds of things can be talked about. There are lines that must not be crossed, and we need to understand what they are. But the police have a very difficult job to do—they need our support and they deserve our respect.