Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Alright, alright. I know, I know. I used to post about politics and interesting things, and now it's all about the dog, but let's face it, my life at present revolves around geriatric mail-order catalogues, and being in the home, and as I see it, the dog is a lot more interesting, and photogenic, than orthopedic shoes with easy on/off velcro straps.

We don't really do Christmas here (or at least, Dad and I don't), and clearly, the dog was not impressed.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Two weeks ago, I did a very touristy thing: I took a very expensive helicopter ride over the southern part of the island. It was awesome.

It had been stormy much of that week, but instead of hampering the experience, the unusual weather created some very unique and very beautiful conditions. First of all, both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa were covered in snow. This is Mauna Loa.

Then, because it was raining during the tour, the water hitting the hot lava created fine, wispy, white vapor that curled off the pitchy flow.

A lot of people come to Hawaii for sunshine and palm trees, but I really do think that some of the most elegant moments happen when the skies are grey and the atmosphere is cold and clear.
I almost didn't mind being here that day.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Thanks to those of you who wrote to express concern about our chocolate-devouring mongrel. Yes, she did get a bit sick, but it wasn't serious, or long-term.

The good news is she's back to normal, doing fine, and she still wants your cookie.

Monday, November 26, 2007

We have a dog. THIS dog. Or rather, my sister has the dog, and the rest of us like her, too. The dog, Ginger, or Little Girl, she responds to both, is the most spoiled creature I have ever seen. But, despite this, and being a tiny, fur-ball sort of lap dog, she is the most mild-mannered and agreeable dog out there. The stuff of Lassie lore. But she does have her own mind.

Last week, my mother came back from Las Vegas, and brought with her several boxes of See's chocolates for gifts. Very much to our surprise, while Mom was out and Ginger was left on her own, she found the plastic bag in which Mom stored the chocolates, pulled out a box and claimed it herself, got through the one layer of paper, a layer of plastic, another paper wrapper, cardboard, and then the last level of protection, a flimsy paper sheaf, and gorged herself of the expensive confection. Mom found her later, among chocolates strewn everywhere, looking quite proud of herself, with a face smeared in sticky, sweet brown.

Mom went off on another trip this past Friday, leaving the dog in my sister's care, and lo! she did it again! While my sister was at the gym, Ginger found a cache of Hawaiian Host Macadamia Nut chocolates, tore through a box, and scarfed down the goods. My sister came home to find the dog passed out next to her kill, unable to move. She said there were NINE chocolates missing. ("I can't even eat nine chocolates!" she said. And Ginger only weighs about 11 pounds.)

She's amazing.

Friday, November 23, 2007

An update on the ticket situation:

I must say I was very disappointed with reader participation in my last poll about whether I should fight my traffic ticket or not. There were six votes, one was my own, and two were from one person who voted one way first, and then, after a discussion with me, cast another vote in the other direction.

In any event, I have decided not go to court, and not to pay the fines either. I went the third route, which was to write a letter to the judge explaining the situation.

We shall see what comes of it...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda
Published: November 14, 2007

Two dates — two numbers. Read them and weep for what could have, and should have, been. On Sept. 11, 2001, the OPEC basket oil price was $25.50 a barrel. On Nov. 13, 2007, the OPEC basket price was around $90 a barrel.

In the wake of 9/11, some of us pleaded for a “patriot tax” on gasoline of $1 or more a gallon to diminish the transfers of wealth we were making to the very countries who were indirectly financing the ideologies of intolerance that were killing Americans and in order to spur innovation in energy efficiency by U.S. manufacturers.

But no, George Bush and Dick Cheney had a better idea. And the Democrats went along for the ride. They were all going to let the market work and not let our government shape that market — like OPEC does.

You’d think that one person, just one, running for Congress or the Senate would take a flier and say: “Oh, what the heck. I’m going to lose anyway. Why not tell the truth? I’ll support a gasoline tax.”

Not one. Everyone just runs away from the “T-word” and watches our wealth run away to Russia, Venezuela and Iran.

I can’t believe that someone could not win the following debate:

REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE: “My Democratic opponent, true to form, wants to raise your taxes. Yes, now he wants to raise your taxes at the gasoline pump by $1 a gallon. Another tax-and-spend liberal who wants to get into your pocket.”

DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE: “Yes, my opponent is right. I do favor a gasoline tax phased in over 12 months. But let’s get one thing straight: My opponent and I are both for a tax. I just prefer that my taxes go to the U.S. Treasury, and he’s ready to see his go to the Russian, Venezuelan, Saudi and Iranian treasuries. His tax finances people who hate us. Mine would offset some of our payroll taxes, pay down our deficit, strengthen our dollar, stimulate energy efficiency and shore up Social Security. It’s called win-win-win-win-win for America. My opponent’s strategy is sit back, let the market work and watch America lose-lose-lose-lose-lose.” If you can’t win that debate, you don’t belong in politics.

“Think about it,” says Phil Verleger, an energy economist. “We could have replaced the current payroll tax with a gasoline tax. Middle-class consumers would have seen increased take-home pay of between six and nine percent, even though they would have had to pay more at the pump. A stronger foundation for future economic growth would have been laid by keeping more oil revenue home, and we might not now be facing a recession.”

As a higher gas tax discouraged oil consumption, the Harvard University economist and former Bush adviser N. Gregory Mankiw has argued: “the price of oil would fall in world markets. As a result, the price of gas to [U.S.] consumers would rise by less than the increase in the tax. Some of the tax would in effect be paid by Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.”

But U.S. consumers would have known that, with a higher gasoline tax locked in for good, pump prices would never be going back to the old days, adds Mr. Verleger, so they would have a much stronger incentive to switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles and Detroit would have had to make more hybrids to survive. This would have put Detroit five years ahead of where it is now. “It’s called the America wins program,” said Mr. Verleger, “instead of the petro-states win program.”

