Japan is Finally Here!

***Due to my vacation, this will be my last post until September 10th :)***

The wait is over. Christina and I will be flying to Japan this week, and I feel like my Chihuahua when he hears the words “let’s go bye-bye!” The travel will be arduous, but I am trying to remember that you have to eat an elephant one bite at a time. The flight is a 13-hour red-eye which will probably leave me depleted – I am bringing some boring books and Benadryl which will hopefully help me sleep.

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As most of you know, I have been reading various texts on Japan to obtain a greater understanding and respect for this complicated country. My last book before heading off was an excellent summary of the history of Japan by Christopher Goto-Jones – Modern Japan: A Very Short Introduction. This book is actually one of many in Oxford’s Very Short Introductions series; each book tries to concisely address difficult topics. These books are similar to my Tackle the Library series *cue shameless plug*  except they are longer and dryer in nature. Nevertheless, I was able to get a comprehensive view of Japan from its feudal past to its post-modern present; Japan’s history is pertinent to Western readers because it shows how modernization can both destroy a culture and uniquely define national identity.

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Today Japan is the third largest economy in the world with a population of nearly 130 million people – for context, Japan’s neighbor, Russia is the 12th ranked economy with a population of only 145 million inhabitants. Japan was not always a powerhouse of human resources, and it wasn’t long ago that it was completely isolated from the world. For 250 years, Japan had very little to do with the burgeoning powers of Europe and the United States. It wasn’t until 1853 that Japan was forced by the United States to sign a trading agreement – within 50 years of that date the entire country would undergo a political revolution, establish a new constitution, become an industrial economy, and begin a colonial empire.

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Japan was highly motivated to develop their country because of the “Unequal Treaties” which were Western treaties that viewed Japan as a backwater not worthy of fair trade. This view was partially accurate, but Japan was far from simplistic – by the 17th century, Tokyo was the largest city in the world and Japan had a sophisticated religious system that facilitated the famous samurai class and a revered Emperor. Suffice it to say, Japan in the 19th century was primed for development, and with Western technology, it shot off like a rocket into the “modern” age.

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At the turn of the 20th century, Japan was involved in a paradoxical policy of Imperialistic Anti-Imperialism. Confused? The Western countries were trying to dip their fingers into the honey pot of Asia – taking land from less developed societies in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Japan believed Asia should be in the hands of Asians and subsequently went to war with Russia, Korea, and China to secure their own holdings; they were extremely successful in these endeavors, and the Japanese began to get a taste for military power.

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By the time of WWI, Japan assisted the Allies and was given a seat for the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. This “seat” was celebrated in Japan as a concrete symbol of their worldwide respect and modernity. All optimism was short-lived once Woodrow Wilson and the other Western nations decided that Japan would not have an equal voice. This “Western racism” highlighted to the Japanese that no matter how modern they became, they would be inferior because of their ethnicity and culture; this would lead to the conflicts of WWII in which the Japanese highlighted their national superiority.

 

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Following their hard-fought defeat in WWII, General MacArthur occupied Japan and modified their constitution: disbanding the military, adding a bill of rights, and transforming the role of the Emperor. In the 50’s Japan’s economy quickly rebounded thanks to the Korean War and by 1960 Japan was the world’s largest shipbuilder. The next 57 years followed a close line with the development of the United States – cars, technology, and the middle-class became the standard.

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Japan however to this day differs from other modern countries. Because of their early isolation and disrespect, Japan was determined to maintain their culture and their Emperor. With the US occupation post-WWII, Japan was able to stay out of the Cold War and invest in their country – leading to its cutting edge technology, education, and infrastructure. Japan’s forced pacifism has made it difficult for them to reconcile their past and to reconcile their place in the “post” modern world. With an aging population, an overworked middle class, and a technological-isolated youth the question for Japan today is defining what the “Japanese Dream” actually represents and how it is different than the “American Dream.”

