This piece on Hong Kong’s out of control light pollution is a good reminder of one of the least controlled means of pollution. While maybe it isn’t as damaging as water or air pollution, humans have made evolutionary adjustments for night and constant light could potentially have long-term damage on human health. In the short-term, the absence of night can be devastating for many animals, as we may well be seeing in the Hong Kong area with fireflies and other insects.
A few interesting pieces on Asian food and history.
1. This is an interesting discussion of the origins of pad thai, a dish that is fairly minor within Thai cooking but is the singular dish of Thai food overseas. It’s connections are closely related to a nationalistic, modernizing project developed by Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram in the mid-20th century:
In between surviving multiple point-blank-range assassination attempts and a failed kidnapping in which he emerged alive from the burning wreckage of a battleship his own air force had just bombed, Pibulsongkram decided that Thailand needed noodles that would advance the country’s industry and economy. After all, he had already changed the name of country from Siam to Thailand as part of a series of mandates meant to shroud its people under a modernized Thai identity. Forks and spoons would be used instead of hands. More European-style clothing must be worn. Thai products should be preferred above all others. Pibulsongkram wanted to create a new Thai diet while making more rice products available for export. According to his son’s suppositions in the 2009 Gastronomica article “Finding Pad Thai,” the codified modern variant of Pad Thai may have originated in Pibulsongkram’s household, perhaps the devising of the family’s cook. Its recipe was disseminated throughout the country, and push carts were sent into the streets to make this newfangled on-the-go meal available to the masses. To eat Pad Thai would be a patriotic act. Thus was born the Volksnoodle for an emerging Thai nation-state.
The name Pad Thai, however, negates the considerable non-Thainess of the dish. Noodles were the domain of Chinese immigrants in Thailand, and pan-fried rice noodles like Pad Thai likely arrived with them hundreds of years ago when Ayutthaya had been the kingdom’s capital. The thin rice noodles used in making Pad Thai is also similar to Vietnamese noodles, like the ones used in making pho. It’s no coincidence that the Saen Chan noodle used in many Pad Thai recipes took its name from Chanthaburi, an eastern province close to Vietnam and Cambodia. Had Pibulsongkram been more purist about his nation-unifying dish, Pad Thai should have been a clump of rice smothered and fried with fiery Nam Prik chile paste, arguably the most Thai of all Thai food. His nationalist ideals of Thailand weren’t deeply rooted in reverence for the past; they were synthesized new from whatever was most expedient.
His choice of a noodle dish is all the more curious in light of his policies against the Chinese ethnic population—immigration quotas, bans on Chinese associations, and the seizing of Chinese businesses. Pibulsongkram had not only decided to curtail the growing Chinese influence in Thailand (China, at the time, sheltered his political rival) but also to subsume its culture under the Thai umbrella. He would later choose to ally with the U.S. in its nascent war against communism, and just a few decades later, GIs on R&R leave would be part of the first wave of Americans to taste Pad Thai.
I’m not an expert on southeast Asian history, but I do have some knowledge and this passes the smell test. It’s really almost a prefect 20th century nationalist project, combining stealing ideas from minority populations while demonizing those very people.
Also, as the article states, most of the pad thai served in the United States is an abomination.
2. Who was General Tso? Zuo Zongtang. And at least according to this article he was the Chinese version of William Tecumseh Sherman, although I have no idea what that means. He also seems to have loved pork, though the dish named for him is a chicken dish. Also, Henry Kissinger shows up in this article.
3. Korean death soup. I lived in Korea for a year. The idea of a place serving a soup so spicy that it causes most customers to vomit, yet is extremely popular, makes a whole lot of sense to my experiences.
We all know that the Chinese environment is just a bit degraded.
And then there’s this of course:
Ah, yes—the Chinese government will stop at nothing to reduce pollution that has enveloped parts of the country in a toxic soup. First, Chinese cities restricted the number of cars on the road and scrapped old vehicles. Then the government asked citizens to give up a time-honored tradition of setting off thousands of firecrackers before and on Chinese New Year. Beijing’s next ambitious measure? Banning barbecue.
At least that’s what China’s state media is reporting, though it scrimps on details. China’s environmental watchdog has now issued draft legislation calling on cities to ban “barbecue-related activities.” (Does that include just eating barbecue, looking at barbecue, or thinking about barbecue? We don’t know!) One blogger on Sina Weibo indelicately commented in response, “Soon they’ll ban farting in order to clean up the air.”
Serious efforts here my friends. Meanwhile, there is real grassroots resistance to the environmental degradation in China that has created real pressure on Chinese politicians, for whatever that’s worth in a totalitarian state.