We simply cannot go on being as dumb as we wanna be. If you hate the war in Iraq, then you want a gasoline tax so you can argue that we can pull out of there without remaining dependent on an even more unstable region. If you want to see us negotiate with Iran, not bomb it, you want a gasoline tax that will give us some real leverage by helping to reduce the income of the ayatollahs.

If you’re a conservative and you believed that the Iraq war was necessary to drive reform in the Middle East, but the war has failed to do that and we need “Plan B” for the same objective, you want a gasoline tax that will reduce the flow of wealth to petrolist leaders who will never change if all they have to do is drill well holes rather than educate and empower their people.
If you want to see America thrive by becoming the most energy productive economy in the world — a title that now belongs to Japan, which doesn’t have a drop of oil in its soil — you want a gasoline tax, which will only spur U.S. innovation in energy efficiency.

President Bush squandered a historic opportunity to put America on a radically different energy course after 9/11. But considering how few Democrats or Republicans are ready to tell the people the truth on this issue, maybe we have the president we deserve. I refuse to believe that, but I’m starting to doubt myself.

Friday, November 02, 2007

For reasons I have already forgotten in the last five days, I have decided to get braces. Here they are. They hurt. That's all I have to say.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It is obviously that time of the month (quota time, that is).

I got stopped by the police this evening on my way home, just 125m from my front door. The apartment building where Dad and I live is at the end of a small road off the main street, and as made the turn off, I noticed two sets of flashing blue lights behind me. Seeing cop cars in my area is not all that unusual, and thinking not too much of it and not hearing a siren, I continued on my way, BUT the two cars followed me into the complex, then down the ramp as I entered the underground parking area. Realizing that I was their target, I stopped the car half-way in, got out, then asked, "Are you stopping ME?!"

Clearly, cops are not used to little geeky girls with grandma glasses and Louise Brooks hairdos approaching them with confused faces when they're trying to get on with their very important business of racking up traffic violations. "Get back into vehicle, Miss!" one of the two cops yelled. I did, then asked through the window, "What have I done wrong?" One of the cops came over and with a very serious tone said, "You have a headlight out. You are driving an unsafe vehicle." The other cop came out with a flash light and circled my car, looking in to inspect for who knows what. Then, the first cop demanded that I turn off the radio, asked what was in wagon part of the station wagon (it was my dad's wheel chair motorized ramp), and then for my license and registration. "Don't you think I should move my car so as not to block people trying to get either in or out of the parking lot?" I asked. "No, Miss, stay where you are!"

I sat in my car for some time, families with children passing by and looking concerned, and a neighbor yelling in the background "What happened?!" Cop number one came back, asked me a bunch of questions about my job ("I'm a public school teacher, but I only teach three days a week because I take care of my elderly father who has cancer." I explained trying my best to sound saintly), my residence, my social security number, then handed me a citation slip; I was nailed for TWO offenses: driving with a headlight out ($47)AND driving an unsafe vehicle ($97). I looked carefully at the slip and the cop said, "Your car is unsafe because the light is out, so that's two violations."

Generally speaking, I try to limit my dealings with policemen (and policewomen, for that matter), so I just signed the slip, tried to look helpless, and wished the officers a good evening. But when I got home, I was not happy. "Dad, that's double jeopardy!" I yelled. "Damned right, it is!" agreed my loyal, lawyer Daddy. "$150 is outrageous!" he declared, and then he told me to contest it in court.

Now, just to be sure about my understanding of the "double jeopardy" clause in the constitution, I went online and found this from the fifth amendment: "...nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." Fining me twice for one offense does seem to be in violation of this fundamental constitutional right, though in fairness, I reckon that in this new and globalized hypercaptialism we find ourselves in today, the amendment should be ratified to include "pocketbook" with "life and limb". And, as constitutional rights deal with matters of the nation, and I think traffic violations are a something states or the local goverment handles, I do believe amendment 14 allows me to apply amendment 5 to my situation with "no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States".


Patient readers, what do you reckon? Should I fight this one in court in attempt to save $100 (I will definitely have to pay the first one as it cannot be denied that my headlight was out), or should I just save myself from the hassle by sending in a check?

I would appreciate any thoughts on this and do leave a vote on my poll to the right.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

OK. So, I royally destroyed my old template in attempt to remove that annoying AdSense strip (I suppose I put up in the first place thinking I could make a bit of cash, but after more than three years, and at the cost of that huge gap on my blog, all I made was about $5.36) and to remedy that, I had to choose a new layout. What do you think?

I spent far more time than I will admit to trying to recover old links and page elements, and at the same time, I updated a few things, and added a couple of new buttons.

So there you have it. A new and improved (though I miss the ol' skool olive drab) Monkeyprints!

PS - I am generally disappointed with the lack of comments left on my site (does anyone else remember when I used to get a mighty 5 or 6 per entry?!), so it would make me very, very happy if you would participate in the poll on the sidebar. Please.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I go to check the mail today and find that this envelope had been stuffed into our very small box. That's right, owning a mail scale and using stamps is now officially suspicious behavior that might be precursor to acts of security threat to the nation.

Indeed, Dad was only sending the package a distance of a couple of miles, but one would think that if the post office had made the effort of receiving it, putting this annoying label on it, and then sending it back to us, surely someone there could have shaken it and held it up to the light long enough to realize that it wasn't explosive squibs of anthrax dust, but merely a hefty, though innocuous multi-page document (tax forms, actually, for one of his clients).

So now I have to take this damned thing back to the post office so they can shake it and hold it up to the light in front of me, perhaps at the same time analyzing my face for nervous twitches and breath holding, just so we can have it sent it up the road.