Old World vs. New World

One of my wife’s favorite Disney movies is Pocahontas. She likes it for its fun music, its dark-skinned-female-protagonist, and its historical accuracy. We all grew up with some vague idea of what it was like for Native Americans before the advent of the “white man.” There were happy tribes scattered throughout the country which cherished the Image result for native american stereotypesearth and went about their lives in natural simplicity. These Paleolithic people lacked technology, advanced government, and large-scale societies like their European counterparts. Unfortunately all of those beliefs are flat out wrong. What did the Americas look like before 1492 – the year Columbus landed in the Caribbean? Thankfully, I came across a fascinating book which answers this very question: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann. With the advent of new technologies in archaeology there has been an explosion of discoveries that were never known about the early inhabitants of the New World; suffice it to say, the Western Hemisphere was comprised of sophisticated societies which rivaled any European, Asian, or African empire at the time.

Most people know about the Incan and Aztec Empires. There are still many remnants from these cultures and many sites are visited by overweight tourists. What most people don’t realize is that each of these nations was home to millions of people during their peak. The Incan Empire, in the year 1491, was the Image result for incan empirelargest empire on earth, surpassing the Ming Dynasty in China, Ivan the Great in Russia, the Songhay in the Sahel, the Great Zimbabwe in West Africa, the Turks in the Ottoman Empire, and any European state at the time. Their dominion spread over 32 degrees of latitude which is the equivalent distance between Cairo and St. Petersburg. The Aztecs, located in modern day Central Mexico, numbered over 25 million which at the time was the most densely populated place in the world; twice the number of inhabitants per square mile than China or India; for reference, Spain and Portugal had a combined population of fewer than 10 million.

Concurrently, Tenochtitlan – the Aztec Capital – was the biggest metropolis on earth far exceeding the second largest at the time-Paris. When the Spaniards first walked into Image result for Tenochtitlan sketchTenochtitlan, they marveled at the wide streets, ornately carved buildings, bustling markets, long aqueducts, immense banners, colorful promenades, and immaculate public spaces.
What was more astonishing than the structures were the people themselves: taller, healthier, stronger, and cleaner than their European counterparts. This pattern of civilization was common throughout the Americas from the Amazon Rain forest to the Appalachian Mountains: there was advanced technology, sophisticated government, and efficient agriculture. So what the frick happened?

One word – DISEASE. From the time that Columbus landed in 1492, various diseases like Hepatitis and Smallpox spread throughout the Americas with rapid force. When Pizzaro and Cortez conquered the Incans and Aztecs, disease had already destabilized the populace and the political foundation. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, the epidemics killed 100 million Native Americans which would be 1 out of every 5 people on earth at the time – the greatest destruction of life in history. Image result for native american disease and epidemics
Overtime, disease would kill almost 95% of all peoples in the Americas. A great example of this death toll is the east coast of the United States. Before the Pilgrims landed, there were hundreds of thousands of Native Americans inhabiting that area. A smallpox epidemic swept through during the late 16th century and cleared all resistance – the English zealots settling on a mass-grave site.

What remained of the Native Americans were small bands of people which were restarting their personal lives, their families, and their societies; this is how Europeans viewed their perpetual state – subsequently writing the history books. The Inca and Image result for native american mound builders sketchAztecs were not exceptions but rather the rule in respects to American civilization; advanced civilization rose and fell for over five millennia. Even more fascinating was the manipulation of the landscape by these cultures. We imagine the virgin forest as a staple of the pre-Columbian landscape – wrong again.
Not only were structures built, but the forest was regularly manipulated for agriculture, harvesting, and wildlife management. All of these facts are extremely important for today because it gives us a greater understanding of human and ecological development. We can gain knowledge from past cultures to improve our environment and Disney movie plot lines. The more we know the less we think one group of people is “better” than the other – maybe the term “savage” was applied to the wrong hemisphere.

