The More You Know: China Edition

By Brian Sack

I love traveling, but when it came to China I’d made up my mind what it would

be like and I wasn’t interested. If I was going to spend a day on a plane, there

were many other places I’d rather see: New Zealand, Japan, South Korea or

Antarctica—but my wife felt differently. She wanted to see China, and used many

adjectives to make her case.

The last time she’d insisted so strongly on something was when she said I

couldn’t eat chicken that had been in the freezer for three years. Turns out she

was right. Maybe she’d be right again? Ultimately I was persuaded. China it was.

The next thing I knew, I was spending twenty-billion frequent flier miles for

tickets to Shanghai. It was to become one of the most eye-opening trips of my

life. And the only trip where I’d find myself eating a bird’s nest.

Here’s what I learned:

THEY EAT EVERYTHING

When you have a huge population that is mainly poor, all options are on the

table when it comes to sustenance. What that means is that standard fare in

China has the habit of freaking us, and our less-adventurous Western palates, out.

What’s on the menu? Bee pupae. Caterpillars. Crickets. Snakes. Frogs. I

passed on donkey meat stew but I did eat a shark fin and bird’s nest soup. I thought bird’s nest soup might come from boiled twigs but it’s actually a nest. A nest the bird makes from its

saliva. I found that out afterward.

Dogs and cats can breathe easier in the cities now that the new middle class

has started warming up to the idea of pets. But many folks, especially in the

rural areas, don’t freak out about cat meatballs. Can’t say I’m a fan.

What’s notable is the lack of dairy in Chinese cooking. There’s not much of

it. There are a couple reasons: Chinese have a high prevalence of lactose

intolerance. It’s in the genes. One Chinese girl told me she found the idea of

cheese "disgusting." And dairy farming requires a lot of land and a lot of cows.

As a result, dairy is simply not big. And of course, the tainted milk scandals

haven’t helped.

THEY’RE NOT REALLY COMMUNIST

I saw a Ferrari in Shanghai. In fact, I saw a good number of nice cars. That

doesn’t mesh with the "classless society" that Marx and several of my professors

fantasized about. No matter how egalitarian societies want to be, there’s always

the ruling elite and the ruling elite always like to have more things than

everyone else. In my wife’s communist Poland they had a cynical expression for

this disparity in fiscal equality:



"There’s even, and there’s even-er."

The big cities have no shortage of high-end shopping malls, luxury items and

fancy restaurants (one of my favorites was named "Made In China"). Most of their

population, around 1 billion folks, is indeed very poor. And poor in China is a

lot worse than poor in America. But their middle class of about 300 million

people (the size of the U.S.), have it pretty good if they play nice and don’t

annoy the one political party. Though we tend to paint the country with a broad

brush and say they’re communist, it’s more like two diametrically opposed

ideologies had a one night stand that produced a baby called capitalistic

totalitarianism.


THEY HAVE THE WORST BATHROOMS

A hole in the floor. In a small, filthy stall. Oh, and the toilet paper is

outside the stall because you were supposed to bring it in with you. Enjoy.


THEY LIKE US

As more and more Chinese travel and interact with people outside the People’s

Republic, they learn that what they were told about the West and the reality

aren’t the same. Sure, there are plenty of folks who buy the Party line but

there are also many, many skeptics and dissenters. I almost feel bad for the

People’s Party because they have a hard task ahead of them, especially because

of the Internet. Their people, if you can talk to them one-on-one, are

very interested in Western culture and

wouldn’t mind if we learned about theirs. Several people ran up and took

pictures of us, but especially my wife because she’s blond. And prettier than

me.


WESTERN NOTIONS OF POLITENESS ARE OUT THE DOOR

When your population is absurdly large, certain niceties get sacrificed for

expediency’s sake. People bump into you on crowded streets and say nothing. They

charge the elevator before you get off. They stand over you as you’re eating,

waiting for your table to become available. Once you get used to it, it’s kind

of fun.


THE LANGUAGE IS ABSURDLY HARD

China is riddled with different dialects and languages that geographically

are not far apart – like driving from New York to Boston and wondering what

everyone was saying. The government wisely decided to pick one language and

stick with it, so the official tongue is Mandarin. Still, getting your point

across can be tough. We have 26 letters in our alphabet. They have 6,000 written

characters. And then there are the oral tones.


