Is There Light at the End of the Tunnel (of Oppression)?

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*You can find most of this year’s Tunnel in the video above. However, due to a technical issue, the last scene of the Tunnel is not included.

There are few bonds on campus that run longer and deeper than my bond with the Tunnel of Oppression. Having proudly participated all three years that it’s been on campus, I think that I come as close to being a Tunneler Expert as any man on campus. As such, it is my duty- Nay! My solemn privilege- to provide, yet again, a brilliant and insightful commentary on this year’s Tunnel.

My greatest disappointment this year was a lack of a theme for the Tunnel. Personally, my favorite was last year’s Willy Wonka Theme, but this year there wasn’t one. Really disappointing. And there’s so much to pick from, Twilight, Hunger Games, Dr. Seuss… so sad.

First up was the “Privilege Walk” (take one step forward if you’re a privileged white, heterosexual male, take one step back if you’re not). This was more or less consistent with what they’ve done in the past, so I won’t comment too much on that. Though, they really could have gone wild with a Hunger Games theme here (“everyone with white, heterosexual, Christian parents, battle to death!).

However, they did modify the Disabilities Awareness Room. Last year, if you’ll recall, they had a student with Dyslexia sitting at a desk, taking a test, with a teacher screaming at her to hurry up. As several people pointed out, such a situation was highly improbable mostly because it was very illegal (kind of like the love between a vampire and a werewolf). This year, they had the same student, but instead of a teaching yelling at the student, they had another student complaining to the teacher about the special accommodations being provided to the Dyslexic student. While this is a slightly more plausible situation, I’m not sure that it’s all that plausible. Assuming we’re talking about college students and not 8-year olds, I’m not sure that your typical college student is going to go up to the professor and whine about how the girl with Dyslexia gets extra time to finish her test. Realistically, who wants to be known as the person who throws a bitch fit (pardon the French) about it because the girl who can’t read gets a few extra minutes on her test? I think it’s one of those situations where peer pressure can actually act as a reinforcement for more charitable action. Besides, it’s also my understanding that students with learning disabilities have the option of taking their tests at the Disabilities Center, where they would not have to worry about any negative, external pressures from their peers. So, again, a non-issue.

Illegal Love?

Next up was a body image scene. I think what was most interesting about this bit was some of the stats they had posted around the room, things like 8 in 10 children are afraid of become fat, etc. Of course, when you’ve got the First Lady of the United States running around telling everyone that they’re fat and need to lost weight, these resulting mentalities shouldn’t really be all that unexpected. Perhaps if the government wasn’t so keen on forcing everyone to live what they deem a “healthy lifestyle,” people wouldn’t be as obsessed with how they look. Of course, pop culture also plays a role (which I believe the Tunnel covered pretty well), but we mustn’t underestimate the effect of things like the Let’s Move! program.

The Religion scene was a bit better this year. It consisted largely of a group of students (each representing a different religion) discussing different religious stereotypes (e.g. Jews are rich, Christians are Bible Thumpers, etc.). Nothing terribly controversial here, though given the rather condescending attitude that often greets religion on campus, it’s definitely an area worth covering.

We finally got some fireworks in the Homophobia Room. Now, I’ve always thought that the word, “homophobia,” was always a bit of a misnomer. I have yet to meet a person who’s legitimately scared of homosexuals (unlike, say a tree’s Thneedophobia). Though, perhaps if more people were homophobic, it would make the homosexuals quest for “equality” a little easier. They could just hang out near polling places and scare all those bigoted homophobes away from the polls. You know, kind of like the Black Panthers are apt to do. Anyway… The scene starts out with a couple students studying. A few more students wander in, one of the male students kisses his boyfriend, and the other students then proceed to gossip about the apparently homosexual student on the other side of the room. The other students get up and knock a few books off the homosexual student’s desk on the way out. Finally, this student relates a couple stories about abuse gay students receive off campus, mostly notably being picked on in bars and the like (he relates how, in one instance, someone threw an orange at him in a  bar). Supposedly, these stories were based on actual events at UNC. But I kind of have a hard time believing that. Particularly with regard to homosexuality, UNC is one of the most tolerant places on the planet. While it’s conceivable that maybe (a very big maybe) something like the bullying evident in the scene occurred, in my four years here (a large time of which was spent hanging out in more conservative circles, where supposedly such obnoxious bullying would originate) I have yet to see anything that remotely approaches the malice presented in the Tunnel.

