Saturday, January 31, 2009

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I'm a little rusty.

My wife and I got back from South Korea nearly 5 weeks ago. We've been using Korean every day, but it's usually just bits and phrases we'd normally use (such as 진차 or 종말 [which both mean "really"]). We aren't speaking it, nor are we surrounded by it all the time like we were in Korea.

Thankfully, however, Koreans have cornered the market on dry cleaners in America, which means that, at a bare minimum (assuming I end up working in a professional environment) I'll get to speak Korean to a Korean at least once a month. Well, I got just such a chance on Tuesday. My Korean's started to get a little rusty, though, so I didn't exactly rise to the occasion.

I talked with the lady at the front a little bit about our time in Korea, and she got very excited. She was surprised that we didn't live in Seoul. (That is surprising, actually. Most foreigners want to live or work in Seoul and over half the country's population lives in the Seoul metro area. 20% of Koreans live within the city limits.) I was also surprised that she wasn't from Seoul. She and her husband are from Gwangju, a city in the southwest of the country -- on the complete opposite side from Sokcho, where Aubrey and I lived. We chatted for a little bit, and then I said goodbye in Korean. I used the really formal form of the word, too, to impress the 아주마 (ah-ju-ma, which means something like "lady"). I was pleased with myself.

Until, that is, I left the dry cleaners. Five or six steps out I realized that I'd said 안녕하심이까 (annyeonghashimika), which is a very formal way of saying "hello." If I'd wanted to say "goodbye" I should have said 안녕기계십시요 (annyeong-gi-gyae-shipshiyo). I'm a language dork, so this mistake irked me me. It also bothered me to look like a bit of an idiot by saying "Hello" and then walking out the door. (It reminded me of things my students in Korea used to do.) Oh well. I guess I'm a little rusty.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

An American Messiah in Paris: tres chic!

This is an account (translated from the original French article) of people watching Obama's inauguration in in a swanky Paris hotel ball room. Some of them were American and some were French, but all were united in worshiping their new messiah.

My favorite part?
A "holy man", in the words of Judith, a black French-American woman: "Obama is
our new prophet, he is the Messiah, he is Jesus, he is going to save America, our country will guide the entire world, he will perform miracles, I am sure that in the Bible, they must be talking about him..."

This is a close second, though.
Jean, a middle-aged [French, not American] man: "For me, the president of the U.S.A. is the future of the world and our savior, you'll see that thanks to him the financial crisis will be settled, the Arabs and the Jews will make peace, he will give birth to a new era. Normally I don't believe in miracles, but with him, I do."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What Lowery's travesty of a benediction proves.

No matter how many times whites get down on their knees and abjectly beg forgiveness from people who were never harmed by crimes they themselves never committed ...
No matter how many nonwhite politicians white folks elect, including senators, governors, and presidents ...
No matter how many trillions (yes, trillions) of dollars whites transfer to nonwhites through massive government programs meant to somehow make up for the effects of past discrimination ...
No matter how completely and thoroughly American government is scoured of discrimination against nonwhites ...
No matter how much national and state governments change their laws to address all kinds of discrimination (real or imagined) ...
No matter how much whites change their ways of life and internalize the shame of actions they probably never committed ...

It will never, never, NEVER be enough to satisfy the distressingly large number of nonwhites -- the Joseph Lowerys, Louis Farakhans and Jesse Jacksons of the world, as well as their followers -- who will remain forever convinced that the problems in America are and always will be primarily the fault of white people.

Watch it for yourself:

It's never enough. It will never be enough. That's the lesson of Lowery's vapid travesty of a benediction:
Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.
Judging by the vast numbers of folks mindlessly chuckling at that horrible closing "prayer", it's a lesson that too many people seem culturally programmed to ignore, or seem literally incapable of even intellectually accepting that such is the case -- or, perhaps worst of all, recognize and accept as the inevitable way things have to be.

I'm already despairing for the fate of my country and the Obama presidency isn't even 24 hours old.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What Would W. Do?

