The Importance of Public Minority Opposition Parties and a City Upon a Hill

NOTE: This is an ongoing original fiction story that I’m currently writing. I started writing this fictional story back on October 2, 2020 and contribute ~1,000 words to it every day on this blog. I didn’t outline the story at all going into it but it’s slowly evolved into a tale about a data scientist in his mid-thirties from America who finds himself summoned to China where’s he’s been offered a job to work for the Chinese Communist Party on a project monitoring the Uyghurs in the Chinese “autonomous region” of Xinjiang. In China, the story’s protagonist, Dexter Fletcher, meets other professionals who’ve also been brought in from abroad to help consult on the project. My story takes place several decades in the future and explores human rights, privacy in an age of ever-increasing state-surveillance, and differences between competing dichotomies: democracy vs communism, eastern vs western political philosophies, and individual liberties vs collective security. If this sounds interesting and you’d like to read more, my fiction story starts here.

Chapter Nine – Passage Three

Notwithstanding my own massive reservations with this new proposed direction for our project, we decide to dive down this rabbit hole to see how far it goes.  In life, it’s generally a net plus to maintain an open mind.  It’s a truism that sometimes the best ideas originate from the least likely places and in all of my years consulting as a data scientist, I’ve definitely witnessed my fair share of harebrained ideas.

But this one, I’m fairly confident, takes home the gold:  Fabricate the existence and wild spread of a fictional virus to scare the good people Xinjiang to stay at home, give Chinese authorities the cover to withdraw, let the region degenerate into complete chaos, and then have the Chinese move back in to save the day.

What on earth could go wrong?

“It’s not without precedent,” Deepak muses.  “Back in 1947, the British partitioned India, picked up their toys and simply left.  Sometimes if nothing’s working, it’s worth just shaking up the snow globe and trying something totally new.”

“Right,” Coleman says dryly.  “And remind us all again, please, how that turned out?”

“Well, over half-a-century of bloody territorial dispute ensued between the newly formed Pakistan and India resulting in thousands of casualties and fatalities,” Deepak admits.  “Not to mention, because of all of the bombings and extrajudicial bloodshed, to this day bitter religious blood-feuds among the 10-12 million displaced along the Line of Control endure still to this day.”

Kristen works the holo-table and 3D projection of Xinjiang materializes in the air.  She taps several of the floating options and different parts of the region light up.

“This would be a classic ‘divide and conquer’ move,” she says, looking at Alan.  “Didn’t you say earlier that’s how Mao stole all China from Chiang Kai-shek way back when?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Alan says, looking surprised that she remembered. “Chiang at one was running the show on the mainland but then depleted all of his men and forces fighting off the Japanese.  By the time Chiang was finished, he’d beaten off the Empire of the Rising Sun but had nothing left to fend off Mao when the PRC swept the country.  It was actually quite ingenious on Mao’s part.”

“Right, so we now essentially can use the same playbook on the Uyghurs.  What we need, now, is a way to break their fighting spirit,” Kristen says aloud.  I think she’s still half working out the plan for herself as she’s explaining to us.  “In the beginning, everyone’s always super gung-ho about defending the homeland.  Lots of patriotism and nationalism abound.  But eventually, a decade in, it just becomes Vietnam all over again.  The new generation won’t even understand why, what, or whom we’re fighting.  And everyone then just wants to just go home.”

I begin to see what Kristen is driving at.  Resistance to a regime can never entirely be eliminated.  No matter what you do, and how good of a job you do, there will always be some vocal minority immensely unhappy with your effort. Like that damn air bubble you can never totally get rid of when you’re newly laying down fresh carpet.  In fact, if my past few months in China had taught me anything, it was that there was actually immense value in publicly recognizing a minority opposition party– people who disagree with you but are not in control.  If you don’t, then you get a setup like the CCP’s politburo:  Where everyone appears to  be on the same page but really all secretly harbor their own agendas.  Then that’s just a slime-infested swamp of palace intrigue, backstabbing, double-and-triple-crosses, etc.  It’s a complete desert wasteland where you don’t even know who’s on your side, who or where your enemies are, and anyone can be actually murdered or jailed at any moment.

