2008-11-20

The Premier of Articles of the Moment, Blogged Version

Some of you have been on my Articles of the Moment (hereafter known as AOTM) email list for a few weeks, but I wanted to share the crazy/interesting tidbits that I stumble upon with a wider audience, so AOTM will be posted here from now on. This of course means that there will be no more emails clogging inboxes, but it'll be up to y'all to check in here every once in a while if you want some randomness. I will do my best to have something here at least once a week, but no promises—especially because that would take away the exciting spontaneity of The Moment.

With no further ado....
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  1. For anyone who has seen Minority Report or the latest Bourney James Bond, you might be interested to know that such computer interfaces are closer to reality than you think.

  2. If you haven't been following all those Georgia/Russia shenanigans, this letter by the Russian UN rep to the NYT might be interesting, as it lambasts the US media, among others, for assuming Russia was guilty from the get go.

  3. Food prices are rising a lot more than you may realize, since many companies are "secretly" reducing the volume of their packaging on top of everything else.

  4. Monty Python's Dead Parrot sketch is actually a couple millennia old. And on a related note, Monty Python decided to be savvy and cool and create their own official YouTube channel.

  5. I'm not too sure about this, but maybe, if you click this link (although I'm not saying you should click this link), you might, possibly, find out that, if you want, uncertainty is more stressful than negative feedback. Tell it like it is, folks.

  6. The grass is always greener...white med students are more likely to be interested in alternative therapies and medicines, while their non-white classmates seem to reject their own cultures' cures. This is not good, since a lot of medical wisdom from Asia, Africa, and India might be lost before white doctors can collect it.

  7. Four interesting new studies on the psychological front...There is a correct way to study...Deja vu has been revealed...Athletes can increase their reaction times by 53% via biofeedback...and Facial scars increase male attractiveness.

  8. Another reason not to worry so much about China—even in Asia, the US is the preferred security partner over China.

  9. New archeological evidence of belief in souls from 2800 years ago.

  10. Although I usually only include articles that confirm my personal anti-religious/pro-spiritual beliefs, this one is interesting and significant enough to share nonetheless—"attending religious services sharply cuts risk of death".

  11. As yet another reminder of how little we actually do know (i.e. too many ignorant people believe that Western science and medicine are infallible and all-knowing), we only just now know how bleach kills bacteria.

  12. And finally, on a lighter and more absurd note, here are the chicken police breaking up a rabbit fight.


See you right here next time!

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2008-05-23

A Rainbow and A Cirque

Penn's Gymnastics Club organized a trip to see Cirque du Soleil's Kooza last night, and although I had previously held the mistaken assumption that circuses are kinda stupid, I was reassured by the enthusiasm of my fellow amateur acrobat friends to see this show. Man, did it turn out to be an amazing evening.

In fact, I knew it was going to be amazing before I even got into Center City. As I was biking down South Street Bridge (RIP, soon), I happened to witness a little slice of perfection, being in just the right place at just the right time. South Street Bridge is known as one of the best places to view the Philly Skyline from in general, so I stopped to capture some fantastic evening sunlight from the West highlighting the skyscrapers beneath a dark sky pregnant with late spring showers. As I kept shooting away, however, I was granted with a rare sight indeed—a perfectly framed rainbow forming! And not only that, but soon it was a clearly visible double rainbow. The intensity of the primary rainbow was truly breathtaking, as was its sheer size and height. This was one of the few times in my life I was able to clearly make out ROYGBIV. Even though no photos can do the scene justice, I'll let the images speak for themselves. As with everything in life, the moment was fleeting, so I soon hopped back on my sweet ride and booked it down to the Big Top at Broad and Washington.