My latest article for the website:

The main point of the article is that conservatives, on the eve of the Obama presidency, are relearning a lesson they willfully forgot when George W. Bush became president 8 years ago: you should only give a government powers you'd feel comfortable seeing people you completely disagree with exercising. Bush radically expanded state power over the last 8 years, more so than any president since FDR. And conservatives aided and abetted this process at every step.

Now they're hyperventillating over the fact that Obama will get to use the recently expanded powers they helped Bush create. They're making all kinds of noise about how no government should have the kinds of concentrated power our government now has. It's a pity they've come to this realization about seven years and ten months too late.

Get ready for 4 years of major, unfettered bias?


This is a funny article about the dearth of humorous material arising in an Obama administration. After 16 years of the egomaniacal and sexually sociopathic Clinton and the unprecedentedly ignorant and arrogant Bush, comedians, we're told in this piece, are at a loss. Obama's just not that funny. He does his job well, isn't prone to gaffes, and acts the consummate professional. Even though the article lists a bunch of things to make fun of in an Obama administration (in the serious tone of a straight man), all the things listed are really making fun of Obama's followers or the expectations built up around his presidency. There's nothing about the man himself.

The truly ironic thing is there are tons of things to poke fun at Obama about. The media's just ignoring them.

Take, for example, that quintessential sign of arrogance that Obama displays at every press conference: the seal of the Office of the President-Elect. My first thought when I saw that is, "Is this man joking?" The Office of the President-Elect? No such thing exists. It's the end product of one man's gigantic ego, as was his own personal presidential seal during his campaign. There's a massive ego balloon there for any comedian with a needle to burst, but mainstream comedians and op-ed writers seemed to have conditioned themselves to not see it.

This is an example of the naked, unfettered bias we should probably expect from the mainstream press over the next four years. I guarantee you that if a conservative, or even a different liberal (like Hilary Clinton or John Edwards) was regularly parading his ginormously overinflated ego for all to see, you'd hear about it often on late night comedy shows and the Daily Show, and you'd read about it in op-ed pieces. You're probably not going to hear or read anything about Obama, though.

This might be what it takes to move the mass of conservative-sympathizing Americans into open revolt against their handlers, however. Or at least, if it isn't, we'll know it probably can't be done. Either way, there will be some resolution.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Is Mexico going to come apart at the seams?

The US military thinks it just might.

According to the latest "Joing Operating Environment" report, Mexico (along with Pakistan) may very well be on the verge of collapse.

This makes sense, even though I haven't heard anything about it before. Mexico's been little more than a narco state for years, anyway. Corruption and inter-cartel violence is endemic there. (Most Mexicans probably pray for a politician of Rod Blagojevich's moral fibre.) Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if half the country's GDP came directly from folks in the US sending money back. The Mexican government doesn't instruct its citizens on the finer points of avoiding US border patrols for nothing, you know.

Still, it would be a very bad thing for the US if Mexico collapsed. I've heard stories about how things were in Arizona and southern California during the last Mexican Civil War, 90 years ago. (Refugee camps along the border; death squads sneaking across border lines to kill targets seeking sanctuary in refugee camps; reprisal killings of death squad members; massive increases in demand for local services -- food, medical treatment, etc.) The effects would only be magnified if similar events were repeated today. The waves of Mexican immigrants (illegal or not) we've seen to date would probably seem like trickles compared to the masses of humanity who'd be trying to escape the carnage of a failed state.

That would probably be what would trigger politicians in Washington to finally build the fence along the Mexican border, although the irony would be astounding. The whole time a lot of Americans have been telling Congress to build the fence, Congress has replied that it would be wrong to deprive people south of the border the chance at American freedom. At the moment when folks south of the border would actually need American freedom, though, that's when Congress would probably be most likely to rediscover American territorial sovereignty and deprive them of it.

At least that's what could happen. On the other hand, Congress could also continue the work of Jorge Busheron to remake America as Social Worker to the World, in which case we'd just let everyone in and the millions of refugees would overwhelm border states financially and culturally. It will be interesting to see what Barack "I will heal the world" Obama would do. He's shown an interesting proclivity for stiffing the Far Lefties in his coalition. Maybe he'd do it again with immigration? Or maybe I'm just engaging in wishful thinking. Either way, we'll see.

