Podcast: America’s Confused War on ISIS

Will America’s war with ISIS work? Journalist Mitchell Blatt and IR scholar Sumantra Maitra discuss.

– How moderate is the Free Syrian Army really?
– Does ISIS really pose a direct threat to the United States and Europe?
– Should other regional powers play a greater role?

Hear why Maitra thinks that America should leave it mostly to Iran and Egypt.


New Magazine Issue: Hong Kong’s Hidden Beaches

While we’re on the subject of Hong Kong, it just so happens that the latest issue of map magazine came out yesterday, and I have an article in it describing the beautiful secluded beaches of Sai Kung Country Park in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is best known on the mainland as a “shopping paradise”, but I like it more for the rickety wooden bridge made of planks and poles tied together by rope at Ham Tin Wan Beach.

Along the shores of Sai Kung Country Park, bays and covers hide in jagged corners, pristine beaches remain sparsely occupied, and fishers live on boats in the water. Located 20 miles to the northeast of Mong Kok, the brightly lit shopping district that was ranked by Guinness as the most crowded place in the world, Sai Kung Country Park is on the easternmost tip of the New Territories. The beaches of Tai Long Wan Bay are among the most beautiful and least crowded in Hong Kong. …

Read the full article here: Hong Kong’s Hidden Beaches
hk beaches copy
Other recent articles I have written:
Ukraine Proves The End Of History Is Still A Long Way Away – Daily Caller
US needs to be vigilant, not panic about terrorism – China.org.cn

What is Hong Kong’s Nomination Committee, and What Does it Have to Do With Occupy Central?

With Occupy Central in full force blocking some streets in Hong Kong, some people may be asking, what are the protests all about?

At the end of August, China’s central government endorsed a proposal that would limit candidates for Hong Kong chief executive, essentially restricting potential candidacies to those who support Beijing. The proposal calls for two or three candidates, each of whom needs to win at least half of the nominations from the Nomination Committee, on the ballot for public voting.

While some democratic protesters called for civic nominations that would allow Hong Kong citizens to nominate candidates directly–a measure supported by Occupy Central–the main thrust of the protests aren’t about civic nominations. The restrictions on candidates in the National People’s Congress proposal simply make it impossible for candidates from liberal pan-democratic parties to run for chief executive, denying the public a choice.

Here is what Hong Kong’s Basic Law (Article 45) says about the chief executive elections:

The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.

There are three important points:
1.) Basic Law states the “nominating committee” should nominate the chief executive.
2.) The nominating committee should be “broadly representative.”
3.) The last line says it should be “in accordance with democratic procedures”, which pro-Beijing officials say means that it should have a 50 percent nomination threshold.
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The Stupidest Argument in the History of “ISIS is Crossing the US Border”

Ever since ISIS beheaded two American journalists, some Americans have been hyping fears about ISIS terrorists supposedly crossing the US border. There doesn’t appear to be any real evidence of that happening. Typically the argument sounds something like this one: A Texas sheriff said he found Qurans at the border. Now we have the stupidest argument yet about ISIS coming over the border, courtesy of activist/prank video maker James O’Keefe.

The U.S. border with Mexico has long been a controversy among conservatives who think that it isn’t well controlled. Many illegal immigrants come to America over the border. In fact, the government estimates that 60,000 unaccompanied children will illegally cross the border without authorization in 2014. There is a political debate about what to do about them, with conservative Republicans typically opposing allowing illegal immigrants to become legal citizens. All of that is background for the illegal immigrant terrorist debate. Since conservatives think the border is a problem, they are apt to exaggerate the problem by talking about terrorists coming rather than migrants or refugees or people seeking American citizenship.

James O’Keefe went to the Southern Border in August and purported to film himself crossing the border dressed as Osama bin Laden. It doesn’t need to be said that wearing a terrorist mask doesn’t identify anyone as a terrorist.