The Upside of Down

What makes America great? Is it the people? The beautiful landscape? The election process? I think a lot of citizens define the greatness of America through her economic and military prowess. Over the past 10 years there has been a lot of news about America’s dominance fading in the world. I hear things like, “China owns half of our country!” “Their is a new Cold War with Russia!””There are going to be taco stands at every corner!” “All of our jobs are being shipped overseas!” I never really looked into these claims before so I wanted to read a book about the true economic status of the developed world compared to the developing. I picked up The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the West by Charles Kenny. Kenny was previously a senior economist at the World Bank and is now a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and writes for Bloomberg Businessweek and Foreign Policy magazines. To put it simply, this guy knows his stuff.

First off, China is definitely going to surpass the United States economy very soon – some economists argue that is has already happened. The math is simple: China has 1.3 billion people and the United States has roughly 350 million people. That is a billion more workers and consumers with an ever widening middle class that is ready to spend.

“…by 2030 the world will have four major economic players. China will be the heavyweight, with a share of global GDP around 24 percent (measured at purchasing power parity). Next will be India, the European Union and the United States – each with 10 to 12 percent of the global output. Brazil, Indonesia, and Japan will each control a little more than 3 percent of global GDP.”

Should this fact worry the United States? Not at all. It is great news. For one, the average Chinese or Indian will one day be able to buy more products from the United States. With more money flowing into America, there will be more jobs created and more services needed. Second, countries with large economies love trade agreements – allowing them to easily import and export. This increases alliances and decreases the risks of wars. Thirdly, with greater partnerships with other countries, the United States can reduce military spending and focus more on improving quality of life measures for her citizens (health care, infrastructure, worker benefits, etc.).

Now what about all the worries of immigration and jobs being taken by the “rest” of the world.

“…US offshoring may have been responsible for a 1.6 percent decline in manufacturing jobs over the period 1997 to 2007, but the impact on long-term productivity may actually increase employment (which may also be better paid). The idea is that firms save money by offshoring, which, by allowing them to sell more for less, increases both their own revenues and the revenues of those that purchase the goods they sell. As a result, they can hire more people, or their shareholders have more money to buy goods and services from other Americans.”

Yes, America has lost jobs overseas but the economy as a whole has benefited immensely from affordable goods and greater domestic purchasing power – the result being a net increase in job creation. So what about jobs at home being taken by immigrants? The United States attracts some of the best and brightest students from around the world. Our universities, with the help of foreign students, foster innovation that continues to make America a leader in patents and technology. Immigrants are vital to our growing economy, because as earlier explained, the number of people in a country is one of the biggest factors in economic health. With an aging population and a decreasing birth rate, the United States should be happy to take all the skilled labor she can get. What about the “illegal” immigrants? Shouldn’t we build a wall? It was found that immigrants from Mexico do not take jobs from Americans but rather help create new jobs (click here for clear example). By paying less for labor, businesses have more money for investments, purchases, and new job creation. Furthermore, between 2009-2014 there was net loss of Mexicans leaving the United States. This is due to an improving Mexican economy and better family reunification programs. It was found that increased border control actually increased the number of illegal immigrants in the country; due to the fact that it was harder for Mexicans to reenter their country.

All of this points to the need for more investment and economic teamwork throughout the world. We should not become a isolated country that is afraid of immigrants or the success of other countries. We need to remember that immigrants founded this country and that the rise of the rest is good for the west. If you liked this article please a related post, The World is Flat.

 

What Is Your Sleep Animal?

I have always been a diva when it comes to sleep. As a boy, I never wanted to have sleepovers because I would want to go to bed early when everyone else wanted to hangout until dawn. One prime example was my 7th birthday, when I left my party early (which was in the basement) to go sleep in my bedroom, leaving my Mom to entertain 10 sugar-crazed boys. For the same reasons, I didn’t like going to overnight camps or camping in a tent where I knew adequate sleep would escape me. In my young mind, the boys who could sleep anywhere were the boys who grew up to be the cool guys. They were the guys who could close out a party, watch a movie marathon, and go for a midnight swim. I was always in bed before my parents (even in the weekends) and I still usually go to bed before everyone in my family. When I do sleep I need a solid 9 hours to function and ideally 10 would be perfect. This somewhat pathological need for sleep has shaped my life and my daily activities. Do you want to wake up early and workout? No. Do you want to go see the midnight premiere? No. Do you want to go get drinks after dinner? No. Do you want to join a morning book club? No. My window of ideal sleep is between 10:00 pm to 8:00 am. If I deviate too much from that window I will be a zombie for the next day and possibly the whole week. I know I am a high maintenance sleeper and my obsession with sleep led me to read The Power of When by Michael Breus, PhD.

