Thursday, September 30, 2010

a potentially habitable planet has been found!

check this out Star Trek here we come!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Muppets do Coldplay



Aidwatch uses it's BS knife to cut some UN statistics down to size. Not an especially challenging task, but very useful.

Multi-cultural living or the inevitability of being an a**hole.

Yesterday I was playing volleyball, like I do most Wednesdays. I am the youngest on my team and am also the best player and the only white guy. Since all the other players are forty or fifty years old this is nothing to toot my own horn over. My team wins 80% of the time. But my teammates incessantly provide me with "advice," and it is always the same advice. Without exaggeration, I am told how to hit the volleyball or where to stand on the court at least 20 times per game.

This annoys me.

I will be leaving my island this weekend, like I do just about every weekend, while most of my colleagues will not be because they have to work on Saturdays and I do not. This weekend it is likely that a storm will be coming and I may not be able to return on Sunday as I usually do. If I were Korean it is unlikely that I would be "allowed" to leave. But I am not, and so I will go.

But this annoys my colleagues.

If I were to tell my teammates to stop giving me "advice" they would be angry. Here one does not refuse the words of one's elders.

If they were to tell me that I could not leave, I would be angry. I believe an employer has no right to tell me what I can or cannot do on my days off, and am I not responsible for possible weather events.

And so on some level, and realistically, most levels, we view eachother negatively. Though we both understand cultural differences and make allowances neither one of us is willing to live by the other group's standards. In fact I have learned that becoming too close to my colleagues is a bad idea to the extent that the closer I get, the more they treat me like one of their own, which means expecting me to act as if I were a member of the Korean social hierarchy. This wouldn't be a problem except that being relatively young I am at the bottom of that hierarchy and being myself I am unwilling to subject those "below me" to what I consider ill-treatment.
And so I consciously stand apart.

Which also annoys my colleagues.

The end result is that we both on some level believe eachother to be a-holes. Because we are mature adults we manage to get along most of the time , excusing each other's behaviour rationally, or venting behind eachother's backs. But still that raw feeling that the other person is an a-hole is always lingering just beneath the surface. And because we live next to eachother it always will, unless one of us changes our minds or moves.

But then why should either of us change our minds? We live in different moral universes, both coherent, and yet opposing. Should I accept, indeed embrace, the idea that society should hierarchally arranged? Or contrary-wise is it reasonable or realistic for me to expect my 40 year old colleagues to act towards me as if I were their equal? I don't think so.

This is one of the less comfortable facts of living a multicultural life. You are inevitably an a-hole.

How to write about Africa

This is funny.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The supposed African "Brain Drain" is bunk

Listen to this.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Geoengineering: sounds reasonable.

check this out

Friday, September 24, 2010

"Are we run by a**holes?" asks Jon Stewart

Usually I've been a little disappointed, particularly during the last presidential election, with how partisan the Daily show has become. But lately it seems the disenchantment that many liberals feel with Obama, including Jon Stewart, has allowed him to produce more of the old-fashion, relatively non-partisan, fun-making that I have always liked the show for. This segment is great comedy and great reporting at the same time. Why can't the rest of the media lay out how Congress really works just as clearly?

You can't make this stuff up: Radiolaria

h/t to org.theory for finding these. They are tiny microorganisms called radiolaria, what you are seeing are their shells. They are alive.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Washington Corruption, doing the "third world" proud.

Here is the latest corruption scandal in which Congresswoman Eleanor Norton-Holmes records herself begging for money from people who are working on the government projects she "handles." With my previous post about cop corruption I think I may turn this topic into a semi-regular feature. Americans are famous (infamous?) for preaching "good governance" to the rest of the world, and particularly to poorer or non-Western nations. But unless such messages are coming from a credible source they will, rightly, be ignored.

South Korea is famous for corruption between big business and government. Koreans hate it. But the manner in which this corruption is reported in the Western media, and even in the Korean media, fails to give much needed context. Unlike in most Western nations, Korean citizens by and large expect their governments to provide leadership in all facets of society, including the economy. This means that there is a normatively much closer relationship between government and business leaders than exists elsewhere. Think Korea Inc. And because of this close relationship drawing the line between what is corrupt and what is not can be exceedingly difficult. Compounding this problem is the character of business relationships in Korea. The first thing any business man learns when trying to work in Korea is that Koreans have a very relational, as opposed to legalistic, view of how to conduct business, make contracts, etc. Obeying the letter of the law, as opposed to the obligations that arise from a relationship-formed over many bottles of Soju, is not high on the priority list of most Korean businesses. Again, in this kind of context, how do you start defining corruption?


Sunday, September 19, 2010

ADHD is about willpower

Here is an interesting article about the most current thinking on ADHD. Apparently it is more accurate to think about the causes of ADHD not as any specific and identifiable deficit (chemical or otherwise) but as an inability to allocate attention effectively.

In Korea disorders such as ADHD are almost entirely undiagnosed. I am not skeptical that they indeed exist in some form everywhere but I do think their existence as social entities, and therefore how they are conceptualized and dealt with by differing societies, varies quite dramatically. The American treatment for ADHD is drugs. Other societies have other ways of dealing with it. In Korea children are taught that they are responsible for their behaviour and that diligence is something that all people, no matter what their initial standing, can learn to cultivate.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Constructing (conceiving of?) beauty

Russ Roberts over at ECONTALK has an interesting discussion this week with Alain de Button about his books which focus on seeing the beauty of contemporary society, industry, and technology. Its worth a listen (see my links to the right.)