In other words, modern day China.

Just because you declare some land “one harmonious kingdom singularly united under the banner of heaven” or whatever, it doesn’t mean all of the differences in political ideologies, philosophies, lineages of family rivalries, and petty interpersonal conflict just suddenly disappear overnight.  You can say the words, but that doesn’t change reality– all of it just goes underground.

In America and the other modern democracies, at least you knew who your enemies were at all times.  Like, the teams are very clearly delineated.  At least compared to this Kabuki theater situation that existed in China.  No matter the fancy system or label that you apply to a regime or group of people, at the day’s end, after all the dust’s settled, humans are going to human.

Kristen points at the two regions of the holo-map that she’s highlighted.

“This is Urumqi and roughly 315 kilometers away to the northwest is Karamay, the fourth largest city in Xinjiang at a population of about 400,00 people.”

“So about ninth the size of Urumqi,” Coleman says.  “It’s also a paltry 200km from the Kazakhstani border.”

“Yes– so what we can set up,” Kristen says, “is some kind of intercity competition in Xinjiang.  Right now all of the hatred and resentment in Urumqi is directed towards a single common enemy:  The CCP.  But what if we could frame improvement differently?  Instead of seeing non-vandalism and criminal and anti-corruption measures as highhanded mandates coming down from Beijing, what if we could sway the Uyghurs into believing that they were locally creating these measures organically?”

The key to a good negotiation between two hostile sides which want nothing more than to destroy each other is always to first find common ground.  No matter how much two groups of people may despise each other, no matter whatever eons of bad history may exist between them, there is always something that both parties want.  That’s step one.

Then step two is to frame the proposal in a way that’s acceptable to both sides.  Who came up with the idea, who gets to take the credit, who’s dictating what, etc. Sensitive egos, bouts of pride, nationalism, all that.

“Right now what we’re lacking in Urumqi is an aspirational model of what they desire to be,” I say aloud.  In my head, I can’t help but think of the Puritan, John Winthrop, in 1630 having just arrived in the Massachusetts Bay.  America was to A City Upon a Hill— a beacon of hope and light to the rest of the world of what was possible.

Without a City Upon a Hill to admire, Urumqi had no sense of direction.  It was just all chaos and messiness.

We needed to give them direction.  And Karamay could be that model vessel. We all need greenlights at the end of the dock, even entire cities.

Religion as a Means of State Control

NOTE: This is an ongoing original fiction story that I’m currently writing. I started writing this fictional story back at the beginning of October 2020 and contribute ~500 words to it every day on this blog. I didn’t outline the story at all going into it but it’s slowly evolved into a tale about a data scientist in his mid-thirties from America who finds himself summoned to China where’s he’s been offered a job to work for the Chinese Communist Party on a project monitoring the Uyghurs in the Chinese “autonomous region” of Xinjiang. In China, the story’s protagonist, Dexter Fletcher, meets other professionals who’ve also been brought in from abroad to help consult on the project. My story takes place several decades in the future and explores human rights, privacy in an age of ever-increasing state-surveillance, and differences between competing dichotomies: democracy vs communism, eastern vs western political philosophies, and individual liberties vs collective security. If this sounds interesting and you’d like to read more, my fiction story starts here.

Chapter Five – Passage Seven

Never before has anyone ever in the history of nation-building gone into the enterprise a humble man.  But once you actually get into the nitty-gritty, and are knee-deep in all the gory details, then the inevitable humility rapidly sets in.  What I slowly realize over the days and weeks that follow as we discuss and debate for hours on end was that there existed a chasm the width of the Milky Way between the Uyghur and the Chinese populations.  Essentially, Alan and Van gave us a very quick crash course covering all of China in just several days.  It was certainly an education.