There are four types of sleepers: Bears, Lions, Wolfs, and Dolphins. Bears make up 50% of the population and wake up naturally with the rhythms of the sun – not going to bed too late and not waking up too early. Lions, naturally morning hunters, make up 20% of the population and are the people who rise very early and accomplish a ton of things before Bears even begin to hit the snooze button. Wolves, naturally nocturnal hunters, are the late-night prowlers who probably best fit my description of the “Cool Guy.” Dolphins, which sleep with only half their brain at a time, make up 10% of the population. Dolphins are the people who would normally be described as insomniacs; they have difficulty falling asleep, they are easily awoken, and they struggle to get more than 6 hours of sleep a night. What sleep animal are you? To take an accurate quiz on the author’s site, click the link here. I am a Bear but I think a better description would be a Koala Bear – they sleep a crap ton. Most of the people I know are Bears but I do know a Wolf (shout out to Megan) and a Lioness (shout out to Ashley). I still have yet to meet a Dolphin but I think my wife is some weird combination of a Panda Bear riding on top of a leaping Porpoise. I think the biggest take away from this book is to put sleep on the top of your priority list. If you struggle to get enough sleep because you like to stay up late, try turning off all electronics one hour before bedtime. You really need 5 complete sleep cycles to get a healthy nights rest; each sleep cycle is an average 90 minutes long so that equals about 7.5 hours a night. People may have longer cycles or shorter cycles but most people know their sweet spot when it comes to a great nights rest.

Peruse the website and check out the specific recommendations for each sleep type. Just remember, without sleep, your brain and body are at a significant health handicap – limiting your full animal potential.

The Wet Belly Mystery

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“The” Wet Belly

It was the best of times and the worst of times. Last week Tuesday, I was having the best of days. The sun was out, the weather was pleasant, the leaves were colorful, my wife was looking sexy, and my pants were feeling loose. It was one of those Tuesdays when you almost think it’s a Friday. Feeling on top of the world, I decided to take Max, my single-minded Chihuahua, for his most favorite activity in the world – a walk in the park. Max was running through an open field full of grass, leaves, trees, sunshine, groundhogs, and the occasional cluster of white-dog poop. Being in a state of complete relaxation I didn’t notice when my pea-brain dog began to rub his neck in some putrid-smelling substance that was either a dead animal or a concentrated pocket of mud that had been overly exposed to Flint-river water. Whatever the source of the stench, I did not discover it until I came home and bent down to take off his leash. His neck smelled like a trashcan that had been sitting out in the hot sun after a pouring rain – wet, thick, and unbearable. I immediately took him to the shower and began to use the best treatment I had – Head and Shoulders Anti Dandruff Shampoo. Max was all about the shampoo and I think he may have done the stinky neck thing on purpose just to get the extra neck massage. He looked like a wet rat after the soak and I wrapped him tightly in a towel and rubbed his whole body until his fur was barley wet. He bolted out the bathroom door and jumped onto the couch like a crackhead during a bad trip –rubbing his body at random all over the cushions. This was approximately at 5:00 pm.

