As of Late

As of late I’ve been getting up in the middle of the night. Don’t ask why as there might be a plethora of reasons. I might say that I only need a few hours of sleep each night. I might say that all the caffeine consumed throughout the day has kept me awake. It may be that I’m a light sleeper and my child has kicked me back into consciousness at 2am. It also may be that I have tasks to do such as international calling. Maybe waking up in the middle of the night is just natural.

Anywho… if it gives me a chance to write a little bit, all the better.

On Calligraphy

Yesterday a student asked me if I wanted to participate in her Calligraphy club. I mused aloud how my handwriting must be so beautiful. Was this a low blow to the teacher? I do not have legible handwriting… what gives? She mentioned that last year we learned cursive together and that I might be interested. What a thoughtful student! The club held a competition the previous year- didn’t know it existed, let alone the competitions. It seems that it was an online thing. One plus was that the competition allowed for both Chinese and English calligraphy submissions! Hopefully in the future the will be some updates worth posting and sharing…

On 90 seconds of ‘fame’

So the fam’ was on television yesterday. Nothing primetime, just the local television station (…considering the population of the ‘city’ is 8.23 million, I’m sure a few people watched). It’s funny because one sees oneself in a different light in that situation. Totally unprepared and unrehearsed, my ‘performance’ was very ordinary 😉 I also noted that I have aged and almost remind myself of my grandparents though not nearly as aged.

too much thinking

Each week, my students get a 21st Century newspaper. Seldom do I get my hands on an English language newspaper, so I usually indulge. A quick flip through the paper nets me a handful of articles worthy of a read. It’s actually a great tool for the students- I wish there was something similar for myself as a self-study Chinese language student.

But back to the topic of today’s post: Too Much Thinking.

The article in the paper hit the the nail on the head. I snapped a photo of a paragraph (seen above) that contains a gem of truth: “… they have to worry about students who complain about being made to think too much.” They being the professors, of course, the students university students.

I suppose that students have always been complaining. That probably hasn’t changed much over the course of history. But what did you expect when you enrolled in, and paid for university classes? My generation expected to ‘think’ when they went to class, not surf the net, check Facebook, or watch Youtube videos of people doing rather [adj.] things. And we were expected to think outside of class too, at least some of the time 😉

Higher education, from what I’ve read (sorry, I should give you some links but well, it’s 5am…), wasn’t intended or designed for everyone, not intended for mass consumption, not intended for people who object to thinking, and thinking critically. This might explain some of the objection to the mental exercise.

I’d also wager that there has been an education inflation taking place, due to the deflated value of the degree. Simply put: when teachers don’t have to placate their students, quality will be higher; when teachers have to kowtow to students ‘needs’, quality may drop.

Perhaps my view is influenced by having sat through boring lectures with nothing to do but listen. Maybe I’m jealous not having had mind-numbing entertainment just fingertips away while attending mind-numbing education. But maybe what I’m getting at is that if it comes too easy, what is it worth? If you show up to class, don’t pay attention, don’t think about it, don’t find it difficult yet still ace the class you’re either a genius or not learning anything you didn’t know before. If the latter, you’ve been bamboozled out of both money and an education…

The article I read seemed to be referring to students in the US but in my experience, it may as well be applicable here in China. Also, I find the title of the article humorous. The part about inspiration might be useful: who doesn’t like an inspiring, charismatic educator? I’m all for that. But “Profs who inspire and challenge students”? Sounds like the challenge is sitting still, focusing, and thinking.

Heaven forbid we would have to think…


Read the Obituaries

Call it a little strange, call it an insight. Often when I come across a headline in the news of some ‘famous’ person passing away, I’ll click and have a look (or if I happen upon a newspaper, I continue reading).

Why? Old people are often under-appreciated and under-utilized by younger versions of people . They are a wealth of knowledge and it’s unfortunate we *sometimes* don’t tap into their resources while they are still with us.

