Tuesday, February 28, 2006
In 1999, the Chinese Government passed a law declaring March 8 to be a half-day national holiday in observance of International Women's Day. In keeping with Chinese practice, the U.S. China Mission will officially close at 12:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 8, 2006. Therefore, March 8th we will not offer any American Citizen Servcies.
We apologize for the inconvenience this may cause. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.
American Citizen Services Unit
US Consulate General
Monday, February 27, 2006
The always controversial Sex Pistols were to be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year but have refused.
In a hand written statement full of spelling and grammatical errors with language not repeatable in polite company, the band essentially indicates that they will not be at the Hall of Fame induction and do not wish to be inducted. The message is posted on their official website.
Though the band was highly volatile and only together for a short period of time in the seventies they quickly became one of the most influential punk bands. Embodying the British wave of the Punk movement the Sex Pistols were a huge influence on bands like Rancid and the Libertines.
Though the band essentially broke up in the late seventies they reunited several times to tour in 1996, 2002 and 2003.
Other bands and musicians that will be inducted into the Hall of Fame include Black Sabbath, Blondie, Miles Davis and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The honours will be handed out March 13 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.
View: God Save The Queen
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Interviewed on BBC television about his latest films Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck, Clooney said that not only did he accept the right to be attacked for his views but he even relished them.
Clooney, who has weathered attacks since opposing the 2003 Iraq invasion, said at one point that it was "frustrating" to be listed as a "traitor" on a set of playing cards, but he also accepted people's right to free speech.
He later admitted he relished the attacks.
"I think it's important to be on the right side of history," Clooney said.
"I want to be on that deck of cards. And I want to be able to say that they boycotted my films. I want to be able to say I was on the cover of a magazine called a 'traitor.'
"I'm proud of those because those were badges of honour for me because that was when you did it when it was hard to do."
Clooney has received critical acclaim for Syriana - about oil politics and Islamic extremism - and for Good Night, and Good Luck, a reminder of the threat to civil liberties through a story about the anti-communist hysteria in the United States of the 1950s.
Clooney said Syriana did not single out US President George W Bush's administration for attack, though it "certainly goes at this administration" as well as at 60 years of failed Middle East policy.
"If it's an attack, it's because you're asking questions," Clooney said.
Clooney has said the chilling effect of the September 11, 2001 attacks on US politics had inspired Syriana and its unflinching look at the ways extremism and political instability are fostered by the interests of big oil.
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Friday, February 24, 2006
EMERGENCY rule was declared yesterday by President Arroyo of the Philippines, who said that she had to forestall a coup attempt timed for this weekend’s 20th anniversary of the people-power uprising that toppled the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
She provoked furious protests in Manila after detaining an army general and claiming that there had been a conspiracy between political opponents, soldiers and communist rebels to bring her down.
Troops manned roadblocks in the capital as thousands of angry protesters fought with riot police after the announcement, which capped months of coup rumours. A dozen military coups have plagued the Philippines since the fall of Marcos in 1986.
Corazon Aquino, the first post-Marcos President and a former Arroyo ally, joined protesters who included nuns and priests. Police turned fire hoses on a crowd of 5,000, and were pelted with stones. Catholic bishops appealed for calm.
Mrs Arroyo has been tormented by street protests, waning popularity and fears of brewing trouble in the Army since allegations against her last year of vote-rigging and claims that her husband had profited from illegal gambling rings.
Introducing emergency rule, which allows arrest without warrants, is a political gamble just before an emotionally charged anniversary recalling the greatest success of Filipino democrats.
Critics accused her of overreacting and trying to take on dictatorial powers as the peso and stock index fell in value.
Mrs Arroyo was defiant. In a broadcast address, she said: “This is my warning to those conspiring against the country — the full force of the law will fall on your betrayal.” She added that she had authorised the military and police “to take the necessary measures”, and described a “systematic conspiracy” by members of the opposition, communist groups and “ military adventurists” to bring down her Government.
Brigadier-General Danilo Lim, the soldier accused of leading the plotters, had been detained before in connection with a coup attempt in 1989.
The President, in power since 2001, is an economist who pledged to improve the country’s dire economic performance, but she has failed to win much popularity.
Thailand: leader gambles on early poll to subdue rebellion
HE ROSE from humble policeman to the owner of one of Asia’s most powerful business empires, and won two landslide election victories as Thailand’s self-styled “CEO premier”.
But yesterday the once-unassailable Thaksin Shinawatra confronted growing opposition to his autocratic Government by calling an election three years ahead of schedule.
Mr Thaksin, who was returned to office for a third term just over a year ago, stunned the nation by dissolving parliament and calling elections for April 2. It was a dramatic counter-attack against his opponents, who brought thousands of demonstrators to the streets of Bangkok in successive weekends, and the biggest gamble of his colourful political career.
The gamble will probably pay off for Mr Thaksin, who in recent weeks appeared to have lost his sure touch, provoking a middle-class rebellion among city dwellers who had voted for him with enthusiasm little more than a year ago. Now he is embattled. His popularity has slumped, according to opinion polls, and former admirers speak of him with venom.
For many, the last straw was the sale of Shin Corp, his family’s giant telecoms business, to a Singapore state company for $1.7 billion (£1 billion). There was disappointment that it was bought by a foreign company. Mr Thaksin’s family paid no tax on the profits, causing outrage among middle-class salarymen, some of Mr Thaksin’s most loyal supporters.
Although the terms of the transaction were legal, condemnation of the way it was structured was universal. Simmering anger over past corruption scandals and alleged abuses of power exploded. In 2001 Mr Thaksin was accused of concealing assets by transferring company shares to family members, servants and a security guard. He has also been accused of hiring old school friends for key posts and handing out sweetheart contracts to build an international airport.
But although people in Thailand’s cities may have had enough of their leader’s self-serving stunts, bloody crackdowns on insurgents and criminals, and dubious business practices, there is one place where the people love him: the countryside, where 70 per cent of voters live.
Yesterday 3,000 farmers from villages near Bangkok cheered the man who has brought some of the new prosperity of Thailand’s urban world into the impoverished villages. “If you are sick of me, send me home,” he told them. “But if you want to continue using me, vote for me and I will work for you.”