As far as the anecdotes regarding the bars go, I also have a hard time that a bouncer (or bar owner or other responsible party) would sit by while someone attempts to start a food fight in his bar. Aside from the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever even seen an orange in a bar (except for a small slice in my Blue Moon, which I highly recommend), bar fights aren’t exactly good for business. But let’s assume it did happen. It’s a little presumptive to think that just because someone throws an orange at you, it’s because he hates you because you’re gay (or a vampire). More likely it’s because he was drunk and wasn’t really thinking clearly. Or maybe he wasn’t even aiming for you (I myself tend to have rather terrible aim and have a tendency to hit everything except what I’m actually aiming for- part of the reason I don’t play baseball). But then that would ruin the story wouldn’t it? You can’t very well cast yourself as a down-trodden victim of oppression, if your supposed oppressor was just drunk. I also realize that this is all taking place with Amendment 1hanging out in the background, so I understand if some people want to push an agenda, but I don’t believe that the scene, as presented, is an accurate depiction of the environment at UNC.

Beware the Oranges!

Human Trafficking was next. I think the most interesting aspect of this scene was the bit where the illegal alien relayed some of the financial difficulties she was having with her boss (e.g. receiving less than the minimum wage, watching her entire paycheck disappear in a flurry of employer deductions, etc.). While her situation is certainly tragic, it’s not entirely unpredictable. When you enter this country (or any country really) illegally, you can’t really expect to have the full protection of the law. While you can certainly make appeals to human justice, etc., those don’t really have the same staying power as a cop with a gun and handcuffs. In my humble opinion, this is one of the largest problems with America’s current immigration policy, which doesn’t merely condone illegal immigration, but outright encourages it. The people who are here illegally are often not protected by any sort of law (because you can’t very well wander up to the Department of Labor and file a wage complaint if you’re not even supposed to be here in the first place), so they open themselves up to exploitation (from capitalist Thneeders). This, I think, is the greatest tragedy of illegal immigration, and one that often goes unappreciated by the open borders types.

We will definitely be having a conversation.

The Relationship Violence scene was fairly similar to previous years’ presentations, so in the interest of space (and holding your interest), I shall proceed to the final room, the Race Room. Unfortunately, this was the only room I was unable to record (my spy camera has limits apparently, I’ll be having a discussion with James Bond about that), so I’m having to go completely off memory on this one. From what I can recall, there were four (or maybe three) girls in the room, one black, one white, one Asian, and one Indian (I think). The Asian girl largely complained about how people look at her funny and make fun of the way her mother talks and what she eats for lunch. Personally, I found this kind of amusing. When I was in China, I got stares (literally) from the natives all the time. I don’t think they even realized they were doing it half the time, but it was kind of amusing to go walking down the street and have scores of Chinese people turn their heads to look at you. The toddlers were always the best, because they would point and then get these looks of utter bewilderment on their faces- kind of cute in a way. This happened nearly every time I went out (though it occurred more frequently in Anyang, where the white man rarely treads, than in Beijing). I was never really bothered by it. It was kind of amusing. That and I could always swap stories with the other foreigners in my program (the best one I heard was of a guy riding his bike, who turned to look at one of the American students, and then proceeded to ride right into a wall). I can’t even imagine what my Chinese sounds like to a native (though my teachers did make me do some rather interesting tone exercises in an effort to purge my accent).

