Micah’s Miscellany

Day One—The First Immolation

Every life is in many days, day after day.
–James Joyce, “Ulysses”

Thupten Ngodup

Thupten Ngodup
April 27, 1998. Delhi, India

He lived in a small, neat hut near a rhododendron forest on the grounds of a monastery in Dharamsala, India. The Tibetan writer Jamyang Norbu noted that “by all accounts, Thupten Ngodup seems to have been a light-hearted person who enjoyed an occasional drink and a game of cards.”

Born in a village in Tibet in 1938, he went into exile following the 1959 Lhasa Uprising against Chinese Communist rule. In 1963, he enlisted in the Special Frontier Force, a covert-action military cadre controlled by Indian intelligence. He saw action in Bangladesh and retired in 1983, moving to Dharmsala and becoming a monastery cook. He was not a particularly religious man but is remembered by friends as “honest, upright and a good companion,” Norbu writes.

Though “not politically inclined,” Norbu notes, “he unfailingly attended all demonstrations, candle-light vigils or meetings for Tibet.” In early April, 1998, he traveled to Delhi to join a Tibetan Youth Congress hunger strike. On April 27, following a second police raid on the strikers, he slipped into a public toilet where he earlier had hidden a plastic container of gasoline. “When he came out,” Norbu writes, “he was, quite literally, an inferno.”

He died two days later, shortly after midnight. Thupten Ngodup was 60.

–Sources: International Campaign for Tibet, Self-Immolation Fact Sheet; Jamyang Norbu, Shadow Tibet blog, “Remembering Thupten Ngodup.”

Collective Punishment in Tibet: “Smash Disorder”

In November, the Chinese Communist Party’s Work Department, Huangnan Prefecture, issued an “urgent notice” of new orders for fighting the wave of self-immolations in Tibet. The notice—translated here by the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy—offers a glimpse into the mindset of Tibet’s rulers, their methods of collective punishment, and what they fear most: disorder. 

According the notification, recent self-immolations in the area are “incidents of instability [that]…cause serious damage to harmony and stability in the whole prefecture and [have] been a negative influence on the province and nation. The incidents are clearly a case of the Dalai group”—that is, followers of the Dalai Lama—“while wearing a cloak of religion, using self-immolation to encourage social grievance and incite unrest among students to create social disturbance in an attempt to split the nation.”

Translation of translation: there is a conspiracy afoot, comrades, a conspiracy against the nation. That is, treason.

The notice adds: “The masses in some areas, both monks and laypeople, are putting about random and nonsensical talk and being taken in by the incitements of the Dalai group through ignorance, believing the self-immolators to be heroes and even going to greet their family members and make voluntary donations to them.” This has created “a problematic scene and upset the normal social order.”

Translation of translation: it’s not just students anymore, it is spreading to the masses. We are worried. 

The solution? “Smash the small number of criminals who despicably manipulate people…smash disorder.”

And when we are worried, pain and suffering follow.

Party operatives are thus directed:

  • “Cancel benefits [such as minimum income support and disaster relief] received by households of self-immolators.”
  • Stop projects “running on state funds in self-immolators’ villages.”
  • Townships with three or more self-immolation incidents will not receive “state-funded projects for the next three years, [and] leading party and government officials in those townships must be replaced.”
  • “Special personnel” must “swiftly put a stop” to “instances of greeting and making contributions to family members of self-immolators”
  • For those who persist in greeting and making contributions, “public security agencies must…smash them.”
  • Monks who “greet and make donations must be given corrective training” and benefits will be “cancelled.”
  • Laypeople and households making contributions to family members of self-immolators will have benefits “cancelled.”
  • Villages and monasteries making collective donations to families of self-immolators will have all benefits “cancelled” and will not “benefit from any state-funded projects for the next three years.” Projects already under way “must be cancelled.”
  • Monks and laypeople who organize to greet family members of self-immolators “must be swiftly investigated and once solid evidence of their activities is gathered, they must face legal proceedings at an early date and be smashed quickly and heavily, according to law.”

