Has America Been Saved from Racism?

Posted August 28, 2014 by jsmyth
Categories: Politics, Religion, USA

After reading Ezekiel Kweku’s piece (goo.gl/s8xHZM) I felt some Americans’ view of racism mirrors some Christians’ view of sin: we once suffered under it but have now been saved and sanctified.

Under this model, people suffer under sin, but after they accept Christ they are saved and bound for heaven. In the same way, America was plagued by racism, but the forces of good conquered and now equality is on the march. Even some who are not Christian have absorbed this way of thinking, and it can be innate: in Taiwan the lifting of martial law and first presidential election are the moments some say the nation “became free, period.”

The “I Have a Dream Speech” and Obama’s Election are two of the most commonly recognized moments of the USA’s racial salvation, and it’s no coincidence that Martin Luther King and, to a lesser extent, Barack Obama have been deified in the process.

We can all be Christlike, yes, and thanks to his leadership and many astute statements King in particular can be considered a national prophet. That said, we must remember that no one and nothing can “change everything” the way we would like it to. After the Resurrection itself sin persisted, even among Church members, as Acts and Revelation make clear, and people who once accepted Christ can still fall away, as Judas did. In US history, meanwhile, we can see clearly that African-Americans steadily -lost- rights and status between the end of the Civil War and the first World War, and that on police violence we’ve made zero progress at best since “Do the Right Thing” 25 years ago.

Personal conversions are real and moments of social change happen. On an absolute, universal level Christ has triumphed over sin. But on this earth nothing is final. Not the ultimate destination of our souls, nor the ultimate destination of our society either. We want a conversion or an election to decide everything. To be inspired by such moments afterward is good and natural. But our daily works, day after grueling day, are themselves crucial, as are daily examinations of conscience to reorient ourselves.

How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region

Posted August 23, 2014 by jsmyth
Categories: Business, China, Japan, Politics, Translations

Amazon Link

I’m extremely fortunate to have stumbled upon this book. It reconstructed my views on developmental economics and doubles as a strong rejoinder to dogmatic laissez-faire.

It explains how Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China have advanced so much economically–by following the 18th century English and 19th century American and German models of protected development, best described by Friedrich List–and how Southeast Asian nations have struggled despite taking far more of the neoliberal prescriptions of Adam Smith and the World Bank and IMF than their northern counterparts. There’s much to learn about here but we can summarize the three steps to prosperity as follows:

1. Peasant farmers must be given ownership of their land and receive infrastructure and technical support to increase productivity and build wealth. Fair land redistribution spreads wealth so much better than trickle-down economics.
2. During industrialization, infant industries must be protected from foreign multinationals, but there must also be enough domestic firms in each field to allow genuine competition, as monopolies degenerate into rent-seeking. Deals with foreign firms must require technology transfer in exchange for market access to allow the nation to build its knowledge base. Promising companies need sufficient capital to undertake long-term investment. To determine which firms deserve funding, use export performance as a benchmark because it is an objective indicator of competitiveness.
3. Finance must be directed toward productive development, not real estate and stock speculation.

Again, it’s not what race you are that determines how well your country does; it’s how effective its policy is. Learn about what’s been proven to work by reading this.

Pope Francis’s Wakeup Call in Korea

Posted August 20, 2014 by jsmyth
Categories: Politics, Religion


Pope Francis rarely gives speeches in English (like Asian youth, he is worried his English is too poor!) but he did for us in Korea and the above was the exhortation that he wanted to stick in our minds. For great reason.

But first let’s rewind a bit: I spent the weekend in Seoul to attend Masses Pope Francis said there. They were amazing. Most attendees came from countries where there are relatively few Catholics, so it was a joyful time for everyone to celebrate their shared faith, not just explain it, and make new friends from all over the place. There were spontaneous songs and dances all around, including some by a troupe of indigenous people from Hualien, Taiwan in traditional garb, and people from different countries so high they were jumping into each other’s pictures to say hello (so now our group is in the group photo for a big Korean seminary.) Many non-Catholics came to be a part of it all as well, and they were welcomed.

I saw the Pope with my own eyes thrice. The first time was as he was driven to the Seosumun shrine just outside Seoul’s old city walls to commemorate 124 martyrs who were killed there (echoing St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome). After that ceremony, he drove to the central plaza of Seoul to beatify the martyrs at a Mass with 800,000 attendees, and I followed him there on foot. We who were too far behind all watched the proceedings (Latin Mass, Korean subtitles) on giant Samsung LCDs mounted around the square.

At Seoul the police presence was extremely heavy, as if they thought we had all come to protest him: it seemed clear the Force’s methods and traditions had not significantly changed since the rule of the dictator Park Chung Hee. However, I was able to get much closer the next day, in a distant castle where thousands of Catholics had been killed over the course of a century of persecution.