Tones.

I’m a good traveler. I make an effort to learn the essential and polite words

and use them often. I had no luck here. Try as I did, people just stared at me,

shook their heads, and raised eyebrows. It was hopeless. And I have the tones to

thank for it. Say a word with the wrong tone and you’re saying a totally

different thing. For example: The word

>

ma.

Say it with a high tone and it means

>

mother.

Say it in a rising tone and it means

>

hemp.

Say it in a falling/rising tone and it means

>

horse.

Falling tone? Oh, that’s

>

scold.

Good luck.


LAWS ARE ENFORCED RANDOMLY

We took an overnight train from Shanghai to Beijing. We arrived in the

morning and found ourselves among the droves of folks streaming out of the

station. As we headed out the gates, a very punchable guard stopped me. I

determined that he was asking to see my tickets, which I believed I had thrown

away. I tried to explain this despite the language barrier. He wanted to see the

tickets. As he barked at me in Mandarin, hundreds of people streamed right past

him, their tickets going unchecked. He demanded my tickets. I insisted they were

gone. And what’s the point? We were only trying to

>

leave

the station.

Eventually we had to drag our bags back to the train, find our car, and sift

through the trash while four people leered at us. After 45 minutes we found the

tickets. In my camera bag. My wife mocked me for being an idiot, then we showed

the guard the tickets. I swore at him, knowing he wouldn’t understand, and we

were on our way.


YOU CAN’T RENT A CAR

That’s right. No Hertz for you! You need to hire a driver to take you around

because car rental is forbidden. But you don’t want to drive anyway. It’s absolutely insane. Fortunately, hiring someone to drive you around isn’t expensive in a country where the average monthly income is $300.


YOU SHOULD NOT DRINK THE WINE WITH THE SNAKE IN IT

If you find yourself in the stunningly gorgeous Guilin area taking a lovely

cruise down the river, there’s a very good chance you’ll be presented with a

dead snake coiled up in a bottle of wine. This is called snake wine.

They will tell you that snake wine is loaded with curative properties that

will cure farsightedness, impotence and baldness. They will urge you to try

some; however, I recommend that you don’t try it, because the combination of

vile snake-flavored wine and the motion of a boat on the water will result in

you stumbling off the boat and throwing up on a pretty, young Chinese woman who

will scream.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.


THEY HAVE THE BEST ASPARAGUS

I’m serious. It was the best asparagus I’ve ever had. Sure, it was probably

fertilized with the blood of dissidents and injected with melamine, but it was

absolutely delicious. Five years later and I still drool like Homer Simpson when

I think about Chinese asparagus.

 


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On Wednesday's TV show, Glenn Beck sat down with radio show host, author, political commentator, and film critic, Michael Medved.

Michael had an interesting prediction for the 2020 election outcome: a brokered convention by the DNC will usher in former First Lady Michelle Obama to run against President Donald Trump.

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On Thursday's "Glenn Beck Radio Program," BlazeTV's White House correspondent Jon Miller described the current situation in Virginia after Gov. Ralph Northam (D) declared a state of emergency and banned people carrying guns at Capitol Square just days before a pro-Second-Amendment rally scheduled on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Jon told Glenn that Gov. Northam and the Virginia Legislature are "trying to deprive the people of their Second Amendment rights" but the citizens of Virginia are "rising up" to defend their constitutional rights.

"I do think this is the flashpoint," Jon said. "They [Virginia lawmakers] are saying, 'You cannot exercise your rights ... and instead of trying to de-escalate the situation, we are putting pressure. We're trying to escalate it and we're trying to enrage the citizenry even more'."

Glenn noted how Gov. Northam initially blamed the threat of violence from Antifa for his decision to ban weapons but quickly changed his narrative to blame "white supremacists" to vilify the people who are standing up for the Second Amendment and the Constitution.

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Ryan: Trump Louisiana Finale

Photo by Jim Dale

Part One. Part Two. Part Three.

At the end of Trump rallies, I would throw on my Carhartt jacket, sneak out of the press area, then blend in with everyone as they left, filing out through swinging doors.

Often, someone held the door open for me. Just 30 minutes earlier, the same person had most likely had most likely hissed at me for being a journalist. And now they were Sunday smiles and "Oh, yes, thank you, sir" like some redneck concierge.