Koreans are much better at seeing beauty in modernity than are Westerners. I've often thought it was because modernity is such a newer phenomenon here. But de Button makes many good points about how in the West active forces, such as "high society" "literati" and or ideas such as "haute coutre" or the "art film" are instrumental in constructing objects that are deemed acceptable to be considered beautiful (sorry thats a mouthful).

Take this picture for example of the "snake road" on my island. I've always considered it to be quite ugly, but for Koreans it is a work of beauty. I see a scar that mars the natural beauty of the island, yet for Koreans it is an artful creation that confirms how, even on this far flung island, Korea is a developed and prosperous nation.


This American Life on Cop Corruption

Check out this week's This American Life podcast (see my link on the right). It interviews a New York police officer who secretly recorded every conversation he had while on the job for 17 months. Suffice to say, a lot of interesting stuff happened as a consequence, including him being forcibly thrown into a psych ward by his fellow officers. I've been out of the U.S. too long to have a good perspective on this kind of stuff, but man, the U.S. seems to be really in crapper these days.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Frankenfish or simply the future?

The Spill has a good review article about the recent controversy surrounding the impending approval by the FDA of the first genetically modified animal designed for human consumption. Its a salmon that grows many times faster than those found in the wild.
I think the controversy is missing the point. The potential environmental gains from this Frankenfish are huge. Why? Well because this Frankenfish is so economical it can be raised in indoor, on-land, facilities. Why is this such a good thing from an environmental point of view? Well because we know longer have to raise the fish in offshore fish farms that pollute the water and allow escaped, farm-raised, fish to pollute wild salmon populations.
Fish farming from an environmental point of view was a huge step in the right direction. It helped stop us from depleting wild fish populations. But then fish farms have pollution issues just like all other farms, i.e. too much poop and fertilizers/hormones. So the frankenfish will allow us to economically confine all that poop and fertilizers, taking it out of the oceans and lakes and putting it into purpose-built, on-land, "fish factories."

Now whether or not we want to eat these factory-raised frankenfish is another question entirely. Personally I probably wouldn't mind. But from an environmental standpoint I don't see why old-school knee-jerk conservationists are crying (wolf) on this issue. Removing and confining our hazardous activities (fishing and fish farming) as far from nature as possible is unquestionably a good thing for those environments that we no longer need to utilize.

It reminds me of the same debate over whether or not hunting safaris in Africa can/should be used to protect endangered species.

Out where I live on Heuksando fish farming is a huge business and has been a livelihood saver for many fishermen who can no longer go hunting because fish stocks in the Yellow Sea are so depleted (or as they would say because the Chinese have kicked them out).


Fractal pictures

Check out these pictures over at Wired.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Saturn Photos

Wired has some awesome photos of Saturn taken by NASA.

Selling sex

The Economist is hosting a debate on whether or not prostitution should be legal. My answer is that it depends. Sex is as much a culturally constructed act as it is a physical one. And from an ethical standpoint the nature of the physical act is almost entirely irrelevant. The context within which the sex in question is occurring, and the mental states of the individuals involved are the real loci of concern. Sex within marriage is generally celebrated the world over and rape is almost universally condemned. But between these two poles attitudes about casual and consensual sex, of which prostitution is a form, vary hugely across cultures. In South Korea prostitution is pervasive, and if one gets beneath the moralistic rhetoric of churches and the government, broadly accepted as morally unproblematic, at least by the male population, if it is kept within certain contexts, i.e. certain 노래방, room salons, or 다방.
In Madagascar prostitution is a popular (yes that is the right word) occupation amongst younger women looking for a little bit of freedom and money before they get married off to a man possibly twice their age. Sex is simply not considered a particularly special activity worthy of special consideration like it generally is in the West.

Now certainly I personally think it is unfortunate that many Korean men find prostitution to be unproblematic, and that many Malagasy women live within a world that prostitution offers them a chance for a modicum of personal autonomy, but the point is that simply condemning prostitution without considering the contexts within which it is occurring is not going to be productive. Ultimately societies, and individuals in those societies, have to decide for themselves whether or not criminalizing prostitution is something that they want to do. And because attitudes towards casual and consensual sex vary so much across cultures we should expect that laws on prostitution will be equally diverse.


Ignoring the plank in our own eyes: prisoners in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia

A week ago one of my favorite blogs, Aid Thoughts, blogged about how a Saudi court tried to have doctors paralyze a man from the waist down as punishment for him having done the same to another man during a fight. An eye for an eye as the Bible says...

Aid Thoughts was appalled and appealed to another blog, Wronging Rights (another good read) for some "pithy" witticism that could, in a comedic fashion I suppose, capture the barbarity of this punishment.

I responded that the West is should spend more time sorting out its own judicial systems and less time on coming up with pithy remarks about other systems. And then I find this article in the Atlantic that nicely details the mess that is the American judicial and prison system.

Here in Korea foreigners often loudly complain about the Korean legal system. I usually sympathize in substance, but there has to be a greater recognition by said complaining foreigners that judicial systems are reflections of the societies that create them, not protectors of universal human rights as laid down by the United Nations. Changes cannot simply be "logically" argued for by reference to some supposedly universal standard.