Around 8:00 pm I was watching TV and heard Max enter the bathroom. This did not bring me much thought because being a Chihuahua, Max is always ADHD and running around the house. I had just used the bathroom and I thought it normal that he was smelling around to access the damage. I heard a faint noise in the bathroom but took it as him trying to get into the trash for some yummy Q-Tips – nothing out of the norm.  At about 8:10 I walked into the living room to give my sexy wife a big kiss and to tell her how amazing she was – again nothing out of the norm. But then, Christina looks over and there are water spots on the couch. At first we thought Max must have peed and we commence a frantic, grab-the-dog-and-throw-him-outside maneuver. Upon grabbing the spindly dog I felt his belly and it was completely wet. I lifted the animal to my nose and performed a thorough smelling – my sense of smell, being a sensitive-introvert, is above average. The liquid was not urine but rather water. I then noticed that the top of the couch, where Max usually sits, was completely soaked in water. I used five large paper towels to soak up the liquid and it again was odorless without any color. This was extremely odd, Max had a wet belly, he dripped water on the couch and his normal sitting area was drenched. We thought this was the extent of the wet-belly fiasco but then Christina, beginning to do her homework again, noticed water on the keyboard. As soon as she touched the keyboard the screen went black. This began a two hour ordeal of Christina going full-out Filipina and me trying to use my limited computer skills to perform a miracle. By 10:00 pm the computer was still not turning on, my Friday-like Tuesday was now a post vacation Monday, and I felt like returning Max back to the Humane Society. In the end we had to pay 400 dollars for a new laptop but thankfully Christina’s work was still safe in the hard drive.

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Signs of Guilt

To this day I have no idea how Max got his wet belly. Did he get into the water dish, the toilet, the post-shower tub? Did his bladder somehow expand to the size of a grown man? I have lost my mind trying to figure out the mystery of the wet belly. Max and I are on tenuous terms and I don’t know if I can ever again trust him around my laptop. What do you think is the riddle of the wet belly? What caused my Chihuahua to turn into a wet burrito? Why do I have a Chihuahua in the first place? All questions that need to be answered. Yet another life-lesson learned from Max – when you have a brain the size of pea you are apt to have a wet bellow at any moment.

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Post Makeup

 

News-The Junk Food of Information

When I was a kid I never worried about scary things on the news. One reason was that I didn’t watch the news and the other is that I knew my parents would protect me from danger. I was more worried about the killer clown in my bathroom or the witch at my bedroom window. Thankfully, these fears could easily be ameliorated by a nightlight or going to Mom and Dad’s room. Today I get scared from watching the news. It seems like every week there is a terrorist attack or world disaster that makes me feel sick about the future. The news is like a real world scary movie. After I watched The Ring I had to cover my TV with a blanket because of fear that it would turn on in the middle of the night. Similarly, after watching the news over the past few days, I second guessed some of my plans because ISIS was on my mind. Both of these examples include irrational fears, but unlike in the past, I can’t run to my Mom and Dad’s room anymore.

So should I give up watching the news? Being someone who loves to read and write, I thoroughly enjoy being up-to-date on the world around me. I don’t like to be the odd man out in conversations and usually I like to know the details so I can better inform my friends and family. There is a price to pay though when using the news to be informed-a negative attitude about the world’s future. Sure, some people will say, “I watch the news and it doesn’t bother me,” but I would argue that it does affect a person subconsciously. I wrote a post on Blink by Malcolm Gladwell that states our brains respond to things in mere seconds based on preconditioning. Among non-racist individuals, studies show that regardless of personal race (black or white), we react more negatively to black faces than to white faces. This phenomenon is obviously apparent between white police and young black men but it is also present in everyday life-what makes you more uncomfortable, a plane full of Arabs or a plane full of Caucasians? This is an ingrained survival method that has helped us make life saving decisions in the past-see snake, run like hell. In today’s world it isn’t the snake but instead images of terrorists, shooters, crazy drivers, scary diseases, and masked men that precondition us. It is estimated that 10% of teens and 40% of adults suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder (Source). I would argue that the news, and its effects on one’s future outlook, is a major source of anxiety. I think we should all look at news like we look at junk food. It tastes so good right at the moment, giving us a slight rush, but afterwards it makes us feel empty and slightly upset.