Now in early September, O’Keefe topped himself. In his recent video, he filmed himself driving in American waters on Lake Erie and then coming to shore. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t face any problems since he never left America.
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Why China is Reforming the Gaokao College Entrance Exam

Reforms to the gaokao, the college entrance test that Chinese high school students take their senior year of high school to determine their college acceptance, are taking place in Shanghai and Zhejiang province.

The reforms widen the scope of subjects that students can test on and allow for tests throughout the high school career, rather than just one test senior year.

With the changes, students will still be tested on Chinese, math and English. But for the three remaining subjects, students in Shanghai and Zhejiang can choose to be tested on a wider range of topics from geography, history, chemistry, biology, physics and politics, among others

People’s Daily

The idea behind it is that students are feel too much pressure senior year in the current system. There are also problems stemming from excessive memorization-based learning that “kills creativity.”

I have written about these problems in the past. Here are a few problems with Chinese education that gaokao reforms hope to solve, excerpted from articles I have written:

In China, the use of standards has fostered a high-pressure system that kills creativity.

“When [my son] Star was young, he was very imaginative,” Frank Chen, director of Asian operations for OnSpeX, said. “Now, he appears to be losing his creativity.”

“If he writes whatever he wants in an essay, he will get a bad grade, because the teachers do not like it. But there’s nothing to do about it. I want him to go to a good college. The teachers get bonuses if he goes to a good college.”

“The folly of Common Core proponents’ China envy”, Mitchell Blatt – Daily Caller

The gao kao college entrance exam is the big focus that all of a Chinese student’s experience leads up to. One test determines where students will attend college. Attending a good college will lead to getting a good job. Students will do anything to pass the gao kao, including receiving IV drips so they don’t have to eat, and, of course, using their parents’ guanxi. In 2011, a number of students’ tests were thrown out after it became known that they used connections with government officials to fake minority status and receive affirmative action benefits.

Doing well on the test involves a lot of hard studying and memorization. There are two tracks to the test: science track and humanities track. One student quoted in a Wall Street Journal article said, “For science track, a good score is over 720 – it’s much harder to get high marks on humanities because so many of the questions are open-ended rather than multiple choice.”

The pressure on rural students is much greater than city students, because rural students have to score higher to attend a good university. Most of the top universities, such as Beijing University and Fudan University (Shanghai) are in big cities, and local residents require lower scores to qualify for attendance.

“Looking For Freedom From The Chinese Education System”, Mitchell Blatt – Vagabond Journey

“Beijing University is called ‘Beijing People University,’” Frank Chen, a Shanghai resident said, “because they enroll more local freshman than students from small cities.”

“Mr. Yu [Minhong] said, the whole country is concerned that currently the gaokao admissions policy is unfair, mainly in two points,” an article in iFeng news on March 8 said. “The first point is that there are major discrepancies between the acceptance rate of students from different provinces and cities to the top national universities. The second point is that the proportion of top national university resources allocated between city and rural areas is extremely out of balance. The imbalance between education resources in the city and countryside, and between different provinces and cities, has created an unequal situation for the gao kao and college entrance opportunities.”

“Fairness” and the gaokao: the invalid argument against reform, Mitchell Blatt – ChinaHush

New Article: Our Mistaken Search for “Authenticity”

Here’s the column I wrote for the latest issue of map magazine. Actually, it was published on Sept. 1, so sorry for being late…

On TripAdvisor, many of the reviews of Jinli Pedestrian Street in Chengdu criticize the popular attraction because it’s too commercialized. “It is now a completely commercial zone, capped off with, wait, you know it, a STARBUCKS!” says a top contributor from El Paso, Texas.

It seems foreigners always hate something that is too commercialized and are always looking for the most “authentic” thing. I have felt the same way, too, from time to time. Whenever the topic of Yunnan comes up, I tell people not to go to Lijiang but to go to Dali instead. (Of course, Dali has bars and hotels, too. After all, without commercialization, there’s nowhere to sleep.)