Read the full notice here:

 

They Eat Horses, Don’t They?


It’s been a tough few months for our equine friends. In New York, by the close of Aqueduct Racetrack’s winter meet, nineteen thoroughbreds had broken down—a polite term for suffering a catastrophic racing injury—and were executed by lethal injection. Nineteen. That’s a huge number.

Albany is investigating. Good luck with that.

Over at HBO, the terrific horse racing series, “Luck,” endured a third horse death in two years and was hounded to cancellation by the animal rights crowd. Or were the producers just using PETA as an excuse to bail out in the face of bad ratings?

Now this from the AP: the Valley Meat Co. of Roswell, New Mexico, has applied to the federal government for a permit to open the nation’s only horse slaughterhouse. The horses would be “custom slaughtered” and then “processed for human consumption at the plant,” the AP reports, citing documents obtained by the Albuquerque Journal.

Roswell will be sending the equine meat not to aliens but to Europe and Asia, which to many Americans is pretty much the same thing. They eat horses in Europe and Asia, don’t they?

We’ve been down this road before, a perfect example of the law of unintended consequences. In 2006, responding to an uproar over slaughterhouse killings of the iconic American animal, Congress banned the use of Department of Agriculture funds to inspect the dwindling number of horse meat plants in the U.S. No inspection, no meat. The plants closed.

The result? The state of the American horse worsened: more neglect, abandonment, and illegal trucking of the big critters to chop shops in Canada and Mexico.

Congress reversed the measure in November. Now what?

Read the AP story here.

Tibet Burning

The International Campaign for Tibet today released a video of the January self-immolation of Tibetan Losang Jamyang in the city of Aba. A former monk turned to activism, he was 22. At least thirty Tibetans have set themselves ablaze in the last year.

Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi was 26 when he set himself on fire in protest of his country’s attacks on his dignity and liberty, attacks at once vast and maddeningly granular–controls over speech and worship, controls over association, controls over where and how to sell fruit. Bouazizi ignited the Tunisian Revolution and the Arab Spring. Losang Jamyang ignited only himself.

China is not Tunisia, not Egypt, not Yemen, not Syria. China is not even the former Soviet Union. But it is a country of fruit vendors too.

See the video here

WARNING: GRAPHIC FOOTAGE

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

They might as well. Race horses continue to die at American tracks in shocking numbers. My article about thoroughbred breakdowns, below, was originally published in the New York Times in August, 2006. Six years later, we are still having the same arguments, and too many horses are still dying. At Aqueduct Racetrack in New York, nineteen horses have died in the last four months. A special panel has been appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to investigate. Meanwhile, a flood of cash pours into horse racing from casino interests. More on this subject will be forthcoming. Stay tuned.

Justice for Barbaro

BARBARO, the tragic hero of this year’s Preakness Stakes, is on the mend and it’s back to business for thoroughbred racing. This weekend the celebrated Mid-Summer Derby — the Travers Stakes — is taking place at Saratoga Race Course. And this week, a panel appointed by Gov. George Pataki is scheduled to begin considering bids to run New York’s $2.7 billion racing franchise at Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont racetracks. The current franchise expires in December 2007…

Read More

Report: Tibet Self-Immolations & Religious Repression

Check out this December 2011 special report from the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

This CECC Special Report demonstrates an apparent correlation between increasing Chinese Communist Party and government repression of freedom of religion in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries, and 12 instances in 2011 of current or former monks and nuns resorting to self-immolation.

Reporting from each of the Commission’s 10 annual reports (2002-2011) reveals a trend of deterioration in the environment for Tibetan Buddhism, especially in Tibetan Buddhist monastic institutions. The trend worsened significantly after mostly peaceful political protests swept across the Tibetan plateau in March and April 2008…

Read more here.

Fire in Paradise

Read the opening chapter of my book on the great Yellowstone Fires, Fire in Paradise.