Blow, Nocera and Collins

In “The Zimmerman Trial” Mr. Blow says the case spins on some crucial questions, some of which may never be completely answered.  Mr. Nocera has a question in “Cultural Revolution Vigilantes:”  Why would a memoir about growing up in China spawn such hate?  Ms. Collins says we should “Expect the Unexpected!”  She says there’s nothing like a surprise! This week, the U.S. Senate actually passed something and liberal Democrats in Texas won a huge political victory.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

This first week of testimony in the George Zimmerman trial has proved to be nothing short of fascinating.

On one level, the case is simple: if Zimmerman had not pursued — some say stalked — Trayvon Martin that dark, rainy night, Martin would still be alive.

That’s the logical argument. The legal one is more complex. The case, it seems to me, spins on some crucial questions, some of which we may never completely know the answers to.

What was it about Martin in particular that Zimmerman found “suspicious” in the first place? So far, there has been no testimony that Martin was doing anything other than walking slowly and talking on a phone to a girl, as teenage boys are wont to do. Did Zimmerman consider every person walking thusly in the neighborhood to be suspicious? If not, what made Martin different? Was some sort of bias at play, whether an explicit one or an implicit one?

Why did Zimmerman leave his car, armed with his gun, and follow Martin? When the dispatcher realized that Zimmerman was in pursuit and told him, “We don’t need you to do that,” did Zimmerman stop?

Did Martin know that he was being followed, as his friend Rachel Jeantel testified, and did he feel threatened by the stranger following him?

In fact, the threat levels are a larger, more complex issue altogether. Who felt threatened, the teenager with the candy and the soda or the man pursuing him with a gun and a live round in the chamber? The answer on the surface would seem obvious, but it’s possible that both felt some level of threat. It’s also possible that threat responses washed back and forth between them like water in a tub, neither of them knowing about the other what we know now — that Zimmerman was armed and Martin was not.

If Martin was running away, as Zimmerman has said and Jeantel has testified, did he at some point stop fleeing, turn and approach Zimmerman?

There has been testimony establishing that there was some sort of verbal interaction between Zimmerman and Martin before a physical one. Who struck the first blow and why? If Martin struck the first blow, as the defense contends, could that be considered an act of self-defense?

Regardless of who struck the first blow, some testimony suggests that Martin was getting the best of Zimmerman. In that scenario, could the right to self-defense switch personage? Florida law seems to suggest it can. The law states that the use of force is not justified when a person “initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant.”

Even assuming that Martin was winning a physical fight with Zimmerman, did Zimmerman “reasonably” believe that he was in “imminent danger of death or great bodily harm”? Zimmerman was injured, but how do you evaluate the degree of those injuries? Independent assessments may or may not deem Zimmerman’s injuries severe, but did Zimmerman, in the middle of the fight, believe them to be? Had Zimmerman “exhausted every reasonable means to escape”?

Who was yelling for help? Keep in mind that it is possible to be both winning a fight and simultaneously yelling for help.

During opening arguments, John Guy, a prosecutor, stated that investigators found none of Zimmerman’s blood on Martin’s hands or on the cuffs of his sweatshirt. How will the defense explain that?

The bar may be high for the prosecution, but the logic is basic: there has been no suggestion or testimony that Trayvon Martin was doing anything wrong the night that George Zimmerman caught sight of him and grew wary of him, pursued him and came into contact with him.

Zimmerman set that night’s events in motion and rendered them still with the ring of a gunshot. Now, as Zimmerman sits in a Florida courtroom, Martin sleeps in a Florida grave. We will never hear Martin’s side of the story, about the level of his fear or the feel of the bullet ripping through his body.

Morally, Zimmerman is by no means without guilt. Legally, it remains to be seen whether he will be found guilty of second-degree murder.

