U.S. vs. China Relations: Misconceptions

Continuing my penchant for attending OU’s “Lunch and Lecture” series, today I listened to a seminar presented by Georgetown University’s Dr. Andrew Scobell.

Scobell gave an interesting lecture over some common misconceptions about the current U.S.-China interactions.

It is no secret that the United States fosters a guarded attitude towards China. While many security deals and agreements went into place in 2017 and are planned for 2018, Scobell posits that the friendly relations are largely a gilding.

In fact, the current U.S. security doctrine defines China as being the single greatest long term threat to the wellbeing of the U.S. The Pentagon currently subscribes to a “4+1” view of national threats: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea + VEOs (Violent Extremist Organizations). However, while Russia rates as the most imminent threat in the near future, China is still considered to the be the greatest liability through the long haul.

This rivalry is not one-sided. China holds a four-pronged view of national security, categorizing their interests into concentric rings of territory:

  1. Homeland: The most prevalent Chinese security interests are domestic. This starts with the streets outside the policymaker’s window and extends to all lands controlled by Beijing.
  2. Periphery: China lives in, as Scobell put it, a “rough neighborhood”. Of the 14 countries that border it, China has gone to war with five years and many more are fragile, threatening collapse.
  3. Regional: There are six geo-political regions surrounding China. Think of this as the general Pacific-Asian “zone”.
  4. Global: China entered the global conversation in the 1990s, primarily in the realms of commodities, new markets and overseas investments.

There’s only one country that China feels can threaten it in all four of these “spheres”–the United States.

Interpreting the relations between the United States and China is tricky. There are three major schools of thought amongst Chinese leaders–opposition to Western thought, global hegemony, a resurgence of Confucianism, etc.–but they can be difficult to translate into the American political understanding.

As for the future, Scobell isn’t sure what’s to come. In fact, he doesn’t believe China knows exactly what they want either. That being said, he believes that taking steps to better understand the other nation’s mindset is essential to achieving international prosperity in the long run.

GEF Day 2018: Peace Corps Prep

It’s Global Engagement Day!

Though I was only able to attend a single session today, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a lunch/lecture presentation by Sarah Griswold and Jonathan Freeman — students involved with the Peace Corps and the Fulbright Scholarship, respectively.

I’m most interested in a future with the Peace Corps, so that’s what I’ll cover.

I’ve toyed with the idea of spending two years with the Peace Corps after undergrad and before enrolling in law school. I like the idea of pursuing something definitively “larger than myself”. It sounds cliché, but there really is an appeal to knowing that you’ll have a markedly positive effect on the lives of scores of people.

This thought was reinforced by a panel of high-scoring LSAT-takers that I sat in on during a Pre-Law Society meeting. One of the speakers adamantly recommended taking a break between undergrad and law school. He was in the middle of his time with Teach for America and spoke highly of its effects in his personal and professional development.

Ms. Griswold talked to us about her realm of expertise — Peace Corps Prep. Obviously, securing a place in the Peace Corps is competitive. OU offers the preparatory service to help Sooner applicants stand out amidst a sea of impressive candidates.

The program takes three semesters to complete and helps guide participants through prerequisites in the applicant’s chosen sector (Community Economic Development, Health or Environment), language requirements, intercultural studies and professional development.

As a realist, I know just how daunting the process for applying to the Corps can be. The world is filled to the brim with ambitious, impressive scholars who are just as interested in serving as humanitarians as I am. Fortunately, OU offers this valuable service to assist humanities-oriented Sooners in getting to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“Crafts and Curries”

Tonight I headed over to the Honors College to participate in HSA’s “Crafts and Curries” nights. The student organization put together a night full of cuisine and culture as we spent our evening painting and sampling some (delicious) Indian foods.

I met Carson and Advika, both of whom are freshmen at OU like me. What we lacked in formal art experience, we made up for in gumption and shared love of musical theatre (I was wearing my Hamilton shirt) and our friendship was quickly forged in the fires of watercolor painting.

We were technically supposed to be recreating Monet’s famous Waterlilies, but–seeing as that was a bit ambitious for most of us–they turned us loose with the command “just go crazy”.  Finding artistic inspiration right here on campus, I decided to craft a bold, abstract representation of the Biz.

