Archive for November 2010

Political Stories That Surprised Me

November 30, 2010

In Alaska, a preview of the GOP’s future, editorial by Anne Applebaum

For whatever the reason, the hypocrisy at the heart of the party – and at the heart of American politics – is at its starkest in Alaska. For decades, Alaskans have lived off federal welfare. Taxpayers’ money subsidizes everything from Alaska’s roads and bridges to its myriad programs for Native Americans. Federal funding accounts for one-third of Alaskan jobs. Nevertheless, Alaskans love to think of themselves as the last frontiersmen, the inhabitants of a land “beyond the horizon of urban clutter, a state with no use for Washington and its wicked ways”…

7 of the 10 richest counties in the United States are in the Washington, DC area.

Mexico builds a wall on its southern border to keep out illegal immigrants from Guatemala

Green Fuels: Oil and Coal, editorial by Jonah Goldberg

Think Things are Bad Now? Wait Til 2012

Payback Time – Padded Pensions Add to New York’s Fiscal Woes

Europe’s Web of Debt (May 2010)

Repeal the Seventeenth Amendment, editorial by Todd Zywicki

Shin Soo Choo Wins Gold, avoids Korean military service

Korean, Indian, and Japanese Food Plus Chinese McDonald’s!

November 29, 2010

Korean, Indian, and Japanese Food Plus Chinese McDonald’s!

This isn’t everything I had by a long shot, just the meals I remembered to take photos of. Well, it is everything I ate in India because my stomach wasn’t as receptive to the cuisine as my taste buds were. You’ll also get to see the kind of spartan dinners I make when I have my own kitchen.

BibimbapKorean Barbecue ChickenKorean Food StandChicken TandooriSpicesIndiana RestaurantIndian Veggie BurgerIndian BreakfastIndian Airplane FoodThai DinnerShirokumaJapanese BentoHomemade DinnerHealthy Bento
Udon and DonMassive MosburgerCorn Butter RamenJapanese Roll Cake
PRC McD's

Another Perspective on English Language Education in Japan

November 28, 2010

A while ago I had a couple conversations with a fellow ALT (that is, a foreigner teaching English) who has thought about his profession a good deal. Here are some things he said:

In the US (Europe and elsewhere) they have been using lab schools for decades. You run one style lesson in one room, immediately in the next room is a class of the same level of students from the same demographic running the control methodology. From this research, scientifically (applied linguistics) proven methodologies have been developed. Common sense guidelines about what works and what doesn’t work. The Japanese don’t need to run demo lessons or learn from each other, they need to pull their heads out of you know where and learn from the outside. Demo lessons and Japanese-lead kenshu are a joke; they are too far behind to be taken seriously in the field of language education. They are just too stubborn and ethnocentric to accept it. They should be importing teachers and working as assistants, not importing assistants. JTE=not a real English teacher but they for some weird reason see it the exact opposite way around.

Unfortunately the people doing the [Board of Education] audits don’t know how to teach English, sometimes don’t even speak English. I work with one woman who actually knows how to teach and speak English very well, having lived and studied abroad in both Europe and the US. When she had an evaluation, some moron from the BOE comes in and tells her some completely invalid nonsense and directs her to do more of what doesn’t work. It was such a joke.

I think on the ground level Japanese teachers have a lot of leeway to do what is right (or not) kinda like as an ALT, depending on your situation, sometimes you can T1 or spend extra time with kids and have a positive impact in someway. So… the teachers in other subjects can find a way around the nonsense and provide a good quality of education. When it comes down to it I actually agree with many JTEs’ viewpoint (whether they say it out loud) that English is not that important and that the other aspects of their job, namely helping these kids grow up, is most important. So I think the teachers (if they choose to) can do some good work. It’s not a big secret the system is a joke. Teachers in basically every subject express it themselves, but they usually take pride in one aspect or another of their job where they are able to have autonomy and are able to be successful.

