Dogs As Tools of Western Imperialism

Authoritarian governments are notoriously paranoid and their legitimacy and grip on power is always tenuous. This is certainly true for the Chinese Communist Party, which sees boogeymen around every corner and lurking in every shadow. Today, the Wall Street Journal wrote an article about the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) concern over the evils of owning pet dogs.

The CCP is gravely alarmed at the current “dog infestation” in China. Such Western decadence! My friends, we have been undone. China has finally caught on to the West’s plans. The CIA and other agents of subterfuge have a carefully laid out plan to infiltrate and bring down the CCP’s finely tuned utopia. It looks like this:

1. Introduce Western bourgeois decadent behavior like homosexuality, pet dogs, and selfies.

2. ????????

3. Profit! Evil pluralistic representative democracy achieved!

 

My Dog or an insidious tool of Western imperialism??

My Dog or an insidious tool of Western imperialism??

It’s absurd. As the article states, some Chinese netizens actually support the government. There are claims of dogs running around biting people and defecating all over the place! Something must be done! Don’t these dog owners know that defecating in public is a privilege reserved for people?!?!

All joking aside, many people in China correctly see through the lame propaganda of the Communist Party. With another horrific attack in Xinjiang, the government is obviously cranking up the spin to start scapegoating. China’s problems are always caused by something other than the Communist Party. It’s the West. It’s Muslims. It’s Taiwanese independence agitators. It’s the Japanese. Now, it’s dogs. Those damn dirty dogs.

When I first read this article, I laughed it off, but the scary thing is that something as mundane as dog ownership has been singled out in other countries as well. In Iran a few years ago, the government even went so far as a proposed ban. It’s scary stuff from which no good can come. Countries like Iran and China accuse the West of imperialism or starting a war of cultures, and then un-ironically single out a practice (that is at least 15,000 years old) as a virus from the “West” that must be eradicated before it destroys their societies. Such behavior only heightens tension and damages cross-cultural dialogue and understanding.

This blip on the internet about dogs cannot cover up the fact that China is a country in turmoil no matter what the Communist Party says. The internal security forces have a bigger budget than the military. There is practically a genocide going on against groups like the Uighurs and Falun Gong. The CCP has much to answer for, but even the oppression of the communist party does not excuse terrorism. What is going on in places like Xinjiang is inexcusable and must be stopped. Many innocent people have died in these knife attacks. Maybe the CCP should concentrate on changing its obviously flawed internal policies in an effort to bring reconciliation and peace instead of wasting time on dog shit.

So what do you think? Are pet dogs finally going to achieve the West’s long held goal of the utter destruction of the Chinese way of life? Please comment below. You can also email me at thenonicheblog@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter at JohnS_20.

Why Changing Existing Characters is Comics’ Best Bet to Achieve Diversity

I am comic book fan. I have been for as long as I can remember. When I was in early elementary school, I had a subscription to The Amazing Spider-Man and it was awesome. Going to the mailbox every month and seeing the newest issue was one of the biggest thrills a 7-year-old could have. For anyone who has even a passing knowledge of comics, it would not surprise you to know that my first foray into comics also brought the first short lived shake-up to the status quo of a favorite character. You see, Spider-Man at the time was wearing a black suit with a white spider and not his traditional red and blue tights. The suit would turn out to be an alien symbiote but that’s a story for another time.

The point is, comic companies are always shaking up the status quo. Sometimes for a short term bump in sales. Sometimes for more socially oriented reasons like diversity or addressing important and timely issues (and also sales; always sales.) In this post, I want to address the heavily publicized news concerning Captain America and Thor: there will be a female Thor and long-time Cap-friend the Falcon, who is African-American, is going to take up the mantle of Cap. A female Thor and a black Captain America coming to a comic rack near you!

Even 7-year-old-me knew this wouldn't last. But it did give us Venom.

Even 7-year-old me knew this wouldn’t last. But it did give us Venom.

The cynic in me and a lot of others looks at these moves at publicity stunts to increase sales and that Marvel has no real interest in diversity. If they truly valued diversity, the argument goes, then they would create brand new characters instead of messing with established ones. The other side claims that a book featuring a brand new character would never sell and would be cancelled after six months and so there would be no impact and no point. Honestly, both arguments have merit. I used to side solidly on the “This is a shameful gimmick!” camp, but after some thought, I’ve come around to think that tinkering with characters like Cap and Thor, even if the “universe shattering events™” will be undone in a year, is still the best way to infuse some much needed diversity into the Marvel Universe.

What brought me around was thinking about a superhero named Monica Rambeau. She debuted as the new Captain Marvel and was the first black superheroine on the Avengers. Captain Marvel was an established name and Monica was inserted into the role. It was a move to increase diversity. It was not permanent. Monica would later become known as Photon and even later still Pulsar. She was only Captain Marvel for a relatively short time. Everyone knew it would be short lived no matter how Marvel tried to spin it. They messed with the Captain Marvel character to put an African-American heroine in the limelight for however long it would drive sales. It ran its course and then something more like the status quo returned. But you know what? Even though Monica Rambeau is not Captain Marvel anymore and even though she is not as high-profile anymore, she is still around. She is still a recognizable part of the Marvel Universe. She was introduced as a tweak to an existing character but grew into an established one herself. Just like Eric Masterson. Just like Azrael. Just like Steel. Just like John Stewart.

Even though an established character like the Falcon is taking over as Captain America, you can bet there is going to be new Falcon introduced. And even though these two changes will be undone in six months and everything will go back to the way it was and even though fanboys will mock Marvel for another laughable “permanent” change, there will be two more characters running around Marvel with new aliases that have become part of Marvel’s more diverse universe. And that’s not so bad.

