kevin's Reporter Blog

Made in China

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012
Kevin Doonan

Turning on the news these days, it seems as though the only nations in the world are China, Israel, Palestine, and Syria. The fighting in the Middle East is at the heart of the media’s interest in the Outremer, which makes sense to me. What has really struck me as odd is the pervasive interest in China. For sometime now I have notice big stories about China are published daily, seemingly more so than for any other nation besides those situated in the Middle East. None of the stories about China have been even remotely positive in tone, either. The subject matter has ranged from: the increasing self-immolation of Tibetan laypeople in protest of Chinese oppression; to arresting a blind activist’s nephew in retaliation for the activist’s move to the U.S.; or even the recent maritime territorial dispute about China’s claim of sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea, despite claims from numerous other nations otherwise.

It’s hard to even keep track of all the negative stories perforating the news about China, along with the surprising variety of their unhappy content. It even seems as though the nation is collectively being blamed for things like international poaching, as Chinese high demand for endangered animal parts has been cited as the leading cause for such incident as the slaughter of elephants in Africa.

Such an outpouring of unfavorable media attention though makes me skeptical. Is China really all that bad, or is the nation purposefully getting a bad rap from the media? Maybe it’s just the conspiratorial side of me, but I find it peculiar when so much is being said in the same vein about a single subject by so many different people. I find if hard to believe that not one person, in a nation of billions, is doing anything nice to warrant international note.

One example of seemingly benign coverage which I find subtle transmits a negative message about China as a whole, surrounds Friday’s death sentence of Li Hao. A Chinese citizen, Li Hao held captive some six women for an estimated 21 months, prostituting them, videotaping them, raping them, and all sorts of nasty other things in his homemade dungeon. Though Li Hao is of course an irreparable villain, in few separate stories I read, all of the authors made sure to depict Chinese officials in an unfavorable light. From different tellings of the story, the Chinese police all ways come across as absurdly incompetent, have only discovering the dungeon after one of the prisoners escaped, even though; women were going missing; the dungeon was in an urban area; Li Hao’s clients were coming and going; he was posting videos online of some of the things he was going to the women; and the dungeon was in operation for almost two years. The real kicker of the story though was that a Chinese court had convicted three of the women to go to prison after they had just spent almost two years in captivity being brutalized and subjected to some of the worset forms of torture imaginable. During their captivity Li Hao had forced and coerced the three women to kill two of the other prisoners. Now of course this is horrible, but it seems like the human thing to do would have been to consider the special circumstances under which the killings were committed. Such lack of compassion seems to only add to the appearance of a China’s officials as coldhearted and compassionless. Sending the women to jail, after all they have suffered through, hardly seems like a fitting punishment to me.

Stories like this one are the only thing I hear of being reported on about China. I never hear any stories about Chinese humanitarian efforts and I wonder if this is because of a negative stigma in western media, or if there really just isn’t anything nice going in one of the world’s largest countries.

Finished off

Monday, November 26th, 2012
Kevin Doonan

A few weeks ago I wrote a “thumbs up” for the seemingly endemic practice submersible shark punching. While I find stories about people escaping shark run-ins by punching the gilled monstrosities in the face harrowing and amusing, I have recently heard of a much more brutal tactic of dealing with sharks which I greatly disapprove of.

Shark fin soup is a delicacy beloved by the Chinese elite, with a pound of shark-fin selling anywhere up to $700. Recent growth of Chinese living standards has further increased the demand for the delicacy, giving willing fishermen the opportunity to line their pockets. Spurred on by the chance to make a quick buck, fishermen have been fervently hunting sharks, but while shark-fins are worth a lot, the sharks themselves are not. The fishermen have therefore been slicing the fins off living sharks and throwing them back into the sea, without even having the courtesy of putting them out of their misery.

Without its fin, a shark can not maneuvre through the water, and the de-finned sharks die slow deaths as they helplessly sink to the bottom of the sea. In many ways shark de-finning is even more despicable than the somewhat similar practice of rhino de-horning. While cruel and inhuman, cutting the valued horn off of rhinos at very least does not turn the rhino into a quadriplegic. Such contemptible and greed-driven actions represent one of the most shameful aspects of our species.

Death by Twinkie

Friday, November 16th, 2012
Kevin Doonan

All hell will break loose, once the denizens of America with superbly spherical torsos, wade out of their couches, and waddle after whoever is held responsible for the impending disruption in Twinkies production. Friday, Hostess Brands, famous for its sponsorship of The Howdy Doody Show, implored a bankruptcy court to let them fold, citing an inability to survive a bakers’ strike currently inflicting the company.