On language itself:

Scientifically speaking, functionally different languages carry roughly the same amount of forms if critically measured. (There have been many studies of languages exploring phones, vocabulary, grammar etc.). Once at the dialect level for a specific language task all languages will use different systems if compared and will seem to be more cumbersome or less if observed in parts, on the whole though it all kinda balances out. English has evolved from many creoles and has been recorded over time the most extensively, each of its dialects both by region and period have been written in extensively and this causes forms that would otherwise die out to remain on record and still ‘exist’. I doubt the average vocabulary of an English speaker is much larger than that of most any other language. English has the Oxford Dictionary (the big official one) which compared to other languages’ most extensive dictionaries English likely hands down has a higher percentage of words the average person has never even heard vs. words they use. The is an accomplishment of how many peoples our language has been pressed on, how many of them rebelled to instill and create literature in their own dialects and how diligently we’ve recorded it all.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre Redefines Movement

November 27, 2010

“When I first joined the company,” the dancer said, “They took me to a large, quiet room and asked me to practice sitting still. Then they left me there. I sat and I sat and I sat and I sat and I sat and then I was so exhausted I slept until lunch.

“After days of sitting, kneeling, standing, and sleeping, I got to practice some moves. It wasn’t like any training I’d had before, but not because it was complicated. I was repeating movements I’d made my entire life without thinking. I had to open and close my hand, turn my head, bow, reach out, or step backward, over and over again. I couldn’t leave the room until I could do those things beautifully.”

Official Performance Photo
Official Photo

The curtain rose. The set was a blank canvas. The dancers were wearing white costumes so minimalist they don’t seem like clothing. The BGM was slow and primeval, like sound before there was music. The few dancers on stage were moving more slowly than kabuki performers. At first, they were simply shifting weight.

This anti-grand opening worked. The usual noises of fidgeting and crinkling plastic were nowhere to be heard in the audience. I wanted to write this in my notes, but I didn’t want to disturb anyone, so I pulled my pen and paper out of my pocket inch by inch. When I clicked my pen open, I worried that it reverberated from the upper deck to the stage.

The company was doing the same thing to the audience that it does to its trainees: clearing their thoughts. I squirmed. I’m used to doing three things at once and having three more errands in mind, then forgetting three hours later what I was doing at the time. When I want a break, I don’t get away from it all: I get myself distracted. This time, I entrusted my attention to the dance. I scribbled in the dark while looking at the stage so I wouldn’t miss anything, though it rendered a third of my notes illegible.

That night’s program was named Water Stains on the Wall. Its inspiration is this conversation between two master calligraphers of the eighth century:

Yen Chen-ching: Where do you get the inspiration for your calligraphy?
Huai Su: I observe summer clouds that resemble mountains with spectacular peaks. The most exciting parts remind one of birds flying out of woods and snakes slithering into bushes…
Yen: How about water stains on the wall?
Huai Su: Right on! You old devil!
(Copied from the performance program)

Newton’s Laws didn’t close the book on physics. There are patterns too complex for us to recreate with linear computer programs, like the trail of smoke from a cigarette. Water stains develop slowly and organically, and one goal of this piece is to artistically recreate that evolution and random beauty. The floor, at first blank, later illuminated like a screen: black flowed across it like ink, white like clouds. (The three walls had nothing on them.) The stage was tilted to increase the challenge and introduce variation to the movements, but there wasn’t a false step: my brain only registered peculiarity when dancers running offstage looked like they were going downhill.

Once my mind was clear, it saw the beauty of the dance. Even the simplest movements had elegance and rigor. It all seemed new. For a stretch there was only one woman on stage, and I was so attuned to her that when a man began to dance behind her, I was startled: it seemed like he appeared from nowhere.

