Everything You Need to Know About Chinese People (According to the US Government in 1943)

A Pocket Guide To CHINA: Including Milton Caniff Cartoon Strip: Milton Caniff, Various members Special Services Division, US Army: Amazon.com: Books

Pocket Guide to China is a 64 page primer for American soldiers stationed in China during World War II written by unknown personnel of the Special Service Division of the Army Service Forces of the United States Army. The text offers insights into Chinese behavior, cultural values, food, cleanliness, social structure, military capabilities, and everything else an intrepid American spending years in the deep interior of a foreign land might need to know. The Guide is a charming time capsule of old-school liberalism, propaganda, and clunky-yet-earnest cultural tolerance, and while it’s too short for me to write a deep dive, I couldn’t help but do a quick write-up about it.

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A Deep Dive into K-pop

KPOP Collections: Kpop Groups Collage

Prior to last month, I knew next to nothing about K-pop (Korean popular music) besides having heard a few songs in passing and the rumors of the industry’s infamous elements, most notably a string of high profile suicides over the last few years. As an American with no connection to music or South Korean culture, I wondered if I was getting an accurate picture of the industry or if I was being misled by the most lurid and morbid elements eagerly conveyed by the media.

So I decided to do a deep dive down the internet rabbit hole of K-pop to understand what it is, how it works, and what I think about it. For anything that’s not my personal opinion or that goes beyond basic historical knowledge, I’ll cite my sources, which are a mixture of news articles, academic articles, YouTube videos, and some content aggregators like Wikipedia and Statista. I welcome any corrections or criticisms on inaccurate sources or things I didn’t understand.

I’ll warn you upfront – this essay is over 30,000 words long. It is the largest post I have made on dormin.org besides my novel. Since I sympathize with anyone who doesn’t want to make such a large time investment into a subject of passing curiosity, I will present my key findings here divided between the five parts of the essay. If you’re not sure if you want to read everything, you can jump to any individual part and understand it without reading the other sections.

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Notes on Spain

Bypassing numerous international restrictions, I traveled from America to Spain for a month-long trip in July.  Most of the month was spent in and around Madrid, but I took a brief trip north to Galicia, specifically Vigo and Santiago de Compostela. It’s a beautiful country, great culture, fun people. Here I will compile my notes on Spain and some assorted thoughts about the country and Europe as a whole. For reasons that will soon become relevant, I want to say upfront:

  • I really enjoyed my time in Spain
  • I spent much of my time with young, politically lefty, artsy types
  • I’m going to make a bunch of generalizations about Spaniards and Europeans off of my experience both with this trip and living abroad in Asia for many years. My confidence interval on most of these claims is fairly low.

With that said, here are my notes on things I found interesting during my time in Spain alongside pictures I took on the trip:

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How Much Would You Need to be Paid to Live on a Deserted Island for 1.5 Years and Do Nothing but Kill Seals?

I read and reviewed Oliver Platt’s Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age over a year ago, and I haven’t been able to get one small story from the book out of my head.

In 1793, the British government launched the Macartney Embassy, the nation’s first formal diplomatic mission to China. A few ships led by statesman George Macartney set sail from Portsmouth, England, traveled down to Rio de Janeiro, then around the southern tip of Africa, across the bottom of the Indian Ocean, up through Indonesia, along the Chinese coast, to finally arrive at Beijing. The whole journey took ten months, and the diplomats played cards, drunk tea, looked out for exotic wildlife, and watched crew whippings to forget about being bored out of their minds.

While in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the crew spotted a tiny volcanic island. To their surprise, there were two men on the land desperately waving a makeshift flag in the air to get the crew’s attention. Macartney assumed the men were shipwrecked sailors, and he quickly ordered the ships to stop to lend assistance.

Wanna Run and Hide Big Time? Travel to 6 of the World's Remotest ...

On the island, the crew found five men – three Frenchmen and two Americans (from Boston). Surprisingly, they were not shipwrecked, but were living on the island voluntarily under contract with a French merchant company. Their jobs were to harvest seal pelts to sell in Canton, China. They had been alone on the island for six months and had wracked up 8,000 seal pelts, and they still had another year to go on the contract before the merchant company picked them up.

Continue reading “How Much Would You Need to be Paid to Live on a Deserted Island for 1.5 Years and Do Nothing but Kill Seals?”