A Cross Stitching of Mao? Weird

I don’t think whatever gawking (here intended more broadly than just physically looking at someone) goes on between Americans and Asians is due to racism, but due more to the large differences between the two cultures. We’re just very different from each other and have completely different cultural underpinnings (and they eat weird things that we would never dream of eating and vice-versa). I think the gawking results more from a genuine curiosity about the other culture more than anything else. And I think when someone goes up to you in the cafeteria and asks what that weird, noodlely concoction in your lunchbox is, it isn’t because they’re trying to make fun of you (though maybe they are), but because they want to learn more about what you’re eating. It’s an invitation to share cultures. If we all just pretend that nothing’s unique and are afraid to ask questions because we’re afraid of being labeled a racist, that doesn’t make for a very interesting world and does nothing to bridge cultural divides.

The other girl who stood out was the white girl, who apparently was the embodiment of white guilt. She talked about how she’s been pulled over three times and never given a ticket, easily got into college and found a job, etc. Well, as the stereotypical white male, I’d like to know her secret. Personally, I find the suggestion that everything I have I have simply because I’m white offensive. I’ve worked hard to get where I am and have had nothing handed to me on a silver platter. I haven’t the slightest guilt (racial or otherwise) because everything I have is the result of hard work and determination.

And I don’t think that is true simply for me. The idea that white people have some sort of advantage over other races is absurd. This actually came up in the post-Tunnel discussion group, specifically concerning Affirmative Action. Several members of my group brought up the point that racism, properly defined, is simply a situation where race factors into a person’s decision about how to act. Affirmative Action, which is solely based on race, is nothing more than reverse-discrimination. It offers preferential treatment to applicants who are non-white and non-Asian, racism in its purest form. Of course, when the group raised this point, the moderator quickly attempted to redefine what Affirmative Action “actually” is. Apparently isn’t a form of reverse discrimination (California begs to differ), but it’s merely an attempt by university administrators to put together the best possible class from a group of students. This is quite funny, because that’s still racism! In this case, administrators are simply making the determination that it is better for the university to admit certain racial classes than to admit the most qualified applicants. Needless to say, the moderator didn’t quite have a response, and the discussion wrapped up rather quickly after that.

That about does it for the Tunnel of Oppression. I’m sorry to say that this will be last commentary on this fine event. I’m sure that my wit and wisdom will be sorely missed, but alas, I must move on to bigger and better things, like chronic unemployment and a small mountain of student debt. But never fear, I hear a recovery is just around the corner.

What is ASG Doing in China?

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This could be the Summer Palace (formerly the summer vacation home of the imperial court... kind of appropriate). But I can't make out the characters on the gate, so I can't be sure.

Atul Bhula, ASG President, Is Second From the Right

When it comes to ASG, there are some questions that I have gotten used to asking. Why do they spend so much money on travel? Why do they feel the need to give themselves such lavish stipends? Why don’t they do anything? But one question I thought I’d never ask is “What are you doing in China?”

If you look in the above picture, you’ll notice that Atul Bhula, President of ASG, and various members of the UNC Board of Governors (with their wives) are situated right in front of Chairman Mao’s portrait in Tiananmen Square. Aside from the the rather palpable irony of this picture, just what are they doing there? While I’m glad that Atul was able to find time to run to China after doing absolutely nothing about historic tuition increases next year, why is he in China? And who paid for him to be there? Did ASG foot the bill for this little venture abroad, or did someone else? It’s also curious that Atul made no mention of this little vacation while he was running around lauding all the great work that ASG does. After all, it would have taken a fair amount of time to put this trip together. With visa regulations in the PRC being what they are, it’s not like one can just hop on a plane to China on a whim.

So, the next time ASG talks about how great it is, keep this little episode in mind. They somehow can’t find the time to fix the organization so that it actually has some influence in tuition proposals, but their president manages to find the time to run off to China to pal around with members of the Board of Governors.

Obama’s HUDdle on Campus

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If you aren’t aware, Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan, graced our fair campus with his presence this afternoon. According to UNC’s Office of Federal Affairs (did anyone know we even had one of those?), the purpose of the visit was “to provide an opportunity for Carolina stakeholders to engage a member of the Obama Administration and to better understand some of their policies.” Sadly, the event resembled something closer to a campaign event (and a rather poor one at that).

