Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Post-Post-Modern Wisdom

Which do you value more--

your wealth or your wellness?
Which is more harmful--
To lead or to lose?

The greater is your attachment
the more bereft is your loss
The more you hoard,
the less is left to enjoy.

Those on the path
to the Tao
flow without forcing,
leaving no space for disasters.

-Lao Tzu
Tao Te Ching

Monday, March 24, 2008

Post-Post-Modern Music: Justice

One of my favourite albums is Daft Punk's Discovery. Even more than Homework (which includes the masterpieces "Around the World" and "Da Funk") it encapsulates the band's unmistakable soul-pounding dynamism. From start to finish, this epic--yes, epic!--album evokes futuristic soundscapes, carries hints of 80's rock nostalgia and maintains always an undercurrent of a distinctly French creativity.

Since Discovery though, their music just hasn't hit the same notes for me. The subsequent album, Human After All was, in my opinion, a dud. But another group, called Justice--also from France--has burst onto the scene and grabbed the torch from Daft Punk's failing hands. Many people's first introduction to Justice was "We Are Your Friends." I first heard it in a Virgin Mobile commercial last year. Another excellent tune is "D.A.N.C.E."

On a side note, "We Are Your Friends" won 'Best Video' at the Europe Music Awards. As a representative of the band went to pick up the trophy an irate Kanye West crashed the stage and verbally assaulted everyone in sight because his own video, "Touch the Sky" didn't win. Some of his colourful rantings included:

Fuck dis! [My video] cost a million dollars, Pamela Anderson was in it; I was jumping across canyons and shit! ...If I don't win, the awards show loses credibility... Nothing against you, but hell man!

Anyway, Justice has come out with a new single "DVNO", coupled with an dazzling video that pays tribute to the art of logos and graphic design.

Check it out...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

I'm certainly not religious, but I do have Catholic roots. For my family, Easter is a big to-do. It's all about sharing good food, good booze, good stories around the dinner table, and just good times.

So, no matter where you are or what you believe, I wish you good times, and a happy Easter!

Friday, March 21, 2008

On Nationhood

To which of the following statements do you adhere?


b) Tibet is a part of China, was a part of China, and always will be a part of China.

1 Nation = 1 State

If you answered a, your reasoning might be,
Any nationality trapped inside a larger nation-state should become a free nation. It's only natural that every nation have it's own state. After all, if the French have France, the Japanese have Japan, then why not let the Tibetans have Tibet?
It may indeed be natural for nations to have states, but is it un-natural for multiple nations to share one state? Look at Switzerland, comprised of 4 groups: French, German, Italian and Rhaeto-Romansh. Look at Belgium, shared by French- and Dutch-speakers. Or, look at Canada, made up of English and French speaking provinces. There's also Spain, the UK, Malaysia, India...

All of these are examples of two or more nations successfully mingled in the bosom of a single state with wealth, stability and freedom. So there's nothing unusual about a country having more than one official language, culture, and ethnicity.

However, notice that all the countries just listed are democracies. The citizens of those countries are there by choice, not held by an iron grip. Voters in Quebec, for example, have exercised their choice twice, and both times voted to remain a part of Canada.

Also, most muliti-nation states are federal, where different regions have some self-rule but still within a larger country.

China doesn't play by those rules. Tibetans do not have the freedom to choose their government whether it be independent or within a greater China.

1 China, Indivisible

Now, if you picked option b, you may be afraid that:

If Tibet separates, what's to stop a domino effect from tearing all of China apart completely? The country I know and love will be Balkanized into a patchwork of micro-states and the whole region will be thrown into chaos.

This idea has merit. China has several disparate regions, (bestowed with the progressive-sounding but constitutionally impotent title of "Autonomous Region") where there is not only a unique culture or religion, but downright hostility toward the ruling Han majority. Tibet is one example, but the western Uighur province in another. And here is what one learned world affairs analyst, Robert D. Kaplan, wrote about it in The Coming Anarchy:

Having traveled through much of western China, where Muslim Turkic Uighurs (who despise the [Han] Chinese) often predominate, I find it hard to imagine a truly democratic China without at least a partial break-up of the country. Such a break-up would lead to chaos in western China, because the Uighurs are poorer and less educated than most Chinese and have a terrible historical record of governing themselves.
Kaplan goes further, wondering if the student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in '89 had led to democracy, could China manage the same astounding levels of economic growth that it does:
I am not certain, because democracy in China would have ignited turmoil not just in the Muslim west of the country but elsewhere too; order would have decreased but corruption would not have.
The Dalai Lama himself basically agreed with Kaplan's assessment when he said in an interview with Time:
Tibet is a landlocked country, a large area, small population, very, very backward. We Tibetans want modernization. Therefore, in order to develop Tibet materially as a modern nation, Tibet must remain within the People's Republic of China.
1 Country, 2 Systems

Notice that Kaplan's statements above deal with democracy, not self rule. It's one thing to say that China is not ready for federal democracy, or that its provinces shouldn't become independent republics. It's another thing to say Tibet can't have some form of autonomy within China. This already exists in Hong Kong where China holds power over defense and foreign affairs while legal, economic and immigration policies are under local control. The same idea exists in Macau, and if China had it's way it would exist for Taiwan too.

