Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Greenies lost their roots?

I've been away for awhile. My non-blog life has been busy (marriage). Here is a good article about why the green movement seems to be floundering quite a bit these days.
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Compliments in Korea

I get complimented a lot in Korea. Especially by people whom I've only known for a short time. Sometimes, often, it is excessive. This doesn't happen to me in other foreign countries. I've often wondered why in Korea I am apparently such an amazing person. Leaving aside the obvious answer (I really am awesome) there must be some interesting, and specifically Korean, culture reasons why this happens that have nothing to do with my greatness. I can think of a few but there must be better ones.

1. I speak some Korean. Because it is unusual for a foreigner to do so this surprises and delights most Koreans.

2. I don't speak enough Korean, or do not know enough about contemporary Korean culture and society, to have an interesting conversation about Korean politics, or society, or the latest Korean drama. This lack of common space between me and many Koreans means we just don't have a lot to talk about, and so giving compliments fills and otherwise uncomfortable void.

3. Koreans are trying to place me somewhere in their relationship hierarchy depending on how I react to their compliments. Though I admit that I don't have any idea how my reactions in this regard contribute to my placement ( If anyone can elaborate on this one I'd love to hear about it.)

4. Koreans simply consider it a form of hospitality to compliment people they meet, i.e. "Oh your so handsome!" = "Nice to meet you."

Can you think of others?

But for any Koreans who might be reading this blog, allow me to offer a little advice. Westerners are not used to being complimented very often, and very rarely by people that they are meeting for the first time. One or two restrained compliments("Oh I like your shoes" or whatever) is fine if you really like something but any more than that tends to feel fake and strained to a Westerner. If you don't know what to say and have to make chit-chat, the weather or complaining about work are probably better options.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gay Marriage, a longing for acceptance.

I usually don't think much of Andrew Sullivan's opinions. But his latest one on gay marriage is very thoughtful.

From my point of view, anytime there is a conflict between religion and state the best thing that both sides can do is try to ignore eachother. We don't need politicians talking about Islam. Its not their expertise or their business. Likewise we don't need people questioning others political fitness based upon their religion, as what happened to Mitt Romeny during the last presidential campaign. And finally we don't need the government drawing lines, based solely on religious motivations, for who and who cannot have their special relationship with another person legally recognized.
The government shouldn't be marrying anyone. Churches, mosques, synagogues, or even atheists organizations, can do so if they wish.

Today homosexual relationships are discriminated against by the U.S. government. That is wrong and should end. But I really can't sympathize with gay people's obessive desire for acceptance by wider society or their naive belief that legal recognition equals societal acceptance. Legalizing gay marriage is not the answer. Instead recognizing that governments are not, and should not be, the final arbitarier of morality is.

We should end the discrimination. But to gays out there; stop caring about what Bob Jones thinks. He doesn't matter.
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Democracy growing in Korea

Here is an interesting article about the recent cabinet reshuffle in Korea.
The best news is that Lee Myung Bak is on the way out. I don't have a negative opinion of ole 2MB. In fact I don't follow Korean politics closely enough to really have any opinion of him. Nevertheless I say it's nice that he is on his way out because it means that someone quite different from him is likely to be on his way in, probably from the Minjudang party. Ideological diversity in the top position, particularly in Korea where the president holds so much power, can only be healthy. Particularly when the politics in a country is as polarized as it is in Korea. By swaying from left to right most polices in the long duree tend to be enacted in a fairly centrist fashion.

Kudos to Korean democracy.

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Huh?

This is the ANC talking about Helen Zille's statment that the DA will lobby ANC members to vote against the bill that would set up a Media Tribunal to watch over SA media. Read a full article here.

"Her publicly announced plan to influence a parliamentary decision through secret deals with MPs under the cover of darkness sounds much like a product of an overzealous propaganda. It is interesting that Zille herself seems to believe in this propaganda."

And here is Zille's statement that it is 'responding' to-

"We are aware that many ANC MPs are deeply troubled by this bill," Zille said. "They believe it undermines our Constitution. But they also believe it undermines the Freedom Charter. We shall actively lobby ANC MPs to vote with their consciences against the bill."

Zille and the DA have been unwisely backing themselves into a corner over the past year or so. But the ANC, although it is likely to be safe for the next 30 years or so, should, if only for pride's sake, step up its game a little bit.