He passed by on the Popemobile on a path 10-15 feet in front of me at the Asian Youth Day closing Mass for 40,000 people at Haemi Fortress. Each time he blessed us all (looking past cameraphones to people’s faces) and each time he was warm. As he approached youth would run toward the car yelling “Papa, Papa!” (He also said an Asian Youth Day Mass in a packed World Cup soccer stadium in Daejeon on Korean Liberation Day. He traveled there by high speed rail and only after the train got going did the conductor tell the hundreds of other passengers they were sharing a ride with the Pope!)

But the amazing thing about his trip is that his small-scale events had an even larger social impact than the aforementioned large-scale ones. When he wasn’t at Mass praying and blessing, he was meeting and a long lineup of the marginalized–families of children killed in the April ferry disaster, women forced into sex slavery during World War II, the elderly, disabled, and sick–and giving them love and concern. He spoke about social problems close to home like youth suicide–old as he is youth relate to him because he knows what they’re worried about. He met the President of Korea as well, but mostly the pontiff was with the least of our brothers, bringing journalists along with him to get them in the headlines, and saying loud and clear whom he wanted to receive more attention.

Korea is getting richer and richer and the Pope came and spoke about emerging problems people had started to feel and to tell them to do something about it, the way their forefathers risked their lives for faith. “Do not be afraid to bring the wisdom of faith to every aspect of social life,” he said. He also urged us to discern “what is incompatible with your Catholic faith … and what aspects of contemporary culture are sinful, corrupt and lead to death” and instructed us to look out for the elderly, poor, and sick.

Some people don’t want to get too involved in society or in politics, which is the structuring of society. They just want to live their lives. However, I’ve often thought, of late, that in free societies the people who can most afford to do this are those who haven’t yet felt politics and society crushing them. In other words, politics is abstraction for the fortunate, but it’s urgent for the unfortunate.

I think Francis in telling us to wake up was saying anyone who can afford to come out and see him can also afford to act. And I pray we all do! Perhaps I’m paranoid but my reading of social trends tells me that not only is there more than enough for Christians to do for others; there are also vises tightening on everyone, and we need to recognize them for what they are. Youth, wake up, and don’t despair. The Cross has the same power over death as ever.


Posted August 14, 2014 by jsmyth
Categories: Uncategorized


The conceptual bridge to police actions in Ferguson had already been built. Many many people have always (wrongly) thought of majority-Black neighborhoods as foreign countries. Now the public has been conditioned to think of foreign countries as Iraq, and our institutions, down to local government, have come to act and spend like occupying armies themselves.

I woke up thinking of what Henry David Thoreau said the Mexican-American War would do to our country: “The United States will conquer Mexico, but it will be as the man swallows the arsenic, which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us.”

Recommended Reading: http://theconcourse.deadspin.com/america-is-not-for-black-people-1620169913

Recommended Social Network: Twitter

Robin Williams

Posted August 12, 2014 by jsmyth
Categories: Movies and TV

I grew up thinking I’d see plenty of actors like Robin Williams, but then I didn’t.

On his comedy, Jeet Heer says: “Robin Williams (like David Foster Wallace) had alien minds: he thought quicker than we did and could make us share in his alien perspective. Williams had a hyper-link mind before hyper-link was invented. He could free-associate faster than you can google. Williams was perhaps the only person in history who snorted cocaine in order to slow down the speed of his mind…Just as Joyce wasn’t just a novelist but really all novelists rolled into one, Williams was all stand-up comedians in one body…As a meta-comedian perhaps Williams’s biggest influence was the TV remote control: he replicated the ever-shifting screen.” (more: https://twitter.com/heerjeet) A commenter responded to this: “This is why, to me looking back, some of his most memorable film work was in ‘Aladdin’.  Because he could flash through all these influences/characters without a body slowing him down.”

I find the comparison to a remote control astute. I recall multiple references to channel-surfing in my childhood; the unfocused jumping from one world to another, with dozens or even hundreds (satellite!) of choices, must have been a huge conceptual change to adults of the time. Not only was Williams preternaturally talented; he also met a need of audiences of the time for an artist who could personify the dizzying pace of the new era for people.

And yet before today it had been a long time since I’d seen a Williams performance or heard anyone talk about him, to be honest, but I think a big reason for that which no one has mentioned yet is the culture changed to become more like him, making him seem less unique. “Family Guy” is an obvious example of a show with the same irreverence and free association; on an interpersonal level we’re doing Williams-style free-association constantly through memes and GIFs; conversely, on a personal level we don’t have the same appetite for the media rush and instead find ways to control or channel it.

