Monthly Archives: March 2013

Hip, hip, hipster wheels

Hand built today. Titanium colored rims, black double butted spokes, red hubs and alloy nipples

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Through the nipple hole

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Hipster wheel being built

Yeah, I know it’s actually the valve hole

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Book Review: China’s Silent Army: The Pioneers, Traders, Fixers and Workers Who Are Remaking the World in Beijing’s Image

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China’s Silent Army: The Pioneers, Traders, Fixers and Workers Who are Remaking the World in Beijing’s Image, was put out two years ago in Spanish by Juan Pablo Cardenal and Heriberto Araujo both who are Spanish reporters with extensive experience in mainland China. Initially I was expecting a different view on China than the current American view, I later learned that China has bought a great deal of Spain’s debt too.

Growing up in the mid 1960s and 1970s, I learned America feared two countries: The Soviet Union and Japan. The Soviets were out to take over the world and threatened us militarily and politically. Japan threatened us economically with cheap, low priced goods and trade deficit. Much later in graduate school I learned there are three things that make a superpower: Military, economic, and political power. The Soviet Union had two and faked the economic power. Japan had only economic power. Now in a new century, the world faces the rise of what could be a new superpower in the world, China. China does have the economic power and growing political power as seen in its head to head meetings with the US over Taiwan and the 2001 mid air collision and forced US landing in China of a US Navy EP-3 plane which lead to an apology from the US. Militarily, China is growing; it released pictures of its first aircraft carrier which did not alarm the US military as much as the anti-aircraft carrier missile it has developed. Although China does not have the blue water navy that was a sign of power in the last century, this is a new century with new signs of power.

The causal look into China’s growing world wide power may seem benign. China comes to a developing country and builds infrastructure. Railroads, highways, power plants, and even stadiums are built to improve the lives of the people lin the developing country. In return China gains rights to minerals, oil, and agriculture. It appears to be a win-win situation, or at least better than the conquest, enslavement (of the natives), rape of the land conducted by European nations in the Americas and Africa. In Argentina, China will help/fund the cultivation previously unfarmed land in return for a portion of the land. Costa Rica will get a new stadium and aid in return it will break relations with Taiwan. African nations receive roads and railways in return for raw materials (which are hauled out of the country on the roads and railways China built).

China needs oil to fuel its growth and has been very successful in getting it from America’s and the West’s enemies. Iran has oil and need nuclear technology and imports that are currently banned by Western embargoes. China did not and does not support the embargoes and trades, although rather quietly in banned goods. When approached on the issue China has enough political clout to ignore the concerns of other nations or when the material is too sensitive, it uses North Korea to transport goods. China is now Iran’s largest trading partner. China also befriended Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez (who was still alive at the writing of this book) and is the second largest importer of Venezuelan oil. Sudan has oil but needs to get it out of the ground and transport it. China is Sudan’s only choice. The west does not want to invest the unstable country. Russia has the technology, but not the money. China has the money and the need for oil. China has other ways of getting what it wants too. It made loans to Angola to build an airport. The loan money disappeared within the corrupt Angolan government. A second loan was made with similar results. Now it is time to repay the loan and the money is gone and the infrastructure not built, so Angola must pay back the loan with oil. Through trade or corruption China will get want it wants.

China also exports its people. The Soviet Union used to keep immigration tightly controlled, but China sees an advantage in letting its people emigrate. Chinese emigrate to developing countries because they see opportunity that they don’t have in their rapidly developing homeland. People move to countries live Egypt where even low paying jobs are more than they made in China. By hard work, under cutting the competition they can monopolize sections of the economy, like the textile industry in Egypt. Unlike other groups of immigrants who generally want to blend into the new country the Chinese remain very loyal to China. The Chinese also enjoy something Westerner’s do not: China does not have a history of colonization and the Chinese who come to build the infrastructure keep to themselves. They remain almost invisible. They live on company compounds in nicer housing than they had in China. They have little reason to go out into the city because their goal is to save money, they have everything they need on the compound, and they have no understanding of the local language.

Problems do exist. Local recognize the higher pay, better food, and conditions the Chinese workers receive. In several countries this has lead to strikes and even riots. Chinese companies avoid legal problems with bribes.

China is on its way to becoming a superpower. Looking out for its interests, it finds countries that need its help or money and slowly move in. It moves not with colonial ambition, but under the guise of friendship and mutual benefit. It’s methods are not the export of revolution, but rather a no holds barred, all out capitalism. Cardenal and Araujo present a well written and thoroughly documented work on China in the twenty-first century. A very worthwhile read for anyone interested in economics, trade, and foreign affairs.

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Book Review: Myth and Rhymes

Myths and Rhymes

William Poe’s collection of poetry called Myths and Rhymes was part of his rehab recovery process. Poe creates interesting and unique lines that bring together his drug problems and coming to terms with his sexuality. There is some of the disjointedness (in a good way) that reminds me of William S. Burroughs, but with the additional layer of escaping from what he calls a cult, the Unification Church. There are many references to Adam and Eve, references to Sodom, Greek Mythology, vague drug references, and throw in some science, even particle physics.