So what is one to do, be depressed/informed or happy/ignorant? How do we get to the level of happy/informed with the added benefit that planes of Arabs don’t make us subconsciously queasy? First, stop watching or reading online news. If you need to be informed daily, pick up a newspaper. Newspapers give you the information without all the anxiety ridden imagery or hateful comment sections. Second, subscribe to a high quality magazine like the New Yorker, The Atlantic, Time, etc. These are great sources of current material that usually look at multiple sides of an issue. Thirdly, read books about current topics that are affecting the world. Instead of watching the news on shootings read a book like Blink to understand what leads people to shoot in the first place; this will give you added tools when conversing about current events. I fully admit that the news scares me, but I do not admit that by abstaining from it I am less informed. By taking the time to read the aforementioned material, I am able to see the big picture of an event instead of a myopic-instantaneous viewpoint. Discard that junk food news and take in some healthy information-you’ll know what you’re talking about and your stomach won’t get so upset when thinking about the future.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Part 3 of 3

How can we defeat ISIS? With what we know about ISIS and their beliefs there are a few things that we should definitely not attempt. The biggest mistake the United States could do is to reoccupy Iraq/Syria with a large ground force. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 and subsequent occupation thereafter, was a well-spring for jihadists and terrorist attacks. Don’t repeat those mistakes again! Occupying Iraq would increase ISIS’s recruits and may even cause a new terrorist group to materialize. President Obama realizes this and has said that the proposed strategy to fight ISIS should entail increased air strikes, increased special force missions, and increased training for the Iraqi military. Remember, ISIS wants a US occupation in the Middle East because their apocalyptic prophecies predict battles in certain areas. A major strategy we should implement is facilitating the Muslim community to fight ISIS and its ideology. Let’s ask Muslim countries what they need from us instead of us telling them what to do. ISIS is not just a problem for the “West” but all of Islamdom because they want to create sectarian war and kill Muslims who do not believe their twisted theology. A second major strategy is to target ISIS’s means of sending propaganda through the internet. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube should create algorithms and search mechanisms that flag all terrorist oriented information. These sites already do this with pornography and certain graphic material so it would be technological feasible.  Social media is closing ISIS accounts but I believe all media sources need to step up their monitoring. Through decreasing ISIS’s propaganda, there will be much fewer “lone wolves” who commit individual acts of terror.

These strategies are the immediate ways to fight ISIS but we need to think about the big picture. How is ISIS primarily funded? To put simply, they are funded by oil (which provides them with 1.5 million dollars a day) that is purchased by developed countries. Let’s cut off their funding by decreasing our dependence on oil. How can we do this? Increase subsidies for renewable energy and invest in American infrastructure like we did during the New Deal. Where are we going to get the money for that? Stop subsidizing coal and decrease our military budget (which is the largest in the world by far) since we don’t need to fund expensive ground invasions. If we do this, terrorist groups like ISIS will have far less money and be greatly handicapped in their organizational capabilities. With the funding taken away all ISIS would have left is their radical ideology. How can we prevent people from being radicalized? The best way to do this is by giving them jobs. A young man who believes he can provide for himself and his family will be much less likely to join a radical gang. ISIS’s main recruitment tool is the promise of a well-functioning society for all its members-complete with hospitals, entertainment, libraries, and “jobs.” Of course, to give people jobs there needs to be a non-corrupt government, outside investment, infrastructure, and many other complex variables. These things take time to develop but the US can assist with this through investment (private/public), education, and domestic polices that support income equality. Lastly, what can you do as an individual to fight ISIS? Educate yourself about ISIS, Islam, and the history of the Middle East. Study history and realize how many times we repeat the same mistakes. Don’t group all Muslims as terrorists and think they shouldn’t live in the US. Oddly enough, ignorance is the hotbed that fuels the misinformed policy’s of both ISIS and America-be different…use your brain.