The pace wasn’t noh-slow forever. After the table was set, the dancers did a lot of running, jumping, gymnastics, and tai chi, sometimes in unison and sometimes individually. It was impressive to see eight people doing different things on stage without clashing with each other. They were as sharp in the last minute as they were when they began, a testament to their physical conditioning. The stage and score took active roles later on, as well, creating sunlight, storms, and a black hole on a single black and white surface.

The music was in the Zen tradition. One could call it creepy; it called up feelings I hadn’t had in a long time. The score’s strength was its softness: if it had pushed harder, I would have put up walls against it. It wasn’t dissonant for dissonance’s sake; rather, the notes aimed to harmonize not with each other but with my mental bass chords. The dancers’ feet added natural percussion.

There was a trace of a story with a woman defining herself and then proving herself to three men and a society, and the climax resembled a crisis and look into the void, but these were images, not arguments. It seemed like things just happened, like water stains. When the troupe exhausted the possibilities of one combination or tempo, they rearranged or change paced. I didn’t know how many performers or musical numbers there were until after the ending.

The program was just sixty minutes long, but the applause was satisfied and sustained. The dancers lined up in the back of the stage, took a step forward, and bowed. The audience wouldn’t stop, so the line stepped forward and bowed again, and in that fashion eventually reached the front, where appreciative choreographer and founder Lin Hwai-min joined them to huge plaudits. Finally, the dancers broke off in twos, and the curtain fell. I walked back to the station – clumsily, I thought, since I’d never studied how to walk, but briskly, because I was looking at the world differently.

Reuters Performance Photo
Reuters Photo

Background
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, the first Chinese contemporary dance company, was founded in Taiwan in 1973 (three years before the death of Chairman Mao). Taiwanese choreographer Lin Hwai-min studied Chinese opera in his home country, modern dance in New York, and classical court dance in Japan and Korea. He named his company after the legendary first dance of China, said to be performed 5000 years ago, in the days of Stonehenge, cuneiform writing, and the first pharaohs.

Lin also has an MFA from the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa and wrote a popular novella named Cicada. He wants his dancers to be well-rounded, too: according to the program, “the company is made up of two dozen dancers whose training includes chi kung, meditation, internal martial arts, modern dance, ballet, and calligraphy.”

The company tours extensively and has been to five continents. It has won awards for excellence from the Melbourne International Arts Festival and the New York Times and draws domestic crowds of up to 60,000. It had a day and a place named in its honor in Taipei, the first living artist or artistic group to receive that honor in the country.

Lin is the Artistic Director of Water Stains on the Wall. Toshio Hosokawa, “acclaimed as Japan’s best known living composer,” wrote the music. His biography is in the program is one page single-spaced and there isn’t any wasted space. The other directors also have extensive experience at home and abroad: Lulu W.L. Lee, Lighting Design; Lin Chang-ju, Costume Design; Ethan Wang, Projection Design; Lee Ching-Chun, Associate Artistic Director.

Note: I owe the title of this piece to the excellent Duke University dance group defMo (short for “Defining Movement”).

Things I Read Instead of Novels This Month

November 26, 2010

A culinary paradigm shift
Super Bowl Party Tips: How to Eat a Chicken Wing

Warning for aspiring dieters
Why You May Want to Rethink Eating Soy
My parents have heard horror stories from a doctor of theirs in the States, too. Soy may have less side effects here in Asia, particularly in the monasteries. The #1 rule of dieting is to eat as much food as you need and no more. What exactly you’re eating doesn’t matter as much.

Case in Point:
Twinkie diet helps nutrition professor lose 27 pounds

Literary Humor
The Adventures of Lil Cthulhu

More Cthulhu Humor
Cthulhu Kids First

The Grey Lady doesn’t really do humor, but she does write about it
I Can Haz Cheezburger Blog Leads to a Web Empire

In America, English is checkers; in Great Britain, it’s chess.
The English Language in 24 Accents

A quick checklist for your next interview
The 10 Types of Crappy Interviewees

Warming the cockles of my heart
Stephen Colbert’s Sunday School

I’m not even mad. This is amazing.
The Shadow Scholar

I’ve written toward a master’s degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I’ve worked on bachelor’s degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I’ve written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I’ve attended three dozen online universities. I’ve completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else.