God is heard
in new quarks
strange charm

Several poems seem to bring everything together. What Else is There, ties religion and drugs with a false Hollywood view. Don’t Be Ashamed, (quoted above) blend science and religion and play Adam and atom together.

You can feel the emotion in the poems and come to see his search for meaning. At times it is chaotic, and other times it flows smoothly. Much as I can imagine rehab to be, painful, clouded, wanting, and some few moments of clarity. This collection of poems is well worth reading if the subject matter interests or if you shared the same trials. If you are looking for Keats, Byron, or Coleridge, this is not for you.

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Book Review:Haiku in the Night

Haiku in the Night

“Haiku in the Night” by Ben Ditmars is a collection of free form haiku. The title is a play on Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night”… A haiku in its self. This thin book on whose each page is a separate Haiku, is a really remarkable selection. I was unsure as to what I was getting into when I started it, having fears of bad limericks, but Mr. Ditmars delivers an astounding collection of poetry.

From the opening:

Stroll with me in green
Lively, lost, together
I am yours

Each Haiku after that is ready to stand on its own. I could’t help but to share some with a close friend and the reaction is the same. These are amazing. I am really hesitant to give a five star rating to a to a collection of poems from a young poet, but these stand the test and I would happily intermix these haiku with Byron or Blake. Now I need to find a copy of Night Poems.

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Book Review: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam

Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam

I never thought I would be a little embarrassed to have been a Marine. Kill Anything That Moves, by Nick Turse is a very disturbing account of American actions in Vietnam.

Mai Lai Massacre is just the tip of the iceberg of American atrocities in Vietnam. This book goes beyond the most famous massacre and beyond napalm and beyond Agent Orange. Day to day murders of civilians for the “body count”, killing everyone in the village including women and children along with all the animals, were not just isolated incidents. It happened too many times to be isolated incidents of a few bad leaders. Misinterpretation of the rules went deep. Search and Destroy was not meant to be destroy everything yo find. Free Fire Zones were not meant to be shoot anything that moves, yet many in leadership roles believed this to be true. If your body count is low…shoot some prisoners to bring it up. Murder and rape were dismissed under the unofficial “Merely Gook Rule”

It is sad that people look back to World War II and ask how backward was man’s thinking then to let those atrocities happen back then. United States being a liberator and “the good guy” fighting evil, only twenty years later to turn it around and become the “bad guy.” It wasn’t just the soldiers and Marines in the field committing massive war crimes. It was American leadership doing it too. America came to war with weapons that were primarily intended to severely would the enemy; cluster bombs, flechettes, napalm. The idea was it was more demoralizing to the enemy to see it’s soldiers painfully wounded, burned, disfigured, or crippled than simply just dead.

My first thoughts, being a Marine and of course learning the long and proud tradition of the marine Corps was to consider Turse’s book hyperbole or plain sensationalism. I imagine this would be close to how the Soviets would have written about America’s imperialistic war in Vietnam. Of course, there were a few mistakes most of us have heard of from Born on the Fourth of July to any number of “based on a true story” Vietnam movies. A few not hundreds of “mistakes.” Turse backs up his writing with almost one hundred pages of documentation. Almost a third of his book (not counting index) is documentation. He makes a compelling and well documented case. A very worthwhile, but disturbing read.

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Book Review: On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks

On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks

Great book covering everything from the earliest maps to gps. The Old World to Dungeons and Dragons. The brain to Mars. Excellent and very readable history. It would be best for those with an interest and not specialty in maps and history, but a very good read for anyone.

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Book Review: Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East

Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East

I lived in Saudi Arabia in 1984 and 1985 and recognized the two part system. In public women were treated one way and in private they were treat much more as equals. Visit any Saudi friend and in the privacy of his home you would think you were in any westerners home. Relaxed atmosphere. Wife not only uncovered, but in the current western fashions –Jordache at the time. What happens in public and private are two very different things. Through my graduate school education, the Middle East was views were very polarized (even in pre 9/11 era) between the Liberal theory and a professor whose brother was killed by Gaddafi; there was no non-extreme view. I recently finished Karen Elliot House’s “On Saudi Arabia” and was very surprised at the progress that women and society have made in what is considered and oppressive environment. Maybe the problem in the West is how we look at women’s rights in the Middle East.

Isobel Coleman author of Paradise Beneath Her Feet; How Women are Transforming the Middle East, is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. That alone speaks volumes of her expertise and experience above her degrees from Oxford and Princeton.