 

Native Americans Conquer the English! Why History Wasn’t Reversed-Part 2

The saga continues. If you are not up to date on Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond then read last week’s post here. We now know that civilizations arose not from individual genetic differences but rather environmental conditions that encouraged agriculture: domesticable wild plants, domesticable mammals, and the orientation of a continent’s axis. Agriculture allowed groups of people to expand their social organization from nomadic bands all the way to advance states (common all over the world today). Larger populations required better communication between people-motivating the creation of the first alphabets. Two independently-derived alphabets were invented in areas of the world where agriculture had it’s longest history: the Sumerian cuneiform (Mesopotamia, 3000 B.C) and Chinese (1300 B.C)-most all other writing systems were derived from either of these. Along with the alphabet, large groups of specialized jobs, supported by a surplus of food (agriculture) allowed for a myriad of technological innovations. Technology was pushed through competition and the spread of knowledge between different societies; this spread of knowledge was faster among Eurasian societies compared to North American societies partly due to the axis orientation differences. Civilization not only promoted technology but also religion. Religion served a role in connecting large groups of people in one common higher purpose and rationalized living one’s life for the higher “state.” This is best seen in the Christian Crusades against Islam. It is important to note however that groups of people have been spiritual throughout all of history, organized religion is a whole different beast (Jesus denouncing the religious figures of His time).

As civilizations advanced, they many times spread to new areas and conquered other groups of people. Most everyone knows about the expansion of Europeans starting with Columbus’ exploratory trip in 1492. However, a much larger expansion took place several millennium before in South China. This is known as the Austronesian expansion and it was comprised of the more advanced agriculturists of South China spreading from Taiwan all the way through Polynesia and reaching as far as Madagascar off the coast of Africa. Humans first inhabited Southeast Asia and Polynesia by 33,000 B.C. Between 33,000 B.C. and 3,500 B.C. the people who inhabited these areas were mainly hunter gatherers with limited technological sophistication. However, beginning in 7500 B.C., China was growing their civilization and by the year 3,500 B.C. began migrating south. With agriculture, the Austronesians were able to spread from the Philippines to New Zealand and everywhere in between (except New Guinea and Australia); they eventually were the first people to reach the Hawaiian Islands. This mass human expansion was one of the first examples of how advanced civilizations with the aid of agriculture could take over less-advanced groups through germs and superior weaponry.

The book goes on to talk about the differences between Europeans and Chinese in respects to expansion in the last 500 years. Why didn’t China expand to the west coast of North America and colonize in similar fashion to Europeans? How did Europe pass China and the Middle East in technological advancement? These are complex questions with several possible answers but one hypothesis is that China’s united geography compared to Europe’s segmented geography created differences in competition. China had one united ruling government while Europe had several feuding states; the competition in Europe facilitated greater technological advancement and was less prone to idiosyncratic individuals. China did have times of imperialism but in 1492 the dynasty in place was not interested in expansion. On the other hand, Christoper Columbus had to ask several different European states for funding before finally catching a lucky break with Spain. As soon as Spain was raking in the cash in the New World, other autonomous European countries jumped on the bandwagon-unified China followed their emperor’s decision to stay put. This is only one part of the answer of how our modern world was shaped but it highlights geography’s role in shaping history. Understanding our past helps us understand our present. Today there are rich countries and poor countries, successful businesses and unsuccessful businesses, peaceful zealots and violent zealots. How different variables interact to mold groups of people is not only fascinating but can possibly tilt the scales for the “haves and have nots” of the future.

The World is Flat

When I was a 9 year old kid my Mom bought me a Y2K clock that counted down the days, hours, minutes and seconds before the calendar read 1/1/00. In the months prior to the impending Y2K apocalypse, my Mom and Dad stocked up on bulk spices and bags of water in preparation for society’s collapse (oddly enough they didn’t stock any food for the spices to go on). The Y2K disaster was, as we all know, adverted, but how did we prevent all those computers from malfunctioning? I read the answer to that question in The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Friedman who is a New York Times writer and author of several books on globalization. We were saved from Y2K because of a sequence of technological advances which promoted connectivity around the globe. Firstly, the advancement in the usage and monetary value of the internet in the 1990’s led to huge investments in fiber optic cables. This laying of cable spread all over the world and opened up lines of communication that were never before available. This new communication was tested with the Y2K conundrum because the US did not have enough engineers to fix all the computers because the cost and time investments would have been astronomical. Enter India. India, after 50 years of investing in technical education, had a untapped labor force ready to get their teeth on any technology work available. Since connectivity had increased so much in the 90’s, India was ready to take on all the Y2K work remotely. This was the first time many US companies worked with engineers in India and was the proverbial handshake of friendship for a healthy future of business relations. Shortly after the Y2K scare, the dot.com bubble burst and tech companies that survived the implosion now sought to cut cost as much as possible. Where could they go for reduced labor costs? You guessed right….India. The country of over 1 billion people began receiving contracts for work and the era of tech outsourcing was given running shoes.

