It Is Sexy to Expose Oneself to the Risk of Severe Brain Injury by mattsteinglass
March 23, 2007, 9:24 am
Filed under: Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City is going to bite the bullet and force everyone to wear helmets when they ride their motorbikes. No date announced yet, but one hopes it’s ASAP, since it’s kind of hard to morally excuse all the fractured skulls that occur between the time one decides to institute this law and the time it actually gets instituted. Questions: Why are  people resistant to wearing helmets? Is it because it’s harder to flirt, check out the action, etc. when everyone’s heads are cloaked? And why is this such an “unsexy” subject for international public-health organizations? We’ve got all these massive global programs to fight AIDS, yet:

A representative of the Asian Injury Prevention Foundation (AIPF), Ms. Mirjam Sidik, said the number of people injured and killed in motorbike accidents would rank third among the risks around the world, much higher than that of the HIV/AIDS pandemic….The death toll caused by traffic accidents in Vietnam has increased sharply in recent years, reaching 13,000 last year alone, with 70 percent due to motorbike accidents. Pham Van Thinh, head of the HCMC Traffic Police Department, told the conference that all of the people killed in motorbike accidents in the city last year were not wearing helmets.

Hey, I just thought of an awesome PSA slogan for their campaign: “It’s a no-brainer!” Probably doesn’t translate so well into Vietnamese.


China Is Doomed. Doomed, I Say! by mattsteinglass
March 22, 2007, 12:38 pm
Filed under: China, Economics, United States

I just love these articles in the American press that claim China’s rise to wealth and superpower status is doomed to fail because of some impassable snag — environmental unsustainability, energy scarcity, the instability of non-democratic governance, etc. — which for some reason still hasn’t kicked in but is sure to do so, just around the corner… and surely before their GDP passes the US’s. Today’s Howard French article in the NY Times identifies what is surely a serious problem: the shrinking of the ratio of workers to retirees as the population ages, due in large measure to the one-child policy. But one still detects those notes of breathless hyperventilation:

Most troubling to financial experts, the government has used payroll taxes paid by the current generation of workers, who in theory are paying into their individual retirement accounts, to pay pensions for the previous generation.

Using payroll taxes to pay pensions for the previous generation?! Folly! Why, that’s as unsustainable as — Social Security, the US’s national guaranteed pension system…which, in the 70 years since it first began paying pensions out of payroll taxes, has brought the US economy to its knees kept tens of millions of elderly Americans out of poverty without preventing the US economy, the world’s wealthiest, from continuing to grow faster than any other advanced economy over the long term!

Clearly, China is doomed. Doomed, I say!

Is Less More in Afghanistan? by mattsteinglass
March 21, 2007, 10:55 am
Filed under: Islam, Terrorism, United States, Vietnam

Rory Stewart has a typically brilliant column in today’s NY Times. His first point echoes some familiar truths from the Vietnam War: ideology can get you very confused about who your friends and enemies are, and which enemies are only enemies because you decided to fight them. And if you, as an occupying power, turn the strongest locally rooted political structures into your enemies, you are never going to win.

…counterterrorism is not the same as counterinsurgency. Counterterrorism requires good intelligence and Special Forces operations, of the sort the U.S. was doing in 2002 and 2003. Recently, however, NATO has become involved in a much wider counterinsurgency campaign, involving tens of thousands of troops. The objective now is to wrest rural areas from Taliban forces.

But many of the people we are fighting have no fixed political manifesto. Almost none have links to Al Qaeda or an interest in attacking U.S. soil. We will never have the troop numbers to hold these areas, and we are creating unnecessary enemies. A more considered approach to tribal communities would give us better intelligence on our real enemies. It is clear that we do not have the resources, the stomach, or the long-term commitment for a 20-year counterinsurgency campaign. And the Afghan Army is not going to take over this mission.

Continue reading

Liveblogging the Bodhisattva by mattsteinglass
March 18, 2007, 9:28 pm
Filed under: Buddhism, Vietnam

Pretty marvellous crowd tonight for the closing chants of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Giai Oan ceremony at the Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, in Ho Chi Minh City. This seems to be a bona fide spiritual event.

lady and crowd

More below the fold. Continue reading

Sure Am Glad I Have Opposable Thumbs by mattsteinglass
March 17, 2007, 5:07 pm
Filed under: United States

In an article on the madness of market-based health insurance today in Slate, Tim Noah infuriates with faint castigation, noting in language that’s far too delicate that people pay far more attention to the political impossibility of getting single-payer health insurance than to the actual human-suffering impossibility of allowing the existing homicidal greedfest that is the American health-care system to continue. Anyway, towards the end of the piece, Noah makes his obligatory kowtow to the beast God Kapital, as follows:

Markets can do many wonderful things, which is why I’m glad to live in a capitalist country.

Can someone please, please, point out that there are no non-capitalist countries anymore???!!! Thanking your lucky stars you live in a capitalist country is like being grateful for not living in an absolute hereditary monarchy, or for not living in a rabbit warren, or for not living in a universe where the cosmological constant is slightly higher so that it’s impossible for matter to cohere.

Oh, wait! I forgot! North Korea and Cuba! So I guess all Slate writes had better make sure to include a ritual paean to capitalism in every piece dealing with health care, lest somebody tell them to go move to Pyongyang if they hate private enterprise so much. I wish in the future apologists for the health insurance industry would give up the absurd “socialism” bogeyman for something more plausible, like warning us that if we embrace single-payer health insurance, vampire bats will come and suck our brains out.

Livestock in places it simply does not belong: Part 2 by mattsteinglass
March 13, 2007, 9:06 pm
Filed under: Economics, Livestock, Vietnam

Riding my dinky fifty-dollar bicycle out of the basement parking lot of the Hanoi Sheraton the other day, I stopped to admire a sleek roadster with a coke-bottle shape and a back seat so tiny you could just about squeeze into it, sideways, if you were unconscious and made of foam rubber. I haven’t paid attention to cars since I was about 21, and had no idea what this thing was, so I took a look at the logo on the back. I didn’t recognize it; you will no doubt sneer at my ignorance. It looked like this:

AS logo small

But for some reason it seems to me it was just the wings, it didn’t have the words “Aston Martin” written on it.

An Aston Martin, I am told by my reliable friend Mr. Webnets, goes for a minimum of $113,600 in the United States. Vietnam has an auto import tax which unless I am mistaken was recently reduced to 80%. So we’re looking at about $200,000 right there. Per capita GDP in Vietnam is $650 per year.

I have an initial reaction of baffled awe when I see something like this, just thinking about the capacity of the human mind to ignore such colossal inequality. My secondary reaction is: why is it any more obscene for a Vietnamese guy to be riding around in a car that costs more than the lifetime earnings of the average Vietnamese worker, than it is for an American to be doing so? We’re all human beings; why is inequality within one country any more objectionable than inequality across the globe? My third reaction is: why is he spending his money on a sports car that barely even fits through most of the alleyways in Hanoi, that will spend most of its life crawling through swarms of motorbike traffic, and will never exceed 60 mph because there isn’t a road in Vietnam on which you can?

Poor little Aston Martin. Maybe Angelina Jolie will adopt you and set you free to roam the autobahns of Germany. A car can always dream.

Aston Martin, Hanoi Opera House


White Intellectual, Quoting Gangsta Rap, Proclaims Eagerness to Purchase Handgun by mattsteinglass
March 10, 2007, 10:08 am
Filed under: United States

This  is one of the few really stupid things I’ve ever seen Matthew Yglesias write. Oh, pardon me – one of the few “mainey” things.