30 May 2010

Jeju Furey Volleyball 2010

This past weekend was the third Jeju Furey Beach Volleyball Tournament, an event held to benefit the young children of a Jeju teacher who died in 2009. Lizzie and I went and camped out at Iho Beach Friday and Saturday nights - I actually went right from work, so when I clambered into the shower on Sunday night, grimy and tired, I hadn't been home for almost four days.

There were a ton of foreigners at the tournament, of course. Something like two dozen teams played, and so many people camped out at night that the campground was littered with thirty tents. I built a fire on Saturday night and pretty soon fifty people were crowded around the thing, drinking their bottles of wine or soju and laughing. During the day, the volleyball games went on seven at a time, while I helped sell beer at the concessions. Great weather, with warm sun and a cool breeze. Amazing time.

25 May 2010

America Speaking Out

The GOP site, Americaspeakingout.com, is now live. I am the first one to submit ideas. It is great fun. Click for larger.


Two bios reviewed by two conservatives

Fred Thompson released his autobiography recently, and Zev Chafets has released a new biography of Rush Limbaugh. Both books were reviewed by conservatives, and both reviewers were unhappy.

Louise Radnofsky on Thompson:
Fred Thompson’s new book, “Teaching the Pig to Dance,” is so free of moral, political and personal revelations that we’re reading it as a hint that the former actor, senator and presidential contender isn’t planning to run again for office.

David Frum on Chafets:
It might seem ominous for an intellectual movement to be led by a man who does not think creatively, who does not respect the other side of the argument and who frequently says things that are not intended as truth. But neither Limbaugh nor Chafets is troubled.

24 May 2010

Republican Contracts

In 1994, Newt Gingrich and his Republican caucus released a document called the "Contract with America." It was basically a set of promises their party was vowing to keep if elected. They were well-chosen issues that carefully avoided being divisive - generally shying away from sexual freedom issues like abortion or religious issues like school prayer. They were also very specific promises, with vows to pass eight procedural reforms and ten bills - the text of which was made available. It was a smart and common-sense way to put up a platform and unite your base, and even if I disagree with many provisions, I also agree with some. This thing was a good idea, and it got a lot of people elected.

Naturally, they have been trying to duplicate its success ever since.

One recent attempt was the "Contract From America." It was organized by tea party activists as well as FreedomWorks, an organization run by Dick Armey (one of the original Contract's authors). This one was much more populist, since it was created by having tea partiers vote on long lists of vague proposals. The most popular ten became promises they want candidates to make. And they are about what you'd expect.

Most of the proposals are either burnt offerings to the Constitution or fiscal snarkiness, along with the elimination of a few programs hated by the right. I only agree with a single one, the balanced budget amendment. The rest of them are radical, abhorrent, or stupid. There is no chance for the vast majority of them, since they are unspecified and sweeping changes with no support.

In addition to the Contract From America, there is also an even stupider "New Contract with America" with no adherents. And on the horizon, the GOP has promised an official new thing going up at AmericaSpeakingOut.org. The Post reports:
According to Republican staff familiar with the site, it's going to be almost entirely user-driven, with Republicans picking avatars and debating, coming up with, and voting on issues like prosperity, fiscal responsibility and national security. Members of Congress will be responding to them, and site members will earn points as they participate -- an idea, I'm told, modeled on the "gamer points" earned by XBox Live members.

I expect yet more evidence that the tenor and quality of debate on the right has plunged in the past decade.

EDIT: The new GOP site went live shortly ago.

A few pics



23 May 2010

One year in Korea

So I really like looking at the many abandoned "one year in Korea" blogs.

It's not a tough one to figure out. Everyone wants to keep a record of their witty observations and cultural misunderstandings, while also informing their friends and family back home about their adventures. But it's actually pretty hard to regularly record an intelligent narrative and commentary. There's a distinct pattern.

