Politics & Policy

The Double-Edged Chopstick: Mfn Status For China; Skin Game; Die, Jawa, Die!: Aliens, Species & Race in The Star Wars Series


So today is the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square slaughter. There are protests outside the Communist Chinese embassy. The ChiCom’s flagship party newspaper published a rare editorial mentioning the massacre entitled, “Unswervingly Maintaining Social Stability.” The editors of the “(Screw the) People’s Daily” wrote that the NATO bombing of their inconveniently located Yugoslavian embassy proved that “hostile forces in the West have never abandoned their scheme to ruin China.”

Now, I for one don’t know what they’re talking about. I’d be for full admittance to the WTO if I could just get them to stop letter-bombing my building with menus.

The editorial continues, saying that the carnage of 1989 was necessary to protect the “national independence, dignity, security, and stability” of a bunch of fat septuagenarian bozos and criminals who denounce Western culture but consume its food, cigarettes, toilet paper, movies, porn, and prostitutes in mass quantities. I confess the editorial simply said the “…security and stability of China.” But sometimes my Chinese-to-English dictionary veers violently to the right.

The issue of trade with morally crappy countries is a very difficult issue. On the one hand, the only way such crappy countries de-crapify is by growing more prosperous. Marx was right about at least one thing, the bourgeoisie hates getting screwed. The bigger the Chinese middle class gets, the better the odds that they will open a fresh-to-go box of whup-ass on the bureaucratic aristocracy. On the other hand, it does rankle quite a bit to pursue a policy that the bad guys want us to pursue. Worse still, in the short term, the more two-cent shower shoes we buy from China, the more innocent people are enslaved to make them.

But no matter how complex and convoluted an issue relations with China may be, why would Clinton ask to renew trade with the arrogant bastards on the anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown? What kind of signal does that send? We badger them about human rights. We tell them that murdering your own people is antithetical to our values. We say that human rights must be part of any larger discussion of the US-China relationship. But on the ten-year anniversary of the worst anti-democratic massacre in a long time, the president asks to renew trade with them. Congress isn’t even in session so it didn’t have to be today. I don’t get it.


For years I was horrified that I was going to go bald. Dad’s follically challenged (please, no one write to me with propaganda about baldness just being on the mother’s side) and my hair went pretty thin in high school. I dodged the bullet, but I still have a vestigial and deep commitment to the importance of hats. I am radically pro-hat. But, alas, I can’t find many that fit because my gourd is so damn big and misshapen — it’s like Sputnik, spherical but pointy in parts. But I can still root for them. Thus I was delighted to read in today’s Wall Street Journal that men’s hats are beginning to make a comeback. But we need something more. Bear with me.

In the 1930s, a leading slogan was “A hat makes all the difference.” It certainly did and maybe it would today. Just look at any picture of a baseball game crowd or street scene from back then, and everyone is wearing a hat. Moreover, they all look so happy.

Perhaps all of the national qualities Americans are nostalgic for were kept under our hats. The last days of national bliss and consensus were under Dwight Eisenhower who wore hats all the time — just like everyone else. Indeed, the death blow for mandatory hat-wearing is generally considered to be John F. Kennedy’s refusal to wear one at his inauguration. He took our hats and gave us Vietnam and national discord.

Borrowing an idea from my father (who also prays for the return of headwear more than he prays for world peace), the next president of the United States could save a dying American industry without even saying the words “legislation” or “tariff” — a hard thing for government to do without violating all sorts of market and democratic principles.

He and his entire Cabinet should simply wear hats. Everyday, everywhere — except indoors or in the presence of ladies, of course.

That’s all the feeble U.S. hat industry would need for a revival (and the hat-rack manufacturers wouldn’t be upset either). Fashion and gossip magazines as well as the light-news TV shows would start commenting on the hats all the time. Visiting dignitaries and businessmen would start wearing them and bringing them as gifts. People would start buying hats and, like me, they’d feel a little less stupid wearing them.

All of the people who think civil society is eroding should favor the idea too. If all men started wearing hats, opportunities for polite and civil gestures would explode. Tipping one’s hat to another gentleman would catch on, improving relations between races and creeds. Men would take their hats off in the presence of ladies, showing just a little bit more of the respect women so richly deserve. Street urchins, beggars, and other secular untouchables would have a million more opportunities to say things like, “you forgot your hat, sir.” Waiters, cabbies, and train conductors who ran after customers who left their hats would reap huge increases in tips.

This idea could very well save human civilization (maybe when Dad prayed more for a hat renaissance than for world peace he was really killing two birds with the same stone). Or maybe not. But if Joe Camel and bloody video games influence people, why wouldn’t a nice fedora? Besides, what’s the harm?


As you might imagine, yesterday’s assault on The Phantom Menace elicited a great deal of geek-mail. I cannot and will not address it at any length here and now. But there is one interesting issue worth a few moments of consideration. I asked whether the Star Wars universe was racist, not because of the cheesy Asian and Jamaican accents in the movie, but because of the disproportionate representation of humans. Two responses were very helpful.

One person pointed out to me that “racist” is the wrong word. The alien races really aren’t “races” so much as “species.” She was quite energized. “Races, (if a valid concept at all),” she wrote, “are at most minor and superficial variant groupings within a species. Doesn’t anybody get this right?”

[Appreciation moment: Damn, my readers are cool.]

Okay, she raises a fascinating point. Indeed everyone in sci-fidom does refer to alien races. And, technically, races are subspecies of, well, the same species. And, of course, we all know that racism was born during the Enlightenment, with no small contribution from the French — but that’s a gratuitous and wildly over-generalizing potshot (thank goodness today is gratuitous and wild over-generalization Thursday). But my dictionary also says that a race can be, among other things, “human beings considered as a group.” It can be the Celtic race, or more generally, the human race.

I think the reason why we use the term race is that we think “species” are vastly more inferior than races. This is probably why the writers of Star Trek have the Borg refer to “species 3472” — it makes them sound smug. We are used to thinking that race is in fact a minor difference between people, at least compared to the differences between species. Even racists don’t refer to minorities as “species.” So if we ran into really smart people on other planets — yes, even if they smelled like Michael Moore — we’d probably call them an alien race rather than species, out of respect.

The other interesting e-mail was from someone at the University of Chicago. He brought to my attention the profile of Admiral Ackbar — commander of the rebel fleet in Return of the Jedi. It can be found at the official Star Wars website. As you might recall, Ackbar comes from a giant two-legged fish race. It turns out that he is something of an affirmative-action hire as well. “Beyond his great skills and sterling character,” reads his official bio, “Ackbar is a symbol to the rest of the galaxy: a symbol that the Alliance is fighting for everyone, no matter what their background or origin. The Empire, in contrast, has made discrimination against non-humans a longstanding policy.”

Who knew?


The Latest