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Krugman gone shrill?

Is it just me or has Paul Krugman become increasing shrill over the past year or so. Check out this latest article.


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Monday, August 9, 2010

The American State Department has a Assistant Secretary of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor?

So I just watched the interview of Micheal Posner on Colbert Nation. If you are looking for a place to cut the debt, his department is a good place to start. I do not want my government to be an international idealogue.
Mr. Posner seems like a very nice guy and I am pretty sure that ethically he and I are 90% on the same page.

But.

If we are to take local democracy seriously we must try our best to allow people to choose their own governance systems. In an increasely interconnected world this is a difficult task. But surely the U.S. must be failing in this regard if we have a whole section of the State department commited to spreading our versions of democracy, human rights, and labor standards.

For the vast majority of people around the world local affliations, one's family, tribe, hometown, or at the outside one's nationality, still overwhelmingly dominate how they view the world.

People are not swayed by (supposedly) abstract ideals.
This may change. But we are not there yet, nor is it obvious that moving in such a direction is the right way to go.

One of democracy's greatest insights is that it recognizes that people hate being told what to do or think by those that they percieve to be outside of their group. The U.S. must recognize that although it may be the biggest guy on the block, in the international arena it is an outsider, and if for no other reason than that, people will be doubtful that what it has to say applies to them.
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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Absurd

This is from Bruce Cumings' Korea's Place in the Sun

"Korean universities, like those in Japan, also did not require a lot of their students...Korean students worked their tails off in high school and graduated with skills at about the level of American college juniors. Koreans got the education they needed for their careers mostly in high school."

This is absurd. Throughout the book Cumings consistently defends what Westerners would consider the weaker aspects of Korean society. This quote is him doing that at his most extreme.

It is wildly untrue that the average Korean highschool graduate in the 60's (the context of this quote) had anything close to the education level of an American college junior. The same could be said for today's Korean high school graduates. There is simply no comparison. Although it is true that university in Korea, then and now, is famously easy.

The rest of the book is quite informative and written in an admirably non-scholarly fashion that nevertheless impresses upon the reader that Cumings really knows his stuff.

Which makes silly statements like the one above all the more unfortunate.
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Friday, August 6, 2010

So smart...and yet so stupid

Here is an article over at Nature about physicists getting all hot and bothered over who should get the Nobel prize for the Higgs particle. I suppose fame is worth something, and the million dollar prize isn't bad either. But still...you'd think (hope) people who are this smart would recognize awards for what they are, nice sideshows, but ultimately not why you do what you do, and certainly not something to threaten "boycotting" a meeting of your colleagues over.
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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Paul Kagame, an African Park Chung Hee or just your average Mobutu?

Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, has been getting a lot of press over the past couple years for turning Rwanda's economy and government around after the ultimate low of the 1994 genocide in which nearly a 1 million people perished. Corruption is down, industry is up, and investment is pouring in, construction booming, and aid critics are fawning over the progress and development they see across the country.

But it is election time in Rwanda and Mr. Kagame is being accused of authoritarianism. People are afraid all Kagame's success may be going to his head. Newspapers have been shut down, reporters killed and dissenting voices imprisoned.

Park Chung Hee, the military dictator under which South Korea experienced its largest and most dramatic economic and industrial gains during the 1960s and 1970s was also quite the authoritarian. He was also assasinated by his own CIA chief. But today most Koreans look back on that era as, at least in economic terms, a golden age and measure every current president's performance in terms of steering the economy against Park's record. Park produced results and Koreans today by and large are grateful to him for doing what needed to be done to put Korea on the map of modern developed nations. They were also wise enough to know when his usefullness had reached its limit.

I can only hope this might be Kagame's fate. In fifty years time to be remembered as a brutal authoritarian who nonetheless helped his people to realize their economic dreams.
But then Kagame probably isn't too fond of assasinations.
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Promoting Diversity

I love diversity. Few things make me happier than eating a dinner of American-style BBQ ribs, German potato salad, and a bottle of South African Viogner, while talking to my Korean fiancee about some event in international politics like the ongoing Malawian flag controversy (don't tell me you haven't heard about it.).

In my personal life I am almost addicted to the challenges and unexpected pleasures that come with learning about and adapting to new environments. Familiarity bores and, in longer doses, genuinely frustrates me.