God, bless America!

Monday, September 17, 2007

I got a big box in the mail today and look at what it was!

I've just been published in Swindle Magazine!

A story I wrote about Joan Hinton, the American physicist who joined the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1948 after working on the Manhattan Project (she is 86 now), was included in the latest edition of the magazine, the "Death and Fame" issue.

And here is what the story looked like (if can get a copy of the magazine, the story is on page 58)!

Greg Basdevant, whom I met while doing some work for him at Colors Magazine, took the pictures. Rather unfortunately, they only used one of the many excellent photos he took on our trip to see Ms. Hinton.

The story was mostly interview, and much to my surprise, it ran the length of two pages.

And I already got the check in the mail! Woo hoo!

If you want to see more about the magazine, check out their Web site at

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Living with Dad is not easy. Or perhaps, living with me is not easy. Either way, Dad and I have finally found something of routine for living together. The most important part of this routine is getting his compression socks on in the morning, and then taking them off at night. Dad is mostly wheelchair-bound and with limited mobility on his left side, as the result of a stroke he suffered almost five years ago, it is next to impossible for him to put on socks or shoes. This is especially true in the case of his compression socks which are designed to minimize the effects of gravity by squeezing the legs tight enough to keep fluids from swelling in his feet. With two good hands, getting the damned things on him is a challenge for me, also.

So the other night, I was tired rather early, and noticing that Dad was going through his normal before bed routine, I announced my intention to also go to bed. "Good," he said, "me, too." I waited in the kitchen for him as his took his night-time pills. He looked at me. I said nothing. "What do you want?" he asked. "Nothing," I said, "I'm just waiting for you to go to bed so I can take off your socks." "Oh, I see." So, he swallowed his last pill, wheeled himself into his room and got himself into bed. I got his arms and legs situated (he has to really work at adjusting himself to get into bed properly), then I yanked off the socks and left them hanging over the foot of the bed.

"Do you need anything, Papa?" I asked, as I always do before turning off the light. "No, no, I'm fine." So, I said "good night", switched off the light, then went to bed myself.

Not long after I got into bed, but before I fell asleep, I heard the creak of Dad's bed (it's a motorized hospital bed). Then shuffling. Then the click of the light switch and the squeak of the wheelchair. This was all followed shortly by the sound of water running, a toilet flushing, teeth brushing and more water. Then a pause. Then wheelchair clicking, shuffling, squeaking, light switch, and settling. Then nothing.

My only explanation for this was that the old man didn't want to ask me to wait an extra 10 minutes so that he could finish his routine before getting into bed, possibly irritating me or preventing me from a few more minutes of sleep (not that I would have been annoyed). So instead of just telling me he wasn't ready for bed, he played along, went through the motions, then sat there in the dark waiting for me to fall asleep before getting himself back up to do what he had to do.

What nerve!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

This is amazing. While most foreigners travelling through Asia must learn to cope with the squat toilet, here is a company in New Zealand bringing the discomfort home! You can learn more about this handy device, and the small fortune you would have to pay to have one of your own at

(In fairness, the company argues that squatting allows for healthier evacuation, and after having lived in China for three and a half years, I wouldn't discount that there might be something to it.)

Saturday, September 01, 2007

My first job in China was at the Dalian Institute of Light Industry; this was about four years ago. One of my responsibilities at the university was to give intensive spoken English lessons to a group of students preparing to go to the University of Swansea, in Wales. Of that group of 10 or so, just a couple actually made it to Swansea. Others however, went to Australia to pursue a masters program. I kept in touch with one of the students--he wound up near Sydney--and recently I have received word that he has just graduated!

Here he is!

At the risk of sounding schmaltzy, I am a very proud teacher!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

My sister was lamenting life here in Kona (I think I have mentioned that she also quit her job in Los Angeles to come home to help Dad) the other day and she said, "All of my friends who are from here, and never left, have kids now."

She sighed and I thought about it. One of her friends already has four kids.

"Well, what about Rebecca (not her real name)?" I asked. Rebecca and my sister have known each other since grade school, and she's a really lovely, beautiful girl who, for the most part, has her life together.

Leilani thought about it. "True. She doesn't have kids. But she does have an STD."

That's Kona!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I've been spending a lot of time putzing about the Internet, looking for paid writing opportunities. I signed up with eHow--a site with a searchable catalogue of "How To" instructions--and already, I have written three articles: two about the pronunciation of particularly tricky Mandarin sounds, and one about using Chinese toilets. The one about the toilets has already earned me the magnificent sum of 12 cents!

Go take a look at

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Found this in the New York Times today. I'll write more about this and my recent experiences in education a bit later.

A Teacher Grows Disillusioned After a ‘Fail’ Becomes a ‘Pass’
Published: August 1, 2007

Several weeks into his first year of teaching math at the High School of Arts and Technology in Manhattan, Austin Lampros received a copy of the school’s grading policy. He took particular note of the stipulation that a student who attended class even once during a semester, who did absolutely nothing else, was to be given 45 points on the 100-point scale, just 20 short of a passing mark.

Austin Lampros quit after a student he had failed was passed.
Mr. Lampros’s introduction to the high school’s academic standards proved a fitting preamble to a disastrous year. It reached its low point in late June, when Arts and Technology’s principal, Anne Geiger, overruled Mr. Lampros and passed a senior whom he had failed in a required math course.

That student, Indira Fernandez, had missed dozens of class sessions and failed to turn in numerous homework assignments, according to Mr. Lampros’s meticulous records, which he provided to The New York Times. She had not even shown up to take the final exam. She did, however, attend the senior prom.