For Tibet, the Dalai Lama favours this policy of "one country, two systems" over full independence, to the chagrin of Tibet's government-in-exile. In the interview with Time he declared that Tibet should accept a partnership with China if it improves the standard of living of Tibetan people:
...In order to develop Tibet materially as a modern nation, Tibet must remain within the People's Republic of China. Provided Chinese give us a full guarantee of preservation of Tibetan culture, Tibetan environment, Tibetan spirituality, then it is of mutual benefit.
In other words, if China was to create a parallel system for Tibet within China, not unlike that of Hong Kong and Macau, it would be a workable, peaceful solution to allow Tibetans to exercise their religion and unique way of life--including control over immigration--in a way that keeps the greater China politically stable and economically prosperous.

The photo above is a collection of stamps celebrating China's ethnic diversity.

News From Tibet
Throwing Stones

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Winter is Dead?

Officially, winter 07-08 was declared dead on March 20, at 12:48 AM (GMT). Yet, thanks to La NiƱa, the weather remains unseasonably chilly in my humble berg (and in many parts of the northern hemisphere).

How cold?
So far 2008, for the globe, has been quite cold, only just above the 1961-90 average,
said Phil Jones, University of East Anglia; quoted in this report.

Does this mean global warming is a big lie? No. Because despite the rude start, 2008 is expected to be one of warmest on record (if not the warmest, as the Old Farmers Almanac has predicted), and consistent with the forecast rise of the Earth's temperatures.


Anyway, the following pics I snapped around my house. I actually took more but they came out blurry thanks to my shivering in the frigid eve.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Must... try to... concentrate!

Is it just me, or is this whole Tibet affair making it hard to focus on other things?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Post-Post-Modern Music: MGMT

MGMT is a group out of Brooklyn that's started to make waves with their album "Oracular Spectacular" (great title, that.)

Rolling Stone named them an 'artist to watch' in 2008 and the album has debuted at no. 12 on the UK album chart.

But who cares how popular they are. The music just sounds cool! And in light of the oppressive monotony (and mediocrity) of modern pop music it's like a revitalizing tonic for the ears.

Incidentally, for those who have never tried acid, this video for "Electric Feel" gives a surprisingly accurate demonstration.

News from Tibet

On Monday, Kadfly carried a post entitled, "Situation Resolved?" It described the stillness that had set over the Tibetan capital.

However, sources inside Tibet are saying that because the Chinese government doesn't want any further embarrassing protests or violent confrontations, they have been quietly arresting potential rioters, i.e. young men. If no men are in the house when authorities arrive they take women, as a sort of collateral. All this in an effort to pre-empt any further large-scale public demonstration. As many as 4000 people have been arrested.

Also, there is a growing sense of momentum amongst Tibetans. Precisely because China is determined to avoid embarrassment on the eve of the Olympics, there is a feeling that the ball is in the Tibetans' court and there's talk of more, wider-scale action in the weeks and months ahead.

As for our illustrious Kadfly, he is safe and in good spirits. He is enjoying copious alcoholic beverages and games of chess with fellow tourists holed up in his hotel in Llasa. With only sporadic internet access, he's been largely unaware of the hoopla going on online. He tells me that while he did manage to put up a brief post, he has not yet been able to check out the comments. He's delighted by the positive response and will write again when he gets a chance.


(The banner reads: Strengthen public safety management, safeguard political stability. -NYT)

Throwing Stones
On Nationhood

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Throwing Stones

It's incredible how sometimes life throws you a curve ball. How one day you could be just another tourist, snapping pictures in a museum, and the next day you're a foreign correspondent, broadcasting precious facts about a distant land in turmoil to people around the world.

That's what's happened to my best friend, "Ken". He started up a blog a few months ago, as a one-stop-shop for friends and family to keep up with his trip to the Orient. He was meandering his way west from Hong Kong to Xi'an--where the famed Terracotta Warriors reside--and would eventually make his way to Tibet.

That's how I saw it in my head, anyway, when I heard a news bulletin announce that there had been an explosion of violence on the streets of Llasa. "Hey," I thought. "Isn't that where Ken is going soon? Maybe he'll be forced to change his plans... stay in Xi'an a bit longer..."

The next day a mutual friend called to ask if I had heard about Ken.

"Heard what?"

