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 Six

“Quran followers believe that the most heinous sin in all of Islam is shirk (شرك)– that is, polytheism; idolatry.  Worshiping or deification of anyone of anything other than Allah.”  Governor Wu looks up at us from the holy text and his expression turns wistful for a moment.  “You know, it really is a shame that the Chinese and the Uyghurs were several centuries apart.  In so many ways, we are one in the same.”

“China is an atheist state though, correct?” Coleman says.  You can practically hear the restraint that he’s using every single muscle in his body to employ as he says this.

“Oh, sure, sure,” Governor Wu says waving his hand dismissively.  “All of the details might be different–“

“–that’s a pretty freaking huge detail–“ Shu elbows Coleman in the ribs and he luckily quiets down.

“But the superstructure,” Governor Wu says grandly sweeping his arms, is the same.  “Whether it be aesthetic thought or Islam, both the Chinese and the Muslim people worship a very particular narrowness in one’s way of thinking– very strict sense of judgement.  In both of our countries and cultures, there is only one God.  There is only one way that things are done.  There is only one result that every good Muslim or Chinese citizen aspires to be.  Or at least, the band of acceptable outcomes is much narrower.”

“And that’s a good thing?” I ask.  “You do realize this narrowness of acceptability is exactly the source of your problem, right?”

Governor Wu shakes his head.  “You Americans and your diversity.  Homogeneity makes us strong.  In every culture and every religion the world over through all of the ages of history, purity has always been the staple of our strength.  In Judaism, it’s wool and linen or milk and meat.”

“A single field of all the same crop perishes with but a single disease.” Shu says quietly.

“Ah!  A scholar, we have, do we?” Governor Wu says, amused.  “Well, while it’s true that diversity may give you some resilience, it’s not a free lunch, is it?  After all, whatever strength you gain from that mixing of variance, you give back many multiples over in lost efficiency, progress, consensus, and harmony.  Nothing is ever for free.”

“So what are you saying?” I ask.  I’m growing exasperated but am trying to not let it show in my voice.  This guy here is the politburo person in charge of running all of Xinjiang, after all.

“I’m saying I like your plan,” Governor Wu says, smiling.  “It’s actually more perfect than I think even you realize.  As you yourselves have described in your analysis, Urumqi –and Xinjiang as a whole– is not a monolith.  Like any large population, people have grown divided– the Muslim people are no exception.  There is a Muslim hardliner group who think any cooperation with Beijing leads straight to hell.  There are moderate Muslims who are more willing to give it a shot.  And then there’s everyone else who doesn’t care one way or the other but just want to be able to put food on the table.  And everything in between.”

In my head, I can see it all playing out.  Once the fictional virus hit, you just knew that some groups would use it as pretext for God’s wrath.  I could totally see it now:  Ten of thousands being killed because and the Mullahs citing their deaths as the inevitable outcome of a vengeful God who’s gone on rampage to cleanse the land of all sinners and nonbelievers.  The Virus would become anything and everything to anyone and everyone.

In fact, the more I think this out with this new information that Governor Wu has provided us, the more the picture begins to crystalize.  The creation of our fictional virus would merely be a catalyst.

Xinjiang was already a powder keg waiting to explode.  If a suddenly deadly, natural disaster swept the region, it really would be a golden opportunity for the CCP to declare martial law, enforce curfews, and restrict freedoms.  On the Islam-side, the hardliners would feel that the wrath of God had finally descended.

There’d be chaos.

And amidst the chaos, undoubtedly, certain dissidents who’d long been thorns in Beijing’s side I’m sure would be resolved.

“For years already,” Governor Wu says, “the Uyghur populations have already been modernizing.  The old ways are disappearing.  Little by little.  Every year, fewer young people return from Urumqi back to the rural lands.  If we had the luxury to just wait fifty years or so, the outcome would be the same.”

“But you don’t want to wait, do you?” Kristen says, “Beijing wants results now.”

“Why the hurry?” Deepak asks.

“Xi Wiping knows that his days at the top are numbered,” says Governor Wu, “which is why he wants to expedite Xinjiang’s submission.  Having this notch on his belt would go great lengths to helping him keep his powers consolidated.”

I take a moment to take off my glasses and wipe them down.  Good lord, this thing is a total swampland.  It’s even worse than in America.  And I’d thought all of the backroom knife-fighting back in DC has been bad.