Through the intercession of Ms. Geiger, Miss Fernandez was permitted to retake the final after receiving two days of personal tutoring from another math teacher. Even though her score of 66 still left her with a failing grade for the course as a whole by Mr. Lampros’s calculations, Ms. Geiger gave the student a passing mark, which allowed her to graduate.

Ms. Geiger declined to be interviewed for this column and said that federal law forbade her to speak about a specific student’s performance. But in a written reply to questions, she characterized her actions as part of a “standard procedure” of “encouraging teachers to support students’ efforts to achieve academic success.”

The issue here is not a violation of rules or regulations. Ms. Geiger acted within the bounds of the teachers’ union’s contract with the city, by providing written notice to Mr. Lampros of her decision.

No, the issue is more what this episode may say about the Department of Education’s vaunted increase in graduation rates. It is possible, of course, that the confrontation over Miss Fernandez was an aberration. It is possible, too, that Mr. Lampros is the rare teacher willing to speak on the record about the pressures from administrators to pass marginal students, pressures that countless colleagues throughout the city privately grumble about but ultimately cave in to, fearful of losing their jobs if they object.

Mr. Lampros has resigned and returned to his home state, Michigan. The principal and officials in the Department of Education say that he missed 24 school days during the last year for illness and personal reasons. He missed two of the three sets of parent-teacher conferences. He also had conflicts with an assistant principal, Antonio Arocho, over teaching styles. Mr. Lampros said all of this was true.

Still, Mr. Lampros received a satisfactory rating five of the six times administrators formally observed him. He has master’s degrees in both statistics and math education and has won awards for his teaching at the college level.

“It’s almost as if you stick to your morals and your ethics, you’ll end up without a job,” Mr. Lampros said in an interview. “I don’t think every school is like that. But in my case, it was.”

The written record, in the form of the minutely detailed charts Mr. Lampros maintained to determine student grades, supports his account. Colleagues of his from the school — a counselor, a programmer, several fellow teachers — corroborated key elements of his version of events. They also describe a principal worried that the 2006 graduation rate of 72.5 percent would fall closer to 50 or 60 percent unless teachers came up with ways to pass more students.

After having failed to graduate with her class in June 2006, Miss Fernandez, who, through her mother, declined to be interviewed, returned to Arts and Technology last September for a fifth year. She was enrolled in Mr. Lampros’s class in intermediate algebra. Absent for more than two-thirds of the days, she failed, and that grade was left intact by administrators.

When second semester began, Miss Fernandez again took the intermediate algebra class, which fulfilled one of her graduation requirements. According to Mr. Lampros’s records, she missed one-third of the classes, arrived late for 20 sessions, turned in half the required homework assignments, failed 11 of 14 tests and quizzes, and never took the final exam.

Two days after the June 12 final, Miss Fernandez told Mr. Lampros that she had a doctor’s note excusing her from school on the day of the exam, he said. On June 18, she asked him if she had failed the class, and he told her she had. The next day, the principal summoned Mr. Lampros to a meeting with Miss Fernandez and her mother. He was ordered, he said, to let her retake the final.

Mr. Arocho, the assistant principal, wrote in a letter to Mr. Lampros that Miss Fernandez had a doctor’s note, issued March 15, permitting her to miss school whenever necessary in the spring. Mr. Arocho did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

There is such a note, issued by Dr. Jason Faller, but it excused absences “over the last three months” — that is, the period between mid-December and mid-March. In a recent interview, Dr. Faller said he saw Miss Fernandez only once, in March, and confirmed that his excuse note covered absences only before March 15.

For whatever reason, school administrators misinterpreted the note and told Mr. Lampros that Miss Fernandez would be allowed to retake the final — and to retake it after having two days of one-on-one tutoring by another math teacher, an advantage none of Mr. Lampros’s other students had, he said.

Mr. Lampros, disgusted, did not come to school the next two days. Miss Fernandez meanwhile took the test and scored a 66, which still left her far short of a 65 average for the semester. Nonetheless, Mr. Arocho tried to enter a passing mark for her. When he had to relent after objections by the teachers’ union representative, Mr. Lampros was allowed to put in the failing grade. Ms. Geiger promptly reversed it.

Samantha Fernandez, Indira’s mother, spoke on her behalf. “My daughter earned everything she got,” she said. Of Mr. Lampros, she said, “He needs to grow up and be a man.”

From Michigan, Mr. Lampros recalled one comment that Mrs. Fernandez made during their meeting about why it was important for Indira to graduate. She couldn’t afford to pay for her to attend another senior prom in another senior year.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Oh patient readers, brace yourself for yet another angry, and dreadfully long, rant! Kona is getting to me in all kinds of ways.

The more I interact with people here, the more I realize that I am very different. Not better than or worse than, just DIFFERENT. My thinking, my beliefs, my aims...all of it, and what's disturbing is that the more I see these differences, the more I am overcome with waves of self-doubt. Am I really wrong? Is everyone getting something that I'm not? Am I losing grip on reality and seeing things that just aren't there?

My most recent panic attack was provoked by a class I attended this evening. As mentioned previously, I have been offered a job as a substitute teacher. However, before being eligible to start this job, one must complete a certification course and pass a test. This course happens to be taught by the brilliant and wonderful Mrs. Y who was actually a teacher of mine in middle school. The course runs a duration of two weeks and we are already half way through it. Thus far it's OK. I say OK and not excellent, or even good, because 1. I was required to pay for this course in order to attend it, 2. After teaching for five years already, I find some of the material a bit redundant, and 3. Our sessions are held every night for four hours and let's face it, my attention span is fickle. But like I said, it's OK. It's good having a reason to get out of the house and the other people in the course are pretty nice and for the most part, impressively dedicated and enthusiastic about becoming good substitute teachers.

