Saturday, January 30, 2010

Riddle Me This

It really does not take too much to get the People's Republic of China riled up. Things like Tienanmen Square, killing a local corrupt official turned tyrant, Tibet, internet freedom, freedom in general, the ethnic minorities (especially in the western areas), Avatar, Google, and internet porn are all things that get the PRC all upset.

Major threat to China. Wonder what they thought of the Smurfs.

But what if you really want to tick them off? Like Latrell Sprewell choking PJ Carlesimo ticked off? Mention Taiwan and watch the fireworks.

Which is what the US did recently when it announced a new arms sale to the Republic of China on the island of Taiwan. Such talk usually doesn't sit well with the folks in Beijing.

Now the thing that I'm curious about is, honestly, why do the Chinese really care? If China really was so freaking irritated by the presence of Taiwan these days, they'd be able to quash the damned place into the ground fairly easily. I mean, just go look at any figures of the population differences between the two nations. Go ahead, I'll wait. [elevator music] See? China could more or less grind the damned island into a bloody pulp.

Taiwan is the small island to the east. China is the big nation.

Plus, according to the AP article, China has a 1000 ballistic missiles trained on the island. 1000 freaking ballistic missiles. I'm not sure how capable Taiwan is of somehow deflecting that many missiles trained on it. China could theoretically cripple the island with a missile strike unseen by mankind and then somehow float their enormous army across the strait and take care of what was left with little logistical issue.

Of course, there are naysayers out there that would say something like "But what about China's public image? Surely they care about that!" But if you look at much of China's behavior and record regarding things like human rights, China hasn't shown any signs of truly giving a rat's ass about that. Furthermore, China has more or less bought itself recognition in much of the developing world, and in the actual developed world, China has enough economic weight that nothing would be done.

Also, at least in the near foreseeable future, the United States would simply be hard-pressed to deal with such a move. The US military has traditionally been geared to being a two-front force. In addition, except for the time last week when I was playing Civilization, I'm not wholly sure if there have been nations that have been able to juggle three different war fronts successfully. In addition, China is not the insurgency or guerrilla force that is prevalent in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the end, the arms deal to Taiwan shouldn't really make too much of a difference to China. Nor should the US be really that perturbed by China's protestations. If the Chinese really wanted to take Taiwan over, it probably could've done it several times over already.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The People's Historian

Personally, I've never thought much of social history. A lot of the time, in my opinion, it was more concerned about finding diamonds in dunghills than anything else. There are many other important questions that should be answered, such as "What does 'Old No. 7' really mean on the Jack Daniels label?" or "Why can't anyone make a halfway decent Tom Collins?"

Nevertheless, the fact that it has provided alternate viewpoints on the events of the past and helped flesh out our understanding is a valuable contribution made by social historians.

Howard Zinn was such a historian. In his watershed work, A People's History of the United States, the history of the United States is not explained through the "traditional" viewpoint of the wealthy and/or powerful but the everyday people. Reading the book in high school definitely shook up the way I perceived the history of the United States and made me realize that history is much more nuanced than often is imagined.

Thanks for the contribution. May we all hope to have as much influence as you.

Monday, January 18, 2010


As everyone now knows, including me, the earthquake in Haiti has had the dubious honor of actually making one of the roughest places on Earth even worse. Thankfully some people haven't let this terrible human tragedy ruin any of their lives, as they still find it within their grief stricken hearts to spend part of their vacation in Haiti.

Now while I don't have much of a basis to start saying that we should all donate, I still think that rolling up to the shores of a private beach "leased" from the government by the cruise company and having a barbecue and enjoying a colorful drink with an umbrella while outside the guarded gates a nation of millions experiences unfathomable suffering can easily be classified as a "dick move." While I understand that these people paid for their lovely vacations, I still have to question the fact that they set upon Haiti. I'm sure that like most Caribbean nations, it has wonderful scenery. But do these people have any sort of clue about what the hell is going on beyond their little beach paradise when they're sipping on that mai-tai?

I haven't been on a cruise myself and I probably will not go on one unless I'm fully comfortable with all the ports of call that they make. From what I've heard from various people who have gone on cruises and have been fairly aware and honest of the situation, a lot of the time the surrounding areas outside the specific resort are not exactly pleasing to the typical tourist's eye. That doesn't exactly sound like the most comfortable situation for me to be having at the time. I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't be enjoying my pina colada on the shores of Haiti knowing that tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people died and millions more are suffering probably mere miles away.

It must be said that the cruise is doing what it can to provide aid to those in need in Haiti, and for that they should be commended. Nonetheless, it still is troubling to me that something better and less callous on the part of the cruise company was not arranged for the vacation goers. I'm sure they weren't that set on seeing the lovely vistas of Haiti and probably couldn't have told much of any difference.