In my language program, class sizes are so small that the teachers know right away whether we’re writing our own papers or not, and we have no reason to cheat because we don’t get grades or even a degree. All we can take out of ICLP is the very Chinese ability we improve by writing papers.

But most college professors are upfront about caring more about their own research and publications than they are about teaching students. They say it’s what’s expected of them. So they’re not all engaged in their students’ own work and often outsource the grading to TAs.

The students need grades and degrees for future employment. But what they’re researching in particular may not be relevant to anything they do in the future. So it makes economic sense for them to outsource the work, too.

It’s an equilibrium, but is it the best way for 18-22 year olds to spend their time? What can we do better?

Small businesses can counterbalance big ones in college sports just as in other markets.
The Rise of College Football’s Middle Class

As recently as 10 years ago – and certainly 20, 30 and 40 – talented players were willing to be stockpiled at big-name programs and wait their turn in the hopes of one day starting (maybe as a junior or senior). This is how the Longhorns, Buckeyes, Wolverines, Fighting Irish and Trojans churned on. Those programs still get more than their fair share of top talent. They still field elite teams. They don’t get them all any more though and, as such, they can’t be great every year.

Today’s recruits want to play immediately and a number of them have shown a willingness to seek out that playing time rather than simply follow the well worn path to an old school power.

Pretty inspiring.
NBA Awaits Satnam from India, So Big and Athletic at 14

Satnam Singh Bhamara did not grow up dreaming about playing in the NBA — because he never saw the game. He didn’t even know what basketball was.
He just grew.
And his dreams were mostly what he read in books, limited to his life in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, a faraway outpost in the state of Punjab, India, close to the Pakistan border, where his father farmed, and he too, expected to farm one day.
Then his father told him a story, a sad story about long-ago missed opportunity, about a game he knew and loved but never was allowed to play, a game he quietly wanted his son to try, offering a window to a whole different world.
There were no basketball courts in his village to play on, no cable television to deliver the games, so his father sent him away, where others could teach him to play, quickly discovering he had an incredible gift, an athleticism very unusual for someone growing so fast and so large, leading him down the path he walks today.
In a country of 1.3 billion people, 7-foot, 250-pound Satnam Singh Bhamar has become a beacon for basketball hope.
At age 14.

A sport you forgot about
Coach Salazar talks future of U.S. long distance, training Ritzenhein

I think in running, to be honest, that even though athletes are very dedicated and are willing to train and do whatever they need to do to prepare, more often than not they’re not in a very professional environment where you’ve got a high performance director and a coach that are really monitoring your daily activities. In what other professional sport does an athlete decide, ‘Well, maybe I’ll just do these or that exercise today, or maybe I’ll do therapy today or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll look at game film today or maybe I won’t.’ What we tried to set up in the Oregon Project is a very professional atmosphere where we’re not leaving any stone unturned and treating these athletes — they may not be making $5 million a year like some baseball player or basketball player — but there’s no reason they shouldn’t be in as professional an environment as them, and that means that you’re guiding them and giving them the best that sports science, medicine and technology can give.

Album: My Alma Mater

November 25, 2010

My Alma Mater

My Hosts
Duke Chapel
Inside Duke Chapel
Wilson Quad Before Tenting Begins
Gothic Reading Room

Umberto Eco and The Judeo-Christian Alliance

November 24, 2010

Source: El País – Umberto Eco y la liga judeocristiana

Umberto Eco and The Judeo-Christian Alliance
Critics in the Vatican and the Jewish community accuse Il cimitero di Praga, the author’s new novel, of flirting with anti-Semitism.
Lucia Magi reporting from Bologna, November 12, 2010

Umberto Eco in Seville
Umberto Eco – Born January 5, 1932 in Alessandria, Turin, Italy. Photographed this April during a visit to Seville. Photo by Jordi Socías.