Now, getting back to my panic attack; two things got the ball rolling. The first was more obvious than the second. Being eager adults, keen to share our experiences, and sometimes forgetful of the fact that our job will be to FILL IN occasionally for a teacher out with illness, as opposed to being PROPER TEACHERS, our simple classroom discussions often take a turn for philosophical ramblings about educational theories. Such was the case this evening when a conversation about writing instruction led to an involved comment on "modern" theories of how students should develop a mastery of their own language, spoken and written. The fantastic Mrs. Y shocked me by saying that when evaluating students' written work, we should pay careful attention to the students' ability to express their ideas, as well as the depth and breadth of their ideas, while things that might inspire vicious red marks, such as a failure to remember the pesky rules for spelling and grammar, should be regarded as secondary.


(Yes, patient readers, I AM so uptight that this really did upset me.)

Young learners should only concern themselves with taking an accurate command of their own (and usually ONLY) language AFTER they have successfully been able to express their esoteric childhood thoughts?!

"But Mrs. Y," I protested, still unable at my age to refer to her by her first name, "in the real world, not knowing how to spell and writing with poor grammar inhibits people from being articulate and what's more, professional people see written mistakes as a sign of a lack of education, laziness, sloppiness and careless attention to detail."

"You don't want to discourage children from writing at all. How would you feel if you got an essay back with all kinds of red marks on it?", or something along those lines, she said.

WHAT NONSENSE, I thought. How the hell are you supposed to learn if no one will correct you? And what are we as teachers and adults doing coddling underachieving students like that? Really, if a student can't handle some constructive correction from their schoolteacher as a child, how the hell will they survive less friendly criticism in their life as an adult?

"Well, when do they learn things like spelling and grammar?" I asked, still amazed that such a well-spoken, dedicated teaching professional (and primary school principal also faced with bringing all of her students up to nationally mandated achievement standards) believes that red ink will damage a child's psyche.

"In the correct context," she offered with little explanation. "Besides, nowadays we have spell check and computer programs and editors and things. What we really need to do is inspire the children to be creative and express themselves."

WOW. Do I feel old fashioned for feeling like this is a crock. I'll get to why in a moment.

The second point in the evening where I felt that I just didn't get it is when the class started talking about students with disabilities and how they should be accommodated. (Now, before I continue, I want say I am a firm believer in education for everyone and because learning disabilities do in fact exist, I understand completely that some students just need special help. Please don't get me wrong on that point.) However, the conversation moved to autism and how it's becoming more of a problem in America and members of my class knew this because of something Oprah said. The women in the room, mostly mothers, looked very concerned as this topic evolved.

Now again, before I continue, I don't want anyone to believe that I don't think autism is a serious problem. I know it is. But then I said, "Mrs. Y, do you really think autism is becoming a bigger problem because it really is, or do you think it's just an indication of our times? Surely, people have been educated for centuries without labels such as ADD, ADHD or whatever other 'learning disabilities'?" And I gave her this example: "In China, where I have worked for three and a half years, there are NO MENTAL DEFICIENCIES. That's the official line, anyway. Of course, there are lots of people who suffer from mental illness and other social disorders, but as a rule, no one acknowledges it. While that's an extreme at the opposite end with its own negative effects, most students, whatever their condition, are expected to work to the best of their abilities. Obviously, not everyone is the best student in the class, but they all try hard."

(Actually, that wasn't word for word, what I said. I am usually not that articulate on the fly. I admit right now that I have fine-tuned a lot of the arguments here. [Ha ha. I can do that because it's MY blog.])

Well, this example caused a laugh and instead of focusing on my point about students trying to achieve to the best of their abilities high expectations placed on them, everyone thought it was so sad that China doesn't believe in mental illness.

Then I added, "Maybe all of this special attention is giving students an excuse to underachieve, and maybe little boys jump and scream because they are little boys and maybe we should set high standards for everyone and maybe parents should be parents."

This fell mostly flat. Someone then suggested that maybe so many kids have attention problems because of television. His theory was that horizontal lines that run down the screen at a pace too quick to see normally, but evident when filmed, are processed in the minds of young children to damaging effects. I didn't want to come off rude, or as a know-it-all, so kept to myself the fact that those lines are seen on film as a result of a difference in playback frame rates, and that it seems rather likely that adults and children process them identically. But who knows? Maybe there was something to what he said, anyway.

Then we had a break and a woman in our class told me that two of her children are ADD, as well as her husband, and while she tried and tried to help her kids and didn't want to put them on Ritalin, in the end she tried it and found that it was the best solution for their problem. I listened patiently, but her argument did not change my position. And then she said, "You know, maybe China doesn't acknowledge mental illness because they don't want their people to ever think about all of the problems in their country."

OK. So there was my breakdown. I felt painfully alone in my thoughts. I was told that spelling wasn't important and grammar is hard to teach. I was told that creative thinking is the ultimate aim of a well-rounded education, and I was told, probably by someone with limited information, that the China doesn't want to properly educate its people for fear they will revolt, find God and pop psychology.

Now, let's talk about why I'm different. This is how I see things.

First, let's break down globalization. This great stuff called capitalism that we kill and die for is spreading all over the world and we made it so. For the most part, this has been good for America. We send stuff abroad and people bring us ugly, poorly made clothes at a steal. After WWII, for all kinds of reasons, America got rich, we built up our military, life got easy, people went to college and Mom got a Hoover. The 60s and 70s went, social life changed, but for the most part, life was still pretty good. But, let's take a look at what's happening today. Rapidly developing technology has allowed for instantaneous communication throughout the world. Economies that were once behind are zipping and booming and lots of new people are getting rich. But here's the catch: For economies to grow, people, or rather businesses have to find way to get more bang for their dollar (or euro or pound or renminbi). If people or materials are expensive in one place, business savvy people go elsewhere, to other cities or, as it is happening now, other countries, to set up shop.