Breathtaking.

Half an hour into our endeavors, we took a break for some dinner. The HSA catered the event with some traditional Indian fare. I’m not terribly familiar with many different Indian dishes, but they were exceptional. Paneer tikka masala, naan, mint salsa and jasmine rice featured heavily in the meal.

Paneer tikka masala
Naan

Advika was especially helpful–having come from an Indian background, she was able to help us identify what salsas go where, give us a heads up on the spicy foods, etc. I gladly went back for seconds after finishing the first round.

“Crafts and Curries” served as  yet another example of the principle that Global Engagement has helped illustrate for me. Regardless of background, ethnicity or heritage, we can all come together over a night of art and fellowship.

Because, after all, aren’t we all just college kids looking for a good plate of naan bread?

 

Dr. Samuel Perry: “Porn-Again Christians”

Last night, on a recommendation from my Comparative Religions professor, I attended a lecture about the impact of pornography usage on the mental stability, faith and quality of marriage for Evangelical Christians. The results themselves might not surprise you–porn usage exhibits negative effects on all of these aspects of Christian lives. The trends support the societal connotation: porn is bad. That being said, the differences between porn’s effects on Evangelical users and non-Evangelical users is where the point of interest lies. Porn affects the lives of viewers who believe it to be morally wrong (typically Christians) much more adversely than it does those whose feelings on the subject are a bit more neutral. Dr. Perry refers to this as the Moral Incongruence Theory or “MIT”.

MIT posits that porn’s negative impacts lie not in the viewing of explicit material, but the voluntary violation of “deeply-held, sacralized and socially-important values”. It’s not what Christians see that bothers them, it’s the fact that they deliberately cross moral boundaries when they sneak a peek at some adult content.

Why though, is porn so much more detrimental for Christians? Well, it looks like the answer–like most problems in the church–boils down to stigmatization. A 2017 survey was conducted at Baylor University asking students to identify what activities their church was most likely to forbid. The language left nothing to question–it was a matter of black and white, right and wrong, undoubtedly off-limits. Over 70% of students answered with pornography–the highest ranked of the options–making it a more out-of-bounds commodity than traditional Evangelical evils like premarital sex, homosexuality and abortion. More students at Baylor considered watching virtual copulation to be a greater sin in the eyes of the church than actually having sex.

Additionally, studies in 2006 and 2012 show that weekly church attenders are far more likely to consider porn wrong. However, that same group of Evangelical Christians has the highest tendency to view porn despite holding the belief that it’s morally unacceptable. Dr. Perry believes that this violation of personal beliefs leads to the figures of pornography-related depression, sexual dissatisfaction and divorce that we see in Evangelical communities.

The “porn shaming” that is inherent to Evangelical life is somewhat astounding. Until the lecture, I had been unaware of “accountability software”; programs that send messages to chosen contacts to alert them that your recent browsing history has been less-than-holy. This means that, in theory, your mother could receive in-depth emails detailing your forays into the sinful side of the search engine. Not only does this sound utterly horrifying, it seems immensely unhealthy. Studies show that this stigmatization of pornography alienates Evangelical porn users and, in some cases, drives them away from the guilt of the church.

CovenantEyes, a popular online accountability software.

Dr. Perry doesn’t really know what to make of the Evangelicals’ plight. It’s clear that we have a problem on our hands, but he isn’t sure how to solve it. It’s the old question of unstoppable force meets immovable object. Sex sells, and trends don’t show pornography drying up any time soon. That being said, Hell hath no fury like a good Christian woman and I certainly don’t see them relinquishing their position on the matter.

Mark Singer: “Trump and Me”

Mark Singer, writer for The New Yorker and author, recently spoke at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History about his most recent work, “Trump and Me”. Mark is a longtime friend of Dr. Charles Kimball, renowned scholar of religion and my Comparative Religions professor, and made a stop in Norman on his way through his native Oklahoma.

Though the title of Mark’s lecture (“Somebody’s Lying”) probably tips his hand on his stance regarding POTUS No. 45, I’ll attempt to keep my political leanings out of my synopsis. Here’s a run-down of what we covered:

Mark met Donald Trump in the fall of 1996. This was before the talk of externally-funded walls and “Little Marcos” and Russian meddling. The Trump of 1996 was a man of business; a “performance artist”, as Mark bills him. According to Mark, no matter what Trump is discussing, he’s giving you a sales pitch. Mark set to work on compiling the information he needed to craft his biography.