For instance, here’s an easy but illuminating example:  Religion.

China is officially an atheist state but has informally made an exception for two religions:  Buddhism and Taoism.  One main reason is that the CCP considers Buddhism and Taoism to be “Asians religions” and a global check on “foreign religions” such as Christianity and Islam.  But the second big reason was that Buddhism and Taoism prominently champion the idea of reincarnation whereas in Christianity and Islam, there exist very-well defined notions of an “afterlife” that is distinctly different than the corporeal life that we’re all living now.  This is a massive contrast and makes a world of difference when it comes to how a state controls and manages its people.

As Van put succinctly one morning:  “In Buddhism and Taoism, if you do bad things and die, you’ll come back into this world as a dung beetle.  There are no 72 virgin maidens in paradise awaiting you if you die a martyr.  Nor is there a heaven or hell.  There’s simply this human life that we all come back to and nothing else.”

Furthermore, Buddhism and Taoism heavily emphasize good deeds like Judeo-strain of Christianity as opposed to the Protestant-strain where “belief alone” is sufficient for salvation.

In the Protestant version of Christianity, in the New Testament, Jesus is nailed up between two thieves— Dismas the Repentant and Gestas the Not.  Even as he died, bolts driven through his two hands to the Rosewood, the “good thief,” Dismas repents his criminal ways and pastors commonly teach that Dismas follows Christ into heaven.  (Gestas, I guess, is ostensibly condemned to the depths of hell and never seen again.  Sunday School often left that part out.)

In Buddhism and Taoism though– there is no repentance for salvation.  Belief as a card to heaven simply doesn’t even exist.  Instead, these two CCP-approved religions solely emphasize that your fate in the great cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth is solely defined by your character.  If you do bad things, you are simply doomed.  Do not pass Go.  Do not collect $200.  It’s simply game over.  And, conveniently for the CCP, “good character” largely follows Confucianism– an ancient Chinese philosophical school of thought dating back to 2070 BCE that primary champions obedience.

Well, of course, Xinjiang is a Muslim-majority population.

So… great.  Now we essentially have two populations– the Uyghurs in Xinjiang on one side.  And the Buddhists/Taoists/Atheists of China on the other.  What divides them, religious belief, is not a matter that can be empirically decided or proved in this material world.  Yet, this monumental schism exists.  How the hell are we supposed to solve this?

Jinshui Future Laboratory

Chapter Three

Nine o’clock nears and I find myself in Building 11, making my way to the meeting.  Though the building is reopened, not all renovation has completed.  The lobby is a well-lit and sparse arrangement with modern-looking chairs around round white tables but there is still yellow caution tape that’s up everywhere that cordons off where not to go.  I follow a series of hand-drawn signs; someone has helpfully scrawled:  “9 AM MEETING!  THIS WAY!  ⬆️⬆️⬆️” on sheets of paper and taped them every ten meters along the wall.  I honestly kind of feel like a rat being led along in a maze.

Eventually, I reach an open room that appears to be some kind of lounge and see several other folks who are already there:  Four Chinese, two white people (me and another blonde woman who’s draped herself in the oversized corner armchair), an Indian guy, and a super-nerdy looking, skinny black guy in a plaid shirt and huge over-sized glasses.  Aside from one of the Chinese men who looks older, we all look about the same age, mid-twenties to mid-thirties.

Actually, once I get closer I see that the black guy is considerably younger– maybe in his early twenties.

The woman looks vaguely familiar, though I can’t place her face in the moment, and I don’t recognize anyone else, so I just give a small wave to everyone and sit on a barstool at the bar next to the Indian guy. He gives me a small nod when I sit down but his expression is otherwise inscrutable.  The room is quiet, though I appear to be the last one that everyone was waiting for.  After I sit, the older looking Chinese guy rises to his feet to address the room.  He’s a handsome fellow with a lanky frame and slicked back, black hair.  He’s wearing wireframe glasses and a suit blazer but without a tie and has his polo shirt open collar.