After a meeting with the revered King of Thailand yesterday, Mr Thaksin began his re-election campaign in earnest, promising pay rises and tax breaks for public sector employees. But the election will be won or lost among farmers, the strongest supporters of his Thai Rak Thai (Thais love Thais) Party. Business leaders also welcomed an election that should end the growing mood of uncertainty in a country nervous of street protests and their potential to turn violent. The main stock exchange rose slightly after weeks of wobbling, although protesters have vowed to hold a third demonstration in Bangkok tomorrow.
Mr Thaksin looks almost sure to win the vote on April 2, but his party is likely to be returned with a much-reduced majority. In a country used to weak governments, Mr Thaksin’s bold style and colourful approach have revolutionised politics. The billionaire captain of industry has instilled in Thais a sense of pride in their nation. Yet some of his most loyal supporters are joining the protesters in Bangkok calling for his resignation.
Among them is Chamlong Srimuang, leader of a bloody revolt that helped to oust a military-backed government in 1992. The presence of Mr Thaksin’s first political mentor at rallies has fanned fears that the campaign could descend into violence. “I can’t stand mob rule and I won’t allow them to exert any pressure on me,” Mr Thaksin said. “I respect decisions by the majority of the people, but not by some groups who claim that they have a mandate to decide on behalf of the people.”
THE CEO PREMIER
- Charismatic, he ranks 18th on Forbes’ list of South-East Asia’s richest
- First democratically elected PM to serve second consecutive term
- In 2004 tried to buy 30 per cent of Liverpool FC, funded by state lottery
- Crusade against drugs led to deaths of 2,500
- Hardline approach to insurgency in south. About 80 died in army custody, most suffocated in lorries
Monday, February 20, 2006
Who and why were mysteries, Shi recalled, but the technician promised to pass his complaint on to higher authorities if he put it in writing.
"Wikipedia isn't a Web site for spreading reactionary speech or a pure political commentary site," Shi, 33, wrote a few days later. Yes, it contained entries on sensitive subjects such as Taiwan and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, but users made sure its articles were objective, he said, and blocking it would only make it harder for people in China to delete "harmful" content.
Shi was hopeful the government would agree. When the site was blocked in 2004, he had submitted a similar letter, and access had been quickly restored. Since then, the Chinese-language edition of Wikipedia had grown, broadening its appeal not only as a reference tool but also as a forum where people across China and the Chinese diaspora could gather, share knowledge and discuss even the most divisive subjects.
But today, four months after Shi submitted his letter, Wikipedia remains blocked.
The government has declined to explain its actions. But its on-again, off-again attempts to disrupt access to the site highlight the Communist Party's deep ambivalence toward the Internet: The party appears at once determined not to be left behind by the global information revolution and fearful of being swept away by it.
Officials tolerated Wikipedia at first, perhaps because it seemed to be exactly what the party had in mind when it began promoting Internet use 11 years ago -- an educational resource that could help China close its technological gap with the West, encourage innovation and boost economic growth.
But as the Chinese Wikipedia flourished, the authorities apparently came to see it as another threat to the party's control of information, and an example of an even more worrying development. The Internet has emerged as a venue for people with shared interests -- or grievances -- to meet, exchange ideas and plan activities without the party's knowledge or approval.
With 111 million people online and 20,000 more joining them every day, the landscape of Chinese cyberspace resembles a vast collection of new and overlapping communities. Although Chinese write less e-mail than Americans, they embrace the Internet's other communication tools -- bulletin boards and chat rooms, instant-messaging groups and blogs, photo-sharing and social networking sites. A popular feature of the Chinese search engine Baidu lets users chat with others who have entered the same keywords.
Studies suggest this digital interaction is changing the traditional structure of Chinese society, strengthening relations among friends, colleagues and others outside family networks. In a multinational survey, a much larger percentage of Internet users in China than anywhere else said online communication had increased their contact with people who shared their hobbies, professions and political views.
The Communist Party polices these emerging Internet communities with censors and undercover agents, and manages a Web site that it said received nearly a quarter-million anonymous tips about "harmful information" online last year. But the methods the party uses to control speech and behavior in the real world have proved less effective in cyberspace, where people get away with more, and where the government is often a step behind.
When authorities catch up, citizens often have already weakened the party's grip on public life and succeeded in expanding civil society. They have organized charity drives for rural schoolchildren and mobilized students for anti-Japanese protest marches. And they learned to work together to write an encyclopedia.
"Wikipedia is special because other places don't have this kind of discussion, at least not such an intellectual discussion. It's a place where people with different backgrounds interact," said Shi, a prolific contributor to the Chinese Wikipedia. "But that wasn't even our goal. Our goal was just to produce an encyclopedia."
Meeting of Minds
Created by volunteers who write and edit articles in a collaborative process, Wikipedia is the Web's largest reference site, and it boasts editions in more than 200 languages.
The Chinese one, launched in May 2001, was blank for more than a year before Michael Yuan, a graduate student in mathematics at Beijing University, stumbled across it in a Google search. Yuan said he was enchanted by the English edition, and saw it as "an interesting place to study, hold discussions and share the pleasure of learning and writing." When he noticed the Chinese site was empty, he set out to build it.
On Oct. 30, 2002, Yuan created the first entry, a one-sentence definition of "mathematics." He was soon joined by Sheng Jiong, a Shanghai native studying law in Singapore, who wrote on the "People's Republic of China."
In the beginning, the Chinese edition was heavy with science and technology. The Norwegian mathematician Kirsten Nygaard was added before Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China. But as months passed, people from around the world began to submit articles on a variety of subjects, including wine and cars, history and politics.
In July 2003, a prolific Hong Kong user known online as Lorenzarius sparked one of the site's first political debates with an essay urging people to avoid "China-centrism." He argued, for example, that the war that began when Japan invaded China in 1937 should be called the "Second Sino-Japanese War" instead of the "War of Resistance against Japan," as it is referred to by the party.