“You do understand,” Governor Wu says, sighing, “that Xi has never fully recovered from the Shangri-La disaster two years ago.  That was a major public failing and a huge blackeye for him at the time.  All of the global attention and bad press all at once.  Ever since, he’s been increasingly desperate in wanting to show himself as the capable and rightful leader of the party.”

And so there it was.  Once more, the lives of millions of innocent citizens would be toyed with simply for one man’s insatiable ego. Collateral damage in an interminable political war. A forever war.  Succession was always a problem that authoritarian regimes had never quite ironed out.  In America, Presidents did their time, and then good or bad, afterwards when four or eight years were up, everyone simply packed up and sailed off into the sunset.  In China though, there were always vicious political opponents waiting to strike at even the slightest hint of weakness. This is what happens when you have no term limits. You do the job until you die or until you fail.

The Silver Dragon

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 ~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 Six – Passage One

Quaint, idyllic Chinese countryside races by my passenger window.  We’re on the Silver Dragon, a highspeed express train which is scheduled to reach Xi’an, the first smart city on a two-day trip to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province.  The maglev train itself is a gleaming technological marvel, a polished steel stallion that cuts its way across the Chinese northlands.  It’s been thirty years since China finished its high-speed rail system, having laid down more track in that same amount of time than all the rest of the world combined.

“It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?”

I’d hoped for an entire row to myself but fate had seated Coleman next to me.  He’s wearing his giant earmuff headphones around his neck and looks like a hyperactive rabbit stuck in a box.

“It’s impressive,” I admit.  I was trying to get some work done on my laptop but it was a hopeless task.  When I wasn’t being distracted by the gorgeous scenery passing me by at 350km/hour outside my window, then I had Coleman talking in my ear.

“Tell me,” he continues, “why are you really here?”

“I’m here because I’m a specialist in data analytics and this is a state-surveillance project built on a mountain of data.  Why are you here?”

Coleman downs the rest of his gin and coke and gestures towards the sexy attendant standing in the connection way for another. She’s wearing a plaid miniskirt that’s apparently the formal train uniform despite the fact that it’s something like nineteen Celsius in the cabin.  Since we’re in business class, there’s an attendant per every train car whose sole purpose is to wait on their passengers hand and foot.  A moment later, the attendant’s whisked his empty tumbler away and replaced it with another, freshly filled.  Coleman’s twenty-two and he’s clearly living the time of his life.  I’m pretty sure he’s already knocked a few back, as it is.

“I was summoned here like the rest of you.  Received an anonymous, secure message in my inbox one day.  Took an assessment.  And apparently did something right.”  Coleman shrugs.  “And so I’m here.”

I roll my eyes.  “Obviously.  I meant why are you here?”

“Yeah, I know what you meant.”  He sighs and studies his tumbler briefly before replying.

“You must think it’s weird, because I’m black, right?  That I’m helping Communists set up mandatory internment and reeducation camps.”

“I literally didn’t say any of those words.  Or any words even phonetically similar to what you just said.”

Coleman just looks at me. 

“Yeah, maybe.  But you were definitely thinking it.”

“Coleman, son.  You are literally a few years removed from High School Musical territory.  No, never mind.  You’re so young you don’t even know what that is.  Point being:  You have no earthly idea what I’m thinking.”

“You know, man,” Coleman continues, his speech a little slurred.  “Have you ever contemplated the possibility that black people can basically be like white people too?  We’re perfectly capable of racism and acts of atrocity for the sole desire of material greed and power.  It’s not like white people have a sole monopoly over colonialism and enslaving others.”

“Yeah,” I say dryly.  “I think the Japanese and the Mongolians would likely agree with you.  Colonialism and empire building are most certainly not the sole province of white people. That’s a real keen insight you got there.”

Quelling Unrest in China’s Autonomous Regions

“Quelling unrest is an art as much as it is a science,” Yang says, steepling his fingers, “and we are hoping to solicit your help for a particular task.  All in the name of peace, of course.”

“Of course,” says Katherine.  “Uh huh.”

“As you are likely aware,” Yang says delicately, “the Xinjiang Province has been an increasingly active zone of conflict here in China.  It is of growing concern.”