Today, the world is flatter then ever with outsourcing occurring not only in India but in China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and a whole host of third-world countries. Before I read this book, I thought outsourcing was a bad thing…now I have a different opinion on the matter. Outsourcing is the natural result of a hyper-connected world in which companies are trying to reduce waste and optimize every step of their supply chain. The United States has lost many manufacturing jobs because of these optimizations but in the end it has meant a decrease cost for goods by consumers and a shift in career outlooks. Students are now pushed to get technical or college degrees because they can’t get a manufacturing job right out of high school. A more highly educated society will push invention, creativity, and innovation more than a society based on workers that perform menial tasks. Complex thoughts and ideas cannot be outsourced and a country that is made up of engineers instead of line operators will compete much better with other advanced nations. The flattening of the world has showed how the US has gotten lazy and fallen from its once great educational supremacy-best highlighted during the cold-war space race. We need to push the next generation to excel in math, science, engineering, and my personal favorite…history. Globalization is here to stay and the more interconnected we become the more we will have opportunities to triumphantly succeed or catastrophically be left behind. Let’s stop complaining about jobs getting outsourced and start educating ourselves so our skills can never be cheaply replicated.

Bringing a Gun to a Fist Fight

Last year marked the 100th anniversary of World War I. This war is looked over in history class and most people only know about it after seeing the movie War Horse. I finished an extremely arduous book, The Fourth Horsemen: One Man’s Secret Campaign to Fight the Great War in America by Robert Koenig, which details the German sabotage that took place during WWI. More specifically, it follows the life of Anton Dilger, a German physician originally born in America, who took up biological warfare against horses during the war. He was hired by Germany to grow anthrax and other bacteria to infect horses being bred in America for use by the Allies. This was quite an undertaking because he set up his own germ factory in the basement of a Washington D.C. house. The germs were bottled and given to paid saboteurs who spread them among war horses. They did this by putting germs in the food, water, noses, or blood stream (through injection) of the innocent animals. The hope was that the germs would spread throughout the congregated horses and cause mass death. The success of this sabotage is not completely understood but it is known that thousands on horses did die from disease during the war. Anton would eventually move to Spain to continue his sabotage but died ironically in 1918 from the Spanish Flu.

WWI is a war that stood at the intersection of 19th and 20th century technology. At the beginning of the war, horse cavalries were still used and many were massacred by the newly invented machine gun. I think every little boy has watched a movie of the American Revolution and thought, “…man if only I could go back in time and give them a machine gun or a plane!” That is pretty much how WWI was fought in its very first months. Additionally, animals like horses, mules, pigeons, elephants, and dogs were used regularly in battles to move clunky machinery or relay messages. The tank, airplane, and automobile were relatively new in 1914, so animals were still valuable because they provided more reliability and functionality. Chemical warfare was also in its infancy and many times allies would release toxic gas only to have the wind blow it right back in their faces. Germ theory only came about in the mid 1800’s and WWI was the first time that germs were grown for biological warfare. We should study WWI for its insights on how to prevent the misuse of technology. What technology will the wars of the future hold? We are in yet another transition of technology from human-controlled weapons to robotic-controlled weapons. Will artificial intelligence read up on WWI and see the advantages it has over us-think Terminator? I will continue to learn more about WWI because it was a war that not only helps me understand the 20th century but also the future of this century.  

What do you know about WWI? What can we learn from war that can prevent future wars? What is your favorite war to learn about?