First, they post about themselves and what they're doing and how excited they are. Obviously, they will often spend a lot of time on this first post. Don't be surprised if this post is the only one that has a metaphor in it. Actually, there could be any kind of literary device. These posts are fancy.

From whitemaninkorea.blogspot.com:
Eleven days ago, I left YYZ behind and found myself - a mere 16 hours later - jet-lagged and alone in my small Korean apartment. It felt like such an ordinary transition when juxtaposed with how extraordinary the change was going to be for my life. Could you really just apply for a Visa, snap up a giveaway job in another country, and then follow the instructions on the boarding pass? Somehow, it felt like turning the world on its head would take more effort, but I suppose that's exactly where most people get it all wrong. Hitting a home run, it seems, has more to do with stepping into the batter's box than the swing.

Then in one of the initial posts, there's a list of weird cultural things. People like lists like these because they're pretty easy to write, and even though the first few days in a new country can be pretty busy, they promised themselves they'd write in this thing every few days so they can look back on it when they get old and also Mom wants me to put up some more internets on my blog so I need to do it...

From sarahsnyder.blogspot.com:
"Most different" things to get used to...
- taking shoes off before walking into a restaurant, home or other place with nicely kept floors
- no shower sectioned off - water drains straight onto floor (so I have separate bathroom shoes of course!)
- no toilet paper goes into toilet - goes in the trash ALWAYS (if you know what I mean!)

But it's not too long before the strain begins to show. You start to get brief posts that just hint at recent events. Before, it was, "Today I had kalbi for the first time, and this richly marinated beef barbecue with a thickly sweet taste contrasted well with the knitted floor cushions, which I was told were woven in imitation of the Joseon dynasty." But now it's, "Went out with the boys for some bibimbap, which is a thing with rice in it."

From keithsyearinkorea.blogspot.com:
I went out last night for the first time. I was amazed to see how many bars there were. There has to be about 10 bars per 2 blocks. Its crazy. Well here is a picture of my first night out.

Everyone is learning Korean. Everyone is getting better.

From seouldier.wordpress.com:
Everywhere I go, I bring along a stack of paper, and write down every word people will teach me. I often thumb through the stack of paper and find the phrase I want to say to someone. I can’t memorize vocabulary like I could at age 13, when I would read a French vocab word once and it was in the lexicon. However, through repetition, I’m getting better.

At times, there's a revival before things start to spiral away. Yes, they haven't updated very recently. Things have been busy. They apologize (invariably apologize, as if something was owed) and try to write up at least one more good, lengthy discussion of their new life.

From mychangeinkorea.blogspot.com:
Since I haven't updated this for the past 2 months or so, I'm not quite sure what to write in this entry. A lot of memories have been made and forgotten. Nothing too traumatic or dramatic mind you. An important point to state though is that I am enjoying my time here on the whole. I have met some really cool people and am embracing the culture in which I find myself, with the exception of my poor chopstick skills. The Korean people are generally extremely welcoming and accommodating (don't those two words mean the same thing? Oh well). This country's society seems to be based on politeness and respect, both admirable qualities that I very much enjoy about Korea.

In the end, there's inevitably a final post that wasn't meant to be final. It's usually some glancing bit of a thing, maybe an "I'm here and still okay" or a "drop me a line on myspace." But it's always a sad and lopsided end. The one cheering factor is that I have no doubt that many or most of these people had great years and great experiences - or else they'd probably have needed an outlet to complain!

From zacklim-ibnkorea.blogspot.com:
'm sorry for not updating my blog as often as i do last time.
I'm just a little too busy lately packing and meeting with all my friends. :)

however i've uploaded all of them in this facebook album.
I will write some photo captions to tell you guys where the photos were taken.

[removed]

just click this link and you'll be able to see the photos!

have fun!

Of all the abandoned blogs, this is the best one - and I know the guy!

