Current Affairs

Henry Hill, the man Scorsese based his mafia classic Goodfellas on, has passed away, of natural causes.  A real larger-than-life character whose life was riddled by crime, drugs, betrayal- he snitched on his mob pals to help the Fed, was put on witness protection but then blew it because he  got into drug-related problems again.

In later years, he was a guest on Howard Stern’s radio show, opened a restaurant called Wiseguys, hosted mob-movie marathons, and hawked his own line of marinara sauce.

It seems like he really went away scot-free and even opened up his own business ventures post-mafia world. Makes you wonder why didn’t some mobster just lop off his head and be done with it? After all, his turncoat act landed 50 convictions of other mobsters. So why was he never taken down by other gangs, mafia movie-revenge style? 


NYTimes has a good piece about how Syria’s Assad family used public relations in a really sophisticated way to create a glamourous, progressive and modern image of them in the West. Vogue even published this controversial profile of Syria’s first lady in March 2011, just as Assad laid a brutal crackdown and over 10,000 Syrians died for opposing him. Vogue has since taken down its profile and apologised for it, but the reporter of the story Joan Juliet Buck said in an interview that the first lady was “extremely thin and very well-dressed, and therefore qualified to be in Vogue.” I guess this means if you put an Alexander McQueen outfit on a starving African child, she would be qualified to be featured in the magazine as well.

The Bo Xilai saga continues, NYTimes has a fascinating piece on Heywood, the man who was allegedly poisoned by Bo’s wife. A very interesting character- graduated from Harrow in England, worked aboard a yacht for a year, drove cross country across the US, worked for hourly wages in a small seaside business, all that before he wandered half way across the world to China- and to Dalian, of all places. I may be wrong, but i believe at the time Heywood moved to China, Dalian was definitely nowhere near as big or developed as it is now. He then married a Chinese lady Lulu and had two kids. There, he befriended the powerful Bos, a connection that must have served him well, until the end. He was reportedly estranged from them for about a year, and then he turns up dead. His family was told he died of heart attack, the british consulate was told alcohol poisoning, even though he’s a teetotaler?????  But then again, I really doubt ANY one trying to do business in China can be a teetotaler. who are you kidding? The Chinese businessmen won’t even look at you until you bottoms up some hard liquor- at lunch.

Anyway, the whole saga is baffling not just because it reads like a political drama from the old school Cold War days, spies, murder, political leaders and corruption. But baffling and intriguing because of the way it’s shed light on China’s supposed political turmoil, fuelling rumours of unrest in the party itself- and all this in its KEY transition year? that happens once every decade? Blogs on tencent and some other sites had to shut their blog commenting system for 3 days. A Chinese official described this as the worst political crisis since Tiananmen in 89. The WSJ has a nice piece on what this whole saga means.

At the end of March, Communist Party cadres were told that Mr. Bo was guilty of three offenses: taking the wrong political line, employing the wrong people and corruption. Evidently this was not enough to destroy his political reputation, and so the alleged murder plot by his wife has been added to the list.

All of this is a sign of internal political weakness in Beijing ruling circles. If the party leadership were unified, Mr. Bo would have been dismissed from his posts without the need to air the dirtiest of the dirty laundry.

Apparently Bo has always been more left wing, striving for more state power, control etc. coming at a time when Wen Jiabao has repeatedly said China needs to liberalise and be less state controlled. Anybody sense a conflict there? Well, thing is if it was just Bo, one man who was out of line, it wouldn’t be hard to shut him down. But he has his supporters in the party as well- how else would he have risen almost to the top ranks of the party?

Turns out there’s a woman in the centre of the Bo Xilai saga in China, as with every good drama. A woman always makes it more interesting, especially when she’s the wife of the main lead, and especially when she’s “a woman whose intellect, drive and penchant for self-promotion easily matched her husband’s”. 

So supposedly, she’s charming, smart, something of a beauty, the “Jackie Kennedy of China”, married to the recently sacked party chief of Chongqing, who was poised to rise to the top of China’s party leadership. But it all went very wrong, with the death of a British business man in Chongqing last year, and the city’s former police chief seeking refuge with the U.S. It gets juicier:

Mr. Bo’s former police chief sought refuge in a U.S. consulate in China in early February. The ex-policeman, Wang Lijun, alleged that British businessman Neil Heywood, who died in Chongqing last year, was poisoned after he had fallen out with Ms. Gu.

But really, aside from the intriguing communist drama that has the makings of the next big Hollywood film– a princeling descending from party aristocracy unceremoniously thrown out and fallen from grace in such a public manner and amid so much scandal. Who knows what’s really happening behind the scenes and how much we will eventually find out, but it definitely the sacking definitely sheds interesting light on China’s political transition.

And in the absence of my favourite TV dramas like Downton Abbey, Walking Dead, and Revenge, I’m glued to this saga, for now.