In the Vicinity of Beijing's 4th Ring, or More Properly, What America Should be Shooting For

I think what was most disappointing was simply the quality of the questions students asked during the Q&A. The first one was “In your dealings with President Obama, what have you found to be his best quality?” And it was simply downhill from there. Now, if this man was addressing a group of third graders, that question might have been appropriate (maybe), but among a group of college students and academics it’s simply absurd. Consider the situation. Here you are, a college student (or professor, or whatever), with an opportunity to discuss anything, from the anemic job market, the depressed housing market, a rapidly nuclearizing Iran, a debt-to-GDP ratio north of 100%, or the impeding collapse of the post-World War II world order, and you essentially ask, “Why is the President soooooo awesome?” I think this little episode perfectly encapsulates what is wrong with American higher education today. Instead of thinking critically about events around it, the academy is so radically self-absorbed and out of touch and so obsessed with its own ideology, it’s simply laughable. Is this really all that the best and brightest of North Carolina is capable of? Maybe it was a fluke, or maybe some rogue from Duke snuck in, but it was kind of embarrassing.

Secretary Donovan, when he wasn’t answering inane questions from the audience, also did a fair amount of pontificating. Apparently, the administration is convinced that we can educate ourselves out of this recession. If only we spend (a lot) more on higher education and push as many people as we can through the system, we’ll all be happy again. Color me a skeptic, but the plan he described, where the federal government subsidizes education through new tax credits, etc., guarantees low-interest loans for all comers, and then requires those borrowers to make only bare minimum payments on those loans, seems awfully similar to American housing policy circa 2008 (which incidentally, HUD bears a lot of responsibility for). I suppose if the idea is to create a giant education bubble, such that when it pops, everyone forgets about the housing problem because the education bubble is so much bigger, then this is a great idea. But if the idea is to generate genuine economic growth, this is certainly not the way to go.

And what’s a State of the Union talk without some mention of trains? Aren’t those things amazing? If only we had more of them, those pesky Chinese wouldn’t even be able to touch us. Actually, the best part of the Secretary’s little speech was when he was talking about China’s impressive infrastructure and how the Chinese are just light-years ahead of us in this regard. He clearly has no idea what he’s talking about. If he did know what he was talking about, he would know that, even in the (very crowded and polluted) major cities (i.e. places like Beijing), you can’t drink the tap water or flush toilet paper because the sewer systems are so old and so out of date. He would also know that electricity is also a problem, and that you actually have to buy surge protectors to insulate your electronic goods from regular power surges. Indeed, even China’s much lauded trains aren’t much to write home about. When they’re not falling off bridges, many of China’s trains are (very) overcrowded, smelly, and generally a very hellish experience. And their highway system isn’t anywhere nearly as well developed as ours. Now, don’t get me wrong, China’s quite a charming place, but the U.S. is definitely winning the infrastructure game.

Shiny!

There was also a fair amount of green energy hype. The Secretary informed us that while there might be a few Solyndras along the way (who doesn’t mind a little government corruption after all), we can’t expect the government to make the right choice every time when it comes to deciding which business to support. This, of course, is the whole point! The government can’t make these decisions, because they are infinitely complicated and not something that some bureaucrat hiding in the basement of a federal building can make. Such choices are properly left to the market, which is a better evaluator  of risk and profit than the government will ever be. When the government tries to make these decisions, you end up with Solyndra. Solyndra isn’t merely a side effect of government intervention in the market, it is its natural conclusion.

All in all, this event was pretty disappointing. The questions were childish, and we got the same old, same old from the administration. It’s simply too bad that what could have been a really interesting event on the future direction of the country devolved into a Why Barack Obama is the Greatest Thing Since Baked Bread event.