Most who responded posted objections, saying that almost all Chinese knew the war by its official name. But they also endorsed his larger point about trying to maintain a neutral point of view in Wikipedia's entries.
A few months later, another debate erupted over how contributors should resolve disputes on the site. Some advocated a system in which only the most active users could vote, but Sheng argued that all users should be treated equally. Lorenzarius concurred, and urged users to try to compromise and seek consensus before resorting to a vote.
To many educated in China, these governing principles of Wikipedia -- objectivity in content, equality among users, the importance of consensus -- were relatively new concepts. Yuan said he consulted the work of philosopher John Rawls and economist Friedrich Hayek to better understand how a free community could organize itself and "produce order from chaos."
"We had heard of these ideas, but they really didn't have much to do with our lives," said Yuan, now a computer programmer. "In school, we were taught an official point of view, not a neutral point of view. And we didn't learn much about how to cooperate with people who had different opinions."
In early 2004, state-run newspapers began writing positive articles about the Chinese Wikipedia, and the coverage fueled further growth. By February, more than 3,000 people had registered as users and there were more than 5,000 entries. By April, the site was getting nearly 100,000 page requests per day. By May, the number of definitions on the site had climbed past 10,000.
Then, on June 3, 2004, people in China who tried to visit Wikipedia saw an error page instead. The government had blocked the site on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Story of Tiananmen Square
The entry on the "June 4 Incident" in the Chinese Wikipedia runs nearly 20 pages, but when it first appeared in September 2003, it was just three sentences. Posted by an anonymous user, it said troops seized control of Tiananmen Square after it had become a "base camp for various hostile forces." It did not mention any deaths or student protesters' demands for democracy.
Two months later, people began to edit the article, inserting a phrase about the pro-democracy movement and mentioning that "many city residents" were killed. But the Wikipedia community seemed hesitant. A few people tried to break the silence, adding thousands of words all at once. But others deleted them immediately.
Then, four months before Wikipedia was blocked, Sheng posted a message saying he planned to overhaul the entry. Slowly, he began writing a more detailed and objective account, posting it piece by piece, starting with a chronology of the demonstrations and putting off the more sensitive subject of the massacre for later. Another user noted that foreign news media had reported that more than 1,000 people were killed.
The changes prompted debate even before Sheng finished the project. One user attacked the article as biased, arguing that foreigners had used the students at Tiananmen Square to subvert the Chinese government. Others urged caution because of the political sensitivity of the subject.
"Regarding the June 4 incident, I know very little," one person wrote. "At least for the present stability, I hope we don't make an issue of this."
Shi Zhao, the chemical engineer and frequent contributor, objected to using the famous photo showing a lone student stopping a column of tanks. "It seems the entire article has very little from China's point of view," he added. "It's basically all the Western point of view. Is this a neutral point of view?"
But after Wikipedia was blocked on the eve of the Tiananmen anniversary, Shi -- who describes himself as a supporter of the Communist Party -- was among the first to call his Internet service provider to complain. He also submitted an appeal.
Then without any explanation, the government restored access to the site.
The 19-day disruption caused Chinese Wikipedia use to drop and prompted hand-wringing in the community that built it. Some suggested that the site practice self-censorship to avoid being blocked again. But most opposed the idea on principle.
"It would have violated our policies, because Wikipedia is independent of any government," Shi said. "We aren't publishing political editorials, just providing information from a neutral point of view."
Instead of backing down, the site attracted more users, and the debates intensified as people tried to hammer out their differences on subjects such as the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, the one-child policy and even the Chinese Communist Party.
Because users hailed from Taiwan as well as the mainland, the most passionate fights were related to the status of the self-governing island. At one point, there was even talk about splitting the site in two, because residents of Taiwan and the mainland write Chinese with different sets of characters.
Technology bridged that divide. A student wrote a computer program to automatically convert text from one set to the other.
Slowly, a community was consolidating outside the party's purview, one that was learning to settle its own disputes, that crossed borders and tolerated those who contradicted the party's views, and that began organizing get-togethers in the real world as well as cyberspace.
It must have been disturbing to some in the party, which has long sought to dominate all organized social activity in China. In September 2004, the government blocked access to Wikipedia again.
Some blamed the decision on an influx of Internet users who were upset that the censors had shut down a popular university Web site. Others linked it to a message posted by a disgruntled Wikipedian on the losing side of an argument two days earlier.
"I have already called the police, and told them there is a lot of Taiwan independence, Falun Gong and other reactionary content here," the user wrote. "I even gave them many entries as examples. After a few days, they will come for an inspection. You'd better get ready. . . . Ha, ha."
'China's Voice to the World'
To the community's relief, the second block lasted only four days. Then, for more than a year, Wikipedia operated free of any government interference.
The encyclopedia flourished, passing the 40,000-entry mark in September, and the community thrived, growing more stable and mature. Users continued to discuss and write about sensitive subjects, branching into current events, but the rancor of the debates seemed to subside. When newcomers resorted to overheated language, veterans stepped in and cooled things down.
So the government's most recent decision to block Wikipedia was a deep disappointment. Shi Zhao submitted another appeal. Cui Wei, 25, a graduate student at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, wrote one, too.
"By blocking Wikipedia, we lose a chance to present China's voice to the world, allowing evil cults, Taiwan independence forces and others . . . to present a distorted image of China," he said. "We lose a chance to share academic knowledge with the world, and as users, a channel to gain information. . . .
"Such an act is no different than cutting off our tongues and shutting our eyes and ears. It is closing and locking up the country in the age of the Internet."
As the weeks passed, many concluded Wikipedia had been blocked for good.
In December, a message appeared on a Wikipedia page alleging the site had been "conducting anti-China activities under the flag of being neutral" and accusing its senior users of being "running dogs for American imperialism." Some suspected the note was posted by a government agent.
The number of people using the Chinese Wikipedia site has dropped, but devoted users are finding ways to access it. The community now boasts 45,000 registered users, most from the mainland. Among the site's 56,000 entries is one that explains how to get around the government's firewall.
Friday, February 17, 2006
Above is an image I was working on but I can't figure out what else to do with it. Any suggestions?
