The Asian Tinderbox

One of my favourite writers and political analysts, Eric Margolis presents an interesting topic in his column this week: the China-Taiwan powderkeg. A news mainstay in the 1970s and 80s, we haven’t heard much of this conflict since the region’s economic renaissance in recent decades. The assumption has always been that enormous wealth, enjoyed by both the Taiwanese and the Chinese, would smoothe over differences and that the promise of lucrative commerce would trump dangerous territoriality. According to Brother Margolis, though, a military stand-off is nonetheless inching nearer; he ends with these dire words:

“There’s even an outside chance China might decide to gamble on a quick war to grab Taiwan while severely over-stretched U.S. military forces are bogged down in Iraq.”

The Asian tinderbox has been simmering for some time. In his wonderful book, War At The Top Of The World, Margolis warns of other strained relationships between India and Pakistan, India and Iran, and of course India and China. The latter is confounded by the presence of Russia, which maintains military friendliness with both powers, and by renewed Indian interests in Nepal, which is too close for comfort to disputed borders with China.

It has been said that the biggest difference between the politics of the East and the politics of West is that the West makes plans only as far as the next election, while the East makes plans lasting generations. Russian and Chinese foreign policies have not changed in 1000 years; the Russians still seek a warm water port and buffers against future invasion and enslavement, and the Chinese still seek to reclaim and hold their traditional (medieval) borders, hence their occupation of Tibet and their 1962 defeat of India which resulted in expanded frontiers. If these patterns hold, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan seems likely, as perhaps is renewed militarism against both India and Nepal. Behold the dawning of the true New World Order!

I Coulda Been A Contenda!

As you all know, I just love reality TV. But even I was skeptical about Mark Burnett’s new show, The Contender, about the supposed search for a boxing champion. The show is a bit talky and relies too heavily on the boxers’ individual sob story and on host Sylvester Stallone’s frightening botox countenance and indecipherable drawl. However, I was unprepared for the drama at the end of the first episode: an actual 5 round boxing match. I actually found myself cheering for my favourite boxer (good thing I live alone). Usually when I watch boxing I’m also eating steak or chilli –something manly and testosterone filled; this time I was eating salad. What does this mean? Well, maybe The Contender isn’t as pure as a raw unedited, unfiltered boxing match, but it may be more dramatic, like one of Stallone’s Rocky movies (any one except the last one).

Bottom line: due entirely to the final 15 minutes of the premier episode, The Contender is so far the finest reality show I’ve ever seen.

Hey look, my friend Dr. Mary Ann Gorcsi is now in a band!

OK, this is hilarious. First, read this description of author wunderkind (and asshole) James Frey. Then, read Neal Pollack’s response here.

Interview Shminterview

I did a TV interview with CHCH-TV (a Hamilton affiliate of CanWest Global) on avian flu this morning. With me on the show were former Chief Medical Officer Richard Schabas and McMaster researcher Mark Loeb. Let me be as clear with you as I was with their producers: I am not an avian flu expert. I am an epidemiology generalist and a researcher in international health. As such, I was prepared to discuss avian flu in the context of other global diseases demanding public attention and funds. I had nonetheless studied the most recent influenza policy documents of both Health Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Health.

About 30 seconds into the interview, my audio cut out. That’s right. I have no idea what was being said or what questions were being asked of me. But just before that moment, I did gather that the assembled persons were more interested in determining whether the WHO and the CDC are trustworthy stewards of the Power To Declare Pandemic; it’s a leftover Ontario bitterness over the whole SARS thing. I really don’t care about such political nonsense, though it seemed that’s the way the discussion was headed.

So it’s probably a good thing I was shut out of further commentary. The things I care about –global disease surveillance, the 10/90 gap, increasing funding and public awareness of basic vaccination needs of children, the diarrhea pandemic and simply caring about the Developing World– were not going to be on the table.

I learned my lesson. While I’m thankful to CHCH for considering me, it clearly was not a good fit. I’ll vet my media opportunities better in the future.

Sitar Palooza

Well, our sitar school held its first Ottawa student concert last night. Despite some technical gaffs, I think everything went well. Of course, everyone –myself included– was justifiably awed by the charisma and skill of our instructor, Anwar Khurshid. Here’s a picture of me, hidden behind other students, diligently focused on playing my 3 notes. Yep, that’s all I was playing, and even screwing that up.

Tomorrow morning I tape an interview with CanWest Global TV on avian flu. Wish me luck!
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