Thirty years isn’t nothing – not in religious polemics, at least. That’s the time elapsed between the publications of The Name of The Rose, the first assault of the Bolognese author, semiologist, and thinker Umberto Eco on spiritual fiction, and The Cemetery of Prague, his stupendous new novel. The book has sold phenomenally (100,000 copies in only a week) and churned the already agitated cultural waters of Berlusconi’s Italy.

This time, Eco confronts not only the accusations of the Church but also the hostility of the Jewish community. In the book, he conducts the reader through page after page (and there are 528) of action and adventure in the 19th century, an excursion considered historically inaccurate by some and which turns on the mother of all conspiracy theories: that the all-powerful Jews are secretly plotting the fate of the world.

The gallery of historical figures in The Cemetery of Prague leaves nothing to be desired: there are a drug-addicted Sigmund Freud, Alfred Dreyfus, the French official condemned for being Jewish, the great Italian writer and patriot Ippolito Nievo, and Garibaldi. Between the historical names and actual events (which Eco describes with his habitually fanatical attention to detail) emerges the protagonist: “the only fictional character in the novel,” according to the author. He is Simone Simonini, a Torinese captain, a memorable anti-hero, and the most unpleasant person in the story.

A nineteenth-century Anti-Semite in full, the protagonist falsifies wills and traffics consecrated Hosts for Satanic Masses. His greatest work? Fabricating a nocturnal meeting among the tombstones of the Jewish cemetery in Prague in which elderly rabbis of the Twelve Tribes of Israel are said to plot the domination of the world. This false document stands in for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an actual Anti-Semitist pamphlet of the early 20th century which served as theoretical justification for the pogroms of Czarist Russia and the later Nazi persecution.

Detractors criticize Eco for placing the scene in a “false” historical montage and for constructing a “malign symphony” that is not interrupted. The Jewish community and the Church ask: Can an author who doesn’t intervene in the story avoid dangerous ambiguity? The newspaper of the Holy See doesn’t think so: “Denouncing Anti-Semitism while putting oneself in the skin of an Anti-Semite,” writes the historian Lucetta Scaraffia in L’Osservatore Romano, “Does not function as a true prosecution. The reader ends up contaminated with the anti-Semitic delirium [constructed by Eco]. When evil is evoked, it must be confronted by good, so there is a contrast. The reconstruction of evil without condemnation, without positive heroes, acquires the appearance of amoral voyeurism.” “The narration of Eco seeks to dismantle the false by reconstructing the falsehoods,” writes another historian, Anna Foa, in the monthly review of the Italian Jewish community. “If we heretics could enjoy the witches in The Name of the Rose, can we innocently do the same with the fantasies that fed the fanaticism of Hitler?” Eco pragmatically replies: “Whoever writes a chemistry manual could then be accused when someone uses it to poison his grandmother.”

Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of Rome, responded to that statement: “I think the message is ambiguous. This isn’t a scientific book which analyzes and explains; it’s a novel.” “My intention was to give my readers a punch in the stomach,” replied the semiologist, “Of a violence that convinced others.”

A hatred which also moves Simonini, taught from childhood to look down on Jews and women, trained in servility to power, and blinded by resentment: “I realized that I came into existence only to defeat that evil race. Only that hatred warms my heart,” he says.

Gad Lerner has intervened in the uproar from the pages of La Repubblica. According to him, the novel is destined to be a classic because in the end it tells something very universal and real. The protagonist Simonini explains to a secret agent of the czar: “Divine Providence has given us the Jews, and we will take advantage of them and pray that there is always someone to fear and despise.” Lerner sees in this dialogue a tremendously real desire: to define one’s community by identifying one’s enemies, to create a “them” so there is an “us.”