Friday, April 21, 2006

Falun Gong: A Protest Focuses Attention

As I type this blog, I am grateful for the freedom to do so. I am reminded of a quote attributed to Mark Twain: “Every American has the right to free speech and the good sense not to exercise it.” (I came across this in reading Jeremy Rabkin’s book, The Case for Sovereignty – a great book. More to come on that.)

Our main deterrence to expression is the risk of saying something stupid. Many of our readers undoubtedly think we cross that line regularly when they read our posts. But we persist nevertheless. The Internet makes this possible, as the blogspot provides us this space for free; we don’t even have to buy pen and ink.

We don’t face imprisonment or other punishment for our views if they conflict with the Government’s. (Well, there was that audit a few years back … hmm.) In fact, our government officials expect to be lampooned, caricatured, harassed, and otherwise treated with some level of skepticism by the public. Mostly we are polite, as that is the way we were brought up, but we are still free to raise our concerns. The main deterrence is looking like an impolite person, or in cases when you are factually wrong, a stupid ass. Some may think that is not enough deterrence, but it is still pretty good. Teachers, parents, and clergy everywhere have a big job in helping to instill those values of civil behavior.

But there may be times when polite behavior is not called for, when someone has to speak up. (It may be harder to teach this - but we must somehow learn.) The woman who called upon the Chinese President at the news conference yesterday may be in such a situation. It is really hard to know at this point, but if her allegations are true, it does seem hard to do business as usual with China.

Here is a website reporting news associated with the alleged organ harvesting and brutality toward Falun Gong prisoners.,111,,1.html
I have been wondering about these allegations for some time. I don’t know about this paper, or about the interests promoting the Falun Gong. I hate to be taken in by a scam. (By the way, do you use It is a good site to detect urban legends and frauds, which often circulate via e-mail. But of course, they may just be part of a vast conspiracy. I heard “the man” works there, but I am not sure.)

The problem with Internet media is the classic problem of marketing – which I learned from Herb Schulte in an undergraduate course (hope you are well, Mr. Schulte): you can eliminate the middleman, but you cannot eliminate his function. We don’t have the editors and staffs of fact checkers that the traditional media has, so we approach these sources with some skepticism. (Yes, I approach traditional media with skepticism, too. But I think there are qualitative differences.) You must go with reputation, which can be sketchy.

I have received unsolicited e-mails from Falun Gong advocates spreading the word on the alleged atrocities. However, I also get unsolicited e-mails from various advertisers promising me stuff. Somehow, these can get lumped together and dismissed. But when the claim involves atrocities to humans, should we dismiss this so easily? In this case, we may just not want to believe it is true. Who wants to encounter this kind of monstrous evil? Moreover, if you are Wal-Mart (and hundreds of other retailers) and you are trading regularly, doesn't that create a PR problem that is even worse than the situation poor Kathy Lee Gifford faced a few years back? As a result of this skepticism, China gets a free pass and its government may be allowed to continue doing evil -- or it may just get a free pass.

I am pleased to know that we got to hear about, see, and discuss this woman’s protest. Drudge reported, however, that the news feeds in China were blacked out. Like the Watergate tapes, there were unexplained gaps. Surely the Chinese citizens know something is up. I also saw a Frontline program on PBS recently involving the protest in Tianamen Square. If you Google this term, you see pictures of the man standing defiantly before tanks. If a Chinese Google user does that, he gets tourist information. The Frontline people interviewed some Chinese graduate students, and they had no clue about this part of their history.

We can only hope that the truth comes out. I understand the UN is investigating. (But we know how altruistic and freedom-loving the U.N. officials can be. And when they are supposed to inspect, they get the job done right, no? Hmm.) But it is hard to maintain a grip on all the holes in a sieve. Some of the water will leak out. What will we do if we learn the Falun Gong allegations are true?


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