Without the precious Twinkie, Americans will be forced to subsist on la cucaracha shish kabobs, in the post-December 21st apocalyptic world. Thursday night will witness the last shipment of Hostess products and if that doesn’t spell doom … I don’t know what does. A warning to the meek and innocent, do your grocery shopping Wednesday, because the Friday morning news will no doubt be overloaded with stampede related deaths, as Twinkies, Devil Dogs, Ding Dongs, Sno Balls, Ho Hos, Suzy Q’s, Dolly Madison Zingers, Drake’s Ring Dings, and Wonder Bread fly off convenience store shelves … for the last time.

The Twinkie has led an illustrious life since its inception in 1930, when baker James Dewar got the idea of stuffing sponge cake with cream. Among the Twinkie’s long list of exploits is the coining of the term “Twinkie defense” as a mocking description of a weak legal defense. The term was coined during the 1979 murder trial of San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk and mayor George Moscone. Defendant Dan White’s lawyer said the accused did it because he was suffering from a dietary-induced depression, exemplified by White’s massive Twinkie splurges. The argument actually worked and White was convicted of voluntary manslaughter instead of premeditated murder.

And for anyone foolish enough to think the Twinkie is not important, consider the following: In 1999, along with a piece of the Berlin Wall, Ray Charles’ sunglasses, a clip of Neil Armstrong trolling on the moon, and a photo of Rosa Parks (just to name a few), the Twinkie was approved for inclusion in the Millenium Time Capsule (though later it was taken out).

Sign of the cross

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012
Kevin Doonan

David Jimenez’s wife gets ovarian cancer. He goes to a St. Patrick’s Church in Newburgh, N.Y., and prays before a gigantic, 600-lb., crucifix for his wife’s speedy recovery. The wife makes it and Jimenez attributes his wife’s cancer-free status to the time he spent putting his palms together before the jumbo cross. To show his appreciation, he volunteered to clean the crucifix and in May, 2010, it fell on him. Jimenez’s leg had to be amputated and now he is suing the church for $3 million.

Didn’t he hear? The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. It probably would have been safer to clean his wife’s doctor’s car instead. The church had been able to raise $7,000 to help Jimenez out before he filed the lawsuit. Where does he think the church is going to get $3 million anyway? The Catholics haven’t been making that kind of bank since the Renaissance. And what did Jimenez expect was going to happen when he scaled the crucifix to rub Jesus’ face with a soapy cloth? It’s doubtful that the artist who created the cross intended for it to be used as a ladder. It was a statue, not a jungle gym.

The New Normal

Friday, November 2nd, 2012
Kevin Doonan

Of course something that has been on everyone’s minds and all over the news this week has been Superstorm Sandy, the Frankenstorm. Much talk has revolved around the notion that freakish super storms are going to be the new norm and debate has already begun to rage as to the significance Sandy has in regards to proving/disproving the theory of global warming. The entire discussion is worrying and I can already feel my hypothalamus signalling my pea-sized pituitary gland to release buckets of adrenocorticotropin.

But an interesting comment I overheard was how Sandy acted as a mini economic stimuli for the upstate community that prepared for the worst, but spared the mutilation wrought upon the lower portions of the state. The commentator pointed out how it was actually a good for local economies where grocery and appliance store shelves were strip-mined of their resources as people hurriedly stocked up for the impending Sandypocalypse.

This struck a chord with me. He was right; in a economic system based on continual growth and expansion, success is measured by consumption. Buying vast quantities of mercantile goods that later prove unnecessary, seems like a monumental waste to me. I believe frugalness is not only an advantageous and admirable quality, but that it will also soon prove imperative to our survival as a species. As our population grows ever more bloated and glutenous in proportion, it seems ever more likely that in our lifetime we will witness our species surpassing the capacity of Earth. Like a starving deer population which has depleted its food source, it seems as though will some day we will be the cause of our own demise when we face shortages of our own creation more detrimental then spiking gas prices.

And now I hear that China wants to reevaluate its one-child policy? I am missing something or are people activily trying to place us in a situation were we have to sqeeze blood from a stone? I think I have to have a lie-down.