In other news, here are some of the countries people have visited this site from: United States, Canada, Austria, Denmark, Slovenia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, China, Iran...
Monday, February 13, 2006
YAN SHAM-SHACKLETON, GLUTTER,
The problem is not that Google is censoring its search service, it is that China doesn't have free speech.
But I'm always supportive of kicking up a fuss about American companies. Yahoo, Google and Microsoft are part of the "Great Firewall". They helped build the infrastructure to block information.
If I send an email to anyone with a Yahoo.cn account which has the words "democracy" or "civil society", it will bounce back.
These companies are the keepers of information from a billion people for profit. Google is just the latest manifestation of the bigger story.
My blog has been affected by this. On my 30th birthday I wrote about my birthday wish: a democratic China. I went on holiday to China, stayed in a state-owned hotel, and checked my blog from there.
When I returned to Hong Kong, I couldn't get onto the site. Even the host had been blocked. It became a bit of a cause celebre. Bloggers around the world turned their sites black as a gesture of solidarity.
Some bloggers may say this is not an important issue but I don't think enough attention can be paid to Chinese internet censorship. If I were based a few miles across the border, I wouldn't be able to do what I am doing now.
The internet is the way forward to break the silence in China. Every media outlet is state owned. The internet is the back door. For the people who care, it is a hopeful technology.
CHINESE LOAFER, BUSTED IN BEIJING,
There's too much Western media emphasis on internet censorship in China.
Experienced bloggers know how to use proxy servers to get around the government firewall and access Google's main English language site.
Up till now I have used the local Chinese language search engine Baidu. A lot of results in that are censored anyway. What's the real difference? Even if you can search for a banned site, the government's firewall will block it anyway.
Most people in China search for local news, MP3s and software downloads. Some people do talk about politics but the general populace is not very interested.
Perhaps it's because there has been so much economic growth or perhaps it's because historically people have been suppressed by the government, but people don't want to go there. They don't seek out what the government is doing to Falun Gong.
I blog about Western media perceptions of Beijing. I want to present the complexity of life in China. I don't think I have any political agenda. But my expatriate friends tell me that anything out of the ordinary will be considered political here so I find myself pulled into the political.
In China, that can be unavoidable.
ROLAND SOONG, EASTSOUTHWESTNORTH,
I wish somebody would take the position of the typical Chinese internet user. If one is going to advocate a boycott, I would like the criteria to be the material improvement in the life of the typical Chinese internet user.
I think talk of boycotting Google is a bad idea. People in China will not appreciate that because these are esoteric issues for them.
There are a number of search engines and there are many different ways of searching. People want more choice. Don't tell them they are free by advocating a boycott.
I conducted a little test. I searched for mention of the circumstances under which a supplement called Bingdian (Freezing Point) was recently banned in China. The editor of this supplement had written a letter of complaint.
Any mention of this on the local Baidu search engine has disappeared. In fact, when you put a banned search term in, the engine shuts down. If you put in a term like June 4 [the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre] the result is "Not Found". And then you can't search again for 30 minutes. It's a very upsetting experience.
But with Google.cn there are different ways of finding things. You can try any number of subtle combinations. Google gives you more opportunities to triangulate.
There are all kinds of devious ways in which internet democracy can work. Better to have something than nothing.
People are missing the point if they set up the debate that Google is evil. In the end it's down to local laws. The real battle is for the Chinese to fight this law.
KEVIN WEN, KEVIN WEN'S WEB,
Lots of people blog in China. I work for local blog host, Bokee, and the vast majority of our bloggers write about lifestyle.
There isn't a vast difference between Western and Chinese bloggers except that few Chinese bloggers talk about political issues.
If Google applies censorship, it's not a surprise to anybody. Any company doing business in China has to change its strategy. Chinese businesses do exactly the same. You have to follow the rules of the Chinese government.
All Chinese people know that their expression is censored. We don't need people outside continually reminding us of this. We don't really know how it's going to change but we do hope that it will change.
And if we always talk about censorship, it is easy to forget that we have another life; there are so many things that Chinese people are doing.
My blog talks about internet developments and entrepreneurial activities. The Chinese government is really encouraging original innovation from Chinese people. Emerging technologies are on the rise and the government gives us a lot of support.
So much is changing and people will try to bypass the "Great Firewall" to get information. I don't think the government and Google censorship can block all information and news. Things can be organised in so many different ways.
Considering how much China is changing, how much development there is, people will be able to get the information they need in the future.
Friday, February 10, 2006
Fitial had lunch this week with Imelda R. Marcos, the widow of former Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos, at the Makati Shangri-la Hotel in Metro Manila on Monday. The Philippines' former first lady is infamous for once having in her possession 3,000 pairs of shoes.
Fitial earlier said he has asked the Hong Kong-based Yue Yuen, also known as YY, to consider opening a factory on Saipan.
YY is the world’s leading supplier of branded wholesale athletic and casual footwear with 330 factories in China, Vietnam and Indonesia.
American Chamber of Commerce 2000 data show that YY produced 130 million pairs of shoes or 17 percent of the global footwear market for brand names like Adidas, Nike and Reebok.
The new administration has told YY about the duty-free privilege of goods manufactured in the CNMI for the U.S. market.
As first lady of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, Mrs. Marcos amassed thousands of pairs of shoes made by Givenchy, Chanel, Christian Dior and Ferragamo, while the conditions of ordinary Filipinos worsened under her husband’s regime.
Mrs. Marcos fled with her husband to Hawaii in 1986 (by way of Guam) during a people power revolution that toppled the dictatorial Marcos regime. In 2001, Mrs. Marcos opened a shoe museum in Marikina City, the footwear capital of the Philippines.
The governor’s press secretary, Charles Reyes Jr., said he was not privy to the governor’s discussion with Mrs. Marcos nor did he know that they were going to meet in Manila.
Cleveland, Ohio, July 1991
photo by keaggy
And yet something about this portrayal doesn’t feel right; it seems too easy. While Corgan’s post-Pumpkins activities have followed a familiar five-step program of recovery from breakup trauma, his attitude in every endeavor appears laced with a shrewd perspective on exactly what he’s doing, a confrontational spirit that undermines the potential caricature his actions threaten to draw.
