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the black sheep
by reem al-omari (@Reemawi)

With Beijing hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics, China is a hot topic and has been ever since the votes were in to let it host the Games.

I look at what's in the media about this country rich with history and find that in a way, China is to the US what Islam is to the US. It's greatly misunderstood, always made out to be the villain and is constantly under attack. Its good points are rarely (if ever acknowledged), and it is forever having to defend itself against harsh criticism and finger-wagging.

Tainted pet food, toys with lead in them, and an aggressive drive to look its best for the 2008 Olympics resulting in the displacement of millions of Chinese in the process-- I can see how these recent issues can make China look like a devil with horns. But I can also see how these issues are super-sized by the media, clogging our mental arteries. It's like that one shark attack that is caught on tape, causing Shark Week to move from the Discovery Channel to the evening news.

In the tradition of Thomas Payne's Common Sense, allow me to present a multi-faceted argument, and ask you, dear reader, a few questions.

Though Payne's reasoning began with landmass, I will begin mine with population, since China is about the same size as the United States. According to Wikipedia, the population of the former, as of July 2007, was at a whopping 1,321,851,888, while that of the latter was at a mere 301,139,947. You have classes of people within those 1 billion-something, and you have to create jobs for over half of them in order for them to sustain themselves. Talk about a competitive job market. You also have to educate them, and at the very least entertain them. That's one tough job.

Do the math, and add a dash of common sense.

Is it fair, or logical to apply the same rules to China, as those for the United States of America? China's government maybe isn't the most compassionate or concerned with doing things for the good of the individual, but what government can juggle that act with more than 1,321,851,888 mouths to feed? It's safe to say that the Chinese government has a lot on its plate, and it's hard to leave that plate clean.

That being said, the late George Carlin put it best when he dubbed the American attitude of "not in my backyard" as just that. We, as Americans, expect everything to be available to us 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without delay and without flaws, yet we don't want to know where the thing we can't live without came from and how it ended up at our neighborhood Wal-Mart. We want to be "green" but our lifestyles ultimately don't allow it, no matter how much we lie to ourselves and use stylish cloth bags instead of plastic ones. It's not the plastic bags that make us not green, it's what we put in them that is the larger part of the problem. Moreover, the problem linked with what we put in our stylish reusable bags, is not apparent in the good old US of A. No.

Look around you. Pick up any manufactured object you see in front of you, and chances are it was made in China. Now ask yourself what caused and continues to cause the smog and pollution in China. Then ask yourself what China had to do and sacrifice in order to bring that object into your hands. Could China make its factories that serve the world's demand for cheap products a little greener? Perhaps. But wouldn't that make the object you picked up cost more at the checkout line?

We also want cleaner fuel and alternatives to power our snazzy cars. According to a Time Magazine article titled "The Green Energy Myth," by Michael Grunwald that ran in the April 7, 2008 issue, the Ethanol we're so happy to feed to our cars is leaving our air clean all right, but doing plenty of damage elsewhere. Not only has this "clean fuel" raised food prices, but its ongoing domino effect has caused the rapid deforestation of the Amazon forests, and made global warming worse.

All this, and we all try so hard to be green. Go figure. There are a little over 301 million of us, and there's a bit much over 1 billion of them, and we wonder why they have hazy smog and pollution in their air that is hard to combat.

Back in March in a town called Alamosa in southern Colorado, a salmonella outbreak caused a mini media frenzy. 139 people fell ill in a town of a little over 8,000, thanks to the town's tainted water supply. The problem was fixed and everybody moved on. A month later, another mini media scare surfaced when Florida tomatoes were linked to another salmonella outbreak spanning several states, and causing the FDA to release an advisement against tomato consumption. The tomatoes were taken care of, and the entire country moved on. The general consensus was that these were mere accidents, and they've been fixed. End of story. Thank you. Goodbye.

Granted, the American cases I mentioned didn't result in any deaths like the tainted pet food catastrophe last year, or reached further than national media outlets, but they are accidents all the same. There was no conspiracy theory, or bad guy out to get the people of Alamosa or tomato lovers. The reputation of Alamosa wasn't tarnished, nor was the reputation of tomato growers in Florida. But you can bet your bottom dollar that China's reputation was tarnished and no amount of cleaning or polishing will fix its image in the eyes of the American public.

Denver, like Beijing, is in the midst of an extravagant preparation for one hell of a party. The Democratic National Convention set to start rolling at the end of August is what Coloradoans have got on the brain. Security measures are already in place, traffic issues are already being addressed and Coloradoans are wanting to shine the best light possible on the Mile High City for everyone to see.