From chriscontent.wordpress.com:
I thought starting this one would serve the purpose of relaying information on our wonderful Korea experience to anyone who cared enough to click on a link. All the info in one place at any given time. But the truth is, I’m more interested in just living my life than writing about it.
Straightforward.

20 May 2010

English As She Is Taught

So a couple of months ago I stole some books from some orphans. Now, it may be hard to believe, but this vicious theft was performed entirely innocently. It's a boring story and not worth going into, really. But it happened.

Among these books is a great Collected Essays and Writings of Mark Twain.  Some of them were old favorites, but others were entirely new to me.  Currently my favorite is "English As She Is Taught," a humorous recounting of a book that contains some amusing mistakes by children, with a large number of funny eggcorns. You can read the whole thing here, but below are some of my favorites.

Some attempts at defining vocabulary words:
  • ABORIGINES, a system of mountains.
  • ALIAS, a good man in the Bible.
  • EQUESTRIAN, one who asks questions.
  • FRANCHISE, anything belonging to the French.
  • IDOLATER, a very idle person.
Some geography attempts:
  • In Austria the principal occupation is gathering Austrich feathers.
  • Gibraltar is an island built on a rock.
  • The two most famous volcanoes of Europe are Sodom and Gomorrah.
History:
  • Gorilla warfare was where men rode on gorillas.
  • John Brown was a very good insane man who tried to get fugitives slaves into Virginia. He captured all the inhabitants, but was finally conquered and condemned to his death. The confederasy was formed by the fugitive slaves.
  • Alfred the Great reigned 872 years. He was distinguished for letting some buckwheat cakes burn, and the lady scolded him.
  • Henry Eight was famous for being a great widower haveing lost several wives.
  • Lady Jane Grey studied Greek and Latin and was beheaded after a few days.
I think this is my favorite, though. It seems to manage to conflate the original quote by Caesar with a more contemporary and similar pun:

  • Julius Caesar is noted for his famous telegram dispatch I came I saw I conquered.

17 May 2010

Disheartening

It's very sad to see commentary on this Higher Ed article by Megan McArdle like this, and be unable to deny it.
[Such employer abuse] is common, of course--in academia. Until they have tenure, faculty are virtual prisoners of their institution. Those on the tenure track work alongside a vast class of have-nots who are some of the worst-paid high school graduates in the country. So it's not surprising to me that this is how academics come to view labor markets--nor that they naturally assume that it must be even worse on the outside. And that's before we start talking about the marriages strained, the personal lives stunted, because those lucky enough to get a tenure-track job have to move to a random location, often one not particularly suited to their spouses' work ambitions or their own personal preferences . . . a location which, barring another job offer, they will have to spend the rest of their life in.
Just the kind of thing a grad student wants to hear, particularly when added to charts like this:


BEST UNDERGRAD COLLEGE DEGREES BY SALARYSTARTING MEDIAN SALARYMID-CAREER MEDIAN SALARY
Aerospace Engineering$59,600$109,000
Chemical Engineering$65,700$107,000
Computer Engineering$61,700$105,000
Electrical Engineering$60,200$102,000
Economics$50,200$101,000
Physics$51,100$98,800
...


Radio and Television$34,000$67,000
English$37,800$66,900
Agriculture$40,900$66,700
Hotel Business Management$37,400$66,400

Of course, it could be worse... marginally.


Spanish$35,600$52,600
Music$34,000$52,000
Theology$34,800$51,500
Elementary Education$33,000$42,400
Social Work$33,400$41,600

Big Blog and Breitbart

I have mostly tried to ignore Andrew Breitbart. It used to be difficult; for a time he was the go-to for all videos and many news stories linked from Drudge Report. I had no alternatives to the single-minded ferocious news aggregation of Drudge and Breitbart.

But as the online news world caught up and I was able to abandon Drudge (happily!) I no longer had to increase his hit-count while decreasing my brain cells if I wanted to stay abreast breaking news. Both sites were and are relentlessly biased (Drudge towards libertarianism and Breitbart towards conservatism). And while I don't object to a good bit of bias, it can't get in the way - which is why I no longer read The Huffington Post, either.

