Friday, August 29, 2008

Most excellent speeches from the 2008 Democratic National Convention

These are my favourites so far:

Michelle Obama:

Hillary Clinton:

John Kerry:

Bill Clinton:

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Why I'm boycotting the Olympics this year

A female activists holds up a torch, its flame a symbol for universal human rights, during an I love the Olympics. The spectacle, the excitement, wondering whether we will win gold this year, the sporting excellence on display for all to see.

But this year, I've decided I won't be watching any of it. No opening or closing ceremonies, no sporting events that normally I would have loved to have watched.

Why? Because it's clear that China has an appalling record on Human Rights, and contrary to all their promises (and the promises of the International Olympic Committe), the abuse of human rights in China has actually got worse in the run-up to the Olympics, not better. As if we couldn't see that coming.

Human Rights

Here's Amnesty International on the subject:
28 July 2008: The Chinese authorities have broken their promise to improve the country's human rights situation and betrayed the core values of the Olympics, according to a new Amnesty International report.

The Olympics Countdown: Broken Promises concludes that in most of these areas human rights have continued to deteriorate since the previous Amnesty International report The Olympics Countdown: Crackdown on Activists Threatens Olympic Legacy, which was published in April this year.

In the run-up to the Olympics, the Chinese authorities have locked up, put under house arrest and forcibly removed individuals they believe may threaten the image of "stability" and "harmony" they want to present to the world.

"By continuing to persecute and punish those who speak out for human rights, the Chinese authorities have lost sight of the promises they made when they were granted the Games seven years ago," said Roseann Rife, Asia-Pacific Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

There's more... including details of online censorship and blocking of a wide range of websites to journalists covering the Games in China, despite official promises to ensure "complete media freedom".
Amnesty International also believes that local activists and journalists working on human rights issues in China are at particular risk of abuse during the Games. Chinese journalists operate in a climate of censorship, unable to report on issues deemed sensitive by the authorities, and many still languish in jail for reporting on such issues.

Housing rights activist Ye Guozhu continues to serve his four-year sentence for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" because of his opposition to the seizure and demolition of property to make way for new construction projects for next month's Olympic Games.

China is still the world's top executioner. The Supreme People's Court (SPC) initiated a review of the death penalty that is believed to have resulted in a significant drop in executions. A senior official said that in the first half of 2008 15 per cent of death sentences were rejected by the SPC.

However, the authorities continue to refuse to disclose the full number of those sentenced to death and executed - the total figure remains a state secret. Estimates put the number of those executed every year in the thousands. Around 68 offences - including non-violent crimes such as drug-related offences – are punishable by death in China.

View the complete Amnesty International report in HTML or as a pdf.

Human Rights Watch says:
The run-up to the Beijing Olympics has been marred by a well-documented surge in violations of the rights of free expression and association, as well as media freedom. In addition, abuses of migrant construction workers who were pivotal to Beijing's infrastructure improvements have increased, as have evictions of Beijing residents whose homes were demolished to make way for that infrastructure. Those abuses reflect both the Chinese government's wholesale failure to honor its Olympics-related human rights promises, as well as the negligence of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in ensuring that China fulfills its commitments.

"The Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee have had seven years to deliver on their pledges that these games would further human rights," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "Instead, the Beijing Games have prompted a rollback in some of the most basic rights enshrined in China’s constitution and international law."

There's more - China: Olympics Harm Key Human Rights.

Destruction of homes

An elderly Chinese woman with bound feet walks through the rubble of demolished homes in a 'hutong' or lane. Or how about the fact that thousands of Chinese people were forcibly removed from their homes, which were demolished to make way for the Olympic stadiums and infrastructure surrounding the Games. The Chinese government claimed that they were all fully compensated and happy, but this is not true:

Tiananmen Square

In Tiananmen Square in June 1989, the Chinese government massacred an unknown number of peaceful protestors. 19 years later, about 130 prisoners are still being held for their role in the demonstrations that were crushed in the military crackdown:


And then there's Tibet, which since 1949 has been occupied by China. Tibet has a history of at least 1300 years of independence from China. In 821 the two countries ended almost 200 years of fighting with a treaty engraved on three stone pillars, one of which still stands in front of the Jokhang cathedral in Lhasa.