Perhaps the most important point repeated throughout the book is something that most Westerners view symbolism over substance (my words not Coleman’s). We in the West look at repression as having to wear a head covering or abaya as repression (symbolism) rather than the real picture. It turns out that even when the head scarf was banned, women still insisted on wearing them. The key factor in women rights is education. We view Iran as repressive, but more women graduate college in Iran than men. Saudi Arabia has a large population of highly educated women. Women’s groups around Middle East work for literacy and educating women.

Women rights groups in the Middle East also work with Islam rather than seeing it as a repressive force. Islam is a religion that does offer equal rights and one just needs to become familiar with the Koran to understand this. The problem is literacy. Illiteracy is a major stumbling block. Once the population can read and understand, questions are asked and when answered, questioned again. Women’s groups have turned to working with clerics to make their point and it is working. Women gain more working with Islam than against it (like early women’s groups). Working inside the system has allowed women like Benazir Bhutto to become Prime Minister in Pakistan and Megawati Sukarnoputri to become president of Indonesia.

If the West really wants to help women’s rights it needs to focus more on education and literacy than on head scarfs. Once women and those who support women’s rights, read and understand the Koran they can fight for their rights that are allowed by their religion, a religion they also dearly believe in. Many educated Muslim women believe that Islam is for equal rights and can quote the Koran supporting that fact. They system is not perfect, but then, no one’s is. We in America think of equal rights, but in my home state of Texas it was illegal for a married woman to buy property, take out a loan, or start a business without her husbands approval all the way up to 1977.

A very worthwhile read whether your interest is women’s rights, the Middle East or current world affairs. I will admit that after reading the section on Pakistan I ordered Benazir Bhutto’s autobiography and her book on Islam .

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Book Review: TransAtlantic

TransAtlantic

First, I will openly admit I am a sucker for anything WWI or bi-plane era. When the description of the book started with a 1919 Atlantic non-stop flight I was hooked. Transatlantic is a forth coming book from writer Colum McCann and is centered around both Ireland and America.

The book is divided into two sections. The first section contains three seemingly unrelated stories. The first of a transatlantic flight of two World War I veterans. The second of Fredrich Douglass’ trip to Ireland and the third about American Senator George Mitchell’s brokering of peace between the IRA and England. All three stories are historical fiction with the major events all being factual.

The second part of the book ties all the events of the first part together through the lives of four generations of women. Events covering the US Civil War, the tenth anniversary of the first transatlantic flight, death, and a letter bring all parts of the book together in a remarkable way.

McCann does a remarkable job of both story telling and tying stories together. The first part of the book reads more like history than a novel and in particular is quite educating seeing Ireland through the eyes of Douglass and the realization that slavery is not always just about color. One hundred and fifty years of history molded perfectly into two hundred and sixty pages covering events and more importantly human lives and feelings.

This book is well worth the read. I expected to enjoy the transatlantic flight story and was unsure if that would be enough to draw me into the complete book, but as it turned out the rest of the book exceeded my expectations for the flight story.

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Book Review: The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton to the New Frontiers of American Power

The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton to the New Frontiers of American Power

The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power is a book covering Kim Ghattas’ official travels with Secretary State Clinton. Kim Ghattas is a Lebanese born of a Lebanese father and a Dutch mother. She studied political science at the University Beirut. She is a BBC reporter covering the US Department of State. Previously she worked for the BBC and Financial Times in Beruit. Her work has been published by a variety of American news organizations and is a regular on NPR.

Ms Ghattas provides an unique look at the inside operations of Clinton’s term as Secretary of State. Working for a foreign (although friendly news organization) and experiencing the the trauma of war in her home country and America’s actions during the conflict provides an intriguing look at American foreign policy. Ghattas provides a historical background for her life and for the countries and leaders covered in the book.

The Secretary covers a new era in American diplomacy. It is an abrupt change from the previous administration’s “Either you are with us or against us.” diplomacy and the might makes right mentality. Here is an attempt to make a new start. Obama gave Clinton plenty of leeway in forming her team. The awkward alliance grew from presidential primary rivalry and turned into positive accomplishments.

Asia became the first concern for the new administration Korea was shocked at the candor and openness of the new Secretary of State. Freely speaking to students at town hall meetings and forming person relationships with world leaders and her peers. Her experience as first lady gave her familiarity with leaders and governments. A very outspoken Hilary Clinton at the 1995 Conference on Women in Beijing was noticeable different when talking to the Chinese as Secretary of State.

China, Arab Spring, Iran, and the Middle East re all covered in detail along with the Libyan revolution, the embarrassing Wiki-leaks, and the opening up of Myanmar.Since the book is based on Ghattas’ first hand experience, the bibliography is a bit light and used for background information. Her first hand experiences gives a detailed historical as well as a personal look into Hilary Clinton’s role as Secretary of State. The reading is quick, informative and surprisingly (for non-fiction) a page turner. Regardless of your personal or political opinions of Hilary Clinton, the Obama Administration, or America’s current military involvements, this book is well worth reading on several levels.

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