Perhaps if you are well-read or run in certain circles, you’ll know of the late Howard Zinn. Until I read this article, I didn’t know who he was. I may or may not have heard of this book, “A People’s History of the United States” and hadn’t attributed it to him.

Like many of our elders, he had lived a rich and interesting life. I managed to watch a documentary called “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train”, to learn more about the man and his views.

Check out a video taken from an interview at MIT:


Tropical rainforests are regrowing. Now what?

this is why i like OLD things in general. like old shoes, old people, old __________[fill in the blank)].

there are exceptions. i don’t like old food [as in dated food, though apparently you can generally eat it and get away with it], old [dirty] clothes [though i like old clothes in the sense they are well worn and comfortable, even despite their appearances], old buildings [except when they collapse on people], old __________[fill in the blank].

as my math teacher says [i use the present tense because i suppose he has neither ceased being my math teacher not ceased saying the phrase…?!?] when asked ‘is that the rule?’ or ‘is it always the case?’- he says something to the effect of ‘yes, except sometimes’ or ‘yes: always, except for’.

life is full of exceptions. mais comme d’habitude we are getting side tracked…

yay for the reforestation! yay for the young trees! let’s let them reach a ripe old age and hope we’re still around to see them in all their grandiosity


Book Review: A Brave New World

A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Not much depicted on this generic cover of a book. I’ve found that the less decoration, the better the book. I’ve also found that the less expensive the book, the better the book. With exceptions of course. But when you can buy paperback versions of classics for under five dollars, why would you spend twenty plus on obscurity? Preference perhaps…

This book is wonderful. I don’t even fully understand then ending. Again I will mention that someday I’ll return to school, or join a book club. Either will suffice. Discussion is a necessity for books. Trouble is finding a friend who will read one with you. Maybe someone can interpret the ending for me- I always read a book quite different than others and draw ‘unorthodox’ conclusions of my own.

If you’d like to read this book online, please take a look here. I stumbled upon the full text on a site which appears to be dedicated to the author. Many books are available online nowadays. It’s wonderful. I really can’t wait to get a PSP for several reasons, one of which would be an e-book reader. When books are near impossible to find, I’ll settle for the electrons whizzing around the universe in resemblance of letters on a page (which are really just more electrons… well they could be strings… String Theory anyone? More on that later.)

Back to the book. I’ve thought about it many times. I’ve read it many times. I may have even written down some thoughts that sparked from this book. Needless to say that the timing of my recent re-reading was quite serendipitous…

Briefly, the book is about a society in a time and place where people are engineered from birth and society is orderly. Mundanely so. There are no aberrants. Should something or someone arise, there are drugs and activities to distract or forgo the disorder. Only heathen pleasure exists. Negative is not possible. Society at its peak…

There are two main characters in the novel. One, a young man, though engineered in his society, who did not develop into a happy carefree individual. The other, a Savage, from the outskirts of society. Their meeting, interactions and ideas form the story.

Life is amazing because given a long enough time line, it begins to converge upon fiction. While recently reading this book, some previously ‘uncontacted tribes‘ were spotted in Brazil. My heart goes out to ‘us’ in ‘civilization’ and also to ‘them’ in the ‘jungle’. Can anyone say disaster waiting to happen?

I’ve taken to highlighting books as I read them. Anything that sticks out or warrants another look. Oh- not library or borrowed books… 🙂 Here are somethings, not all, that for some reason or another, made the cut:

Chapter 1 – “And that,” put in the Director sententiously, “that is the secret of happiness and virtue–liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny.”

Chapter 3 – Feeling lurks in that interval of time between desire and its consummation.

Chapter 3 – “Back to culture. Yes, actually to culture. You can’t consume much if you sit still and read books.”

