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Tag: Vietnam

New year, new repression

Wednesday, 2 January, 2019

The old year was ebbing towards its end when Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Iran, took to Twitter to wish people “from all races, religions and ethnicities — a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.” This is the height of cynicism, given that Zarif represents a regime that supports terrorism, pushes gays off buildings, forces women to wear mediaeval garb and refuses to allow the people of Iran free access to the internet.

Just as vile as the regime in Tehran is the regime in Hanoi, which has imposed a draconian new law requiring internet companies in Vietnam to remove content the communist authorities regard as “toxic” and compels them to hand over user data if asked to do so. The law also bans internet users from spreading information deemed to be “anti-state or anti-government,” as well as prohibiting use the internet to “distort history” and “post false information that could cause confusion and damage to socio-economic activities.” The law came into force a week after Vietnam’s Association of Journalists announced a new code of conduct on the use of social media, forbidding its members to post news and photos that “run counter to” the state.”


John McCain: warrior, Senator, patriot, man

Sunday, 26 August, 2018

The gallant old warrior, John McCain, who served America with such distinction and honour, is no more. He died yesterday aged 81. Senator John McCain was a patriot who believed in his bones that America was exceptional, and it is exceptional because of people like him.

In the coming days, it will be instructive to study the waves of admiration that wash over the legacy of the man who fought Hanoi Jane Fonda’s hero, Ho Chi Minh. And if we fast-forward from 1967 in Vietnam, where he was a prisoner of war, to 2008, when he was running for the presidency of the USA, we can learn a lot from how the media treated John McCain then and how the media operate today. Consider the role of that bastion of liberal ideals, The Atlantic.

Its October 2008 cover story was titled “Why War is His Answer – Inside the Mind of John McCain” and the author was one Jeffrey Goldberg. But because a picture is worth more than ten thousand of Goldberg’s words, the role of the snapper hired to do the (hit) job on McCain tells us as much as we need to know. The operative was Jill Greenberg, who styles herself as @jillmanipulator on Twitter, and here’s how she deployed her manipulative skills to take the photo that so tarnished the McCain campaign:

When The Atlantic called Jill Greenberg, a committed Democrat, to shoot a portrait of John McCain for its October cover, she rubbed her hands with glee…

After getting that shot, Greenberg asked McCain to “please come over here” for one more set-up before the 15-minute shoot was over. There, she had a beauty dish with a modeling light set up. “That’s what he thought he was being lit by,” Greenberg says. “But that wasn’t firing.”

What was firing was a strobe positioned below him, which cast the horror movie shadows across his face and on the wall right behind him. “He had no idea he was being lit from below,” Greenberg says. And his handlers didn’t seem to notice it either. “I guess they’re not very sophisticated,” she adds.

So, when you hear any of this lot eulogising the late John McCain, take note that they were again him before they were for him.

John McCain


Last Suppers

Thursday, 29 March, 2018 0 Comments

Today, Holy Thursday, commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles. That simple meal of bread and wine was to be the last time he dined with his disciples.

The English journalist A. A. Gill set out to write about “Last Suppers” in September 2009, but he abandoned the project on the grounds that it was one of those things like “Make a list of the 10 sexiest women ever.” He said: “You have all the anxiety of choice but none of the pleasure of execution.” So, in the middle of the project he switched from last suppers to the challenge of picking the food he would choose for the rest of his life, if he had to live with other people’s national cuisine. Gill couldn’t settle on one, so he picked four regional cuisines:

South-west France: “Foie gras and cassoulet, all sorts of duck, figs and Roquefort… This is the food of old Gascony, of Cyrano de Bergerac: a cuisine for the last leg of life, of post-prandial naps, of meals that soak into each other, of a languid, replete and easy life. I could live with that.”

Northern Italy: “Piedmont and the Po Valley, where they grow rice, make risottos, collect truffles, cook with butters, lard and the light olive oil of Genoa and have the youngest veal. I’d have to stretch it a bit to Parma, to take in hams, cheese and ice-cream, but that would do me.”

The North-West Frontier: “The mountainous, tribal lands of Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan: the very best lamb curries, biryanis, pilaus, apricots and quail, Peshawari naan, yoghurt and pomegranate juice eaten with gusto and arguments.”

Vietnam: “I love the food of Vietnam. It is an ideal combination of delicacy and panache. It has enormous variety of flavours and textures without being irredeemably twee. It’s refined but it’s also assertive. It has tiny little finger food and dog.”

In the end, Gill came to the following conclusion: “If you’re going to have a perfect food retirement, it would be Vietnam for breakfast, northern Italy for lunch and then alternately south-west France and the North-West Frontier for dinner.”

Background: A. A. Gill died of cancer in London in December 2016, at the age of 62. Adrian Anthony Gill was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29 and he followed the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “12-step plan” to recovery. In tribute to the fellowship, he began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. His finest writing is collected in The Best of A. A. Gill and it covers his observations on food, television, life and travel.