The two men took a drive to one of Trump’s in-construction golf courses in ’97, and Mark attempted to get to know the man behind the business dealings. Donald Trump sleeps approximately four hours a night, rising each morning at 5:30 a.m. to shower, shave and read the paper. Interestingly, when Mark posed the question, “What do you see when you look in the mirror?” Trump was at a loss for words. Mark believes that Trump conducts himself as a persona, not a real person. Because of this, he’s unable to “peg” himself–Trump is unsure of who he really is when the world isn’t watching.

Mark also threw out some staggering numbers in regards to Trump’s penchant for “alternative facts”. The Trump administration has frequently been defined by easily-refuted statements. In fact, The Washington Post once calculated that, as of Jan. 10, Donald Trump was uttering an average of 5.5 falsehoods every day. Mark believes this to be a manifestation of Trump’s tendency to rattle off statements until he “makes the sale”. He’s more worried about getting what he wants than how he accomplishes his goals.

Mark’s advice to the press? “Ignore the shiny object.” As a journalist himself, he warns that Trump is distracting the media from their true purpose.

“Mythical State”

 

Mythical State

I had the privilege of attending Dr. Nathaniel Greenberg’s iteration of the “Lunch and Lecture” series hosted by the Arabic Flagship Program. While I’m not a member of the program itself, the prospect of analyzing the communications and aesthetics utilizes by the Islamic state instantly piqued my interest. Throw in the fact that the event was catered by Panera and the deal was sealed.

Dr. Greenberg’s lecture focused heavily on what he referred to as the “digital caliphate”–that is, the new format that Islamic communication and counter-communication have taken over the past few years. For example, it is reported that ISIS generates tens of thousands of tweets every day. That’s a staggering amount of web presence. However, it’s also estimated that the terror organization fields somewhere between 500-2,000 social media operatives. Most of those tweet are coming from bots, spewing their content into the void and hoping that something takes root.

As ISIS grows in presence online, so do those who satirize their message. Macabre “parody” videos that make mockery of ISIS actions, proclamations and media have begun to surface. Most famous is the Iraqi TV program ‘Dawlat al-Khurafa’ (State of Myths). The show aims to diffuse the aura of fear created by ISIS through sketch comedy; an approach that not everyone found appropriate. Dr. Greenberg stated that the show was received poorly by Iraqi citizens who felt that it made light of the situation and legitimized the terrorist group by further acknowledging their presence. The show’s trailer is certainly polarizing: It portrays the wedding of the devil and a Jewish woman, overseen by a whiskey-swilling cowboy. A fledging ISIS member is shown hatching from an egg a short time later and the trailer ends as divisively as it began.

 

12/14/17: Yes We Cannes

In 2012, the University of Oklahoma offered to teach the course FVS 3843: Topics in National Cinemas: French Film at the Université Blaise-Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand, France. The class, which covers the cultural influences and implications of the cinema throughout French history, possesses another selling point that seems to be entirely overlooked by the University–it’s only six hours away from Cannes, France, the home of the annual International Film Festival.

Neat stuff.

The festival–which runs from May 8-19 this spring–and the French Film course–which began in late May–would coincide perfectly with each other and serve to expose the pupils to a taste of real-world cinema and modern implications of the course material. What better way to excite students than by immersing them in what is widely regarded as the one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world?

The French-Film-Course-and-Cannes-Experience travel abroad package sounds almost too good to be true and it very well might be. Costs of such an excursion would be high and the entirety of the trip would hinge on OU offering the same course in the future. Other film-related courses are offered in Arezzo, Italy–which would be a fantastic experience, don’t get me wrong–but for now, this is my “study abroad dream”. I’ll talk with my advisors about looking into how feasible the package would be and if there’s interest among other OU students in such a program.

[Updates to come]

Update: Un Miembro Nuevo del Club Español

¡Hola! Though the title of the blog post here speaks for itself pretty well, I’ve recently joined the Spanish Club here at OU! This will provide a wonderful opportunity to practice my speaking skills (I’m a decent enough writer and reader but my speaking no es tan bueno) with someone other than my roommate Emilio–something he’ll probably be thankful for.