How bad is Bush? Not bad enough to keep the homers at home, apparently.

Lawrence Auster says it all:

I cannot tolerate the defenders and apologists of George W. Boilerplate, who are out in full press mode now that the worthless leader they worship is about to leave office.

Consider Joe Scarborough, who writes:
Twenty years from now, historians will not rate the president for the mistakes made in 2003. They will place him in the history books based on how Iraq and the Middle East play out.... I predict that like Ronald Reagan [sic], history will prove to be on the side of George W. Bush.


The notion that a president who misperformed this badly, worse than any president in history, but who, after several years of disaster, finally did the thing he should have done at the start, deserves to be in the history books alongside Ronald Reagan, is enough to make strong men vomit. It shows the Bush supporters to be the shameless, brainless, miserable toadies they have always been. If there were justice in this world, every Bush apologist would be excluded from politics and forced to go through re-education camp before he was allowed to publish anything or participate in politics again.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

When ignorance is not bliss ... for the rest of us

It seems that Barack Obama has asked Eugene Robinson, the gay bishop from New Hampshire (sadly) whose ordination has split the Episcopal Church, to pray at his inauguration. This move is, in part, to make up for having Rick Warren, the famous Evangelical Christian pastor from California, give the invocation at the inauguration. Liberals have been up in arms about Warren's role in the inauguration, not least because he opposes same-sex marriage. This would be the same opposition to same-sex marriage shared by a clear majority of Americans in most states (even in uber-Liberal California).

It's become patently obvious to me that, whomever the elites of the Democratic Party reflexively identify with, it's not average Americans. (This isn't a plug for Republicans, by the way. As this Bush administration made abundantly clear over the past 8 years, the groups the GOP reflexively identifies with are big business and anyone who can shovel money down their greedy little throats -- not average Americans and certainly not Evangelical or Conservative Christians, whom the GOP has repeatedly used and abused for electoral gain while giving them next to nothing to show for it beyond pretty rhetoric.) This point became so obvious over the summer as Liberals were hyperventilating and frothing at the mouth over Sarah Palin that my father, about as pro-Obama and anti-Bush a person as I know, turned away in disgust.

The point that turned him on to how tuned out so many Liberal elites are to real Americans was their denunciations of Palin's prayer in her local church for the Iraq war. My father's an avowed atheist, but he was raised a staunch Baptist and he's familiar with how people pray in church. He, like most Americans, saw nothing wrong with Palin's prayer, which was for protection for US soldiers and for the US to be in line with God's will, and nothing more.

It dawned on him that the people denouncing Palin for her prayer did so because they simply had no idea what she was doing. They likely hadn't gone to church that much (or at all) in their lives. They didn't know what a regular prayer sounded like. Even though well over half of Americans go to church (or synagogue, or mosque, or temple, etc.) at least twice a month, the elites criticizing Palin, the people claiming the right to speak for the People, knew almost nothing about something so important to so many Americans.

My father contrasted this glaring ignorance with the chapter and verse knowledge these same elites had about the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community. LGBTs comprise about 7-10% of Americans (and 10% is VERY generous). Christians of Palin's type, conservative Evangelical Christians, comprise around 25% of Americans. That's not counting Catholic or mainstream Protestant Christians who take their faith seriously and pray and go to church regularly, nor does it take regularly practicing Jews, Muslims, or Mormons (to name just a few major religious groups) into account. Add those folks in and you're easily at 55% of Americans. And the elites of the Democratic Party know almost nothing about the faith that's one of the main motivating factors in their lives, nor do they have much sympathy for it.

Contrast that, again, with their overabundance of sympathy for the 7-10% of Americans that fall into the LBGT category, and you get a clear picture for who Liberals generally identify with. Give GOP elites credit: they know that they have to at least fake a modicum of understanding of most Americans. Democratic elites, it seems, don't know what they don't know yet. These are the same people who will be running the entire federal government in a week. I don't think they're going to have a blast of insight about the depths of their ignorance in that time. For all of us who don't fall into the 7-10% of Americans that they identify with and care about, it looks like it will be a long 4 years.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Shocking! An academic appeals to common sense.