The Last Supper


May Day in Vietnam: 2012

Monday, 1 May, 2017 0 Comments

May Day or International Worker’s Day is celebrated on 1 May throughout totalitarian Vietnam and because it is directly preceded by Reunification Day on 30 April people tend to take a double-day off. In some years, when both these holidays fall on a weekend, offices can be closed for as long as four consecutive days.

Vietnam on May Da

Vietnam on May Day

Vietnam on May Day

Vietnam on May Day


Meanwhile, in Vietnam, they’re telling the Big Lie

Friday, 7 March, 2014 0 Comments

Truong Duy Nhat worked as a journalist at a state-run newspaper in Hanoi before quitting three years ago to concentrate on his blog, “Another Point of View.” He wanted, he said, “to write about things that I want to write.” Truong Duy Nhat Earlier this week, he was sentenced to two years in prison. His crime? The government charged him with “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe the interests of the state.”

The infringement of those “democratic freedoms” centred on a post he wrote last May calling for the resignation of Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for failing to fight corruption. Dung has been linked to a series of major scandals, including the collapse of Vinashin, the national shipbuilding company and former star of Vietnam’s state-owned enterprises, which sank under $4 billion in debt.

The latest Vietnamese crackdown on free speech has targeted bloggers, activists, lawyers, Buddhist monks and Christian clergy and it’s part of a cynical move that would make Putin proud. For example, on the very same day that Truong Duy Nhat was being sentenced, the country’s Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh was in Geneva championing “Vietnam’s commitment to ensuring and promoting human rights” at the 25th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. This is a classic example of the Big Lie, which George Orwell termed “blackwhite” in his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four: “Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts.”


Vietnam falls to McDonald’s; threat of war with China to recede

Thursday, 18 July, 2013 0 Comments

Loved this bit in the Wall Street Journal report about the news that McDonald’s is to open its first outlet in Vietnam: “The company said it had chosen Henry Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American investor and the son-in-law of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, as its main franchise partner in the country, based on a ‘rigorous’ selection process.” The ‘rigorous’ there is priceless.

It was Thomas Friedman, star columnist with the New York Times, who first suggested “The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention,” namely: No two countries with McDonald’s in them will ever go to war. In other words, if you have a middle class big enough to support burger franchises, Friedman’s theory goes, war is a thing of the past. So, when Hanoi and Beijing have their Golden Arches, that bit of bother in the South China Sea will ebb. However, writing in July last year, Walter Russell Mead cast a critical eye on the theory in “Pakistani Burger Joints Put McDonald’s Theory To The Test“. Read the whole thing.

On Saturday, by the way, Thomas Friedman will be 60.


May Day is mobile in Vietnam

Wednesday, 1 May, 2013 0 Comments

This time last year, Hanoi experienced the hottest day of 2012, with a high of 39°C and oppressive humidity. The people of Vietnam endured their May Day stoically, however, because they’re used to oppression. Hundreds of dissidents are in prison for challenging the one-party rule of the Communist Party. No independent media is allowed, pro-democracy blogs are banned, protests are forbidden and civil rights activists face constant harassment and persecution.

May Day in Vietnam

Yesterday marked the 38th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam, but the vocal anti-war protesters of the 1960s and ’70s never speak out about what’s happening in the country today and neither do they demonstrate to help make Vietnam a freer country, like they so passionately professed to care about four decades ago. Still, there is hope. Access to independent sources of information is expanding rapidly thanks to the mobile phone, which is the ultimate status symbol, and people seem to be connected all the time. Texting while zipping around on the ubiquitous motorbikes is routine and answering phones while driving or in meetings is commonplace. If you want a SIM card, and thus a new number, just hand over a few dollars on a Hanoi street. No photo ID is required. All this suggests that the iron grip of the Party cannot endure forever. A May Day might yet come when the people of Vietnam are truly free.


Shipments of Samsung phones from Vietnam surge

Friday, 9 November, 2012 0 Comments

The visitor to Vietnam is confronted by so many contrasts that it’s difficult to make sense of the picture. A buffalo stubbornly pulls a traditional wooden plough through rice fields as a sleek Toyota Lexus whizzes by on dangerously pot-holed roads. Tired workers gulp down rice noodles at ad-hoc sidewalk restaurants while svelte communists shop […]

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The Vietnam ploy in the Pacific Century’s Game of Thrones

Tuesday, 5 June, 2012

At the end of April, as Rainy Day hovered over the Gulf of Thailand, our thoughts turned to regional security. It’s a topic that’s exercising quite a lot of minds at the moment. Take Leon Panetta, the US Secretary of Defense. He delivered his first keynote address to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore at the […]

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At the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Sunday, 6 May, 2012

A trip to the big city of Hanoi is a memorable occasion and a group photo in front of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum belongs to the essential rituals of the excursion. Visitors should note that legs must be covered, silence must be observed, hands must not be in pockets, nor arms crossed. Photography is […]

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Communist control and capitalist cake

Friday, 4 May, 2012

Until the authorities told him to leave in 2008, Bill Hayton reported for the BBC from Hanoi. The things that made Vietnam, with its almost 92 million inhabitants, so intriguing for him were: “The contradictions inherent in simultaneously having communist control and eating capitalist cake.” The paradoxes of the place, its people, its history and […]

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