And remember, a major part of why China developed this way was that American companies decided that labor and environmental regulations in the United States were cutting into profits too much and so decided to replicate the paradise of the U.S. Gilded Age somewhere else.
I have some thoughts on the diffusion of anti-access military technology over at The Diplomat
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union had a strong political incentive to maximize diffusion of its military capabilities. Proxies with Soviet technology could fight the United States and its proxies on their own. Consequently, states from North Korea to Vietnam to Cuba to Syria, Iraq, and Egypt gained access to the many of the most advanced Soviet fighter, submarine, and missile systems. Often, these systems overwhelmed the capacity of recipients, with buyers lacking the ability to put pilots in planes, sailors in subs, and mechanics in either. Nevertheless, these systems still forced the United States to act cautiously; the combination of a couple Nanuchka class missile boats, some Foxtrot subs, a few MiG-23s and a reasonably sophisticated air defense system could give the US Navy or Air Force a bad day.
Russia doesn’t see much of an upside in this kind of diffusion today. States get the equipment they can pay for, without political subsidy . China has displayed little interest in developing proxy relationships of the type seen in the Cold War. Moreover, few states have an interest in devoting resources and attention to making life difficult for a superpower. Still, given the rapidly advancing capabilities of China’s anti-access forces, questions of diffusion and proliferation bear consideration.
Yamaguchi suggests that elements of the Japanese Army and a variety of hybrid civil-military organizations took the problem of COIN quite seriously from a strategic point of view, appreciating that the only way to victory in China was the establishment of a self-sustaining, pro-Japanese Chinese government.
However, the Japanese Army suffered from problems of focus and resources. Rather than concentrating on counter-insurgency operations, the Army needed to prepare for conventional operations against Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist Army, defensive operations in jungle and island theatres against British and American forces, and finally the long-anticipated Soviet invasion of Manchuria. These threats all posed radically different challenges, making training haphazard and incoherent. The Japanese also faced unity of effort challenges, with civilian and military agencies organized around pacification and institution building losing out in intra-agency battles against conventionally oriented officers.
Long story short, the history of Japanese operations in China was more complicated in process, if not in effect, than the “Kill All, Loot All, Destroy All” that has come to characterize the war*.
*Standard caveat: I trust that readers are bright enough to understand that this does not constitute an apology for the Japanese Imperial Army.
Let me be the first to point out that there is no way in which this could end up badly:
After repeatedly flying surveillance aircraft into disputed airspace with Japan, and Tokyo scrambling F-15s in response, China’s now sending fighters of its own on “routine flights” into the East China Sea.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday that Chinese military planes were on”routine flights” in relevant airspace over the East China Sea. Spokesman Hong Lei made the remarks at a press briefing in response to media reports that Japan sent fighter jets to head off a number of Chinese military planes spotted in Japan’s “air defense identification zone” over the East China Sea on Thursday.
“China firmly opposes Japan’s moves to gratuitously escalate the situation and create tensions,” Hong said.
The area north of the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, known as the Diaoyus in China, is reportedly home to billions in oil and gas deposits claimed both by Japan and China.
The Chinese jets could be flying from air base Shuimen, built east of the islands in Fujian Province. Satellite imagery of the base first came to light in 2009, but experts believe it reached completion late last year.
Accidental wars are extremely rare, but accidental “guy gets shot down in posturing-related mishap” are less rare. That said, who doesn’t like some hot F-15 on Su-30 action?
This is an interesting, if somewhat older, discussion of the Chinese architect Ma Yansong and his so-called “organic architecture.” The piece focuses on his so-called “Marilyn Monroe” building in Mississagua, Ontario.
Reading about this drove home a few points about architecture to this somewhat educated person (though by no means any kind of expert) on the subject.
First, buildings like this are a nice counterweight to the boring box apartment tower that dominates in the early 21st century. This is as true in China as in soulless North American developments.
Second, I am skeptical of grand architectural theory, even when articulated by someone as seemingly innocuous as Ma. I neglected to comment on Oscar Niemeyer’s passing last week, but his design of Brasilia is contemptible as a place for human beings. Nothing reeks of the worst of high modernism as the complete disinterest by architects in the needs of people in their buildings. The too-common phenomenon of people-free architectural models in the pre-building process is a sign of how pervasive this is within architecture. Probably the most architecturally important building with which I have an intimate familiarity is the Rem Koolhaas designed Seattle Public Library. It’s pretty cool in many ways. It does a lot of things well. It also shows some shocking disregard for how people use space, ranging from an odd lack of bathrooms to the fact that following the stacks to the end puts you in the middle of nowhere, so much so that staff have taped signs to walls leading you to the exit from that point. So grand architectural ideas make me, well, worried.