“At points when I do say to myself things like ‘I’m going to do a poetry book,’ there’s a voice that crops up in my head that says ‘you’re probably going to take shit for this,’” Corgan explains, “‘but you wouldn’t be the walking cliché that you are if you ultimately cared what people think.’ Yes, the facts present these very cogent pictures of ambition, crass decisions, public pronouncements, but it’s the process that forces you into that. As a musician you just want to do what you want to do.”
The artist who deftly soundtracked countless teenagers’ tortured ’90s survival, spent approximately two years wearing a shirt proclaiming him a “ZERO,” and made perhaps the most notorious symbolic hairstyle change in alternative-rock history, now sits across from me in an absurdly incongruous setting—an old-fashioned pancake house in the bricks-and-Borders suburbia of Highland Park, Ill. He’s even more translucently pale than his MTV history suggests, but Corgan in the flesh is nowhere near the ghoul you’d expect from the footage—his floppy Cubs hat immediately unravels 15 years of Vampire King image-making.
Befitting the sleepy charm of the fairly ritzy northern Chicago burg where we chat, Corgan comes off as a man at peace with his surroundings, even when bristling at public suppositions that have nagged him for years and presumptuous interviewers who misinterpret the musical focus of his upcoming solo debut, TheFutureEmbrace. “When I was 25 I felt I had nothing to lose and I made some pretty good art. Now I think I’m back to that point, but it’s a different kind of nothing to lose. Back then it was nothing to lose because I was a piece of shit and nobody cared about me, so what did it matter if I died in a bloody heap of pedals and cords and wires. Now I have nothing to lose because my life does matter, I’m not going to go with the program any more, it’s not interesting to me.”
Though Corgan is still prone to launch a trademark flurry of verbal punches at his favorite targets—former bandmates, uncooperative record labels and the marketing machines of contemporary music—each rant is delivered in an even tone, with a slight grin belying his awareness that he’s giving the tape recorder what it craves. “You have to understand that literally everything I’ve done publicly has caused some sort of lightning-rod reaction,” he confides, and though he repeatedly denies worrying about the public perception of his actions, he doesn’t shy away from opportunities to set the record straight. It’s clear that if the mid-career checklist is indeed buried in his pocket, he’s not just unwittingly checking boxes but actively subverting expectations.
1. Hastily form a post-breakup band.
From the moment the last distorted note of the Smashing Pumpkins’ career trailed off at the end of the band’s marathon 2003 farewell show at the Cabaret Metro in Chicago, the countdown clock began ticking toward what everyone thought would be a fast start to the Billy Corgan solo career. After all, Corgan had long been regarded a solo artist in band’s clothing, reportedly tracking the lion’s share of guitar and bass parts himself while handling 99 percent of songwriting duties. To lock himself in a studio and begin work on The Billy Corgan Experience seemed the next logical step.
Instead, Corgan juked everyone by recruiting a new set of collaborators: “I’ve never really wanted to make a solo record,” he says now, impending releases aside. “I never felt it was necessary. I liked playing in a band; I think that was shown by the fact that I formed another band right after the Pumpkins.” Debuting almost exactly a year after the Pumpkins split, Zwan hit the scene as a supergroup for members of the Sub Pop Singles Club, featuring indie-rock Hall of Famers Matt Sweeney (Chavez) and David Pajo (Slint, Tortoise, Papa M) alongside Corgan’s loyal drummer Jimmy Chamberlin.
While the alternative all-star lineup was reminiscent of certain classic-rock predecessors’ attempts to delay going solo—Clapton & Blind Faith, Crosby & CSN, et al—Corgan insists it wasn’t a conscious effort to draft musicians with history, describing it as more of a domino process of indie-rock networking. Ultimately, however, it was the underground loyalties of Zwan’s component parts that broke up the band, according to an obviously still-miffed Corgan.
“They proved me right, which is that the whole indie thing is just a pose. I can’t say that about everybody, but our general feeling in the Pumpkins always was that people took the indie route because deep down they knew they didn’t have the talent to make it on the mainstream level. And those people proved to me, that deep down they know they don’t have the talent, or the focus, or the true love of people to want to really get out there and try and connect with people. It’s really about them. And fundamentally Jimmy and I disagreed with them.
“If you’re going to play music at a high level to a large audience, it can’t really be about you. You have to make it seem like it’s about you, but it has to really be about others, it’s really about sharing. And their indie-cred mentality really is about, ‘What’s it got to do with me?’ and ‘Can I find people who agree with me, who think like me, who dress like me, smoke pot like me?’ They’re just assholes. It’s simple. I could go on with a thousand stories, but you can put that in big capital letters: THEY’RE JUST ASSHOLES. They really didn’t care. They didn’t really care about the music, they didn’t really care about the fans … They really just want to live like pieces of shit and live their little weird creepy lives. End of story.”
Then again, Corgan’s fanbase was hardly clamoring for Zwan to have a run as lengthy as the Pumpkins’. Zwan’s Mary, Star of the Sea sold disappointingly despite a strong MTV and rock-radio push, and critically it was considered less than a complete return to form. With a three-guitar attack and a sunnier tone to Corgan’s songwriting, Zwan seemed less a fresh new project than a reaction to the popularity-shedding latter days of Smashing Pumpkins, which found the band exploring increasingly dark territory and Corgan incorporating more and more electronic textures.
Today Corgan admits regretting the Zwan era. “I’m glad that people got something out of it, but it was a total waste of my time. But maybe it was something I needed to do, to figure out there were things I cared about, or to appreciate the band that I was in.” Over in less than a year, Zwan dissolved when bassist Paz Lenchantin left with Pajo to return to his Papa M projects. Once again, Billy Corgan had lost his band.
2. Commence solo career!
There’s one thing Billy Corgan and I agree on regarding TheFutureEmbrace; namely that it returns to a set of formative influences mostly lacking in the Pumpkins’ sound. “I was very into ’80s New Wave and all that. … Certain things come back around, and that feeling has just come back around. In some ways the Pumpkins’ wall of guitars was a betrayal of what we originally were—the sort of more Cure-ish, gothy thing. We went with the rock and it worked out fine, but this is really closer to the sound that I like.”