“Welcome, everyone,” he smiles looking around at us.  “My name is Yu-Law Yang.  I am one of the directors here at the Jinshui Future Laboratory.  First, I would like to thank all of you for making the trip.  I know our humble lab here in Jinshui is a good distance away for most of you, especially those from abroad.  Secondly, I apologize for much of the secrecy.  It may seem exaggerated and overblown but is unfortunately necessary.”

Yang pauses a beat but no one interrupts him.  It’s early and most of us are still jet-lagged.  Or we’re just patient people and have seen this movie before.  So Yang just clears his throat and continues.

“The reason you’ve all been brought here,” he says, “is because we’re looking for some help with a sensitive subject.”

Classic Tetris World Championships

Joseph Saelee: TWELVE maxouts in two hours. Legendary.

November is going to be lit.  People who know me will know that I’ve been a diehard Tetris fan my entire life.  Back in the day, it was Tetris on the TI-83 Plus.  Then at some point I got a Nintendo DS and Tetris DS probably remains my favorite handheld version to this day (though Tetris Ultimate on the 3DS is a close second).  However, my absolutely favorite version is, by far, Tetris on the NES.  Though the game was released back in 1989, I only discovered it a few years ago when the (now famous) “Boom! Tetris for Jeff!” 2016 CTWC video landed in my YouTube recommendations.  It was mesmerizing.  That same week, I remember running to my local pawn shop and getting both an NES and a copy of the game.  I was instantly hooked.

This year, because of COVID-19, the CTWC organizers did something very special.  Normally, the event happens in person at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo in Oregon every October but this year because of the virus, they organized an online tournament!

Since 2012, CTWC has been a 32-person tournament and happens single-elimination-style over the course of a single weekend.  The shindig starts on Friday and by Sunday, a champion is crowned.

This year’s online tournament is wild though.  They expanded participation to become a 64-person tournament and qualifying rounds lasted an entire week, Oct 12-18. The extended format also now allows for double-elimination in the “group stage” play during the first two weekends of November. 

Last week, I literally had their Twitch channel up every single day on my second monitor and was watching hours of Classic Tetris each day. Since folks were attempting qualifying runs from all around the world from Finland to Japan to Spain to here, the good ol’ USA, there was nearly always some Classic Tetris on, ready to watch.  It was amazing.

Converting a meat-space event into a virtual one is no easy feat. And while I didn’t participate in the tourney (am nowhere near good enough!) I did read through the rules that they posted online. In particular, I found this section (specifically, Rule 9) impressive about how a judge verifies a player’s authenticity:

Since everything is streamed over Twitch, they needed to be thoughtful about how they would suss out bad actors who were trying to cheat. This verification system, while simple, I feel is a reasonable deterrent.

In this age of COVID-19, everything has changed. It’s unclear, at the moment, if things will ever return to normal. But personally, I am really enjoying CTWC 2020 this year. It’s a genuinely remarkable logistical accomplishment and, importantly, really gives folks, especially those far away and who are younger, a chance to participate who otherwise never could. Not everyone can fly to Portland and stay in hotels for a weekend every year! This year’s online tourney has truly democratized the competition– hooray for technology! 😊😀😁


Novelty is one of the main drivers that keeps me going.  One of the challenges of 2020 is that with a global pandemic afoot, folks have not been able to venture outside and follow their usual routines.  The sustained and prolonged inability to go to an office workplace, interact with colleagues, and just have a change of scenery and pace has been enormously unhealthy.  I consider human beings as generalized differential engines.  We understand everything only as a series of contrasts.  As Huxley wrote years ago in Brave New World:  “There is no black without white and no night without day.”  This is actually one reason I started this personal daily writing project back in August– it is a salubrious way of marking time.  Every day, I write on a new subject which forces my mind to stretch itself in new directions, toward new horizons.  The human brain like any other muscle in your body:  If unused for long periods of time, the brain will atrophy and devolve into grey mush.

