Hanging Out With Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei, in town to promote his new film “Human Flow” is less like a global icon than a kid on the first day of vacation. He gleefully mugs for photos, takes selfies with – and of – his audiences, bears a perpetual crinkly smile and when asked “When are you happiest?” replies, “Now.”

Ai Weiwei 10.3.17

Ai Weiwei smiles for a fan

But the message of the internationally renowned artist is deadly serious. He wants the world to confront the fact that over 65 million human beings are displaced, most of them living in deplorable conditions in refugee camps and only a tiny fraction (about 3%) being relocated. “Human Flow” depicts refugees in 23 countries – in camps, on the move, struggling across deserts, through murky waters and occasional war zones. It documents a staggering amount of human suffering which its creator wants us to face as fellow human beings. “The world is shrinking,” he says; “people from different religions, different cultures are going to have to learn to live with each other.”

Ai appeared before a sold-old crowd at the Commonwealth Club recently, in conversation with Climate One founder and host Greg Dalton, who started off by asking what his guest felt Europe should do. “It’s not just a European problem,” Ai Weiwei responded, “it’s global – Iraq, Myanmar, elsewhere. Policies in the U.S. seeking to reduce immigrants, enforce a travel ban, move away people who have been here since childhood – there is a strong trend to violate human rights and traditional beliefs. We are all refugees.”

Ai & Greg Dalton 10.17

With Climate One’s Greg Dalton

Ai Weiwei was born in 1957, the year his father, the Chinese poet Ai Qing  was arrested and denounced during the Anti-Rightist Movement. He was one year old when the family was sent to a labor camp in Beidahuang, Heilongjiang. According to his Wikipedia page, they were later exiled to Shihezi, Xinjiang in 1961, where they lived for 16 years. In 1976, at the end of the Cultural Revolution, Ai and his family returned to Beijing. At one point, during his lively conversation with Dalton at the Commonwealth Club, Ai said he used to be jealous of his father. “He got all those years, and all I got (referring to his imprisonment for “economic crimes” in 2011) was 81 days.” His 81 days were, however, no picnic. “If you argue with the government,” he said, “you never win. They become so powerful you can get suicidal.”Ai Weiwei 1-10.17

On the issues closer to the focus of Climate One, Ai spoke of how China “has made huge progress, and has become quite economically powerful. But the dark side are environmental problems: heavily polluted air and rivers. Besides that there is huge corruption. There are internal struggles inside the party; no trust, no real creativity because there’s no freedom of speech.” To Dalton’s remark that Ai had once tried to work within the system, Ai laughed. “I was very naïve.” Despite his history of battling the government Ai was given his passport in 2015 and now lives in Berlin.

“When they handed me my passport, the guy said, “We’ve known each other for so long . .  .”

Clinton defends human rights approach

Human rights supporters and advocates, a not insignificant chunk of the population that elected Barack Obama, have had some discomfort over the delays in getting Guantanamo closed and over the cozy relationships maintained with other governments who aren’t doing a stellar job in this area. That ‘other governments’ is meant to be an inclusive phrase, since the U.S., for its own part in protecting human rights, still lets uncounted millions die without proper health care.

The particular choice of words by Secretary of State Clinton, reported by Brian Knowlton in the New York Times, is a new cause for discomfort.

Rejecting bipartisan criticism, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday detailed an administration human-rights approach that she called ‘pragmatic and agile,’ meant to emphasize not just democracy but also development and to raise sensitive issues with countries like Russia and China behind closed doors.

Pragmatism is good, and probably a universal necessity. But ‘agility’? Somehow, the image of our government staying agile in its human-rights approach doesn’t inspire confidence. Rather, it conjures up images of crouching tigers and hidden dragons and all those other now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t fantasies put into play in the movie everyone seemed to think extraordinary but some of us found bizarre.

‘Sometimes we will have the most impact by publicly denouncing a government action, like the coup in Honduras or the violence in Guinea,’ she said in a speech at Georgetown University.

‘Other times we will be more likely to help the oppressed by engaging in tough negotiations behind closed doors, like pressing China and Russia as part of our broader agenda,’ she said. ‘In every instance, our aim will be to make a difference, not to prove a point.’

Her speech defended an administration approach that has been criticized by some rights advocates and by certain lawmakers as too gentle or undemanding.

The administration has pointed to what it said were the early results of its less-confrontational approach: signs of new Chinese cooperation on climate change and on pressing Iran over its nuclear program.

Further signs, especially for those of us who remain believers, will be eagerly welcomed.

via Clinton defends approach on human rights.