Polygamy, Human Sacrifices, and Steel – Why the Aztecs Were Awesome

Aztec Leaders: Rulers, Supreme Ruler and the Voice of the People ...
A Chadtec surveys his domain.

The Spanish conquest of the Aztecs was terrible. It was a prolonged period of pestilence, famine, torture, rape, plunder, destruction, conquest, cultural eradication, and general misery, with a short term death toll of something like 600,000 (including military and civilian casualties), and a long term death toll in the millions.

And yet part of me thinks it was totally awesome. That portion of my brain that grew up on Total War and Civilization games thinks the concept of a small number of hyper-technologically sophisticated foreigners led by a verified psychopath waging war on an empire of pyramid-dwelling, polygamist, slave-owning, human sacrificing pagans with the fate of a largely uncharted landmass at stake is incredibly cool. And no one can convince me otherwise.

There are surprisingly few books on the Aztecs, so I took a chance on Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs by Camilla Townsend, which as of writing this only has four reviews on Audible (though 30+ on Amazon). I hope the book gets its due because it’s a fast, narratively-focused, and thoroughly enjoyable walkthrough of hundreds of years of little-understood history, from before the settlement of Tenochtitlan through the Spanish conquest, and over the following hundreds of years of Spanish rule. Townsend’s novel approach to the material is to rely heavily on history texts written by the Aztecs in their native Nahuatl language in the 20-50 years after the Spanish conquests, on top of well-studied archaeological findings.

My main takeaway from the book is that the Aztecs were a highly unique civilization that I desperately want to learn more about. They offer great insights into how a society with radically different structures and norms might function. Whether it was due to their relative geographic isolation, unusual environmental factors, or achievement of a high level of technology for a pagan tribal society, the Aztecs seemed to follow very different civilizational paths than the ancient Greeks, Persians, Chinese, and Indians, despite being at a fairly comparable level of development by the 1500s.

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30 Day Vegan Challenge

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) Review |BasementRejects

From May 15 to June 13, I was on the vegan diet.

This experiment turned out to be far less interesting than expected, so I’m going to keep this short.

 

Rules

  1. I can eat no animal products
    1. No meat
    2. No non-meat food derived from animals
      1. ie. dairy, eggs, honey, etc.
    3. When I don’t know if something is vegan, I google it. If the top few search results indicate a possibility of a food not being vegan, I don’t eat it
    4. I measure my weight every night between 10-11 PM
    5. I must inform every person with whom I eat food that I am vegan, and I must imply or explain that I am morally superior because I am not murdering any animals nor benefiting from animal slavery

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Update 6/9/2020

I normally post something every 2-2.5 weeks. It has been over two weeks since my last post, and I have nothing to submit. I don’t want this to become another briefly-popular blog which flames out due to lack of production, so I’ll make this short update.

I have a finished book review which I could post here, but I’m submitting it to Slate Star Codex’s book review contest.

I have been working on a massive post about the Aztecs which should be done in another week or two.

I am almost done with another dietary experiment.

I finished writing the first draft of my second novel.

I finished writing the (way too long) outline of my third planned novel.

So I am doing a lot of writing, but nothing is quite finished and ready to post now. I will hopefully get something out by next week. Dormin.org is not dead.

Pure Kojimism – A Death Stranding Analysis

Death Stranding' Details: When Can Fans Expect More Updates About ...

Death Stranding simultaneously contains more good and more bad than probably any other video game I have ever played.

Death Stranding’s basic setting and story pieces are epic, ambitious, utterly original, and wonderfully imagined. Many cutscenes are the best Kojima has ever directed. The atmosphere is grim, immersive, all-encompassing, and beautifully crafted, just like the game’s environment and music. Many characters are crisp, fun, and well-captured by real actors. The core gameplay is a revolution in fundamental game mechanics. I blasted through a 50-hour initial playthrough, put in another 20 hours to get all the trophies, and then replayed the whole story again in an additional 20 hours, and I was never bored.

Death Stranding’s plot is convoluted, confusing, both over-and-under explained, and lets down its incredible premise. The pacing is bad, with way too much happening at the beginning and end of the game and not enough happening in the vast middle. Many of its characters are dull or nonsensical. Plenty of dialogue is cringeworthy. The core gameplay is too easy, and barely evolves throughout the course of quite a long game.