Two sides to the same coin

Thursday, October 25th, 2012
Kevin Doonan

With stories it’s not so much what they are about/ but how they are told that defines them. Here are two tweets from the Associated Press and CNN about the same story:

AP: “Barrage of Gaza rockets draws Israeli air strikes; 1 Palestinian militant killed.”

cnnbrk: “Israeli airstrikes into Gaza have killed 3 Palestinians, after rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel.”

Same story, but two very different ways of telling it. It’s all about presentation. The CNN tweet makes it seem as though Israel blindly lashed out at the Palestinian community in an act of vengeance. The AP tweet, on the other hand, identifies only one person being killed, apparently omitting the existence of the other two, and identifies the fallen as a “militant,” or in other words a potential combatant. Between the two tweets, it can be determined: the Israeli air strikes were in response to rocket attacks from Gaza, three people were killed, and only one seems to have been a combatant. Goes to show, the way a story is told can be just as crucial as the facts themselves.

Zombies Ahead

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012
Kevin Doonan

Zombies ahead! The warning was issued by an electronic road sign in Greece, N.Y. after an alteration was made by hackers. Officials weren’t amused and called it an act of vandalism, but personally I have a hard time imagining what harm it could have done. There wasn’t even any physical alteration or damage inflicted on the sign itself and it could not have been too much of a challenge to change it back. Then again, maybe a few poor souls saw the sign, panicked and immediately engaged their fight or flight mode, putting their cars into reverse, and gunning it to the nearest airport. How would that conversation have gone?

“Sir/madam what is the reason for your visit?”

“Zombies.”

Up for debate …

Monday, October 22nd, 2012
Kevin Doonan

Many in the media have called tonight’s presidential debate crucial. I cannot help be feel though that the emphasis on the word “crucial” is more a result of broadcasters trying to sell the importance of the debate. Like any pitch, it needs to have an edge to it and so the use of words that excite are mandatory.

I cannot help but feel that, although according to many preliminary polls this presidental race is a close one, most voters have already made up their minds. I mean who plans to walk into the voting booth in two weeks and make a snap decision based on who performed better in the presidential debate? Maybe a lot of people. In the end the presidency has a dual nature of extreme exposure and extreme obscurity. What really makes a good president? Is it the ability to be outwardly diplomatic and charismatic or the strength to surround yourself with potent advisors and experts and all matters presidential?

In the end, maybe a president is little more than just a puppet who gives an administration its face and maybe a good president is just someone with good puppeteers. Though the notion may sound cynical, I assure you it is far from it. Ultimate power should never be in the hands of one person and although being called a puppet may be seen as derogatory, in this instance it’s rather democratic ( “of, relating to, or supporting democracy or its principles” [definition courtesy of the New Oxford American Dictionary], not to be confused with the Democratic party).

It’s in the bag

Thursday, October 18th, 2012
Kevin Doonan

Wednesday, two Binghamton residents were arrested in Pennsylvania for the possession of an estimated $125,000 worth of heroin hidden in the speaker box of their car. What I would like to know is where that number came from? How did the police quantify the dollar worth of the 4,963 bags of heroin they found? Did they measure it based on heroin’s exchange rate on the open market? I think not. What drug dealer was willing to go to the police and be like, “I want to be your drug dealer consultant, in case you just so happened to be wondering when I sell 4,963 bags of heroin, my net profit is an estimated $120,000.” Did the police ask themselves what would 4,963 be worth to me? And what kind of measurement is a “bag” anyway? Is it part of the Standard System of Metric System? Did every bag have the same amount of heroin in it? I mean that is the kind of information that the police no doubt would have to share with the drug dealer consultant in order to get an accurate estimate.

That raises yet another question. Does heroin go bad, will it spoil? After those 4,963 bags of heroin have been sitting in the evidence room for a couple of months, will they start to stink up the police station?

Either way a lot of heroin junkies are going to be left wanting. But maybe they will just use the $120,000 that’s burning a hole in their pockets and take a ride down to wherever in Pennsylvania people are bagging heroin.

Mea culpa

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012
Kevin Doonan

We all make mistakes but it is especially embarrassing when it is done in print for all the world to see … forever. The Internet ensures that little mistakes are embedded into digital stone and will long outlast us. People seem to have an innate eagerness to pick on those latent miscalculations, as can been seen just by looking at the current presidental debate. In many cases the eagerness to exploit any identifiable faux pas regardless of relevance seems to override common sense. But I guess that is one of the things that defines truly good politicians – the ability to own blunders. Inevitably everyone indulges in gaucherie, but the truly adept politicians these days are the ones who can brush off gaffes in aw ay that successfully encourages others to follow suit.