That sound was occasionally hinted at in the Smashing Pumpkins catalog: “1979,” the self-described “total rip-off of New Order,” and Adore’s keyboard and programming dalliances. But never has Corgan engulfed his music so deeply in the sound of his high-school years, emulating bands that defined the intersection of New Wave and synth-pop like Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen and Depeche Mode. Listening to the album, it struck me as his least guitar-oriented work to date.
BILLY: “I totally disagree.”
ME: “Well, certainly you’re taking a different approach to guitar with this record …”
BILLY: “Well, yeah, there’s only one guitar. I’m trying to make one guitar sound as good as one guitar needs to sound. … I think the guitar is the centerpiece of the album.”
ME: “Okay then, you can at least grant me that TheFutureEmbrace contains more keyboards than usual …”
BILLY: “Honestly, it’s the same amount of keyboards. There were plenty of keyboards on the Zwan album, but people wouldn’t know that because I hid them.”
ME: “So the keyboards are more of a focus on the solo record than on the Zwan album?”
BILLY: “I don’t think so.”
So don’t take my word for it, but TheFutureEmbrace sounds to me like the album Corgan wanted to make with Adore, a love letter to the groups that defined college rock in the ’80s. Whether starring guitars or keyboards, it finds Corgan relying less on the arena-rock dynamics of the Pumpkins and Zwan and concentrating more on atmospherics and a subtle melancholy—what he describes as “this cold, grey, steely thing.” For the first time, Corgan’s music even sounds close to dance-floor compatible, the lack of a live drummer pushing him toward more kinetic beats on songs like “Mina Loy (M.O.H)” and “A100.”
“I think I’ve matured to the point where I’m really not thinking about what other people are doing,” Corgan responds when asked how the album reflects his current influences. “I’m lucky enough to have enough talent to fake certain things, and there are certain times in my life when I faked my way through a feeling or a sound because it was something I wanted, but it wasn’t necessarily how I felt or who I was. This [album] is a more accurate representation of who I am, vis-a-vis the sound and the songs I’m singing.”
But, remembering LL Cool J’s timeless request, don’t call it a comeback.
“That’s kind of a rude question. … I see people ask this of other artists, and they generally have the same stock answer: ‘I never left.’ I mean, I’ve consistently put out music pretty much every two years for the last 15 years, not to mention all the extra work, b-sides and things like that. Comebacks occur because artists make great work. I could very easily look back and be pissy and say—and I did at the time—‘Oh, the fans didn’t get my Adore album; the fans didn’t embrace my arty-rock version of the band with MACHINA.’ But when you look back, the best work sold, and it sold in great quantities. I don’t feel I have anything to prove. I proved that I could do it; [then] I proved that I couldn’t handle it. Having gone through all of that, I’m just going to do my thing, and hopefully be able to do it as much as I want, and there will be room for me. And if I don’t make good enough music they’ll squeeze me out.”
3. Get crotchety about the past.
Here’s a point on which Corgan’s already got a head-start, since throughout his career he’s almost become as well-known for his venomous rants as for his music. As the above comments regarding Zwan’s less than amicable breakup illustrate—age, perspective and the chamomile tea he sipped during our conversation have done little to blunt Corgan’s serrated analysis of those who’ve wronged him along the way.
“I kind of have to ask myself what my karma is, because I see other artists that get a free pass. They don’t get the critical judgment and the questioning that I do. I’ve kind of come to enjoy it; I don’t feel the need to be confrontational. But at the same time, I’m not going to bend because someone has a weaker concept of life than me.”
This attitude fuels Corgan’s disgust with the music industry, whose capitalist machinations he seems to disdain as much as he does the money-phobic underground. “I think we need to accept that rock in and of itself has been taken over by pop thinking. If a young band is getting high rotation on MTV, chances are they’re not an underground phenomenon, they’re a marketing moment. It’s more a statement of our culture than it is about our musical culture. We’ve moved away from a substantive desire to have real things, and seem to be more interested in some sort of Reality TV version of reality. The impression of reality is more important than reality.”
Corgan is reluctant to play a role in this game, brushing aside questions about sales and promotions by saying, “I’m not a marketing vision. Look at me! No hair, crooked teeth, bad attitude—that’s not supposed to work. … You couldn’t dream me up.” But clearly the wounds from the Pumpkins’ final days at Virgin Records still haven’t completely scabbed over.
“My motivation for leaking MACHINA was that the record company had basically given up on the band for good and considered us dead and gone,” Corgan remembers about the free Internet distribution of the group’s final album. “I thought there was an opportunity, because the band was doing so well on tour, to go ahead and bring this other work out. But [Virgin] was so emotionally over the band that they didn’t even want another record that could’ve sold 500,000 copies. … It was literally punitive.”
But despite all the lingering angst and sore feelings, Corgan seems only mildly perturbed as he airs these fervent opinions. Rather than sounding like a scorned artist lashing out at the compulsory business end of his chosen profession, Corgan’s complaints appear to be less the result of personal injury, and more the blunt viewpoint of someone who’s sold enough records to afford the luxury of staying above the fray. The notion that his outspokenness is coming from a place of honesty, rather than bitterness, is supported by an endearing tendency to shine an equally harsh light on himself.
“I’ve completely wiped out and been brave enough to admit I wiped out, where most people would sort of airbrush themselves, sail through it, and pretend they don’t know what you’re talking about.”
4. Start writing poetry.
As part of the confessional process, Corgan has made one of the most dreaded rock-star moves: the crossover to the written word. Ever since Bob Dylan scored a book contract and threw together the unreadable Tarantula, musicians have accepted the flattering overtures of eager publishers with dollar signs in their eyes, attempting to expand their lyric sheets into hardcover material. Awaiting such releases is an almost knee-jerk critical assault, as self-appointed literary protectors histrionically attempt to guard their turf against the presumptuous invader.