Steven Pinker teaches at Harvard. He's recently written a book called The Blank Slate, where he lays out a pretty conclusive case confirming what anyone not deluded by ideology knows instinctively: people are born with individual personalities, talents, and abilities.

Here is a 24-minute video of Pinker explaining the arguments in his book.

There was one observation in this video that was really novel for me. Pinker says that one of the most controversial arguments in the book was the one dealing with the arts, which is surprising to say the least (given that he also tackles the origin of morals, the belief in God, infanticide, war, and so on). The observation which occasioned such vitriol about the arts, however, was Pinker's claim that the claim that the arts are declining -- an axiom among high brow art critics, one which is endlessly repeated and lamented -- is wrong. By any reasonable measurement, claims Pinker, the arts are thriving as never before.

What is not thriving, notes Pinker, is high brow/modern/trendy art, which has been on a decades-long decline. And this, Pinker says, is because average people began to turn away from high brow art when high brow art fully embraced a blank slate philosophy, which led them to deny human nature. (That was the novel observation, by the way. It just took me a while to get to it.) This denial of human nature led them to produce art of lower and lower aesthetic quality, largely because modern artists held appreciation of beauty itself in disdain. Pinker presents a clear example of the end result of this attitude through two pictures, one the classic Renaissance picture of the birth of Aphrodite and the other a modern piece representing a modern elitist artistic take on the female form, which consisted of an artificial model of a somewhat Reubenesque woman's trunk with no head, hands, or feet. The first was beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, while the second clearly was not. The latter is the kind of art high brow elite artists have been producing for decades, and which people haven't liked.

High brow elitists have been largely unable to understand this dislike, however, but Pinker gives evidence at the end of the video for hope that this might change. I truly hope he's right.

2009: Year of the Moron

This according to one of my favorite writers and bloggers, Paul Mulshine of the NJ Star-Ledger:
In the Chinese tradition, 2009 is the Year of the Ox. In the American tradition, 2009 will be the Year of the Moron, I predict.

It's a safe prediction. At some point in the not-too-distant past, stupidity in America reached what the writer Malcolm Gladwell called a "tipping point" in his book of the same name. A tipping point is "that one dramatic moment when everything can change all at once." And the United States has passed the tipping point into stupidity.


President Bush had a major role of course, but I put a lot of blame on the internet. The application of democracy to communications accelerated the descent into dumbness.

In those golden days before the net, the average idiot had no way to express himself easily. Putting pen to paper or using a typewriter was too much of an intellectual exercise. But anyone can send an e-mail or comment on a blog. And anyone does, if my experience is any indication. ...

Worse, they consider any criticism of these shortcomings to be hitting below the belt. They see the Internet not as an outlet for civilized expression but as an organizing tool for the unintelligent. They're right, of course, and the effort is bipartisan.

I therefore propose that, like the Chinese, we adopt a system of rotating names for the years. The Year of the Moron will be followed by the Year of the Dolt, and that by the Year of the Cretin and so on -- right until our republic disintegrates under the weight of its own stupidity.

Friday, January 9, 2009

What's ailing Belgium? Laziness in the form of sick leave.

You've got to love fans of a huge welfare state. They give workers over a month of sick leave (or even "unlimited" sick leave, in some cases) and then are shocked -- SHOCKED! -- when the workers abuse it. Apparently they haven't grasped the simple fact that one of the reasons America's economy works so well is that businesses here expect Americans to actually work. To many people in Europe that notion -- that people who are supposed to be working should really be working -- is probably shocking or unacceptable.

And please don't talk about relative productivity. Yes, I concede that if you're working 20 hours a week and have the rest of the time off (paid, of course) you'll probably be more productive on a per hour basis than someone expected to work 50 hours a week. Of course, you'll only be doing 20 hours worth of work, while the guy working longer hours will probably accomplish more than you, and his economy will probably produce more than yours. But hey, you've still got your time off to write poetry at your parents' house because you feel depressed. (That's an actual example from the article, by the way, of what one Belgian taking sick leave did with it.)