Chapter 8 – The boys still sang their horrible song about Linda. Sometimes, too, they laughed at him for being so ragged. When he tore his clothes, Linda did not know how to mend them. In the Other Place, she told him, people threw away clothes with holes in them and got new ones. “Rags, rags!” the boys used to shout at him. “But I can read,” he said to himself, “and they can’t. They don’t even know what reading is.” It was fairly easy, if he thought hard enough about the reading, to pretend that he didn’t mind when they made fun of him. He asked Linda to give him the book again.

Chapter 8 – A man can smile and smile and be a villain.

Chapter 16 – “Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensations for misery.”

Chapter 16 – “I was wondering,” said the Savage, “why you had them at all–seeing that you can get whatever you want out of those bottles. Why don’t you make everybody an Alpha Double Plus while you’re about it?”

Mustapha Mond laughed. “Because we have no wish to have our throats cut,” he answered. “We believe in happiness and stability. A society of Alphas couldn’t fail to be unstable and miserable. Imagine a factory staffed by Alphas–that is to say by separate and unrelated individuals of good heredity and conditioned so as to be capable (within limits) of making a free choice and assuming responsibilities. Imagine it!” he repeated.

The Savage tried to imagine it, not very successfully.

“It’s an absurdity. An Alpha-decanted, Alpha-conditioned man would go mad if he had to do Epsilon Semi-Moron work–go mad, or start smashing things up. Alphas can be completely socialized–but only on condition that you make them do Alpha work. Only an Epsilon can be expected to make Epsilon sacrifices, for the good reason that for him they aren’t sacrifices; they’re the line of least resistance. His conditioning has laid down rails along which he’s got to run. He can’t help himself; he’s foredoomed. Even after decanting, he’s still inside a bottle–an invisible bottle of infantile and embryonic fixations. Each one of us, of course,” the Controller meditatively continued, “goes through life inside a bottle. But if we happen to be Alphas, our bottles are, relatively speaking, enormous. We should suffer acutely if we were confined in a narrower space. You cannot pour upper-caste champagne-surrogate into lower-caste bottles. It’s obvious theoretically. But it has also been proved in actual practice. The result of the Cyprus experiment was convincing.”

Chapter 16 – “Technically, it would be perfectly simple to reduce all lower-caste working hours to three or four a day. But would they be any the happier for that? No, they wouldn’t. The experiment was tried, more than a century and a half ago. The whole of Ireland was put on to the four-hour day. What was the result? Unrest and a large increase in the consumption of soma; that was all. Those three and a half hours of extra leisure were so far from being a source of happiness, that people felt constrained to take a holiday from them. The Inventions Office is stuffed with plans for labour-saving processes. Thousands of them.” Mustapha Mond made a lavish gesture. “And why don’t we put them into execution? For the sake of the labourers; it would be sheer cruelty to afflict them with excessive leisure. It’s the same with agriculture. We could synthesize every morsel of food, if we wanted to. But we don’t. We prefer to keep a third of the population on the land. For their own sakes–because it takes longer to get food out of the land than out of a factory. Besides, we have our stability to think of. We don’t want to change. Every change is a menace to stability. That’s another reason why we’re so chary of applying new inventions. Every discovery in pure science is potentially subversive; even science must sometimes be treated as a possible enemy. Yes, even science.”

Chapter 17 – “But industrial civilization is only possible when there’s no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning.”

I would comment on all these, but I’m not up for a one-sided spiel. I prefer discussion. If you read the passages and feel so inspired to make a comment on them or something else, feel free and let the discussion begin!

Oh, the rest of the book is marvelous too…

What makes news around here?

Hate to sound like a pessimist but the community is slowing decaying. What is there to say when say, oh, a local journalist or, say, a local teacher are involved with growing marijuana illegally? What is there to say when a woman goes to the police after she is robbed (of 5 lbs of marijuana) at knife point from her car? What is there to say when Mendocino county makes the New York Times, reported as being the country’s ‘haven’ for marijuana growers?

news worthy, recommended reading

This is kinda what I’m talking about…
Beware an angry China

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

HONG KONG: Tibetans have a strong case against Beijing. But mixing it in with the Olympics and Darfur is a red rag to a wounded young bull.