So now, pray tell, what the hell does this have to do with spelling and grammar and kids with ADD? As I see it, America is in trouble. For far too many years, we have rested on the fact that we are the richest, most powerful country in the world. Simply having the good sense to be born to American citizens, or on American soil, means that life is automatically better than it would be most elsewhere. But this is the problem: That yummy capitalism we've spread all over the world is coming to bite us in the ass. As history has proven, economies must evolve: countries that develop economically by making stuff, such as clothes, for other people must eventually shift into high skilled services, such as banking or pharmaceuticals, to keep alive; they must do so because they won't be able to make stuff cheaper than other poorer countries can. Now, of course, America leads the way in professional services, but exactly how long can we do that for? With the current state of math and science in this country (to be read: bad, and almost non-existent if we didn't let in ambitious and high-achieving students from poor countries hungry for the knowledge they can't get at home), I'd say, not long.

"Close the borders and stop sending jobs to China and India!" the people yell. But let's face it. That won't happen. Capitalism is a hungry beast that can't be stopped; the people making money have all the power and there ain't nothing coming between them and their precious profit. Besides, China has all of our cash, anyway.

And finally, to my point: While people in Hawaii, and perhaps the rest of America, worry about whether little Jonny feels good about himself and his pre-pubescent profundity and his ADD, the rest of the world biting the bitter bullet of life, learning English the old fashioned way, AS WELL AS THEIR OWN LANGUAGE, and preparing for life in a not-so-friendly, not-so-caring, and definitely not-fair world of global competition. Now, some of you offended naysayers may tut-tut and remind me that America is the land of invention and innovation and China can't ever touch us 'cause they're all bunch of commie pinkos who can't think for themselves. Perhaps that's true. And who knows what the future holds? But if things carry on as they do, let us hope that in our American future full of lots of people who can't spell, but have healthy egos and vivid imaginations, someone will find a cure for the widespread depression and listlessness that will come as a result of the inability to find a job, despite being so damned creative, expressive and special. Perhaps someone will even invent a pill for it.

Now, having had this opportunity to present my ideas in graphemes (that's a word I learned in class--it means letters), I console myself in that I am not totally wrong. Different, but maybe not too far off the mark.

**Afterward: If when reading this you come across any typos or misspelling or grammatical errors, I want to remind you that it doesn't matter because I think I've expressed well my ideas.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Details redarding a story in my last post serve to clarify (thanks Uncle Baron):

"It was a PlayStation 3, not an Xbox and the thugs never got the machine. He worked hard for his money and wasn't about to let go of the PS3 and probably would have died before letting go of it not understanding the consequences of the thugs actions. Luckily his younger brother (the PS3 owner is actually an adult in age) grabbed the bat from the dirtbag and chased them off along with the help of a big local dude who saw what was going on and stopped."

This makes the story much less grim. Good. (But the bit about the guy being about 24 and the son of a cop still stands true; my sister, who knows him, confirmed it.)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I've really been meaning to write--there is so much going on--but I just haven't been motivated. I recently wrote a letter to a friend from a China, an American colleague, and actually, what I wrote him really sums up well what's going on with me. Here is a large excerpt of the letter; I think it serves well to illustrate my current frame of mind.


Things on this side are, not to put to fine a point on it, shit. I am
still in Hawaii and I won't be going to Columbia this year after all.
There is an exceptionally good reason for this. Dad is very ill and has
been diagnosed with diffused large B-cell lymphoma. It came on
very suddenly and rather strongly, and he starts chemo next Wednesday.
Given that Dad is divorced, my older half-sister was never close, and he
lives alone, there is no one in a good position to look after him,
save for my younger sister and myself. (Dumping him into a home is not
an option I would consider, as I like my dad and wouldn't want him
living out his last surrounded by a bunch of deteriorating old farts
who look forward to bingo on Tuesdays and institutional meatloaf on

Of course, looking after the old man is not easy either. I am living
with him, sleeping on an army cot in his room (he has another room,
but a couple--friends and clients of his, one of whom is a nurse--live
in the other; they have been around a year, which is nice, but are
leaving soon). I get up when he gets up, take him to the toilet when
he needs it, listen to him violently hack throughout the night as his
poor body tries to cough out the lump in his lung that will never come up,
put on his socks, take them off, shave his face, and then do stuff like take
him to the doctors, field calls from his voracious clients--of which he still
has many--and keep my meddling Chinese mother, his ex-wife, at bay.
Very fortunately, my sister has also given up her job and come home,
and while she lives with our mother, she comes over often and relieves
me of my responsibilities so I can sleep, go to yoga, or just fuck off for a
few hours.

Let me tell you, getting old is shit. My new ambition in life is
to die before all the parts start coming undone.

So, after two letters and a weepy phone call, the ever-competitive
and, but in the end much more compassionate than expected Graduate
School of Journalism at Columbia University has seen fit to break with their
usual policy and granted me a one-year deferral. This is excellent,
for obvious reasons.

Also, as Dad does not require non-stop attention 24-hours a day
(he mostly needs help mornings and nights), I do have stretches of
free time during the day (deliberately enhanced by assigning my sister with
a certain amount of time with Dad--I like to see to it that she
contributes her share of filial duty) and have applied for very part-time work at a
new tutoring center, and as a substitute teacher at the local high school
(totally flexible work). This should be interesting as I'm curious to see what
teaching in the States might be like. (I imagine the students won't be as motivated
[internally or externally] as they are in the Asian countries, for the most part.)
Actually, as I went through the public system myself, I'll be working
alongside a number of my former teachers. Weird.

Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Well, I miss China. I think Americans, or at least, the Konaese, are
miserable, fat people, who don't smile and are stupid. I know this is
a harsh assessment of the simple, native people of my home town, but I
maintain that it's mostly accurate. Kona used to be filled with
not-so-miserable, fat, smiling people, and they were usually pleasant, and much
more bearable. But, in the last five years, thousands--literally thousands--of
White (no offense) assholes, mostly from Southern California--have
moved to the town, throwing any semblance of social order painfully out of
whack. (Though possibly unconnected, at the same time, the the most garish markers
of contemporary America, such as Jamba Juice and Hooters, have made presence on the
public tableau.) Property values have skyrocketed and now there are really only
two kinds of people who live here: wealthy White Republicans who wear
tacky Hawaiian clothes and try desperately to incorporate archaic
Hawaiian words into their vocabulary in efforts to "go native" (while
they hang around Starbucks and complain about the laziness of the
local people and the incompetence of the local government [valid point
there]) AND the poor bastards who commute three to four hours daily
from the more affordable towns north and south of this one, on the
only and thus traffic jammed at all hours of the day main road, to
wait, serve and slave for their modest share of the foreigners' wealth. Most
people I know who grew up here are working in real estate,
construction, tourism or hospitality. Most are married with children,
or unmarried with children, and because of the high cost of living, they
barely make ends meet. Ice (crystal methamphetamine) has become a huge
problem here and at night, I won't walk home alone. There are lots of
reports in the paper about racially-motivated violence and everyone
knows someone who has been affected. My sister's friend, a local kid,
but a Caucasian, was hospitalized because he was severely beaten by an
angry mob of local kids while camping at the beach. My mother's
yardman didn't show up for work one day because the van he shared with
his friend, a Korean guy, was stolen when a couple of unknown guys
approached him while he was loading the van, beat the shit
out of him for no apparent reason, then drove off with the van, leaving him for
dead. (This happened shortly after Virginia Tech, which they think
might have been the motivation, though they aren't sure. Asians are
usually not targets for racial violence here.) The last story I will
share is the worst. The page designer (a Caucasian transplant) at the
newspaper where I used to work has a bunch of kids, his own and
adopted (I believe). One of his boys, who is about 14, is autistic. He
and a similarly aged brother both saved up for an xBox and when
they had enough money, they walked down to the local game store to buy it.
On the way home, xBox in tow, a pick up truck pulled up next to them
on the side of the road. Two local guys got out and tried
to pull the xBox off of the autistic kid. But, being autistic, the kid
didn't really get what was going on, other than these assholes were
trying to separate him from his precious xBox, and was having none of
it. So, unsuccessful in getting it away from the kid, one of the guys goes
into the truck, produces a baseball bat, and then proceeds to beat the
kid across the ribs with it. The guys got the toy, then drove off. The
police said there was little that could be done, but as it turns out now,
the guy who beat the kid was found out to be the son of a policeman,
and he's a classmate of my sister (which makes him about 24). That's

But of course, every town has bad news and good news, so the good news
is, as people keep reminding me when I tell them I hate this fucking
pathetic excuse for a human settlement (they should know better than
to ask), is that everyday is sunny and it doesn't snow. (Apparently,
in America, snow is very dangerous, life-threateningly, burns-the-skin-off-your-
flesh dangerous, and being cold is something akin to walking over 30 feet of
red hot coals every hour for eternity.) Nevermind the fact that asthmatics,
such as myself, don't do well in the heat, and the air is polluted from the
volcano and something else I can't divine, though I know it's there
because I have had to double my dose of asthma medication AND add an
allergy pill, just to breathe at levels I am accustomed to in
Beijing. (Yes, my asthma is worse here than in Beijing!) Ladies and gentlemen,
Kona is better than "the Mainland" because it's not cold!

Ah paradise...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

I just read this in the New York Times. Talk about a cultural difference...

It is also interesting that the article mentions that 2 in 5 Mauritanian women are overweight, while in America, the land of Richard Simmons, fitness centers, Diet Coke and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!, the same stastic for women is 3 in 5! Perhaps if the Mauritanians really wanted to gain weight, they should stock the shelves of supermarkets with Snackwell's and put a Jamba Juice in on every corner...

In Mauritania, Seeking to End an Overfed Ideal

Published: July 4, 2007

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania — At the Olympic Sports Stadium here, a collection of dun-colored buildings rising mirage-like from the vast Sahara, about a dozen women clad in tennis shoes and sandals circled the grandstands one evening in late June, puffing with each step.

Between pants came brief explanations for their labors. “Because I am fat,” said one, a dark-eyed 34-year-old close to 200 pounds. Another, a 30-year-old in bright pink sneakers, said, “For myself, for my health and to be skinny.” It is a typically Western after-work scene. But this is the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, the mirror opposite of the West on questions of women’s weight. To men here, fat is sexy. And in this patriarchal region, many Mauritanian women do everything possible — and have everything possible done to them — to put on pounds.

Now Mauritania’s government is out to change that. In recent years, television commercials and official pronouncements have promoted a new message: being fat leads to diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure and other woes. The joggers outside the Olympic stadium testify to their impact: Until lately, a Mauritanian woman in jogging shoes was roughly as common as a camel in stiletto heels.

But in other respects, the message faces an uphill run. A 2001 government survey of 68,000 women found that one in five between ages 15 and 49 had been deliberately overfed. And nearly 70 percent — and even more among teenagers — said they did not regret it.

“That is a bad sign, especially among the younger generation,” said Maye Mint Haidy, a government statistician who also runs a nongovernmental women’s organization.

Other cultures prize corpulent women. But Mauritania may be unique in the lengths it has gone to achieve its vision of female beauty. For decades, the Mauritanian version of a Western teenager’s crash diet was a crash feeding program, devised to create girls obese enough to display family wealth and epitomize the Mauritanian ideal. Centuries-old poems glorified women immobilized by fat, moving so slowly they seemed to stand still, unable to hoist themselves onto camels without the aid of men’s willing hands.