As for Kooza, I was very impressed indeed, and will make it a point to see as many more Cirque shows as I can in the future. Some impressions:
...They really do bring the audience in and involve them directly in a wide variety of ways, including by fake dog-pissing on them, humping their legs, and pickpocketing them (quite impressively actually), among other things.
...For a "family show," it was at times startlingly raunchy, mostly thanks to the clowns, what with the naked lasciviousness in their eyes when picking out an attractive female audience member, to mock penis tasering, to simulated gay clown sex. That all being said, it was hilarious to this 20-something American male.
...No matter how you slice it, contortionists just rock. Even though I must say despite the prevailing opinion, I'd posit that the more wild, adrenaline-junkyish trapeze girl would be more fun in bed than a contortionist. ("You may tell jokes, Mr. Jerry Seinfeld, but you are no Comedian.")
...One of the more impressive feats of strength was the understated Unicycle Duo, especially towards the end when the dude is spinning the chick around his neck over and over.
...The most fun to watch act, and the one I'd most like to attempt myself, was the Wheel of Death. Not only is it impressive in scope, but the strength, sense of balance, and derring-do required got the audience gasping and guffawing. Reminded me of the Vomit Comet when they started doing graceful midair flips.

Overall, I highly recommend any Cirque du Soleil shows that you ever get a chance to see, almost as much as I recommend being in just the right place to snap some fleeting rainbow pics.

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2008-05-07

A Beautiful Evening; Brief Procrastination

It's finals time, so I'm glued to my keyboard writing papers, but it was a simply gorgeous day today, so here are some pictures from my roof-patio just now (click to go to fullsize), and one flower + sky image taken on campus a few weeks ago, since it's nice too.

Enjoy.
Philly Skyline from Roof 1
Philly Skyline from Roof 2
Spring Sky

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2008-04-15

China's Influence In Africa

I took advantage of a fascating talk today by a visiting scholar, Dr. David Shinn, who was former our Ambassador to Ethiopia (among other positions), and who is now a professor at GWU. I went at the last minute based on an email from my Japanese History course, and I'm quite glad I did. Thanks to my China knowledge (mostly gleaned from majoring in it—check that out mom & dad—I actually learned something at Penn!) and my greater-than-average Africa knowledge due to the scenarios we worked with at NYLF/National Security, I learned a ton more from the talk.

Since I'm pressed for time, I'm just going to bullet point some of the more interesting tidbits I collected from the talk, for you, my loyal reader (yes, you, sitting over there by yourself) to peruse at your leisure:

  • Of the 53 African nations currently, only 4 still recognize Taiwan over the PRC, and they're frankly the insignificant ones (Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Sao Tome & Principe, and Swaziland). Even those will likely change soon. This means that China's efforts in Africa can potentially garner a large chunk of support votes in the UN—almost a quarter right there.

  • The US has a significant trade deficit with Africa (although this is of course overshadowed by that with other nations). China is much closer to being neutrally balaned in terms of trade with Africa, which puts it in a stronger position.

  • By 2010, China will have surpassed the US in trade with Africa. Of that, 85% of China's trade is with only 5 of the largest African nations. Also, despite all of that, only 3% of China's trade is with Africa.

  • Through 2007, China had over $20 billion in investment (mainly in oil and extractive industries) in Africa; $6 billion in Sudan alone. This is a tremendous amount compared to virtually all other nations.

  • Since 2000, China has been pushing their "Angola Model" in Africa. Basically, Beijing gives large "loans" at very low interest rates (~1.5% only!), payable over long periods. Sounds great, right? Well, in reality these are more like barter agreements, where the recipient nation then pays back the loan in resources (oil from Angola, minerals from DRC, tobacco from Zimbabwe, etc), and on top of that, China agrees to develop the necessary infrastructure to access those resources—but it's usually stipulated to be done by mostly Chinese companies and labor! Nevertheless, both sides seem pretty happy with this (e.g. Angola is really enjoying the deal since they won the "oil lottery" and are able to pay back their loan quite quickly due to the high prices commanded by oil).

  • China is not completely profit driven in Africa, as they have cancelled over $1 billion in debts throughout Africa. Not as much as Western nations, but still a significant amount, and mostly for the poorer nations that needed it most.

  • China does a fantastic job of government-to-government relations: Beijing has staffed embassies in 48 of the 49 African nations that recognize her (Somalia is the only one left out due to security and safety issues). No other nation has that many embassies in Africa. Africa is also always the first place outside of China that the new Chinese foreign minister goes to when taking office.