Additionally, novelty is a motivation all its own when it comes to the creative arts.  During his session this past Saturday at Muskogee, Lev Grossman was asked, “What makes a good story?” His answer really stuck with me as he cited a scene from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (1925).  Woolf wrote about a high-society woman (Dalloway) on the bench and even after the woman went to sleep, Woolf just kept on writing the scene. Grossman said he’d never seen writing like that and it just absolutely blew his mind.

This idea, “Do what has not already been done before.” is another reason I write and code.  I enjoy thinking up projects that I’ve never seen before but feel should exist.  This ability to take a figment of one’s imagination and reify it into the material world is essentially magic.  For me at least, the act of creation is what it means to be alive. As long as we are continuously growing, always learning something new, and following our interests and curiosities wherever they may lead us, then there is always a reason to live. The world is too big and our puny human lives are too short to waste any more time than we already do.

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

Flexible Minds

LetterSong TitleMovie TitleReal Person
AAlways Remember Us This WayArmageddonAlger, Horatio
BThe BestBeauty & the BeastBrie, Alison
CCall Me MaybeCrazy Rich AsiansCarlisle, Brenda
DDrone Shot of My YachtDie HardDonovan, Landon

Neuroplasticity has been recently on mind. (You did almost get a post about “Nigel Farage” today though.) Namely, I’ve been thinking about aging and how as we get older, people seem to grow increasingly rigid in their thoughts and ways. From my limited understanding on what I’ve read, I believe the calcification happens because of our biology. Neurotransmitters, brain chemicals, all that. It’s sadly unavoidable, a fate destined for us all.

To combat the advent of such sadly inevitable dementia though, Bagel and I have been recently playing a game I (creatively) call, “The Grid Game.” We usually play it when we take our evening walks after dinner. The way it works: We alternate taking turns– like I start with ‘A’, she replies with ‘B’, etc. Everything must be done purely from mental recollection– no smartphones or Bing allowed! If one of us gets to the answer first (haha, usually me– but only because we’re playing in English! Bagel language would be a different story altogether) then we give each other hints like, “This is the first movie we saw in the cinema together.” Or– “My favorite song last summer! Played it in the car every time!” Stuff like that.

We initially conceived of the game as a way to help her improve her English. But I have since taken to playing it on my own time and with more specific categories (like “World Leaders,” “TV Shows,” and “Fictional Characters.”) It’s actually harder than you may think; remember, no smartphones! The other day, I got stuck on “Real woman’s name that starts with ‘I'” and after something like 20 minutes, the best I could come up with was “Laura Ingraham.” Not my proudest moment, I’ll confess. (For “Real man’s name that starts with ”I’,” my response was immediately, “Kazuo Ishiguro.”)

Anyway, I now keep a Google Doc open in one of my hundred tabs I have open and occasionally revisit it throughout the week. A coding exercise I’ll probably eventually do (gotta put all the data science I’ve learned to work!) is build a “Diversity Score Calculator” to analyze submissions and then break them down by sex/race/age/genre. I’m still kicking around some ideas but I think it’s an interesting exercise to judge your own implicit bias. When you free-associate, do you most often think of white people? Black people? Men or women? American, European, Hispanic, Asian? Contemporary or historical figures? Artists or politicians? Other? If political figures appear, are they most often right or left, conservative or liberal? For artistic works, summer blockbusters and platinum hits or the classics? Breakdowns like that. Anyway, just my random idea for the day. So much to do and so little time!

PS. For anyone who’s interested, you can make a copy of the template here. And also, here is my own personal August 2020 entry. Again, the idea is to just free-associate and complete the sheet as fast as possible. Like, a good time would be 10-15 minutes. Don’t worry about “appearing PC” or cosmopolitan and worldly. No one’s gonna see your answers! Just be yourself. You might be intrigued with the results.