Now here’s Mr. Nocera:

Even now, nearly six months later — during which time has been flooded with hundreds of negative reviews condemning her; a Web site was set up attacking her; and her friends and colleagues have been bombarded with e-mails denouncing her — it is a little hard to understand why Ping Fu’s memoir, “Bend, Not Break,” has aroused such fury in some quarters of the Chinese immigrant community.

Fu, 54, came to America from China nearly 30 years ago. In 1997, she founded a company, Geomagic, that was recently sold for $55 million. In 2005, Inc. magazine named her entrepreneur of the year. On Saturday, she’ll be speaking at the American Library Association’s convention.

In other words, Fu is the classic immigrant success story. You’d think that would be a source of pride for Chinese immigrants. Instead, she has been subjected to what they call in China a “human flesh search” — an Internet vigilante campaign designed to bring shame on its target.

Fu’s mistake — if you can call it that — was to include in her memoir scenes of growing up during the Cultural Revolution, China’s decade-long descent into madness. It was a period when people were routinely denounced and punished (and sometimes killed) for the crime of being an intellectual or teacher; when millions were sent to the countryside for “re-education”; and when teenagers ran rampant as “Red Guards” — all with the assent of Chairman Mao. It is impossible to read about the Cultural Revolution without conjuring up “Lord of the Flies.”

Three decades later, there is almost no one in China willing to delve into the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese government does not exactly encourage discussion of the subject. It remains a deeply painful subject to those who lived through it.

When I spoke to Fu recently, she told me that she had originally wanted to write a business memoir. But once she started writing, she realized that to explain the woman she is today, she needed to write about the girl she had been during the Cultural Revolution. A daughter of privilege, she was taken from her family in Shanghai when she was 8 and sent to live in a dormitory far away. She was raped by Red Guards when she was 10, she writes. She worked in factories and had to raise her younger sister. Although she says that she saw atrocities, she also writes about kindnesses that were afforded her. (Disclosure: I am currently writing a book for Portfolio, which published “Bend, Not Break.”)

In China, a blogger named Fang Zhouzi, well known for his Internet denunciation campaigns, decided to attack her. Quickly, Amazon was flooded with one-star reviews denouncing her as a liar. Her critics, most of them Chinese immigrants, picked apart her story, and, though they found a few real errors, most of their criticism was highly speculative. Yes, they seemed to be saying, bad things happened during the Cultural Revolution, but they couldn’t have happened to Ping Fu.

“School was interrupted a bit, but there was still school,” sniffed Cindy Hao, in attempting to refute Fu’s claim that she had worked in a factory. Hao, a Chinese-born journalist who lives in Seattle, has become one of Fu’s most vociferous critics. “Ping Fu made up her whole story,” she told me.

(Note: Hao, a freelance translator whom the Beijing bureau of The New York Times uses on occasion, helped report an article by Didi Kirsten Tatlow. She says that she became a critic only after that article was published. She is no longer permitted to do reporting for the bureau.)

You can’t spend time talking to Hao and other critics without thinking that the real issue here is not whether Fu’s book has errors, but rather who gets to tell the story of the Cultural Revolution — or even whether it should be told at all. Roderick MacFarquhar, an expert on the Cultural Revolution who teaches at Harvard, told me that for anyone who lived through it, the memories are ones they would prefer not to conjure up. “If you were a teenager in China during the Cultural Revolution, you were likely either being beaten up or were doing the beating. Either way, it is humiliating to think about.” Yes, Ping Fu’s book has mistakes in it. But it is hard to see how they justify the level of extreme, unrelenting vilification she has suffered. Her real sin, it appears, is that she stirred a pot most Chinese would prefer to leave alone.

In recent months, Hao tried to get Ping Fu disinvited from speaking at the American Library Association convention. In one letter, she described Fu as lacking “honesty, integrity and trustworthiness.”

From where I’m sitting, it sounds a lot like the denunciations that were so routine, and so awful, during the Cultural Revolution.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Every once in a while, something happens that challenges your entire view of the order of the universe. For instance, this week the U.S. Senate actually passed something. Meanwhile, in Texas, liberal Democrats and the abortion rights movement won a huge political victory.

