Blowing up Tokyo with Chinese fireworks

China's 2-week New Year festivities kick off this weekend. Hundreds of millions of Chinese people will travel home and an obscene number of fireworks will be set off, causing cities throughout the country to sound like warzones.

The fireworks on sale to the general public range from cheap spinners to extravagant Olympics-grade pyrotechnics. These include a $200 66-pound package called Tonight Is So Beautiful that fires red and green bursts several stories high, writes David Pierson in the Los Angeles Times.

The most controversial fireworks this year are ones that reference Japan, including "I Love the Diaoyu Islands," about the small islands in the East China Sea administered by Japan (which calls them the Senkakus) and claimed by China, and the less subtle "Tokyo Big Explosion." For $54 "you can blow up Tokyo," the news portal China News Web said, explaining why the fireworks were so popular in Beijing. China-Japan tensions are worsening; the latest sign, in, early February, was when Japan said that a Chinese military vessel focused a radar used to direct weapons on a Japanese naval vessel near the islands.

But Beijing seems to have cracked down on the sale of anti-Japanese fireworks: a manager of the company selling them told the Associated Press that the government said to company that "China is a peace-loving country and should not do something damaging to the China-Japan friendship."

Why does this matter? Cracking down on sales of patriotic fireworks doesn't mean that Beijing's going to try to reduce tensions.

Rather, it's a nice illustration that China's non-democratic government is more restrained than the people it represents with regards to Japan. Chinese grass-roots hatred of the Japanese runs deep; officials can harness this hatred and allow protests against Japan, like they did in September, while keeping tensions in check. Sadly, if many Chinese had their way, "blowing up Tokyo" might be more than the name of a firework.  

Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images


Iranian presidential candidate does Reddit AMA

Reddit was once a site by, for, and about the concerns of "internet people." But in the past year, it has seen its popular AMA (ask me anything) sub-forum has become a popular way for celebrities, scientists, politicians and others to gain legitimacy with the online masses. Even President Obama did one.

The latest aspiring leader to allow Reddit users to ask him anything is Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi, a long-shot candidate for the Iranian presidency. Amirahmadi is a professor at Rutgers who left Iran for the United States in 1975 because of the political situation. He registered as a candidate for the 2005 presidential election but allegedly was disqualified by the Guardian Council for his joint U.S. citizenship.  

Here are some of the highlights from yesterday's session: 

In 2005, I put my name down as a candidate, but it was not really serious. I entered the race about one month before the election day and my purpose was not really to stay the course, but rather to make a statement. Much of Iran's intelligentsia was boycotting that election and I was afraid that by boycotting, we are going to get someone elected that will not be hospitable to democracy and human rights. History proven me right.

In my administration there will be no restriction on any type of media. I believe in free speech.

The biggest problem for Iran is a lack of trust between the US Iran. I have lived 40 years in the US, I understand both cultures and laungages. I can easily build trust between the two countries. particularly because I have never been part of the problem between the US and Iran. I have tried to be part of the solution for 25 years.

He also touches on women's rights, the persecution of Baha'is, homosexuality, his favorite ice cream flavor, and his own thoughts on space travel.

Why is he doing this? Well according to Amirahmadi:

At this point, no candidate (not me, not Messrs. Ghalibaf, Velayati, etc.) is allowed to publicly campaign in Iran. In that sense, all candidates are in the same boat. No candidate can publicly campaign until he gets the approval of the Guardian Council, which will be delivered in late-May. So far, my campaign has been very active campaigning in the United States, Dubai, and the United Kingdom. We will be travelling to Iran in March, but not for public campaigns. With your help, we want to take our message of peace around the world.

Several Iran watchers, expatriates and Iranians (using proxies to gain access to Reddit) came out claiming that many of Amrahmadi's proposals aren't even within the scope of presidential power, even if he manages to obtain permission from the Guardian Council to run. They're still waiting for a response.

Amirahmadi has promised another AMA on February 12 starting at 6 PM EST. Iran's election is scheduled for June 14, 2013. I suppose an Ahmadinejad AMA might be too much to hope for.