In our search for “authenticity”, it’s worth defining what we’re looking for. According to the China Highlights travel agency, “Jinli Old Street is one of the oldest shopping streets in Sichuan Province, and it can be traced back to the Three Kingdoms Period, over 1,800 years ago.” Does it really make sense to criticize an ancient shopping street for being excessively commercialized? …

Read full article: Our Mistaken Search for “Authenticity” – map magazine



Surprisingly, Theocratic Terrorists Really Do Hate Freedom

Remember when George W. Bush cast the fight against terrorism as one between “the enemies of freedom” and the supporters of “progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom”? Remember how stupid he was? How had he not known anything about international politics?

Ron Paul said in a 2007 presidential primary debate: “I’m suggesting that we listen to the words of the people who attacked us and the reason they did it.”

After considering those words, it’s more obvious than ever that religious fanatics who kill those who believe in different religions than they do are not very supportive of freedom after all.

Consider bin Laden’s “Letter to America”, one of his earliest public statements on the attacks. This 4,000 word missive was published approximately a year after 9/11, and it backs up Bush’s argument that the terrorists hate our freedom. Continue reading

The Universal Language of Basketball

A Buddhist wearing red robes drove me to the Chinggis Khaan International Airport to leave Mongolia. He spoke almost now English, but somehow I could understand that he was asking what country I was from. When I said, “American,” he said, “LeBron James!” Later on during the ride, he said, “Dwight Howard.” I responded “Kobe Bryant,” but then he corrected me, telling me, “Howard came to Mongolia.”

We weren’t able to have much conversation during that ride, but the little conversation we did was based on the language of basketball.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is Dwight Howard in 2011 dancing a Mongolian dance in a nightclub: Continue reading

$8 Million of Flawless Counterfeit Currency Found in Eastern China

Police in Taizhou, Zhejiang province have seized over 80,000 fake hundred RMB bills, according to CCTV. The bills are so well forged that they can even pass machine checks.


About an hour ago, the verified Weibo account of the Sunrise Metal Products (Shenzhen) Co. (@电商戏客) posted a message about the report. “According to CCTV, police in Taizhou, Zhejiang seized over 8 million RMB worth of fake currency with serial numbers starting with M3W96,” it said.

Subsequent messages relayed that the money “feels no different” and sounds the same, too. Already some fake currency with the M3W96 serial code has turned up in Beijing, and the shop owner said that the currency passed through her verification machine. Police are on the watch for currency with serial codes beginning with M3W and M3S.

Here’s the original message:

According to CCTV, police in Taizhou, Zhejiang seized over 8 million RMB worth of fake currency with serial numbers starting with M3W96. The characters “100” can reflect light. Without a machine, it is hard to recognize [it's fake]. Please identify the currency you have. Be careful!

#M3W96真假辨伪# [话筒]据央视报道,浙江台州警方查获800多万元M3W96开头的假币。这种假币下边的“100”字样还会反光,没工具很难识别。请各位辨识手中的人民币,小心中枪额!

Beijing Rules Out Democracy in Hong Kong; Occupy Central Plans to Occupy

The key point in the ruling by China’s legislature over the 2017 Hong Kong chief executive elections wasn’t over open nominations. It was over the nominating threshold.

China ruled that candidates must win endorsements from half of the members of the nomination committee to make the ballot. In 2012, the pan-democratic side of Hong Kong politics (in contrast to the pro-Beijing/pro-establishment side) did have a candidate in the chief executive race in the form of the Democratic Party’s Albert Ho. Ho received 184 votes, 34 more than the 150 needed to make the ballot.

While the pan-democrats had just enough votes on the then-approximately 1,200 member Election Committee to nominate a candidate, they got crushed in the final voting, and Ho ended up with less than half the number of votes as nominations he got. (The Democratic Party takes some criticism in pan-democratic circles for having compromised in 2010 on democratic reforms, but they do have the largest number of legislators on the pan-democratic side.) If the elections happened in 2017 under the same nomination rules, the pan-democrats would likely have a candidate on the ballot for public votes.
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