Comedy aside, Williams’s pathos also clearly had a huge effect on people, and not just because he played Dad so often. Reviews of his sentimental movies are mixed, to be kind, but their emotional core, Williams’s heart seeming to burst out of his body and his face displaying how overcome he was by how MUCH life was, was genuine. Today’s news makes clear to me what I heard him saying in those scenes: that life is overwhelming both for better and for worse, and we can either get away from it by withdrawing or handle it together through kindness.

How the Pacers Should Spend Summer Vacation

Posted June 1, 2014 by jsmyth
Categories: Sports

Tags: , , , , ,

OK Pacers. Spiritual failures require spiritual solutions. Here are my summer job prescriptions to help you recover from the trauma of this wack season.

PAUL GEORGE: First meet your daughter, then get away from everything for a while. I know you loved Palmdale’s sandiness so to get that along with your emotional reset and guidance from above, I recommend the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, “surrounded by miles of undisturbed wilderness amidst the Chama Canyon wilderness area 75 miles north of Santa Fe.”

LANCE STEPHENSON: Train with Pai Mei. The most famous Shaolin Temple is too commercialized to help you now, but I’m sure we can find the right dojo to change your life. You’re the real-life talented but uncontrolled and violent hero from kung fu movies and you need to channel your strength before wasting your skills and hurting more people (I remember the domestic violence incident).

GEORGE HILL: Being quiet and kind is great, but your decisiveness, confidence, and assertiveness were sorely lacking this year. Also you seem a bit too comfortable in Indy. So try India. Travel through it for a month by yourself, and by the time you’re done NBA basketball will seem easy. Bring a DS for train rides so you can play tons of fast-twitch video games where you need to make choices quickly and confidently. But be really careful about where you eat.

DAVID WEST: You showed signs of leadership this year and we urgently need to cultivate that. I know you’re socially conscious, so when you’re not practicing corner 3’s, spearhead a criminal justice reform campaign and do community outreach for the Indy NAACP. Meanwhile you will be the 24-hour emergency liaison for everyone who’s abroad.

ROY HIBBERT: Roy. We still love you. Don’t get too down on yourself. But you need fresh air as well as improved discipline, body language, physical fitness, quickness, and social skills. Since you’re also an otaku, I know just the place for you! Go to Japan, teach English at a rural school, and do the endless motion drills of their basketball clubs. You’ll grow and you’ll also receive unconditional affirmation. Plus you can Tweet with your new student friends, but be warned most of them will come off as pervs because of what they RT.

IAN MAHINMI: You will be joining Roy in Japan but doing something even more special. You need to work a lot on your physical coordination under pressure and recharge emotionally around some really positive and excitable people, so you should follow in Bob Sapp’s footsteps and become a reoccurring contestant in Japanese came shows. The games are awesome and challenging, and you will have a blast and become a YouTube hero.

LUIS SCOLA: Phys ed and substitute Spanish teacher on the East Side by day and Broad Ripple barfly by night. You would be awesome at this. In fact, you should just retire and do it full-time if you can’t become a reliable 3-point shooter this summer.

CHRIS COPELAND: While Roy’s in Japan we need someone to take the fans out for parties and you are the perfect candidate. You are the most popular player on the team right now–though Vogel hasn’t made you feel like it–so come out and enjoy it. You DO need to work on your defensive fundamentals so spend the rest of your time at basketball camps.

WATSON, SLOAN: We need more point guard skills. Stand outside John Stockton’s front door every single day until he agrees to take you on as students.

DANNY GRANGER: Come home! Be our 12th man and Paul’s Barnabas. Get a hyperbaric chamber.

BUTLER, ALLEN, S.HILL: You guys seem cool and normal; I wonder if that is why you saw the court so rarely this season. You may focus on basketball.

TURNER, BYNUM: At a loss for words with you two. Both the attitude and the ability to stay in the league are lacking. The best way to redeem yourselves is to donate a lot of money to Riley Children’s Hospital on your way out.

FRANK VOGEL: You are unfailingly positive and need to go somewhere where young people will treat you well for once. Become a youth minister at a church. You also need some new ideas, so make friends with Hubie Brown.


Front office, you need to keep clocking in all summer so what I have to say to you is more direct.

Taking responsibility for your failures and repenting is healthy. Ultimately what happened is on you, and if you confess your basketball sins you will attain the lightness of being to make clear-headed decisions about the future.

Maybe Hinkle Fieldhouse is the St. Peter’s of basketball (I am skeptical about Indiana’s basketball faith at present for numerous reasons) but the man you need an audience with to obtain absolution is Bill Russell. Talk the season over with him and some of the other sages and then come back to work.

Here is your examination of conscience:

1. Larry falls too much in love with particular players and then gets fleeced in trades for them when the GM on the other line realizes that. There must be more than 14 players in the league that you like, so when you want to make deals, call EVERYONE instead of letting a single bidder keep raising your offer like the Spurs did for George Hill and the Suns did for Luis Scola.