Corgan’s poetry book, Blinking with Fists, was greeted with just such a reaction after its release last fall. Reviewing Corgan’s live reading at the Chicago Poetry Center, Chicagopoetry.com editor C.J. Laity called the work “forced, sophomoric attempts at creating what he must have thought poetry is supposed to sound like.” But other observers disagreed, such as Jeff Vrabel of the Chicago Sun-Times praising the poems as being “full of the regretful melancholy of his music and the rhythmic, angular wordplay of his best Pumpkins lyrics.”
Certainly, Corgan’s fans responded to his jump across media boundaries, pushing Blinking with Fists to a high debut on the New York Times bestseller list. For his own part, Corgan has let the snipes and tomatoes roll off his back, and seems more determined than ever to moonlight in typing. Now serializing on an Internet near you: The Billy Corgan Autobiography.
“I’ve never really told my own story,” Corgan says of the project. “I’ve told a lot of stories, but I’ve never told The Story. And I’m sure I’ll leave things out, and forget things, but for the most part you’re going to get The Story, what I actually think happened to me.”
Already underway on his website (www.billycorgan.com), the first entries are somewhat scattershot, non-linear remembrances jump-cutting from playing shows with his first band, The Marked, to the troubled circumstances recording Adore, to his earliest memory of playing with a children’s record player while his parents fought. In talking about the crooked timelines, Corgan makes the project sound both meticulously planned and without-a-net spontaneous.
“It’ll all make sense in the end,” he promises. “I know where the destination point is, but I’m not sure how I’ll get there. I’m literally writing these, editing them and putting them on the Internet immediately, so I’m winging it.”
I ask if it scares him.
“Yeah, it totally scares me. I’m in new territory here.”
What’s definitely known is that toes will be stepped on, as Corgan has previously used his website to blame the Pumpkins’ demise on guitarist James Iha and called his former bassist D’arcy Wretzky a “mean-spirited drug addict who refused to get help.” But when asked about the project’s potential fallout, Corgan assures, “The intention is not to be malicious or cause harm at all. I’m constantly making sure that it strikes me as true. [Sometimes] I’d really rather tell another story, and I’d like you to believe that I’m the genius behind everything that ever happened, but it’s not true. I have to give credit where credit is due.”
Corgan’s literary aspirations don’t stop at poetry and non-fiction, either. Following up the tantalizing book-flap tidbit from Blinking with Fists, Corgan also has a “spacey” novel on the (distant) horizon. “Writing’s the same as music—you have to find your own voice,” he says. “I feel like I’m halfway there. It’s one thing to write poetry—you can ‘miss’ a poem. You can have a poem B-side. But as far as a novel, it can’t be a B-side. It has to be an A-side, and it has to be an A-side for like 300 pages.”
5. Get born-again.
First of all, for the record, Billy says, “I was raised a Christian, but I wouldn’t call myself a Christian now.” But there’s no denying that the tone of Corgan’s Biblical imagery has shifted from the tormented music of Smashing Pumpkins to the considerably more optimistic tenor of Zwan and TheFutureEmbrace. It’s a long way from “God is empty / Just like me” to covering the hymn “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken,” and from declaring, “The world is a vampire” to promising, “We can change the world,” but Corgan sees it all as a logical continuum.
“I think when I was younger it was easier to focus on the negative, nihilist vision,” Corgan says, “Zeroes and black death. This is sort of picking up on the other half of the body, which is God and white light. I saw somebody wrote online that ‘he’s found Jesus,’ but no, I didn’t find Jesus. He’s been there the whole time.”
But Corgan’s faith doesn’t fit easily into the mold of the Christian rocker or the caricature of the celebrity grasping at a shortcut to spiritualism. “My version, of course, is not this flag-waving, let’s all get on the Jesus train and ride out of Hell. I’m not that kind of guy. It’s an embrace that life is good, worth living and yeah, it’s not easy, but there are more pluses than minuses.”
The backlash against rockers daring to discuss issues of religion is well-documented—from the turned-up noses of certain indie factions against everything from the within-the-church criticism of artists like Pedro the Lion and Sufjan Stevens, to the mockery of stars like Korn guitarist Head who undergo deep conversions from rock hedonism to a pious lifestyle. As usual, Billy Corgan doesn’t care much about any potential fan aversion and doesn’t mince words in talking about it. “I’m not going to just get with the Paris Hilton program of ‘let’s pretend we’re all gonna live forever.’ If I’m accused of anything, what are you accusing me of? Thinking positively? Sorry, f---ing kill me.”
For those who still can’t reconcile a peaceful, suburban, spiritual Billy with the angst-driven poster child for Infinite Sadness, he recommends looking back at the subtext of his earlier work. “It wasn’t a demonstrable need to say, ‘I’m so miserable, look at me.’ It was, ‘look at me, I’m miserable, but I’m trying to figure out a way to get out of the hole.’ That, even in and of itself, has a positivity to it because it’s hopeful, it’s not death, it isn’t nihilism. There’s actually a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe now, I’m just further along towards the end of the tunnel. I don’t feel lost, I never felt lost.”
So if you’re keeping score at home, Billy Corgan is not making a comeback. He didn’t form Zwan to surround himself with celebrities or to delay the inevitable solo album. TheFutureEmbrace is not a statement of independence from his former groups, but an attempt to get at a true musical representation of himself. Billy Corgan isn’t growing crotchety with age, he’s just holding steady to the same brutal honesty he’s always maintained. He’s going to write poetry, and he doesn’t care what you think. And if you can’t handle hearing him address themes of religious faith and personal optimism, he’s not interested in your backlash either.
The characteristics that have made Billy Corgan a musical luminary to many are the same features that fuel other listeners’ obsessive dislike: endless confidence and a willingness to speak his mind. At this pivotal point in his career, Corgan is relying on both of these traits to protect him from the clichéd booby traps that have claimed so many others in his position. Faced with a junction that leads one way to a career of extended vitality, and the other to the classic-rock bin, he’s just trying to turn off his second-guessing machinery and get back to the unconscious mind.