With that said I find most of the rationales for promoting diversity, particularly in the U.S., to be dishonest or at least intellectually tortured albiet driven by ethical impulses that I have much sympathy for. Take for example this recent defense over at orgtheory.net which focuses on promoting diversity in university faculties. In it we are told that "we shouldn't care about the racial background of a math professor" and that "the argument for diversity does not rest on giving preferential treatment to people." Rather promoting diversity is necessary in order to make "the university reflect the very best in scholarship."

I'll call the this "utilitarian" defense. Diversity creates better scholarship. But what does this mean exactly? And is it even on its face credible? It might be partially credible in a social sciences department but what about in math or physics? How do you judge "better" in this context? And what are the consequences of taking this position? Well in the U.S. where college students are still disproportionately white it will mean finding ways to exclude them.

And to me this is really the crux of the issue. Americans hate to think in terms of discrimination. In many ways this is laudable. But if we are to promote diversity, at least in the American context, we must discriminate. Coming up with tortured and suspect rationales for doing this might make some feel better but there is no getting around it and personally as a white male I would prefer advocates of diversity to fess up to promoting discrimination...and then keep on doing it.

Because again I like diversity, and if it means that I personally will be disadvantaged by its promotion then so be it. I'm willing to take that hit. Its either that, or I have to give up my love for humus and Youssou N'Dour and that's just something I am not willing to do.

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You know you're getting old or lame (or both) when...

So I've been living outside of the U.S. for about 6 odd years now. Every once in a while I try to check in with what's happening there socially and culturally by watching the "hot" comedy shows. A few year ago it was one called "It always sunny in Philadelphia" if I'm not mistaken.
I watched and laughed a little but wasn't really impressed.

Fast forward a few years and now I am previewing "Parks and Recreation" and "Community." Can't say I'm all that impressed. Humor these days seems to be so intellectually driven but I'm more of a gut humor type guy.
Or maybe I'm just too culturally out of the loop to catch the jokes.

Either way it makes me feel old and mildly lame. Being the first one bothers me but the second one less so.

Anyone really like those shows?

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

No Jazz in Gwangju or how I became such a sheep

So a few months ago I was very excited to find a live Jazz Club in Gwangju, the city in which I spend most of my weekends. Unfortunately the place was literally empty when we went. Okay there were two other people who left shortly after we arrived. So my wife and I nevertheless ordered a couple glasses of wine, sat back and tried to enjoy the music. The band was a group of amateur college kids. But still quite good for all that. After finishing one glass of wine, and being given some free rice cake (apparently it was one of the band member's birthday), we left.

I have never been back.

Why?

Well because no one was there of course and like any good Korean I judge the quality of a place by how many people go there and if nobody goes there it must not be good. I exaggerate.
But I often reflect on how much more of a sheep I am in Korea than I am elsewhere.
Westerners tend to focus on how much they influence everyone else but these days cultural exchange, particularly between the East and the West is becoming a much more complicated affair.

I like it that way.

But I don't like being a sheep.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Good Links

Lankov Korea's earliest, and stunted, attempts to modernize.

55% ABV Beer courtesy of BrewDog

Learn to be energy efficient from an Orangutan?

Sharkwater is not to be missed (I hear)

All about Duck penises



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Back from Malawi

I spent the last two weeks on the shores of Lake Malawi in Malawi. They are beautiful. And the diving is pretty darn cool as well. Overall awesome country. One of the best conversations I had was with my taxi driver as I was on my way out of the country.
I was asking him how to get a good deal on a refrigerator (they are expensive in Malawi) and we got into a great conversation in which he told me a very short version of his life story. He spent few years in South Africa selling used clothes in Johannesburg with a fellow from Mali and saved up enough money to buy a car in Durban and then drive it home to Malawi. He is now a taxi driver with his car and an all-around entreprenuer. As I was exiting his taxi, he sensed an oppurtunity to make a buck and tried to buy my Malawian cellphone off me so that he could resell it later. Although I didn't sell it to him, I may need it later, I thought it very astute of him to recognize the possible profit oppurtunity. I was also impressed that he offered to buy the phone from me rather than simply asking for it to be given to him.
I got his phone number, and if I am back in the country, will definitely give him a ring.
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