Nationalism is more often aroused by setbacks than success, so the Tibet problems and the possible threats to a triumphal Olympics are stirring it in China.

On the horizon is the possibility that these will combine with high inflation, stagnating exports and trade tensions with the United States to create a perfect nationalistic storm.

The Chinese leadership faces a difficult balancing act.

As its legitimacy is now based on national achievement, not communist ideology, it must appear in step with popular feeling. Yet stability at home and good relations abroad require keeping nationalist emotions in check. The paranoia about evil foreign designs that thrived under Mao and was discarded by Deng Xiaoping is still close to the surface.

Almost all of China is offended that foreigners are so keen to lecture them and to encourage the petty boycotts that could spoil the Olympic party. It genuinely infuriates the Chinese that they are blamed for Darfur while their Western critics occupy Iraq. Beijing is happy to let such nationalist resentments vent in the sometimes violent language of Internet blogs and chat rooms.

The anger, in turn, makes it easier for the government to pin the Tibetan problems on foreigners and Tibetan exiles headed by the Dalai Lama, to arrest human-rights advocates and crack down on foreign media.

Beijing plays up the foreign threat – much like the U.S. government used the Al Qaeda threat as a justification for invading Iraq. For example, Beijing has raised the specter of Tibetan suicide squads organized by the “Dalai Lama clique” attacking the Olympics.

Such acts cannot be ruled out. But a cooler government would quietly strengthen defenses rather than raise the temperature – and raise fears that terrorist outrages might be staged to discredit the Tibetans.

Under pressure, officials have fallen back on Cultural Revolution language and lies. The Communist Party secretary in Tibet described the Dalai Lama as a “monster with a human face.”

Less dramatically, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said that the channel for dialogue with the Dalai Lama was open so long as he “abandoned claims for Tibet independence” and used his influence to “stop the violence in Tibet.” In fact the Dalai Lama long ago accepted the principle of autonomy within China, so long as it was real autonomy. And he is at odds with many Tibetans who oppose his advocacy of peaceful means.

Equally important is the way official Chinese media has depicted the violence in Tibet as attacks on Han Chinese. This predictably arouses the hackles of the Han, who comprise 90 percent of China’s population, and who tend to view Tibet as a backwater they improve by their modernizing drive.

They see no reason why Tibetans should be unhappy with Han migration and dominance of trade, and they resent that Tibetans do not feel grateful for the money poured in by the government.

“The Communist Party is like a parent to the Tibetan people and is always considerate about what the children need,” declared the Tibet party secretary. The party, he said, was the “real Buddha” for Tibetans.

This racial/cultural aspect not only makes it even more difficult for China to resolve minority issues, it also raises the Han identity issue in a wider, international context.

Racial mythology as well as cultural identity run strong, whether vis-à-vis immediate “barbarian” neighbors – be they Japanese, Mongol or Russian – or toward the Westerners who long lorded it over the Middle Kingdom.

How will the Chinese react if the Olympics really do become noted more for demonstrations and boycotts by Tibetan-inspired foreigners than for the achievements of China’s athletes and organizers? At whom will popular anger then be directed?

If the party is spoiled, whether by Tibet or air pollution, the demand for top level scapegoats may be irresistible.

Worse still is if this coincides with heightened trade tensions with the United States, which could arise as the U.S. economy enters a recession.

If the Chinese come to perceive that the benefits of globalization have peaked, will the leadership retreat from 30 years of Deng-ist engagement?

None of this has to happen. But ethnic pride and thwarted ambitions are powerful forces. It is worth recalling that foreign economic pressures, patriotic fervor and rising military power made a once liberal Japan into the expansionist, militarist and hyper-nationalist Japan of the 1930s.

Tibetans have a strong case against Beijing. But mixing it in with the Olympics and Darfur is a red rag to a wounded young bull.