Now it seems as though Breitbart is intruding into my world again, by emerging from the cocoon of paranoia and slander in which he had entombed himself for so long. He is a regular contributor on Fox News, and a New Yorker profile has detailed how he manages what they call an "empire of bluster."
Breitbart considers himself an accidental cultural warrior. “I am not as partisan as people think I am,” he told me, calling himself eighty-five per cent conservative and fifteen per cent libertarian. His conservatism fails him on issues such as the legalization of prostitution, and he sometimes tilts toward favoring gay marriage. “But, when the entire media is structured to attack conservatives and Republicans, there is a huge business model to come in and counterbalance that,” he said.

He does not pretend to be an expert in policy, or to be particularly interested in it. “Just because I am paying attention to politics and culture doesn’t mean that I should be talking about the health-care bill, talking about the minutiae,” he told me. Instead, Breitbart is obsessed with wresting control of the political narrative from the established media organizations. If the wire services that Breitbart aggregates, and the bloggers he recruits, serve as his content providers, then Breitbart might be called a malcontent provider—giving seething, sneering voice to what he characterizes as a silenced majority.
This fits right in with the New Yorker's profiles of conservative demagogues Sarah Palin (book review and selection profile), Michael Savage, and Glenn Beck - all of which have been wildly popular with readers. I guess the New Yorker figured out the pattern some time ago: discuss the attitudes and activities of conservative firebrands in the driest possible terms, frost with a couple of anecdotes, and serve with justified contempt.

But the article, as routine as it is, drew my attention to Breitbart's growing collection of sites. I'm familiar with Big Government, of course, but I was unaware he also has a Big Hollywood, and Big Journalism - and apparently some more on the way. There's an obvious pattern (aside from the name): each site is a perpetuation of a conservative persecution complex that has become steadily more formulaic in the past two decades.

I guess it's always been around, this idea that "They only report what They want us to know" or "They never present the other side of the story! What about !?" It's understandable: when newspapers are printed for thousands or millions, they shoot for the mean of their audience. And like every average, their projection is going to be inaccurate about a large number of its members. The most conservative/liberal/wealthy/poor/whatever are going to feel like their side gets shortchanged.

For reasons I don't fully understand, the media leaders of the conservative movement of the late 90s proved particularly apt at harnessing this perception. Relentless repetition about the unfair bias of major media outlets helped reinforce the persecution complex, as did the highly targeted nature of emerging media. Limbaugh's radio show took a medium that was dying (AM Radio) and used its cheap price and ubiquitous nature to tell a narrow story to a narrow audience.

Now, of course, we've seen that this narrow audience is just as ubiquitous as radio, and that with modern technology you don't have to try to target an audience of 30,000 in the city of Boulder, where that would be a full 10% of a diverse population - it's far easier (trivially easy) to find 30,000 people who will agree with you about things if you look worldwide, instead. The number of people who listen to Glenn Beck on the radio remains fairly trivial in any given city (a few thousands, perhaps), but when you total that up nationwide or worldwide, you have an audience of hundreds of thousands. Internet news aggregators like Breitbart do the same thing, but even more effectively.

Jonathan Chait at The New Republic won't shut up about conservative "epistemic closure" - the phenomenon where an enclosed group shuns outside ideas and avoids criticizing each other. But it is real, and maybe he's justified in talking about it so much since few people are willing to tackle that monster.

Let's make it plain: the modern conservative movement has allowed itself to become lulled into intellectual complacency. It is run by unaccountable and unelected media personalities, and a vicious culture of epistemic closure permits little dissent and little diversity. This is a bad thing for the conservatives, and bad for America. It is not good when half of the political conversation is dominated by people with an general disregard for policy and the truth.

Monsanto

It seems like every few years some people from the media hear about Monsanto and say, "Wow, really? That's allowed?"