Iran to China for Money, Now She’s Angry

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One of my first blog posts was about the dangers in the Middle East and the likelihood that war could break out between Israel and her neighbors. I argued that this would be fundamentally different, and more dangerous, than previous wars that Israel has been involved in. Just to recap, I focused on the dangers of an Iran with growing nuclear potential and on Turkey’s break from the West, but I also mentioned that China would have a strategic interest in helping the Arab nations prolong such a war to increase its influence in the region, and decrease the influence of the United States.
Over the past week, there has been some movement on two of these fronts. Iran has heightened its feud with the more Western-friendly Saudis, and US-Chinese relations have been strained with passage of legislation that would allow punitive sanctions to be imposed on any country that manipulates the value of its currency, a move clearly aimed at the Chinese. Turkey has had no major activity in the region recently, except asking Iraq to crack down on Kurdish insurgents, so I will largely leave them out of this blog.
If you have not heard, members of the Iranian government allegedly sought to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States. Even if the actions were not approved by President Ahmadinejad or the Ayatollah, such a bold and rash action is indicative of a regime high on its newfound status in the region. The Saudis have been the dominant military and economic power in the Islamic Middle East for decades, but the Iranians now can challenge them for hegemony. In terms of US interests and Israeli security, Saudi hegemony is imperative. The Saudis have never directly participated in the wars against Israel because of their economic ties to the pro-Israeli West, making their relative strength in the region of utmost importance to the US and Israel.
Contrastingly, the Iranians have had to turn to anti-Western nations, such as Russia and China for economic ties, since the West imposed economic sanctions on Iranian gas imports. They have no economic or political need to support peace with Israel; in fact, in order to please the religious fanatics that have strong factions within the Iranian government, a hegemonic Iran could very well call for “pushing Israel into the sea”, as it has in the past.
The escalating tensions with China are just as worrisome, however. After the Senate passed the sanctions on currency manipulators on Wednesday, talk of a trade war with China immediately arose. If this dispute were to escalate beyond the inevitable tit-for-tat punitive measures that they will try to impose on us, then it is very conceivable that they would take a more active role in escalating the situation in the Middle East. They know that we will feel the need to involve ourselves and that we will be sucked further into a prolonged conflict than we would like to be, so in the atmosphere of a trade war and strained relations with the US, the Chinese would be fools not to enflame unrest in the Middle East.
An alternative, and potentially more grave, scenario that could arise would be the Chinese trying to punish our protectionism by liquidating our debts to them in a manner that would tell other investors that the US is no longer considered a safe risk by her biggest foreign creditor. Even if this did not spark a bear market for American debt, it would significantly increase our interest rates and wound an economy that is barely limping along as it is. With such an economy, our influence in the Middle East would drop as quickly as our purchasing power, and we would be unable to effectively promote peace in the region, at which point the stability of the region would likely be determined by the victor of Saudi Arabia and Iran’s race for hegemony.
So, what course of action should we take to avoid such a scenario? Well, we must try to avoid a full blown trade war with China; we must try to inhibit Iran’s growing power in the region through diplomatic means; and we must make sure that if the worst case scenario does manifest, then Israel has the ability to adequately defend herself from invasion with as little aid from the US as possible. All these are good treatments for the symptoms of our illness, but the root cause is the irresponsible economic practices that we have domestically. If we had not run up a huge deficit, had it financed by unfriendly nation, prevented domestic oil drilling, or set up a system that rewarded the exportation of manufacturing jobs, then we would be in a much stronger situation today. The problems that we see today are all symptoms of a decade of irresponsible economic policies, but if we fix them in a truly capitalist fashion, then we will see the symptoms cured as well, in the long term.

Hu are You?

CRDaily

This post serves two purposes.

1. I’ve been looking for an excuse to use that title, and I think I just found it.

2. I’ve also seen an interesting thought kicked around the Internet the last few days. Does anyone find it the least bit ironic that the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize (i.e. BHO) just threw a big party for the oppressor (and jailer) of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Winner? While I’m not calling for complete disengagement with the Chinese, it does seem a bit inappropriate for our government to be hosting official state dinners with a regime that is still imprisoning political dissidents. For a presidency that is so concerned with maintaining the moral high ground in foreign relations, O’s reception of Hu does seem a bit hypocritical.