People flooded out of the arena with the stupidity of a fire drill mishap, desperate to survive.

The air smacked you as soon as you crossed the threshold, back into Louisiana. And the lawn was a wasteland of camping chairs and coolers and shopping bags and to-go containers and soda cans and articles of clothing and even a few tents.

In Monroe, in the dark, the Trump supporters bobbled over mounds of waste like elephants trying to tiptoe. And the trash was as neutral to them as concrete or grass. They plodded over it because it, an object, had somehow gotten in their way.

It did not matter that they were responsible for this wreckage.Out in the sharp-edged moonlight, rally-goers hooted and yapped and boogied and danced, and the bbq food truck was all smoke and paper plates.

They were even more pumped than they had been before the rally, like 6,000 eight year olds who'd been chugging Mountain Dew for hours. Which made Donald Trump the father, the trooper, God of the Underworld, Mr. Elite, Sheriff on high horse, the AR-15 sticker of the family.

Ritualistic mayhem, all at once. And, there in Louisiana, Trump's supporters had gotten a taste of it. They were all so happy. It bordered on rage.

Still, I could not imagine their view of America. Worse, after a day of strange hostilities, I did not care.

My highest priority, my job as a reporter, was to care. To understand them and the world that they inhabit. But I did not give a damn and I never wanted to come back.

Worst of all, I would be back. In less than a week.

Was this how dogs felt on the 4th of July? Hunched in a corner while everyone else gets drunk and launches wailing light into the sky? configurations of blue and red and white.

It was 10:00 p.m. and we'd been traveling since 11:00 a.m., and we still had 5 hours to go and all I wanted was a home, my home, any home, just not here, in the cold sweat of this nowhere. Grey-mangled sky. No evidence of planes or satellites or any proof of modern-day. Just century-old bridges that trains shuffled over one clack at a time.

And casinos, all spangles and neon like the 1960s in Las Vegas. Kitchy and dumb, too tacky for lighthearted gambling. And only in the nicer cities, like Shreveport, which is not nice at all.

And swamp. Black water that rarely shimmered. Inhabited by gadflies and leeches and not one single fish that was pretty.

Full of alligators, and other killing types. The storks gnawing on frogs, the vultures never hungry. The coyotes with nobody to stop them and so much land to themselves. The roaches in the wild, like tiny wildebeests.

Then, the occasional deer carcass on the side of the road, eyes splayed as if distracted, tongue out, relaxed but empty. The diseased willows like skeletons in hairnets. The owls that never quit staring. A million facets of wilderness that would outlive us all.

Because Nature has poise. It thrives and is original.

Because silence is impossible. Even in an anechoic chamber, perfectly soundproofed, you can hear your own heartbeat, steady as a drum. A never-ending war.

I put "Headache" by Grouper on repeat as we glided west. We were deadlocked to asphalt, rubber over tarface.

And I thought about lines from a Rita Dove poem titled "I have been a stranger in a strange land"

He was off cataloging the universe, probably,
pretending he could organize
what was clearly someone else's chaos.

Wasn't that exactly what I was doing? Looking for an impossible answer, examining every single accident, eager for meaning? telling myself, "If it happens and matters the next year, in America, I want to be there, or to know what it means. I owe it to whoever cares to listen."

Humans are collectors and I had gone overboard.

Because maybe this wasn't even my home. These landmarks, what did they mean? Was I obvious here? When I smiled, did I trick them into believing that I felt some vague sense of approval? Or did my expressions betray me?

Out in all that garbage-streaked emptiness — despite the occasional burst of passing halogen — I couldn't tell if everything we encountered was haunted or just old, derelict, broken, useless. One never-ending landfill.

Around those parts, they'd made everything into junk. Homes. Roads. Glass. Nature. Life itself, they made into junk.

I cringed as we passed yet another deer carcass mounded on the side of the road.

As written in Job 35:11,

Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds in the sky?

Nobody. Look at nature and you feel something powerful. Look at an animal, in all of its untamable majesty, and you capture a deep love, all swept up in the power of creation. But, here, all I saw were poor creatures who people had slammed into and kept driving. Driving to where? For what reason? What exactly was so important that they left a trail of dead animals behind them?