If we keep this up, soon we will hear that in Africa, migrating herds of wildebeests stopped moving and began settling into trailer parks.

Let’s take a look at Texas, where the now-famous 11-hour filibuster by State Senator Wendy Davis defeated a major anti-abortion bill, lifted the long-dead spirit of the state’s Democrats and created many news articles in which the word “thrilling” was coupled with “state senate.”

The next day, however, Gov. Rick Perry announced that he was calling a new special session to take up the bill again.

“We Democrats are strategizing,” Davis said in a phone interview, declining to go into details.

Perhaps she can pull out her pink sneakers and filibuster for two or three weeks. There actually was a state senator in Texas, back in 1977, who stood and talked for 43 hours, using what he called “an astronaut bag” to answer the problem of bathroom breaks. I wouldn’t count on it.

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t see something important happen in Austin.

The Texas anti-abortion tear has followed the same arc as in many other states. First came the assumption that women just needed to have the situation explained to them. So the Legislature required them to look at an ultrasound of the fetus before any abortion. The law didn’t have much impact, so the lawmakers moved on to Stage 2: Remove the option.

The bill that failed to get passed in Austin this week would have banned abortions after 20 weeks. Meanwhile, the clinics that perform early-term abortions would have been subject to new health and safety requirements that would force most of them to close.

“We’re really regulated already,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, who runs five abortion facilities in the state. “Primarily what we’re talking about in this bill is the physical plant — the size of the hallways, locker rooms, closets.” She estimates that it would cost, at minimum, $4.5 million to bring her facilities up to the new, unnecessary code.

The bill also requires that doctors performing abortions have hospital-admitting privileges within 30 miles of the clinic in question. In many places, that can’t be gotten. “Most hospitals want you to admit at least 10 patients a year,” Miller said. “Over the last 10 years, I’ve had two emergency transfers from our facility in Austin.”

This has been going on all over the country, and if the high drama in the State Senate in Texas does nothing beyond making the story clear, it’ll have done a lot.

In Austin, as in state capitols from North Dakota to Alabama, the bill was described in debates as a simple public safety measure. (“I am trying to look at what can actually improve the quality of care. …”) But there wasn’t all that much effort to conceal that the real intent was eliminating the abortion option.

Americans have conflicted attitudes toward this issue, but one thing that’s consistently clear is that they don’t want a wholesale abortion ban. Politicians like Rick Perry will only get their way if the public doesn’t get the point.

Ditto on family planning. As part of a scorched-earth war against Planned Parenthood, Texas wiped out funds for contraceptive services for poor women. “The damage has been wrought, and it’s going to take a long time to undo it,” said Davis. When she brought that up during her filibuster, the lieutenant governor ruled she had strayed from the point.

Texas Democrats, who haven’t won a statewide race in two decades, are now eyeing Davis as a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2014. Perry took time out to attack her during a speech in Dallas to the right-to-life movement, which we will try to resist noting took place the day after Texas conducted its 500th modern-era execution.

Perry claimed that, in fighting for abortion rights, Davis, the daughter of a single mother and herself a single mother at 19 who got herself through college and Harvard Law, “hasn’t learned from her own example.”

You will not be stunned to hear that Davis takes a different lesson from her story. “The Planned Parenthood clinic on Henderson Street in Fort Worth was my sole source of health care for four to five years when I was a young adult,” she said. “Consider a 19-year-old single mom who wants to be smarter about her family planning so she can go to school and move forward with her career. Had I not had those services available to me, I would not be standing where I am today.”

Let the country tune in on that debate, and then we’ll have a real leap forward.

Except, of course, that the fight in Texas isn’t over.  Governor Goodhair has called another special session and the battle rages on…


One Response to “Blow, Nocera and Collins”

  1. Legally Mine Says:

    I love Nocera’s disclosure. It means he’s honest.

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