The Indian guy next to me chortles.  I nearly do too but manage to catch myself.  Calling Xinjiang an “active zone of conflict” is like saying, “There was a small disagreement in Concord and Lexington in 1775.”

For years, there’d been rampant speculation in the west that if Xi’s iron fist of domination and control was to finally loosen, or rather– be forcibly pried open, that it would start in the Xinjiang Province.  In the past decade, Xi’s CCP had gladly picked up the baton of colonization off the ground where the British had dropped it like a flaming potato two-and-a-half centuries ago, doused and dusted it off, and then happily continued the imperialist tradition.  Territory by territory, the Chinese Empire had slowly expanded:  Macau, Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and now, Xinjiang.  All of these regions were previously independent territories with their own peoples, cultures, and local governments.  But under Chinese rule, they were slowly assimilated into China’s fold.  First, they were “autonomous regions” and each was structured (laughably) under a rule of “two governments, one country.”  But over subsequent decades, inciting events in every region had “required” the CCP to “reluctantly move in to restore and maintain the peace.”  Funny thing was that after “restoring the order,” the Chinese National Guard just conveniently never left.  And slowly over time, the Chinese national security apparatus just weaved its way into the local governments and social fabric of each autonomous region.  They went from being initially “helpful” to being “important” to then being “necessary” until finally becoming “indispensable.”

“What do you want our help with in Xinjiang?” I ask, finally speaking up.  May as well join this circus and see where it all goes.

“Xinjiang is currently a tinder box,” Yang says.  “With the unfortunate violence and riots that happened last month, it appears like we’ve reached an inflection point with the province.  As you know, the CCP has extended nothing but goodwill towards the Xinjiang people.”

“And by ‘goodwill’ you mean ‘convenience police stations’ every other block, I assume?” says Katherine.

“We do what is necessary to keep our citizens safe,” Yang says evenly, “and police is an integral component of that equation.”  He gestures towards Katherine.  “You, Ms. Katherine Henley, of all people should know that.  After all, until recently, you led Foogle’s Smart City initiative in Darwin, Australia, did you not?  In particular, the division to ensure public safety and trust?”

Katherine’s eyes narrow but she says nothing.

Yang turns towards us.  “We have here, a collection of unique individual talents.  Mr. Coleman Hughes,” Yang looks at the skinny black guy, “you are a political consultant and were instrumental behind the scenes helping DTJ win the most recent presidential elections in America.  Mr. Deepak Chopra, you are an academic who specializes in colonial history.  I found your dissertation on the Indian/Pakistani border separation of 1947 fascinating.”

Chopra, the Indian guy sitting on the barstool next to me, merely stares back at Yang. His expression gives nothing away.

Yang then turns to me.  “And last but not least, Mr. Dexter Fletcher, you are our resident data science expert.  You freelance for the American government and in your free time, do open-source work in cryptocurrencies.  May I also add, you are quite an accomplished fan fiction author.”

The room suddenly feels about ten degrees hotter and I’m pretty sure I turn at least a little red.  Out of the corner of my eye,  I see Katherine raise an eyebrow and hearing Yang mention her most recent gig finally jogs my memory. This is rich– the woman who single-handedly nearly turned Darwin into a unitary police state has the gall to judge me. That’s great.

“And on Team China,” Yang continues smoothly, “we have Shu Qi, Alan Chen, and Vanessa Tan.  Shu specializes in marketing and promotion– there’s literally nothing on this planet that she can’t sell you.” Shu bats her long lashes and smiles. “Alan grew up and was raised in Xinjiang; he knows everything there is to know about the province, and Vanessa –well– Vanessa does a bit of everything.”

Yang clasps his hands together.  “Between the lot of you, we are hoping that you’ll help us create a new campaign plan to win over the hearts and minds of the Xinjiang people.  Over the past decade, Xi has thrown every tool in the toolbox at the province but we’ve been… unsuccessful.  We’re now trying a more soft-power approach, you could say.”

“You want us to help China assimilate Xinjiang?” I ask, somewhat incredulous.  This is most definitely not consulting work even remotely related to Echelon.  Like, at all.