Like today, for example, the NYT ran a brief editorial about their seeds and their pesticide, Roundup:
There were no glyphosate-resistant weeds when genetically engineered crops were introduced. A farmer could plant Monsanto’s seeds, spray with Roundup, kill the weeds and enjoy the harvest. Now there are many such weeds, and they are tenacious. Some farmers using genetically engineered cotton are facing the prospect of more frequent plowing and the use of other herbicides.
This is just the tip of the evil iceberg, of course. Check out their Wikipedia page and be staggered.

16 May 2010

Major redesign

I know, boring. I'll post a poem or something about outlandish conservative demands later, I promise.

14 May 2010

Domains

I bought some domains. For this blog, the url is http://www.agbdavis.com/ And for my teaching site, it's http://www.esljeju.com/ I thought it was overdue. I also got http://www.anahyp.com/, but that domain service was terrible.

YouCut

Minority whip Eric Cantor (R-Asshole) has introduced an important new gimmick program that allows people to choose which government programs they want to cut. Called YouCut, it's interesting to see what programs he thought might be acceptable to cut.
  • Presidential Election Fund $260 million
  • Taxpayer Subsidized Union Activities $600 million in savings
  • HUD Program for Doctoral Dissertations $1 million in savings
  • New Non-Reformed Welfare Program $2.5 billion in savings
  • Eliminate Wealthier Communities from CDBG $2.6 billion in savings

Now, I'm not an economist. But let's do some calculations.

The total for these programs is about $5.9 billion. The total budget, including "mandatory" expenses like Social Security, the military, and healthcare, is $3.5 trillion. The total discretionary budget is $437 billion. The total deficit is $12.3 trillion.

So these cuts represent:

  • 0.000047 of the deficit, or
  • 0.0016% of the total budget, or
  • 0.013% of the discretionary budget.
That assumes, of course, that these are all reasonable cuts to make and that we should do them, not at all something I'm willing to cede. How about instead of cutting funding for HUD doctoral programs to study our urban housing problem (shucks, why would we want to fund study of important problems?) how about we cut defense spending by... say, 5%? That's a pretty small cut, how much could it take down the problem?

Well, the defense budget is $782 billion. 5% of that is $39 billion... more than seven times the total cuts possible under "YouCut."

But of course, no one will talk about cutting the mandatory programs. Republicans have long espoused "starving the beast," but as Colorado Springs has shown us, that doesn't work.
This tax-averse city is about to learn what it looks and feels like when budget cuts slash services most Americans consider part of the urban fabric.

More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.

The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.

Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.

Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.

City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won't pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need.
When you continually harp about taxes, and conservatives succeed in getting constant tax cuts and campaign against tax increases, then you have to cut services. While government waste does exist (such as when Congress tries to force the Pentagon to buy planes it doesn't want), it's not a bottomless well. The mantra of "tax cuts" and generalized "spending cuts" is popular (no one thinks its their programs that will be canceled), but leadership sometimes means making hard choices. If we don't want a national Colorado Springs on our hands someday, then we need to start seriously thinking about cutting the defense budget, entitlement spending, or raising taxes. We have to do one of those three things.

Watch instead for the Republicans to promise (as Chait has noted) "specific tax cuts and non-specific spending cuts."

EDIT: Oh and in the video, Eric Cantor complains about all the time Congress has spent naming post offices instead of governing. Yeah, that's been the hold-up in the Senate: way too much time spent naming post offices. It would be much more productive to get back to the constant filibusters.

10 May 2010

"Breakfast Club" at Arirang Radio

I listen to this morning radio show at least in part most mornings, and almost in full Monday and Tuesday (during my morning commute to the far side of the island those days). It has a bizarrely large following; they frequently get requests for songs from places like Manila and Panama City as well as more local requests from Korea. But the news... it's terrible in a way that's hard to describe.