Tibetan activists and supporters wave placards and flags as they take part in a peace march along with the group of around 100 core marchers in Dharamsala on March 10, 2008, to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising Day.
From Free Tibet - 10 facts about Tibet

Chinese occupation has resulted in the death of over one million Tibetans, the destruction of over 6,000 monasteries, nunneries and temples, and the imprisonment and torture of thousands of Tibetans.

The basic freedoms of speech, religion, and assembly are strictly limited, and arbitrary arrests continue. There are currently hundreds of political prisoners in Tibet, enduring a commonplace punishment of torture.

The Chinese government increasingly encourages Han Chinese to migrate to Tibet, offering them higher wages and other inducements. This policy is threatening the survival of Tibetan people. Tibetans are becoming a minority in the TAR. Yearly, thousands of Tibetans still flee from Tibet, making the treacherous journey over the Himalayas into a world of exile.

Find out more about Tibet:

Persecution of Falun Gong (Falun Dafa)

From AsiaSource:
During the Republican National Convention in 2004, a group of Falun Gong followers meditate in Union Square and distribute literature to raise awareness of the group's persecution at the hands of the Chinese government. The Chinese government banned the spiritual group Falun Gong claiming it is an evil cult that threatens social stability and spreads superstitious thinking. The Chinese Communist Party... accuses Falun Gong of illegal gatherings, theft, and actions causing the death of followers. Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong... insists that Falun Gong is apolitical and has no intention of threatening its followers or the power of the Chinese government. Despite these assurances, the government has instigated an official crackdown on members including mass arrests, beatings, labor camps, charges of treason and subversion, and vilification in the official media.

Chinese working conditions and slavery

Rural workers rescued from an illegal brickyard at the village of Linfen, in northeast China. In order to produce the cheap goods that we in the Western world take for granted, working conditions for many in China are pretty appalling - with slavery becoming more widespread. In June 2007, police said they had rescued more than 500 people from forced labor in brick kilns, where they were worked 18 hours a day and beaten if they tried to escape:

I know my little boycott won't make the slightest difference to China - but knowing what I do about the way the Chinese government treats its people, I just can't bring myself to watch the Olympics this year. I can't just look the other way and pretend that all is well.

Much as sportsmen and women would like to believe that politics and sport shouldn't mix, I can't see how they can be anything but inextricably intertwined. Politics and sport do mix - because politics determines how each of us lives our life, and underpins everything we do.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

McCain vs YouTube, The Daily Show on Georgia, and Baracky II

Three videos you really ought to watch...

Firstly a grassroots-produced video on McCain and his best buddy Bush - hattip to kossak cartwrightdale - this is brilliantly done!

Next up is John Stewart on the Daily Show, looking at the situation in Georgia, during which we are privileged to share in a stunning piece of hypocritical nonsense from McCain when he pontificates that "In the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations".

Good grief. I think he forgot the caveat (unless you're America). Maybe he just thinks it goes without saying...

And finally, for a bit of a larf (actually, it's bloody good!), here's BARACKY II:

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Do you speak morse? Or even better, machine code?

- --- -.. .- -.-- / -- .. -.- . / .- -. -.. / .. / . -. - . .-. - .- .. -. . -.. / --- ..- .-. ... . .-.. ...- . ... / ..-. --- .-. / --.- ..- .. - . / .- / .-- .... .. .-.. . / -... -.-- / . -- .- .. .-.. .. -. --. / . .- -.-. .... / --- - .... . .-. / .. -. / -- --- .-. ... . / -.-. --- -.. . .-.-.- / .. / --. ..- . ... ... / .-- . / .... .- -.. / .- / -... .. - / - --- --- / -- ..- -.-. .... / ... .--. .- .-. . / - .. -- . / --- -. / --- ..- .-. / .... .- -. -.. ... / - --- -.. .- -.-- !


.-- . / .-. . .- .-.. .-.. -.-- / -.. --- / -. . . -.. / - --- / --. . - / --- ..- - / -- --- .-. . .-.-.- .-.-.- .-.-.-

These might help...

Morse Code Translator

Binary - it's digitalicious!

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Singing puppies to sleep...

OK here's this week's "too cute for words" segment:


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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Like, totally ready to lead

OK I never ever thought I'd say this - let alone link to anything by Ms Hilton - but this ad just made me laugh - and I would say my respect for her (which was pretty much zero) just went up a couple of notches...