“I, and the Xi government, want a safer future for all Chinese citizens,” Yang says calmly, “and that includes all of the good people of Xinjiang.”  He checks his watch and sees the time.  “And now, I’m afraid I must be off for another appointment.  I’ll take my leave now but feel free to mingle amongst yourselves.  If you have any questions, please ask Shu, Alan, or Vanessa.  They will be here all morning to answer any queries you may have.  Thank you for your time this morning.  I really do hope you will join us.”


1. Explain why the CCP has brought us to China - Campaign to win "hearts and minds" of the people. - First project: Quell civil unrest in the Xinjiang Province. 2. Introductions.

Quitting the Rat Race is the American Dream

Quitting the Rat Race is the American Dream.  Over breakfast this morning, I had an interesting discussion with Bagel about entrepreneurship and working in America.  As I’ve mentioned before, Bagel is not American– she hails from Bageltopia.  And Bageltopians possess a significantly different cultural value system compared with Americans.  For Bageltopians, the prime good in respectable society –the highest one can aspire to achieve– is to work at one of the Big Three companies in the country.  I don’t know what the exact math works out to, but the Big Three in Bageltopia accounts for something like 50% of GDP, I bet.  It’d be like the Google, Facebook, Apple of Silicon Valley (or Microsoft and Amazon of Seattle; or in a previous era– the GM, Ford, Chrysler of Detroit).  Anyway, the entire corporate landscape in Bageltopia is dominated by these three companies and every year, new college graduates fall over themselves applying and trying to win prestigious admission via a very intense selection progress (a lot of standardized testing!  Scantron bubble sheets!).  While we certainly have more famous companies in America, I was telling Bagel that here in this country, in America, we much more admire and respect the small business owner or entrepreneur or artist.

Additionally, what’s really super-weird to me is that in Bageltopia, Bagel was telling me, society actually looks down on small business owners and artists. The thinking there is that the only reason one would work for themselves is only because you’re not able to find gainful employment with one of the big companies. Thus, self-employment, being an artist or small business owner, is actually a kind of scarlet letter and hot branding of failure and epic social shame of unthinkable and immeasurable magnitude. (You think I’m being hyperbolic but I’m really not! People really believe this in other parts of the world! I do not kid you!)

Obviously, this is only my opinion, but I feel in America, one of the quintessential dreams of making money is actually the opposite of joining a Big Famous Company.  Sure, there are plenty of folks who aspire for those kinda sinecures.  But even better than that is making your own company and working for yourself.  To not have to report The Man every day and punch the clock. But to be The Man.  In America, we all wish we could quit the Rat Race and escape the daily grind– not join it!  The dream is to open a small auto shop or café around the corner and be constantly raking in the moolah even if you’re not on the job!  Or write a book or Christmas song/jingle and then earn royalties on that work in perpetuity (ie. forever)You could be vacationing in Fiji or backpacking across the Andes and still have the money pouring in every month.  To Americans, I feel this is our American Dream.

Quitting: Sometimes Hard but Necessary

Quitting is hard. But sometimes it is the right move. It’s hard to quit and easy to just keep going. There’s comfort in doing what you’ve always done. Maybe it’s sticking with a losing position that you’ve held forever. Or with an activity or at a job. Or a relationship. It’s hard, but sometimes you just gotta let go. You just need to quit.

Banal but true: Our time and energy are finite. As Ben Horowitz at a16z is fond of saying, “What you do is who you are.” You’ve heard many times that it’s not just about yes– but also about saying no. It’s important to decline opportunities we’re only lukewarm about so we can keep our cycles open and our time/energy/money readily available for when something does come along that makes us say, “Hell yeah!”

In that vein, when we do tether our carriage to the wrong horse (a job, relationship, city, etc), cutting your losses is paramount. Otherwise, you’re just cheating future-you out of time, energy, and resources.

One of my favorite quotes on this topic comes from Horowitz; when asked what a junior employee should do at a company they’ve just joined but don’t fit in culturally, Horowitz’s advice was: “Quit.” He goes on to explain that as a junior new-hire, you won’t be able to change culture at a company. That’s something that can really only be driven top-down, from the executive level. For example, if the CEO is always arriving late to meetings, it’s likely punctuality simply isn’t valued at the company. And as a junior new-hire, the new kid on the block, any effort you expend to remedy that will most likely just be Sisyphean.

So if you’re not fitting in, just recognize you’d joined in error and it’s time to abandon ship and board another. There are many ships in the sea– surely, one will make you happy and better help you grow.