Previous convictions

by Chris Bertram on May 8, 2004

I’ve just been over to “Electrolite, where Patrick Nielsen Hayden”: has posted “this stunning excerpt from the New York Times”: :

bq. … the man who directed the reopening of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year and trained the guards there resigned under pressure as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after an inmate died while shackled to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time.

bq. The Utah official, Lane McCotter, later became an executive of a private prison company, one of whose jails was under investigation by the Justice Department when he was sent to Iraq as part of a team of prison officials, judges, prosecutors and police chiefs picked by Attorney General John Ashcroft to rebuild the country’s criminal justice system.

The article is full of other examples of routine abuse in US prisons, for example:

bq. In Arizona, male inmates at the Maricopa County jail in Phoenix are made to wear women’s pink underwear as a form of humiliation. At Virginia’s Wallens Ridge maximum security prison, new inmates have reported being forced to wear black hoods, in theory to keep them from spitting on guards, and said they were often beaten and cursed at by guards and made to crawl. … [S]ome of the worst abuses have occurred in Texas, [where] guards were allowing inmate gang leaders to buy and sell other inmates as slaves for sex.

Press cuttings

by Chris Bertram on May 8, 2004

A few interesting things to link to in today’s papers. In the Guardian “David Lodge writes about Nabokov”:,12084,1211200,00.html and there’s an interesting account of how “Roman Abramovich and the other Russian oligarchs enriched themselves”:,2763,1212245,00.html at the expense of the Russian people. In the Times “Matthew Parris explains”:,,482-1102058,00.html that he wants Bush re-elected so that neoconservatives won’t be able to claim that their ideas never got a fair trial. And “Simon Kuper in the FT”: tells us why last week’s football occupies his brain more than other, more serious, matters. So far as I can see there is no common thread that unites these various pieces, except for their readability.

Bad Arguments

by Belle Waring on May 8, 2004

Currently appearing in the Straits Times is one of the least compelling arguments I’ve ever heard. Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing stooges are running candidates in the geographical constituencies in the next election, as well as in the “functional” constituencies, which are decided by a small group of hand-picked voters. As the Straits Times dryly notes, “Pro-democracy candidates tend to sweep directly elected Legco seats [i.e., the geographical constituencies] because they enjoy support from the population.” Oh, that. But Mr. James Tien, chairman of the pro-government Liberal Party, thinks that should change.

Mr Tien said: ‘If the central government sees a willingness among Hong Kong people to vote too for conservative businessmen, it will then have more confidence in the territory and might allow Hong Kong people universal suffrage earlier than is otherwise the case.’

And Mr. Ma Lik, of the reassuringly-named Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong (democratic in the “Democratic Republic of Congo” sense, it seems), agrees: ‘The central government would become more apprehensive about speeding up democratic development in Hong Kong if the democrats won a landslide victory.’

So, Beijing won’t let you vote, because they know you won’t vote the way they want. But, if you vote the way they want, maybe they’ll let you vote again later, and for more things, at which point you can…um…vote the way they want again, or risk the dreaded “instability”. If this is an advertisement for “one country, two systems”, then don’t expect to see Taiwan rushing to sign up.