And people wonder why I don't go on vacations much.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Worst to Whatever's Next

There is a Mexican idiom (at least I think it's Mexican) "salir Guatemala y ir a Guate-peor" which roughly translates to "from bad to worse." (Apologies to all two of the Guatemalan readers of this blog.) Recently, we saw Haiti, one of the most destitute nations in the Western Hemisphere and the world manage to do just that but on a much more horrific scale.

The earthquake has really troubled me for reasons beyond the immense human suffering that's occurred there. I am troubled by the fact that it is only now that everyone is running around saying "HOLY SHIT WE MUST HELP HAITI!" If anyone has actually checked up on the damned place every so often, it becomes evidently clear that they needed this much attention long before this. And what did most of us do? We sat around and did nothing but look at the island and possibly wrinkle an eyebrow or two out of "concern."

Haiti has been wracked with terrible debt and violence for much of its history. The US occupied it from 1915 to 1934 due to economic unrest. In the post WWII era, coups and debt plagued the nation.

Then everyone's favorite Haitian dictator came to power: Dr. Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Like most dictators, he was corrupt and also managed to irritate enough of the elites through persecution that they left, worsening the situation in the nation. And just to make it more interesting, he also effectively used Voodoo as a tactic of control. How many dictators you know that did that?

Things didn't improve under his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier (creative nickname, no? and no, he wasn't a doctor) and eventually Jean-Bertrand Aristide came to power. Unfortunately, despite looking promising, he also wound up to be corrupt. He was ousted in 2004 in a rebellion that left much of the island wracked by chaos and also the chronic problem of human rights issues. The nation hasn't improved much in the six years since.

To sum it up, to call the nation a "hellhole" or anything equivalent would be sugarcoating the issue. It's been like this for years. And yet, it is only now that everyone is up in arms about the entire thing.

If you're not going to do anything for the Haiti earthquake, fine. I can't blame you for maintaining the status quo that existed through other horrific hardships the island endured. But damned if you're going to yell at me and carry yourself like some saint if you're donating or providing charity. The earthquake could do little for the island what chaos, coups, and a crippled economy did in the last century. To be brutally frank, the standard of living for many of the people hasn't changed, mostly because you could not go any lower on the poverty scale.

Now, you might be yelling at the computer screen about how I can say this, presuming that I somehow am innocent of the charges I bring. I am not innocent at all. The place has an economy which could barely be called an economy. The Wikipedia article can provide you with the basic statistics of just how bad it is and has tons of links to help you visualize the suck. And I know this. I have known this. I remember the 2004 chaos during the Aristide overthrow and the widespread looting and violence. And I, like 95% or so of everyone crowing about helping Haiti out now, didn't do a damned thing to help them then. Shame on me, and shame on all of us who sat around before this terrible earthquake for not doing a damned thing.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Substance-Free Jersey Shore Viewing

Having gone home and not having the cable package which includes MTV (but thankfully includes TNT and way too many hours of Law and Order) means not being able to watch the Jersey Shore episode that was shown on New Year's Eve. Then again, I hadn't been able to watch the show due to my lovely roommate repossessing the television to his room allegedly due to a real nasty but unconfirmed case of the flu.

Being home, I usually am not afforded the luxury of swilling cup upon cup of coffee or enjoying a glass of scotch before starting the review, which means that tonight (provided I actually finish the episode) will be the first viewing of the show I've done 100% without outside influence. Let's see where this goes.

So the episode starts with the post-sucker punch aftermath which more or less boils down to a seaside bar brawl. It's different I guess from the typical bar brawl for some reason. Maybe because at the shore there are less people named "Chains" or "Spider" there and more dudes named "Chaz" wearing board shorts. That also implies the decreased chance that someone's going to get a piece of their skull knocked out with a bike lock.

In this moment of crisis, however, "The Situation" manages to keep the primary mission in focus: hooking up with random girls. During the heated post-punch dust cloud, he manages to still keep his game going...and earn a reputation as a creep. Now what tipped everyone else off to that? The fact that he's kind of an old dude (28 I know is not that old but tanning beds do age you) really doesn't earn you point here...especially when you're trying to pick up women after one of your "crew" got socked. I guess you could admire the dedication, but there is a time and a place. And it's called a phone number.

I skipped over the entire part where Sammi meets Ronnie's parents, mostly because it doesn't look promising in the importance department.

This is also the part where I decided that going to sleep was of an entirely more important and fruitful proposition.

[Insert time gap, I forgot how many days]

So after some time vegetating and not really having anything resembling an intellectual thought pass through my mind, I more or less have figured that I'm not going to be finishing the episode. Too much work. Plus, as of 8 Jan 2010, the episode got taken off line and won't be back up until 31 Jan 2010. So, you'll have to live with that.