Making sugar skulls at Spanish Club.

From my understanding, I might even get a chance to help out with the Día de los Muertos celebrations held every year at Lloyd Noble. I’ve always enjoyed cooking and I would love to be able to help prepare the some of the food that’s served during the festivities–prepping some delicious food and learning about some fantastic traditions sounds like a great way to get involved on campus.

10/5/17: “Poems and Picasso”

 

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend the “Poems and Picasso” dinner party hosted by the HASA board of executives in the engineering quad. Being my first cultural event that I had attended at OU, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect–let it be known that HASA set the bar pretty high.

Though I didn’t know anyone else at the event, it was no problem to slip into conversation with the other students over rice and fajitas. I met Jose and Maria–two representatives from the HASA board of executives and got to practice my conversational Spanish with the people sitting around my table.

As the name suggests, the purpose of the night was to celebrate the contributions of Hispanic artists in their respective fields, be it poetry, painting, literature, etc. Our first homage was paid to Picasso; we painted abstract cubist portraits alongside a video tutorial that outlined the steps to creating your own Picasso-esque masterpiece. My portrait now hangs in my dorm above my desk, providing a cultural bright spot in a room that is otherwise far-too-beige.

She’s a beaut.

As canvases were set aside to dry, the night came to its second phase–poetry. As Jose narrated, we were led down the harrowing path of Hispanic folk-hero Emilio Zapata’s childhood and eventual rise to power as the champion of the Spanish everyman. His tale was followed by the recitation of an anonymously-submitted composition, detailing the trials and trepidations of a Puerto Rican student, both in the classroom and in our nation itself.

Emilio Zapata

The experience was powerful and exciting in ways I didn’t entirely expect–sitting down at a table where 1. I didn’t know anyone else and 2. English was not the primary language being spoken took me well outside my comfort zone. That being said, I left the engineering quad that night having gained a handful of friends, a new perspective on the tribulations of immigrant students and one heck of a cubist Picasso portrait.

8/27/17: Bachata and Barbecue–Not Your Average Dinner Party

Tonight marked the first all-college dinner party hosted in the Dunham Residential Dining Hall and boy, was it something. Despite being the most recent addition to the list of student residences, the Residential Colleges already boast the highest proportion of international students of any of the lodgings on campus. I live on the fourth floor with my roommate Emilio who is also an international student. Suffice it to say that Emilio’s resume abroad would make even the most seasoned traveler jealous: born in León, Mexico, he spent eight years studying at a boarding school in Germany (UWC, an institution that many other international Sooners claim as their alma mater) and has spent time in Italy, France, Belgium and–so it seems–practically everywhere else.

 

Emilio on the right. A rare photograph of our dorm before it looked like a tornado blew through.

The majority of Floor 4 is also comprised of international students, so the dinner’s constituents were nothing if not a melting pot. I met students from around the world–Kazunori from Japan, Anna from Norway, Chenxin from China–all of whom shared stories and experiences from home and gave me entirely new points of view over a family-style plate of barbecue chicken. Afterwards, Emilio even showed me some of the basic steps of Bachata, a traditional style of dance in Hispanic culture and, while I’m not a pro by any means, I am considering going out for the Latin Dance Club next week.

I’m sitting in a dorm room nearly six hours from my home in Kansas City and, for the first few weeks here, that thought had been weighing pretty heavily on my mind. I felt alienated, a state away from my family and two from my best friend. It’s hard to throw that same pity party for yourself when you’re sitting at a table full of students who are separated from their loved ones by an ocean or a continent. Suddenly, your six-hour drive home over break becomes enviable to the girl who’s staying in Norman over Christmas because the plane ticket home is too expensive. I don’t mean to end this post on a somber note because it shouldn’t. Meeting these international students has been a boon for this homesick freshman. Sure, getting Baked Bear with a guy from Sudan won’t change the distance to KCMO, but it helps everything seem smaller and makes home feel just a little closer to Norman.

A picture of the fam. Mostly for homesickness reasons.
My cat, Charlie. Entirely for homesickness reasons.