Denver is nothing if not beautiful with its clean air and mountains gracing the horizon. We have gorgeous blue skies, fresh mountain air and a pretty cool train system. We have our share of problems, though. One problem has been discussed greatly in the papers the past few months with the hopes of fixing it before the DNC comes into town; the homeless. What does the city do with them from August 25th through the 28th? This caused a debate between the people setting up the huge event, and the city's advocacy groups for the homeless. Since their hangouts are usually around downtown, smack down right where the DNC will be taking place, the city feels it should do a little temporary housecleaning; sweep that dust under the carpet, so to speak. The suggested solutions were plenty, but one stood out above the rest, and raised a lot of eyebrows, including mine.

"Why don't we," said the DNC organizers, "just put all the homeless in Denver on buses, and send them to Pueblo for a few days?" Pueblo is where the state loony bin is, and apparently Colorado’s equivalent of the British’s 18th century Australia.

I'm happy to report that Denver's homeless will stay right where they are-- or maybe I'm not so happy about that-- but will be given free movie tickets instead. Also, some good samaritan donated a number of fancy TVs to the shelters so that the homeless can watch the convention and stay off the streets and out of sight.

That'll let you sleep a little easier at night, but it ought to make the framed picture you've been seeing one of panoramic proportions.

One end is China, and the other end is the United States of America.


Reem lives and writes about it. She thinks that's what writers do, anyway. If it's not, then she also has a degree in journalism under her belt, along with the titles of reporter, editor (in chief, even) and, of course, opinion columnist.

more about reem al-omari


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lucy lediaev
8.7.08 @ 1:56p

Reem, very nicely written. You make some very good points. One of the errors we make in the USA is to try to apply our values and culture to other peoples and countries.

adam kraemer
8.10.08 @ 12:50a

I'm not anti-China, all things considered. And I do agree that not every country can be painted with the American standard.

But I'm not sure how being a country of over a billion people explains the current situations in Taiwan and Tibet, for example.


sandra thompson
8.22.08 @ 9:05a

China is a great and ancient culture. All great and ancient cultures have been guilty of monumental atrocities. We're less than 300 years old and we've already got a list of them that includes Native American genocide, slavery, detaining Japanese Americans during WW II, and allowing corporations to violate the environment in ways which are a danger to us all. The atrocities committed by the Ottoman Empire and the crowned heads of Europe should be added to the long list of the evils of great and ancient cultures. We are none of us without sin in this regard. We need more carrots and fewer sticks. IMFO.

dan gonzalez
8.25.08 @ 3:34a

I agree, very good read, very thoughtful.

Like Kraemer, I'm not anti-China at all, those people are as cool as anybody. It's the dictators in the communist party that I despise, and I have to reject the moral equivalence that is often, but, inexplicably, offered to them.

The landmass/population analysis is intriguing, but I'm not sure it alone accounts for the numbers of victims. No amount of atrocities I've seen attributed to the US scales to that of Chinese communists, particularly under Mao. There's 14 major schools of accounting, and their median estimate is 50 million people killed.

In fact, if we throw in the Soviets, of which there are around 17 schools of accounting with a median of 30 million, secular leftists are responsible at least 80 million deaths in the last 100 or so years, a number that dwarfs all other religions and political movements combined, including Hitler (even though he was a secular socialist as well and really belongs with those guys more than the democratic, capitalistic West.)

Obviously, the US has not yet attempted the degree of central planning that the PRC or Soviet Union did, and I think with good reason. There's no proof that it works, but to demonstrate it, we'd have to kill a lot of people. Consider this, to emulate the DRC with our population of 300 million, we'd have to kill 15 million peole right off the batt. Then, we'd have to re-educate, mostly in labor camps, another 100 million or so. This would then give us the ability to control the rest, and we could then decide where and when they work, what sports they pursue, and in 50 years, we would be making most of the world's junk and getting a lot of gold medals.

I think that price is too high. Even if you take the numbers of the most pessimistic leftists in the US, there are around 240 million people, 80% of the US, doingpretty damn well here even with the price of gas. The credit crunch has hurt, but it's important to note that only 1 in 171 houses have been foreclosed on, turned around that means that 99.994% of home-loans haven't been.

Pretty good numbers considering the freedom we have here. We all make bad decisions from time to time, and some are costly, but they are our decisions.

Didn't mean to ramble, but a thought-provoking piece.

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