Seattle Public Library
Third, even the best of this kind of architectural thought shows major problems within the planning of human settlements. Ma I think rightfully centers ideas of nature in his buildings. But you know what would be better than buildings that simulate nature? Nature. Take this:
The human relationship to nature is one of Ma’s fixations; lately, he has been particularly interested in traditional Chinese gardens, which harness nature to spiritual ends. “You can imagine one person sitting in a pavilion looking out to the pond and listening to music,” he says. “Real nature and artificial nature all mix together to create this scene. Those trees, rocks and pavilions are what you see, but what you feel is what’s special.”
These days, of course, traditional gardens are overrun by tourists, so Ma wants to incorporate that feeling of spiritual connection to nature into modern buildings. He has already done this in Fake Hills, a vast seaside residential complex in Beihai, Guangxi. Originally, the developer wanted a box-standard collection of towers, but Ma realized this would prevent many apartments from having a sea view, so he transformed the entire project into an long, thin mountain range, whose peaks and valleys create space for large garden terraces and whose shape allows each apartment to face the ocean.
Fake Hills indeed. Traditional gardens would probably be less overrun if China mandated the construction of gardens and parks within its cities.
I know it’s not within the mandate of capitalism and the profit motive (and for the love of god please no one promote the fiction that China is not capitalist) to create living spaces that promote the traditional spaces between houses that provide much needed tiny green spaces. But Fake Hills is nothing more than fake hills. It’s cool and harmless. But actual trees and such would be a lot cooler. To be fair, it does look the one photo of the model in the article at least includes trees on top of the building, which is something.
This isn’t to take anything away from Ma’s buildings, which seem important, popular, and refreshing. But it is a worthy entry point into discussing some of the issues with high-end architecture.
Interrupting election coverage for this all-important update on the structure of the East Asian arms trade:
An arms relationship represents both an economic and a political commitment. What’s at stake in making such a commitment? While Sino-U.S. competition likely won’t descend into the kind of alliance structure that predominated during the Cold War, some navies could nevertheless find themselves on the “wrong side” of political competition in the Western Pacific, which could leave them vulnerable. Committing to one supplier creates a relationship of dependency, with the client needing to stay in the good graces of the patron in order to maintain access to spares, munitions, and modernization kits. The smaller navies of Southeast Asia need to decide how best to develop force structures in a future which may see competition between the United States and China.
Everyone I know sent me a link related to this event. First things first, congratulations to the PLAN and to the people of China on turning a half-finished hulk into a major, if limited, warship. Some thoughts from around the internets:
- Andrew Erickson has been on the Liaoning beat for a while. This is an excellent summation of the issues at stake, including the risks that Liaoning presents to the People’s Liberation Army Navy. Here’s a useful link-filled post to a host of analytical pieces. See here for a short history of the project and of its antecedents.
- Stephen Walt sounds the alarm about alarm sounding. I dunno that we need the quotes around “aircraft carrier;” while it’s true enough that Liaoning currently lacks any fixed wing fighter aircraft, she surely does represent a major leap ahead in Chinese naval ambitions.
- Feng has some extended thoughts about the reconstruction of Liaoning, noting that the Chinese managed a remarkable refurbishment in a time frame that should make the Russians (who are still futzing about with INS Vikramaditya). Especially given that Kuznetsov is going in for a major refit soon, I doubt we’ll see Russia operating more carriers at any one time than China again in our lifetime. See also this post on how economic slowdown in the PRC may affect Chinese defense spending.
- Brian Killough provides a useful corrective to the “it’s a useless, floating parking lot” meme by pointing out Liaoning’s obvious prestige value, as well as her value as a training and experimental ship.
- David Axe discusses a stealth fighter that may eventually fly off Liaoning.
My latest at the Diplomat discussed efforts to make military services play nice with one another:
I’ve belabored the organizational aspects of China’s system of anti-access systems because bureaucratic boundaries matter. AirSea Battle seeks, above all, to iron out the wrinkles that could prevent tight cooperation between the United States Navy and the United States Air Force. Years of hard won experience have demonstrated that military organizations don’t necessarily play well together; they have different priorities, different practices, and often different system of communication that generate friction and detract from overall capability. The history of USN and USAF collaboration in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, and the Gulf is littered with stories of hostility, rivalry, and miscommunication. The Pentagon understands this, and over the years has enacted a plethora of reforms (not least the Goldwater-Nichols Act) to ensure that the Air Force and the Navy can operate effectively together.
As of yet there is little indication that the PLAN, PLAAF, and 2nd Artillery have developed the practices necessary to ensure an efficient, effective partnership in battle.