“It’s the spark you’re obsessed with, how did I create this thing that still has energy? How do I get back to the spark? How do I recreate the spark so it keeps firing? There was a point in my life where everything that came out of me was like ‘boom boom boom boom’—I didn’t even think about it. And now I look back and say, ‘how did I do that?’ I once read an interview with Bob Dylan where he said ‘I had to go back in the ’70s to relearn what I used to do without thinking,’ and that’s the point I felt I was at. I knew how to make that sound, but I didn’t know how to feel it anymore where it just came out of me. It was a conscious thing, so I had to walk away from it.”
(Reprinted w.o permission from Paste)
Two out of three of the 73,176 people questioned in a recently released survey said they had been discriminated against in regards to employment.
The survey was jointly conducted by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and a portal called China Human Resources Development last year.
In recruitment advertisements, discriminative prerequisites of age, gender, height, specific location of household registration and even blood type are often listed.
These tight requirements deprive those who may have outshined, in their practical capability, the people who meet the conditions of the opportunity to get a specific job.
In March 2003, university graduate Zhou Yichao took an examination for a civil servant position in Zhejiang Province. He passed the exams, but was turned down because he carried the hepatitis B virus.
The enraged graduate killed an official with the local personnel department and was given the death penalty and later executed.
In Hunan Province last year, a university graduate was refused a civil servant position simply because he was one centimetre shorter than the specified height.
In another case, an applicant was denied an opportunity to work as a salesman just because he had AB blood. He was told that people with AB blood type were not good at socializing with other people and therefore would not make good salespeople.
In an extreme case, 10 women were forced to divorce their husbands because their firms had a stipulation that married women would not have any chance of renewing their labour contracts. As a result, they had to make a choice to keep their husbands or their jobs.
Surplus supply of labour is undoubtedly one of the major reasons why discrimination in recruitment persists.
The vast pool of labour has made it possible for employers to set thresholds of any kind to sift from oversupplied applicants for the exact type of employees they want.
But some requirements they set do not justify their demands.
Unless the job itself demands a person is tall or short, applicants' heights do not have anything to do with their ability to be a good employee.
Whether a female is attractive or not has no bearing on her capability as a secretary or office clerk. But this is often set as a requirement for a job.
In a humanistic perspective, these requirements reflect a discriminating attitude toward certain groups of people and are often insulting.
In a judicial perspective, the criteria run counter to the spirit of the Constitution, which stipulates that all citizens have the right and obligation to work.
The country's Labour Law says that no citizen should be discriminated against in employment based on their gender, ethnicity or religion.
The law concerning the protection of handicapped people says that the State protects the right of the disabled people to work.
It is apparent that the specific requirements previously mentioned go against the fundamental principle of these judicial stipulations.
We have a goal to build a harmonious society, which must be a civilized one. These discriminations do not belong to a civilized society, in which everyone is supposed to be equally offered opportunity and benefits.
Some suggest that we need a law to specify legal codes against such specific discriminations.
We do need such a law, which could provide victims of employment discrimination a legal weapon to protect their rights and interests.
Thursday, February 9, 2006
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders claims that Yahoo released data which led to the arrest of Li Zhi.
The online writer was jailed for eight years in 2003, after posting comments that criticised official corruption.
Last year Yahoo was accused of giving information to Beijing which led to the imprisonment of reporter Shi Tao.
Reporters Without Borders called on Yahoo to release the names of all internet writers whose identities it has revealed to the Chinese authorities.
Yahoo spokeswoman Mary Osako insisted that in its dealings with China, the company "only responded with what we were legally compelled to provide, and nothing more".
"We were rigorous in our procedures and made sure that only the required material was provided," she told the AFP news agency.
But she added that: "The government of China is not required to inform service providers why they are seeking certain information, and typically does not do so."
Reporters Without Borders said it was not acceptable for the firm to say it simply responded to requests from the authorities without knowing what the data would be used for.
"This argument no long holds water," the group said in a statement. "Yahoo certainly knew it was helping to arrest political dissidents and journalists, not just ordinary criminals."
The Chinese government enforces strict laws on internet use, blocking content it considers a threat, including references to the Tiananmen Square massacre and notable dissidents.
But major international firms wanting to do business in China, the world's number two internet market, are coming under increasing pressure from rights groups not to conform to Beijing's conditions.
Four major US-based companies - Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Cisco - have been accused of collaborating with China to censor the internet.
In September, Yahoo was accused of helping the Chinese authorities identify Shi Tao, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in April 2005.
Google came under fire last month after it announced it would block politically sensitive terms on its new China site, in agreement with conditions set by Beijing.
US lawmakers are due to meet later this month to discuss the ethical responsibilities of US-based internet companies doing business in China.
Sunday, February 5, 2006
Saturday, February 4, 2006
"My services are there for Billy whenever he needs them," said Melissa Auf der Maur, former bassist for Hole and honorary Pumpkin after original bassist D'arcy Wretzky left in 2000. She recently told MTV, "I love the Pumpkins, and to play those songs again would be nothing but fun for me. It was a big part of my life. The coolest thing would be if D'Arcy was around, but I don't know where she's at and I don't think they do either. But I feel very comfortable being second best."
sign CDs at Tower Records in Chicago, early 2000
A spokesperson for Azoff Management confirmed Thursday (February 2) that Corgan and Chamberlin have signed on with the firm as Smashing Pumpkins, and that the two are writing new music. Corgan and Chamberlin are said to be recording(!) a new Pumpkins album, and planning a tour later this year. For those of you who can't wait, here's a live archive from 1988-2000.
Now we just need Paul McCartney & Ringo Starr to get back together as "The Beatles".
For the record, Melissa met the Great Pumpkin back in the early 1990s when he was playing a gig in her native Montreal. A friend of hers threw a bottle at the stage and it hit Billy, so she went backstage to apologize, and he wound up introducing her to Courtney Love.
In my humble opinion, and I am going to get in big trouble for saying this, not only is Melissa hotter than D'arcy, she is also a better musician and added more to the Pumpkins than her predecessor. So I hope the new line-up includes the lovely Melissa, and D'arcy can stay on her horse farm in Michigan.
Oh, as a totally shameless plug here, check out Melissa's STORE and BLOG!