"But then that wrinkly white-haired guy used me in his campaign ad, which I guess means I'm running for president. So thanks for the endorsement white-haired dude, and I want America to know that I'm, like, totally ready to lead."

According to the TimesOnline: contributors Adam McKay and Chris Henchy pitched the idea of the video to Ms Hilton after the McCain ads were debated around the world.

"She got it that the McCain thing was a low blow," McKay told AFP. "And she felt she didn't want to return it with angry fire, and that this was the best way to respond. It's a playful jab."

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Where on Earth will YOU vote?

This one's for all my American friends who live here in New Zealand.

Hey Mike, Jeffrey, Sue, Brian and Philip - did you know that you have the right to vote in the US elections in November? Request your absentee ballot now! It's very easy...

Go to to get your absentee ballot - just use your mouse!

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Rest in peace, Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I picked up a battered copy of Cancer Ward about 25 years ago when I was travelling. It gathered me up and took me away into its strange little world, and I've loved his novels ever since.

I have a first edition of the English translation of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich which I picked up in a second-hand bookshop in Wellington a few years ago. It replaced my dog-eared paperback copy which I donated to my Book Club. I think a few people there have read it now, which I'm very glad about. It's a stunning piece of writing, so sparse and so incredibly real - every detail - down to the fish in his soup and the crumbs from his bread - drawn with such precision and detail:

The little fish were more bone than flesh; the flesh had been boiled off the bone and had disintegrated, leaving a few remnants on head and tail. Without neglecting a single fish-scale or particle of flesh on the brittle skeleton, Shukhov went on champing his teeth and sucking the bones, spitting the remains on the table. He ate everything - the gills, the tail, the eyes when they were still in their sockets but not when they'd been boiled out and floated in the bowl separately - great fish-eyes! Not then. The others laughed at him for that.

He laid his mittens on his knees, unbuttoned his coat, untied the tapes of his face-cloth, stiff with cold, folded it several times over and put it away in his knee-pocket. Then he reached for the hunk of bread, wrapped in a piece of clean cloth, and, holding the cloth at chest level so that not a crumb should fall to the ground, began to nibble and chew at the bread. The bread, which he had carried under two garments, had been warmed by his body. The frost hadn't caught it at all.

Shukhov went to sleep fully content. He'd had many strokes of luck that day: they hadn't put him in the cells; they hadn't sent the team to the settlement; he'd pinched a bowl of kasha at dinner; the team-leader had fixed the rates well; he'd built a wall and enjoyed doing it; he'd smuggled that bit of hacksaw-blade through; he'd earned something from Tsezar in the evening; he'd bought that tobacco. And he hadn't fallen ill. He'd got over it.

A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day.

There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail.

The extra three days were for leap years.

It was The Gulag Archipelago that opened my eyes to the true horror of Stalin's Soviet Union. I didn't like history much at school, giving it up in my fourth year, so I never got as far as 20th century history. Which is a shame, because I'm sure it would have been more interesting than all those boring Kings and Queens. Anyway, I was a wee bit hazy on Stalin until I read The Gulag Archipelago. And now I know what a monster he was.
And so the waves foamed and rolled. But over them all, in 1929-1930, billowed and gushed the multimillion wave of dispossessed kulaks. It was immeasurably large and it could certainly not have been housed in even the highly developed network of Soviet interrogation prisons (which in any case were packed full by the "gold" wave). Instead, it bypassed the prisons, going directly to the transit prisons and camps, onto prisoner transport, into the Gulag country.

Solzhenitsyn believed that as many as 60 million people perished during the rule of Stalin between 1924 and 1953. The Gulag Archipelago is an amazing masterwork, a labour of love and a memoriam to all those who died at Stalin's behest.

Author's note on the publication of The Gulag Archipelago: For years I have with a reluctant heart withheld from publication this already completed book: my obligation to those still living outweighed my obligation to the dead. But now that State Security has seized the book anyway, I have no alternative but to publish it immediately.

In this book there are no fictitious persons, nor fictitious events, people and places are named with their own names. If they are identified with initials instead of names, it is for personal considerations. If they are not named at all, it is only because human memory has failed to preserve their names. But it all took place just as it is here described.

Rest in peace, Alexander. You led an amazing life, and opened so many eyes along the way. Thank you.

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