Well, the rest of the story is on full display at Kadfly. It turned out he wasn't heading for Tibet, he was already there, caught in the middle of the turmoil. His pictures (up until that point a placid mix of local cuisine, landmarks and blue skies) depicted blazing bicycles, angry rioters brandishing machetes and police in riot gear cowering under a barrage of stones. Days earlier he had posted a shot of a pile of rocks behind a glass case illustrating a watch tower's simple defensive technique: dropping stones on intruders below.

Now Tibetans were hurling stones against 'intruders' of a different sort. Oh, the irony.

Awareness of Ken's blog quickly spread around the internet. Comments started trickling in, thanking him for bravely shedding light on a dark corner of the world. News organizations also took notice. Just after Ken arrived, access to foreigners into Tibet was shut off by Chinese authorities. The only real journalist in the city was James Miles of The Economist so demand was extremely high for any words or images that might clarify the situation on the ground.

The next morning , Ken's photo of the riot police under seige landed on the front page of the New York Times. His blog was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor. Meanwhile the 'comments' page was buzzing with more thank yous and spilling out into a general discussion and debate about Tibet (so far, as I write this, 143 comments).

However, Ken is unable to see the hubbub that his humble blog is causing because internet connections have been severed in the area, while a video of Ken's that someone has posted on YouTube is now being blocked in China.

As you can imagine, his friends and family are a tad bit concerned about Ken and we're still waiting to hear back from him today. Obviously, getting out of harms way is priority no. 1--especially as China's deadline for protesters to turn themselves in by today [CORRECTION: not all protesters, just the violent ones; see 'Comments'] has now expired and more violence is a real possibility. Add to this the fact that authorities have been determined to block, censor and withhold any information that doesn't paint China as a socialist utopia and you see how we'd prefer to have Ken 'reporting' from less volatile regions.

However, his posts have been fair and balanced (and I don't mean that in the Fox News sense). While he acknowledges that "the Chinese government bears a huge amount of blame for this situation" he also makes it clear that the protesters were not exactly a model for peaceful civil disobedience--as the video clip makes abundantly clear. So no one can say Ken is spreading anti-government propaganda. Indeed some of the debate going on on the 'comments' page include people supporting the governments actions while at the same time thanking Ken for his posts.

Anyway, until he can do so himself, I will graciously acknowledge on his behalf, the massive outpouring of interest and gratitude toward his work. He'll be mightily impressed by the attention, and who knows, maybe he'll actually make a buck or two from the ads at the bottom of the page.

News From Tibet
On Nationhood

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Faster, Higher, Stronger (and Without Leakage)!

Pop Quiz:

You've just been jogging for an hour and your muscles are aching. What causes the ache?

“Build-up of lactic acid in the muscles?”


In fact, this theory was discredited over 10 years ago. People continue, however, to repeat it like it was common knowledge. Was it the absence of a good explanation in place of the 100 year old lactic acid theory that’s caused the confusion? There was such a void that apparently, physiology textbooks have been ignoring muscle fatigue altogether, as if it just didn't exist.

Well, now it seems we have an answer. New research has uncovered what exactly goes on beneath the skin when muscle fatigue sets in. The short answer is leakage. Normal muscle function involves the controlled release of calcium.

After a period of vigorous exercise, calcium channels begin to leak like broken pipes. Because the muscles need a precise amount of calcium ebbing-and-flowing, this decreases their ability to work properly.
If that wasn’t enough, the leaking calcium also stimulates a “protein-digesting enzyme” that actually eats away at the muscle fibres.

Thus, the ache-age...

What's truly fascinating about this is how researchers uncovered it, and what they're doing with their new found knowledge. You might think Dr. Andrew Marks and his team at Columbia University were working in some sport medicine lab, funded by the Major League Baseball or something...

Well, not at all. Instead, they were studying heart failure, and their previous research showed that calcium was involved when heart patients experienced fatigue. Then Marks, in a bit of investigative wimsy that would make the eyes of Sherlock Holmes twinkle with admiration, reckoned that what happens in the heart--a muscle afterall--is probably the same thing that happens in leg muscles, arm muscles and so on.

So they put together a drug that acts as a plug for the calcium, gave it to a group of mice (which all signed wavers, I'm sure) and presto, performance was enhanced:

Without the drugs, mice are exhausted after three weeks of daily 3-hour swims. With the drug, the mice were still energetic, had lost less exercise capacity after 3 weeks, and their muscles showed fewer signs of calcium leakage, atrophy, and less muscle damage.

-Science Daily

As yet, the drug is not available for human consumption--or even testing for that matter. But, the Columbia team intend to patent their concoction. You can imagine the potential for performance enhancement in both professional and amateur sport, as well as the headache (leakage?) for anti-doping agencies desperately trying to keep up.