Like most such services abroad these days, it's taken from the Net and from the newswire with only slight alterations. So it's hard to complain too much about the content. Nor is their focus particularly bad; it only makes sense for them to spend a lot of time on Korean issues because those issues are going to be particularly important for their main audience.

No, the problem is the commentary, mostly by host Kim Sung-hyun (김성현).
Reporter: So, today we have a news story where a man reported a mugging in order to get a ride home. Police responded to his call to find him at an empty intersection, and over the course of questioning, it was revealed that he had not been mugged and just wanted a ride back to his house. So he called 911!
Host Kim Sung-hyun: Ah, so this is similar to last time, where a woman wanted a ride home. But this was a man, and he called 911.
Reporter: ...yes. Exactly. Under questioning, the man admitted that his cell phone was out of minutes, and so it would only call emergency numbers.
Host Kim Sung-hyun: So because his cell phone was out of minutes, I guess he could only call 911, and that's why he did that to get a ride home.
And that's pretty much the way it is with every story. The host repeats back the last thing she heard and adds a question mark. It is infuriating. I know it's standard anchor behavior, but it's so blatant and constant that it's hard to listen to. It's one of those things where I honestly feel I could walk in and fix everything.

I know just how it'd go. I'd stride in. They'd be surprised by my rugged good looks, and the receptionist would only stammer as I strode by. I would be really striding. We're talking such hard striding that I actually have to curtail my strides slightly before they bust out through windows with rugged masculinity.

With a sweep of my arm, I'd fling open the door to the recording booth. Kim Sung-hyun would be staggered and begin to voice a protest, but I'd shoot her a look with my steely gaze and she'd subside into silence, chastened and a little aroused. Gently, I'd lift up her chair and gently move it to the window, and then gently throw her out of it. Then, with dignity and aplomb, I would pick up her dropped papers and read the news, and ask no questions.

03 May 2010

TSA

For years now I have been ranting against the Transportation Security Administration. Rather than provide security, it seeks only to provide the illusion of security - both to reassure the gullible and provide political cover for pols. Fallows at the Atlantic references this phenomenon in an amusing post about what would have happened if the TSA was in charge of Times Square security after the attempted bombing.
-All vans or SUVs headed into Midtown Manhattan would have to stop and have their contents inspected. If any vehicle seemed for any reason to have escaped inspection, Midtown in its entirety would be evacuated;

- A whole new uniformed force -- the Times Square Security Administration, or TsSA - would be formed for this purpose;

- The restrictions would never be lifted and the TsSA would have permanent life, because the political incentives here work only one way. A politician who supports more open-ended, more thorough, more intrusive, more expensive inspections can never be proven "wrong." The absence of attacks shows that his measures have "worked"; and a new attack shows that inspections must go further still. A politician who wants to limit the inspections can never be proven "right." An absence of attacks means that nothing has gone wrong -- yet. Any future attack would always and forever be that politician's "fault." Given that asymmetry of risks, what public figure will ever be able to talk about paring back the TSA?
This is absolutely right. After the attempted shoe bombing, everyone had to start taking off their shoes. After the attempted underwear bombing, many people had to start going through extremely expensive (and apparently useless) full-body scanners. It's an absurd reactionary strategy that reveals thinking that is childishly simplistic: if someone tries to use Object A as a bomb, then the problem must be Object A. But it's not. The problem is still the bomb.

Fallows goes on, but the best bit is this chestnut:
The point of terrorism is not to "destroy." It is to terrify. And for eight and a half years now, the dominant federal government response to terrorist threats and attacks has been to magnify their harm by increasing a mood of fear and intimidation. That is the real case against the ludicrous "orange threat level" announcements we hear every three minutes at the airport. It's not just that they're pointless, uninformative, and insulting to our collective intelligence; it's that their larger effect is to make people feel frightened rather than brave.
Fear serves both our enemies and our leaders, in different ways. But it doesn't serve us.