2. You don’t have an analytics game. Get on that! I am afraid the thought processes of the 3 of you are all too similar to teach other. Bring in someone different, like Zach Lowe, but preferably someone who isn’t busy writing the NBA’s best columns.

3. Like 10 years ago, you tempted fate by letting too many punks on the team; namely, the midseason deals for the notorious malefactors Turner and Bynum pushed us over the edge. Whether it’s in the locker room or on the bench, more people with clear moral authority and the ability to keep the youth on the straight and narrow are needed.

4. A different bench philosophy is needed. Instead of bringing in guys who are simply lesser versions of the starters, find players with different and complementary skill sets that we can use when we’re stuck with mismatches. When there have been unique pieces like Copeland or Gerald Green, Frank has disdained them if their D isn’t good enough and kept them on the bench so he can keep running the same style as always. The Heat and Spurs are beyond us because every guy they bring in can do something different, which makes them way more flexible and harder to checkmate.

Finally, HERB: Improve our karma; take advantage of your higher revenues to stop stealing money from the public treasury. Let the annual $10 million from Indy go to schools and hospitals instead. Also, don’t fear the luxury tax; life is short and the cap is going to soar the next few years anyway.

Those are my ideas. Looking forward to reading your own in-kind suggestions in the comments.

2014 Taipei Metro Attack / 鄭捷隨機殺人事件 (中英)

Posted May 22, 2014 by jsmyth
Categories: Politics, Taiwan, 中文

Tags: , , ,

For the first time ever, there has been a mass stabbing on the Taipei metro.

Four people were killed and some 25 injured this afternoon when a deranged college student took advantage of one of the longest stretches between stops (a 4-minute ride under a river) to fulfill a childhood fantasy by stabbing other passengers with a fruit and Swiss Army knife until he was finally subdued inside the next station.

The TV news stations here have learned from the best (CNN): breathless coverage, and some announcers have even baselessly speculated the killer was a protester. But among my Taiwanese friends on FB the conversation has been much realer. Here’s what I had to add:

May the departed rest in peace, the injured quickly recover, and the killer repent and believe in the Gospel.

So, there’s this slogan for the metro system, “We are all metro passengers” [note: it's a pun because the word for that is "Jack", a character in an ad for the metro] and it’s easy to shrug off but it really hit me today.

Today didn’t just remind us of how fragile our lives are; it also reminded us how important trust is.

Every public transportation system, every city, every society needs people to trust each other to function. Taiwan has an extremely low crime rate and an extremely high amount of mutual trust, but Taiwanese people are still people. We all have free will, and any one of us could kill someone. No matter what mode of transportation you use, how many policemen are stationed there, whether or not there are metal detectors, or whether or not we have the death penalty, the need for trust will not change. So I’m still going to trust you all and keep staking my life together with you by riding the metro every day.

People say the death penalty deters crime, but sociological research shows that is not the case. And besides, three weeks ago our government killed five people (two of whom were convicted based on decidedly doubtful evidence). Frankly, the people on death row are just our scapegoats (using the ancient meaning of the word). I’m not saying they’re innocent, or that if they all lived they would come to regret their actions. Rather, I’m saying that they are shaped by the societies from which they came.

If we could look back over death row prisoners’ whole lives, we would definitely see:
-Many have mental illnesses. Why didn’t we do more earlier to treat them?
-Many have had painful experiences, and have been abused and rejected before. Where were the people to comfort them?
-Many had done several small bad things leading up to their big crime. Who was there to correct them then?

In an urbanized time, especially a smartphone society, it’s actually easier and easier to cut oneself off from the world. If you want to pass a totally lonely/independent life, you can. But the more one is alienated from others, the stranger one’s thought process will become. And the less love a person receives, the less valuable he will think his life is. Moreover, it will then be easier for him to believe other people’s lives don’t have value, either, so killing them wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Among these unhappy people, some (I’m not certain about this case) will want to do something really big, to let the world get to know them, to let the world know they exist. To be honest with you, I’ve thought before that the easiest way to get famous in America is to kill a bunch of people. Extremely lonely people have likely thought this too.

Taiwanese people were originally rice farmers–indigenous were hunters–they had to work together, and they all had to resist colonizers together. In order to survive this kind of life, you have to preserve good relationships and trust each other. Some families knew each other for generations.

But in present-day society, from kindergarten to retirement it’s all competition, and we’ve all left our hometowns and those long, deep relationships behind to pass our days in Taipei. “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”.

For this reason, now more than ever everyone has to try hard to make new friends, treat strangers well, be concerned for the loneliest among us, and pay special attention to the health of those with mental illnesses. That’s the only way we can lower the probability of this kind of tragedy from happening again.





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