So I crossed myself dolorously and said an "Our Father" and recited a stanza from Charles Bukowski's "The Laughing Heart"

you can't beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.

Out here, nothing but darkness. Needing some light, by God. Give me something better than a Moon that hides like an underfed coward.

Jade told me about some of the more traumatic things she'd seen while working at the State Fair.

"Bro, they pull roaches out of the iced lemonade jugs and act like nothing happened."

"All right but what about the corn dogs?"

"You do not want to know, little bro."

She looked around in the quiet. "Back in the day, the Louisiana Congress refused to raise the drinking age from 18 to 21," she said. "They didn't want to lose all that drunk gambler money. So the federal government cut off funding to highways."

We glided through moon-pale landscape for an hour before I realized what she had meant. That there weren't any light poles or billboards along the road. Nothing to guide us or distract us. Just us, alone. And it felt like outer space had collapsed, swallowed us like jellybeans.

Like two teenagers playing a prank on the universe.

In the cozy Subaru Crosstrek, in the old wild night, brimming with the uncertainty of life and the nonchalance of failure, we paraded ourselves back to Dallas. Alive in the river silence that follows us everywhere.

New installments come Mondays and Thursdays. Next, the Iowa caucuses. Check out my Twitter. Email me at kryan@blazemedia.com

The Iowa primary is just around the corner, and concerns of election interference from the last presidential election still loom. Back in 2016, The Associated Press found that a majority of U.S. elections systems still use Windows 7 as an operating system, making them highly susceptible to bugs and errors. And last year, a Mississippi voter tried multiple times to vote for the candidate of his choice, but the system continuously switched his vote to the other candidate. It's pretty clear: America's voting systems desperately need an update.

That's where blockchain voting comes in.

Blockchain voting is a record-keeping system that's 100% verifiable and nearly impossible to hack. Blockchain, the newest innovation in cybersecurity, is set to grow into a $20 billion industry by 2025. Its genius is in its decentralized nature, distributing information throughout a network of computers, requiring would-be hackers to infiltrate a much larger system. Infiltrating multiple access points spread across many computers requires a significant amount of computing power, which often costs more than hackers expect to get in return.

Blockchain voting wouldn't allow for many weak spots. For instance, Voatz, arguably the leading mobile voting platform, requires a person to take a picture of their government-issued ID and a picture of themselves before voting (a feature, of course, not present in vote-by-mail, where the only form of identity verification is a handwritten signature, which is easily forgeable). Voters select their choices and hit submit. They then receive an immediate receipt of their choices via email, another security feature not present in vote-by-mail, or even in-person voting. And because the system operates on blockchain technology, it's nearly impossible to tamper with.

Votes are then tabulated, and the election results are published, providing a paper trail, which is a top priority for elections security experts.

The benefits of blockchain voting can't be dismissed. Folks can cast their vote from the comfort of their homes, offices, etc., vastly increasing the number of people who can participate in the electoral process. Two to three-hour lines at polling places, which often deter voters, would become significantly diminished.

Even outside of the voting increase, the upsides are manifold. Thanks to the photo identification requirements, voter fraud—whether real or merely suspected—would be eliminated. The environment would win, too, since we'd no longer be wasting paper on mail-in ballots. Moreover, the financial burden on election offices would be alleviated, because there's decreased staff time spent on the election, saving the taxpayer money.

From Oregon to West Virginia, elections offices have already implemented blockchain voting, and the results have been highly positive. For example, the city of Denver utilized mobile voting for overseas voters in their 2019 municipal elections. The system was secure and free of technical errors, and participants reported that it was very user-friendly. Utah County used the same system for their 2019 primary and general elections. An independent audit revealed that every vote that was cast on the app was counted and counted correctly. These successful test cases are laying the groundwork for even larger expansions of the program in 2020.

With this vital switch, our elections become significantly more secure, accurate, and efficient. But right now, our election infrastructure is a sitting duck for manipulation. Our current lack of election integrity undermines the results of both local and national elections, fans the flames of partisanship, and zaps voter confidence in the democratic system. While there's never a silver bullet or quick fix to those kinds of things, blockchain voting would push us much closer to a solution than anything else.

Chris Harelson is the Executive Director at Prosperity Council and a Young Voices contributor.