That mixture of greatness and disaster is what makes Death Stranding so amazing. It’s a work of pure auteurism. Hideo Kojima is an eccentric genius with a touch for imaginative worlds and epic stories and big ideas executed in completely original ways, but he’s also a bad writer with some terrible storytelling instincts. There has been much speculation on how these two parts of Kojima were enhanced or hindered during the development of each Metal Gear game, but Death Stranding seems to be the ultimate personification of both at the same time… the best and worst Kojima has to offer in one package.

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96 hour No-Sleep Challenge

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number HD Wallpaper | Background Image ...

On April 26, 2020, I woke up at 8:54 AM. My goal was to not sleep for the next 96 hours (four days).

 

Why Am I Doing This?

No real reason. I’m just curious to see if I am the willpower to succeed and how I’ll feel.

 

Rules

  1. The challenge begins when I wake up on April 26, 2020.
  2. I cannot sleep for 96 hours (initial)
    1. Eventually revised down to 72 hours
  3. I may use any means necessary to keep myself awake
  4. I must at least attempt to record how I’m feeling every 12 hours
  5. I may not receive direct help in staying awake from any other people

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An Attempt at Explaining, Blaming, and Being Very Slightly Sympathetic Toward Enron

File:Logo de Enron.svg

The audiobook of Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron caught my eye over a year ago, but I didn’t read it because it’s 22.5 hours long. I’m not a finance expert, and I figured if it only took 10 hours longer to understand the entire life of Napoleon, then maybe it wasn’t worth wading into limited liability special purpose entities, broadband capacity trading, and Tobashi schemes.

But I finally listened to Bethany McLane and Peter Elkind’s exploration of the largest bankruptcy in American history (at the time). Then I read a whole lot of wikipedia articles, read a whole bunch of news articles from the early 2000s, talked to Byrne Hobart for an hour, and now I am going to attempt to present a succinct, yet comprehensive summary of what Enron was and how it fell.

As cliché as it sounds, what makes the Enron scandal so fascinating is its bewildering complexity. As late as 2001, nobody outside of Enron could actually explain what Enron did. Sure, outsiders could summarize it as a “logistics company” or say it did “energy trading,” but even the most diligent analyst didn’t know half of what Enron was up to because… well, Enron didn’t report half of what it was doing.

But at the same time, nobody inside Enron could really explain what the company was doing either. Sure, the executives knew more than the analysts, but such a vast company with so many opaque moving parts simply cannot be comprehended by a single mortal man. This isn’t embellishment – that was basically the legal defense of much of the Enron executive team after the company’s downfall. Many executives didn’t try to argue their innocence so much as confuse the judge, jury, and everyone in the courtroom with byzantine accounting non-explanations. Enron’s CEO, Ken “Kenny Boy” Lay, claimed that he honestly couldn’t follow the machinations of his hand-picked COO and CFO as they bounced billions of dollars of Enron assets and debt between corporate accounts and quasi-shell investment funds owned by Enron executives and their families so as to artificially boost Enron’s credit rating. Who could?

Beyond the technical aspects, the Enron scandal was arguably just as morally complex. This was probably my biggest surprise when reading the book. I had only heard about Enron in passing on the news as the ultimate example of financial dishonesty, or as the apex of predatory capitalism, and all of that might be true… or maybe not. It’s hard to say. I’m wary of passing judgement not just with the benefit of hindsight, but the benefit of being outside the reality distortion field which undoubtedly engulfed Enron for the better part of a decade. Enron’s executives were no angels, but they weren’t entirely demons or scoundrels or fools or decent men put under unimaginable pressure… they were all of those at once.

I’ll frontload the disappointment: there are no easy answers or smoking guns with Enron. There was no one executive who obviously made a conscious choice to commit fraud (at least not on a large scale). There was no single financial maneuver or strategy which was blatantly illegal. There was no identifiable point-of-no-return. There were just lots of morally weak but clever individuals who did what they thought they had to, or were allowed to, or what would work out in the end… until it didn’t.

I’ll start my piece with a summary of Enron’s entire history, starting with the origins of its founder, all the way to its dramatic conclusion. Then I’ll explain how and why Enron fell in three parts:

  • Mid-Level Explanation – A condensed, digestible summary of the Enron scheme
  • Low-Level Explanation – A deep dive into the mechanics of the various sub-components of the Enron scheme
  • High-Level Explanation – An analysis of the legal and moral underpinnings of Enron’s scheme

Continue reading “An Attempt at Explaining, Blaming, and Being Very Slightly Sympathetic Toward Enron”