  • However, despite that, China is still pretty bad at dealing with non-governmental players, from NGOs to opposition parties, etc. This occasionally leads to great difficulties, since when a government in Africa does change, Beijing has already alientated them by not having had relations previously.

  • Between 2002 and 2004, high-level Chinese officials made 64 trips to Africa, and African officials and leaders made 69 trips to China in the same period. Can you imagine someone like Condi going to Africa even twice in two years, let alone dozens of times?

  • Beijing regularly provides training for African diplomats.

  • Some problems with China in Africa: 1) Beijing undercuts the IMF and World Bank's reform efforts, which involve loans and grants with stipulations for reform, by giving assistance and funds with no political stipulations at all. China in this sense is like a pressure relief valve for Africa, negating any pressure put on questionable governments by the West. 2) China doesn't pay much attention to where their arms shipments end up in Africa. 3) China participates and funds egregious environmental practices, from protected timber clearcutting, to blatant ivory trade. 4) Chinese trade is continually driving local African textile and other goods manufacturers out of business.

  • Some interesting effects of Chinese influence: 1) China's use of barter with many African nations actually serves to lessen corruption; corrupt leaders are much less likely to "misplace" a thousand computers shipped in from China than they are to lose track of a million dollars sent in by the IMF. 2) Whether good or bad, it is interesting that China will deal equitably with Islamist Khartoum, Autocratic Equitorial Guinea, and Democratic South Africa...all that matters to Beijing is who's in power.

  • There are three rough classes of Chinese in Africa: 1) the Professional Class, who are the embassadorial, administrative, managerial, and banking etc personnel. These people behave like their Western equivalents, living in communities, speaking the local languages, taking their families, and usually getting along with the locals. 2) The Laborers, who are mostly uneducated, stick to themselves, don't have their families with them, eat Chinese food, drink, and don't like the locals. They are simply there to make a higher wage than they would in China, and most end up returning to China after a few years. 3) The Traders and Entrepreneurs, who are the largest group, and mostly urban. They run businesses, usually integrated with extended families back in China (networking much like Jewish traders did a few centuries ago). They are there unofficially, but Beijing doesn't discourage them. They are the most likely to live in Africa their entire lives, even though they speak of returning home.


Well, I hope y'all learned something today. Later!

Philly Film Fest '08

Ever since I worked as a courier downtown and thereby left the comfy confines of insular Penn and discovered what Philly actually has to offer, I've tried to take advantage of all the cultural opportunities that pass through the city.

One of the best of those annual events is the Philly Film Festival that takes place every April across the city. It has actually grown significantly in size and popularity over the past few years, and now attracts well over a hundred films from around the world.

I have tried to see as many of the showings as I could over the past 3 or 4 years, but either stupid schoolwork got in the way (psh), or I procrastinated in purchasing tickets until it was too late while trying to get friends to join me for the cultural experience. I saw a few quite memorable flix in years past nonetheless, such as a documentary about the word "fuck" (quite funny and relatively evenhanded for a liberal documentary), and a super crazy Japanese pop culture film called Survive Style 5+ (a mindjob, for sure, but I liked it enough to get the DVD).

This year, even though there was a ton of other cool stuff going on (such as Colbert being filmed at Penn, I finally got my priorities straight, and I realized the awesomeness of going to the movies by myself, and went to three of the Fest's flix.

The first, a Swedish "fantasy thriller" called Storm, was actually one of the most clichéd, schitzophrenic, & mislabled movies I've ever seen. It was so bad I'm not even going to mention it any more. Seriously.
Forbidden Kingdom Mongol
On the other hand, the other two movies I was able to see were so interesting and fun that I decided to do some "reviews" of them on my website. So, without further ado, go ahead and check out my thoughts about an advanced screening of Jet Li and Jackie Chan's Forbidden Kingdom, and about a visually stunning film about the early life of Genghis Khan called Mongol.

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