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So what do you think? Publicity stunt or positive agent of change? Please comment below. You can also email me at thenonicheblog@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter at JohnS_20.

My First Experience with Mandarin Self-Study

As anyone who has read this site knows, I am going to Taiwan for a full year of study in the International Chinese Language Program starting in September. I have also mentioned that I am a beginner in Mandarin and that I am spending the summer aggressively self-studying. Now that I am half-way through July, I wanted to briefly jot down my thoughts on Chinese as a language and the challenges that I foresee for myself.

My self-study materials include a Pleco dictionary app, Living Languages Mandarin (all three levels), and the Beginning Chinese materials by John DeFrancis. Right now, I am spending 2-3 hours per day doing nothing but studying, memorizing, writing, and listening. I know this is not a super intense schedule, but I want to ease myself into it (while maintaining familial and social responsibilities) and still try to go at a reasonably brisk pace.

Mr. DeFrancis, don't let me down.

Mr. DeFrancis, don’t let me down.

So what do I think? Well, I think Chinese is a fascinating language. The characters are, quite simply, neat. There are bloggers and linguists and polyglots all over the internet that have argued about the objective difficulty of the language. From my limited experience, I don’t think Chinese is easy but I don’t find it backbreakingly hard…yet. The tones are a pain but the grammar seems pretty easy and straightforward. Like any language, it is a mixed bag. I wouldn’t say that the spoken language is harder than any other language, just very different.

The most difficult part about Chinese at this point is that every word requires the memorization of three things: the word itself and its meaning, the proper tone, and the character. I do not consider myself particularly good at languages, but I am a pretty intelligent and hard-working guy who has been through enough schooling to know some tricks to working smart. Rote memorization with mnemonics is not a problem for me, even though it can be tedious. What has been most interesting is diving into the traditional characters. I have always been a visual learner and this has made learning characters easier (and more fun) for me than actually learning the spoken vocabulary. This leads to a weird situation with the simple sentence structures I am currently learning.

For instance, take this very simple sentence: 我有兩個弟弟。At this point in my Chinese study, I look at this sentence and recognize the characters and know that this sentence means “I have two younger brothers.” But I have a hard time remembering that in Chinese, the sentence reads “Wǒ yǒu liǎng gè dìdi.” So I find myself reading Chinese characters in English. In alphabet languages, you see the words and try to pronounce them the best you can and then translate them. With these characters, I go right into English. It’s like seeing the German flag and thinking “Germany” instead of “Deutschland which means Germany.”

Fortunately, I don’t think this will be a problem for long. As I continue to study and go through the drills and repetition, I am confident the spoken Chinese will start to really stick with me. It’s just a fascinating learning experience going from characters straight to English and bypassing spoken Chinese all together. It has concerned me but also kept me interested as I chug along in a new language.

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So what do you think? Is it strange to see characters and read them in English? Has this mirrored your own study of a character based language? If you have any thoughts or comments about possible Chinese study aids that I am not currently using or want to share your own learning experiences, please comment below. You can also email me at thenonicheblog@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter at JohnS_20.

Reflections of an American Returning from the Middle East

I am now back in the United States after two years teaching in Turkey. While I am glad to be back home for a few months before heading to Taiwan, I have to say that the two worst travel days of my life have been the two days I have returned to the US from Turkey the past two summers.

Last summer, when I came back, the TSA agents pulled me out of the customs line and interrogated me to the point where I missed my connecting flight. They wanted to know everything about me from where I was working, my employer’s contact information, my address, my contacts with Syrian rebels, everything. Even though I missed my connecting flight after approximately 24 straight hours of travel, I grinned and bore it. After all, they were just doing their job and I understand US security interests and concerns, even if I don’t always agree with them.

That brings us to this year, which was arguably the most miserable day of my entire life, not just my traveling life. On the nine hour flight from the UK to the US, I was stricken with horrendous food poisoning. Not good on a transatlantic flight, as I now know from firsthand experience. After numerous weather delays, I tried to get to my connection but was once again pulled out of line to be questioned.

Items like this in the SkyMall catalog are the only things that kept me sane during my travels.

Items like this in the SkyMall catalog are the only things that kept me sane during my travels.

This pissed me off for two reasons. First, I missed my connecting flight again. Two for two. What really bothered me was that after telling them my story and giving them all the confirmable information they could possibly want last year, they either did not update their records or didn’t believe me and so pulled me out again. My conversation with the TSA agent basically went like this:

Me: You know you guys took me out of line last year and I missed my flight. Once you pull me out, you should at least tell the airline you have me, even if it is just to take my luggage off the plane.

Agent: We don’t do that.

Me: Ok, I guess. I gave you all my information last year and yet you still are going to make me miss my flight. Can’t a guy work in peace in the Middle East?

Agent: Sure, as long as you don’t mind getting questioned every single time you come back into the country. Now what were you doing in Turkey again?

And so on. I will say that the agents I dealt with both times were polite and professional. It was more the frustration of the experience itself rather than any way I was treated. Still, a pain in the ass, and one that I feel is totally avoidable.

After these last two year, the most important piece of advice I would give to anyone who plans on working in the Middle East is to make sure you give yourself at least three hours of layover time if you need to make a connection once you hit the US.

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If you have any thoughts or comments, please share them below! You can also email me at thenonicheblog@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter at JohnS_20.

Finally, please consider visiting my Indiegogo campaign where I am currently trying to raise funds to ease the expense of my independent study. Studying abroad in Taiwan is not properly supported by the US government, but you can help!