History bites

On Sunday, Silverlotus and I caught a rerun of “The First Emperor: The Man Who Made China”, the Discovery documentary that chronicled the adventures of Qin Shi Huang, the man who united the feudal provinces of the Middle Kingdom into the Qin Empire.

Later in life, Qin became obsessed with attaining immortality and took to ingesting mercury in the belief it would make him live forever. Ironically it actually crippled his mind and body, eventually killing him.

As they played the scene of him eating the poisonous substance, I took this time to say something of historical significance:

“That must have tasted like ass.”

Chinese New Year in Vegas

I guess what’s unlucky for you is lucky for me, right? I read this bizarre excerpt about “Las Vegas turns red for Chinese New Year”

There are 31 luxury villas at The Mansion in MGM Grand, but the numbers go from one to 34, bypassing unlucky 8, 18 and 28.

“Seven’s all right. Eight. You don’t want to look at eight. You don’t see eights in any of our villas,” [MGM Mirage CEO Terry Lanni] said.

Someone should tell Mr. Lanni that the number eight is the luckiest number for an Asian gambler to have. The number eight stands for prosperity and wealth. Only players with million dollar accounts are invited to stay at The Mansion. Unless this is on purpose, although I’d hardly think the house needs to jinx its players!

But it’s true that Chinese are pretty serious about gambling (there is even a subgenre of Hong Kong movies all about gambling its flamboyant lifestyle; see the “God of Gambling” series); you’ll see quite a few Chinese high rollers hunkered down in Pai Gow poker this time of year.

Year of the Pig

Valentine’s ideas for profanely rich people

1. Say it with flowers, or to be more precise, eight foot tall Extreme Roses, freakishly long stemmed flowers that will set you back $250 for a dozen. But you know what they say about men with big roses.

2. Have dinner at The Dome, State Tower Hotel, Bangkok for their “Epicurean Masters of the World” event. 10 courses, 10 wines, six Michelin 3-star chefs, $25,000 USD. They say the shortest way to your lover’s heart is through their stomach, and after you’ve stuffed them with Tartare of Kobe beef with Imperial Beluga caviar and Belon oysters, surely a glass of priceless ’59 Chateau Mouton Rothschild won’t be the only thing he/she’ll be kissing tonight.

3. Book the Penthouse at The Setai, Miami. It features a private butler, Asian-style decor, and flat-screen TVs in every room. And if you end up in the doghouse, that’s cool, because it there are plenty of places to sleep with its four bedrooms and two living rooms!

Quit smoking, win a car

Call it waving a carrot instead of a cigarette stick: the Canadian Cancer Society is trying positive reinforcement with their Driven to Quit Challenge:

Go smoke-free for March 2007 and you could win a 2007 Acura CSX or 1 of 7 Sony 32″ Widescreen LCD HDTVs.

A $25,000 car is nothing to cough at. Oh, and if you win, they make you tinkle in a cup to verify you’ve actually kicked the habit.

Black gold, darker than night

Vanity Fair’s Sebastian Banger discusses the depraved conditions of the Niger delta, where plentiful oil is both a blessing and a curse. As US oil companies pump the light sweet crude, corrupt government officials embezzle over $300 billion of oil revenue, while delta Nigerians live in polluted squalor, without medicine or fresh water.

Many resort to bribes and bunkering (oil theft); even poorly-paid military are often on the take. Some of the disenfranchised have decided to resort to violence. Meanwhile worried oil experts around the world observe how the actions of twenty militants in speedboats can cause a gas-thirsty North America to slide into a recession:

“Every sector of society has been left to fend for itself. The airline industry, for example, is so slack in its maintenance that it has seen three catastrophic plane crashes in the past 16 months, which together have killed more than 300 people. The airport at Port Harcourt was shut down in 2005 after an incoming Air France flight plowed into a herd of cows that had wandered onto the runway; it still has not reopened. Tens of millions of people live in urban slums without water or sanitation, restaurants have to hire guards with AK-47s to protect the diners, and the levels of chaos and street violence rival that of many countries at war. A dead man lay on the street near my hotel for two days before someone finally came to take him away.”

Compact Calendar Canadian Version

A localized version of David Seah’s compact calendar.

The changes:

* populated calendar with Canadian public holidays
* populated calendar with provincial and territorial holidays (even Orangemen’s Day)
* fixed typo in titles of both Sunday versions to say “Week Starting Sunday”

Because while we think the United States is a very nice country, we don’t celebrate the 4th of July. We celebrate Canada Day:

Download 2007 Compact Calendar Canadian Version (English) (zipped Excel files)

Love, written

“The feature spoke of this and that position — and I am not talking about positions during a football game or the Middle East position.”

– Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia, regarding a “distasteful” expose on teen sex that appeared in the local Weekend Mail newspaper

“Obnoxious, drunkard uncle for hire (62). Belches the national anthem in three octaves, scratches inappropriately and is seemingly never satisfied by your very best efforts. Is dinner ready yet – and if not, why not? December will be magic again at Box no. 5610.”

– one of the bizarre personal ads that has appeared in the London Review of Books magazine

Boldy going, going, gone

“You’re not buying just that jacket, you’re buying a piece of a dream. You’re buying a piece of childhood. This means something far beyond just the plastic here.”

– Michael Okuda, on Christie’s Star Trek auction, “ABC News: Star Trek: The Auction

The six-foot model of the USS Enterprise-D was just sold for half a million US dollars at Christie’s 40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection. The Borg ship was assimilated for $96,000; the Enterprise-E was pushed off at $132,000. And so there is a price to childhood memories…

But perhaps I’m being a bit too sentimental. After all, Paramount doesn’t need them, even if they decide to make a new series one day – props can be rebuilt from photos and the starships are safely berthed as computer models – but I still can’t help contrast this with the festivities that accompanied Star Trek’s 25th anniversary. Leonard Nimoy made a cameo on Star Trek: TNG. Star Trek-themed videogames and action figures and Franklin Mint 3D chess sets flooded the market.

Now, there are no more Trek series on the telly. There is no more creating – just disassembling. Celebrating Star Trek’s 40th with a sale seems so…final.

Nevertheless, I’m finding it fun to watch the proceedings via the History Channel live video stream. It’s amazing how the Internet has progressed where not only can I watch this auction in realtime, others can bid alongside local and telephone bidders. The atmosphere is quite light. A few folks including the auction assistants are dressed in Starfleet uniforms, but so far no extreme geekism has been witnessed. The auctioneer once quipped to a man who had just bought a sizeable amount of rubber-and-pleather Klingon chairs for a sizeable sum, “You will be back next week for some Monets and Picassos?”

Empires I have known

An interactive map chronicling 5,000 years of empires in the Middle East and Eurasia, starting with the Kingdom of Egypt to the Roman Empire to the autonomous nations of the 21st century. It’s interesting to see how many peoples have fought (and continue to fight) for control over the Fertile Crescent.

Silverlotus remarked that it’s as if as humans we are compelled to covet the land where our species originated from.