Girls as young as 5 and as old as 19 had to drink up to five gallons of fat-rich camel’s or cow’s milk daily, aiming for silvery stretch marks on their upper arms. If a girl refused or vomited, the village weight-gain specialist might squeeze her foot between sticks, pull her ear, pinch her inner thigh, bend her finger backward or force her to drink her own vomit. In extreme cases, girls died.

The practice was known as gavage, a French term for force-feeding geese to obtain foie gras. “There isn’t a woman close to my age who hasn’t gone through this, maybe not with the torture, but with the milk and other things,” said Yenserha Mint Mohamed Mahmoud, 47, a top government women’s affairs official.

Ms. Mahmoud insists that the use of torture has died out, though some say it lingers in remote areas. Still, Mauritania remains saddled with an alarming number of women weighing 220 to 330 pounds, according to the Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Family and Children.

The same 2001 survey that documented overfeeding estimated that two in five women were overweight — not high by American standards, where government surveys show nearly three in five women are overweight — but remarkable for sub-Saharan Africa. According to the International Obesity Task Force, a London-based research and advocacy group, Mauritania has the region’s fourth highest percentage of overweight women. Government officials blame a concerted effort by all but the poorest families to pump girls full of milk, cream, butter, couscous and other calorie-rich foods.

In 2003, the women’s ministry mounted a slim-down campaign, wielding messages that were anything but subtle. One television and radio skit depicted a husband carting his fat wife around in a wheelbarrow. Another featured houseguests raiding the refrigerator because their host was too obese to get up to feed them. Doctors were recruited to explain health risks.

But messages spread slowly in the desert. Nearly three-fourths of Mauritanian women do not watch television, and an even greater share do not listen to the radio, said Ms. Haidy, the statistician.

Nor is it easy, Ms. Mahmoud said, to change how the sexes view each other. “Men want women to be fat, and so they are fat,” she said. “Women want men to be skinny, and so they are skinny.” Indeed, according to Mauritanian stereotypes, porky men are womanish and lazy.

Mohamed el-Moktar Ould Salem, a 52-year-old procurement officer, blames the brightly colored, head-to-toe mulafas that hide all but the most voluptuous female curves for shaping the men’s preferences. A slender woman, he said, “just looks like a stick wrapped up.”

Fatma Mint Mohamed, 35, a mother of five living in a village south of Nouakchott, the capital, agrees. She carries nearly 200 pounds on her five-foot frame. Her weight makes her husband “very happy, of course,” she said, although her slimmer sister, 45 minutes away in the city, warns that it could kill her.

Mrs. Mohamed said she endured a comparatively mild form of gavage — “just enough so our family did not get criticized or be thought of as poor” — and was proud to emerge with a praiseworthy, roly-poly figure. Her 9-year-old daughter, Selma, with curly dark hair, wide-set eyes and what her mother considers a distressingly slim figure, has so far escaped the treatment, in hopes that she will gain weight on her own.

Selma’s sisters, now 20 and 14, were less fortunate. Mrs. Mohamed said she spared them the “old-fashioned” techniques that made girls she grew up with scream in pain. “But to tell the truth, I did take them to the cows and made them overdrink,” she acknowledged. “I did overfeed them, just a little bit, just so they could look like real Mauritanian girls. Forty days was enough to get them in the shape I wanted.”

Other Mauritanian women have replaced gavage with thoroughly modern prescription drug abuse. At the capital’s open-air market in late June last week, a male buyer easily secured a gold box of Indian-made dexamethasone tablets, a prescription steroid hormone that can cause sharp weight gain.

The black-turbaned seller, his wares displayed openly on a plastic sheet, warned that the drug was dangerous. But it would fatten up the man’s wife fast, he promised.

Nouredine François, a pharmacist, refuses to sell that drug. But he said he could not keep a particular prescription antihistamine on his shelves because women had heard it made them drowsy, thus less active and more likely to add pounds.

He considers himself one of the few Mauritanian men who understand obesity’s dangers. “Every day I see a woman come in here who has suffered from a stroke,” he said. He said he was trying to lose weight and did not push his wife to get fatter.

But his wife, an already-Rubenesque beauty-parlor worker, needs no pushing, he said. “She says, ‘Why don’t you bring me any pills? You give them to other women but you won’t give them to me.’ ”

“Women are very sensitive about their weight,” he said. “She just wants to keep up a good image.”

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I am back in Kona now.

I have a new ambition in life and that is to die before my body falls apart. Let me tell you, getting old is shit.

Dad went to his appointment with the cardiologist today; I took him. The doctor readjusted his pacemaker which was put in more than four years ago when Dad had his stroke. In the doctor's office, Dad ran into an old acquaintance and former neighbor, Irwin, who was also in to have his pacemaker checked. Irwin, like Dad, is in a wheelchair, and the two of them strained to carry a conversation. I had to wheel Dad closer to his friend so they could hear each other.

Just to give you a fuller picture of my father's recent health woes, here's what's happened up to the present:

1. Dad had a stroke. I was home when it happened and was the one to find him face down on the floor, unable to move much other than his right arm, which he used, with success, to wake me up in the room next door, by hitting the common wall with a shoe. Dad was hospitalized for some time after this, then came home, in a wheel chair.

2. Dad broke his hip. I was also home when this happened. Dad was doing something in the kitchen when the phone rang and when he went to get it, he tripped over himself and fell, breaking the hip bone. He had replacement surgery, then spent a good long time in the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific in Honolulu.

3. Upon his return, Dad fell and broke his shoulder. The treatment for this required a bit of creative taping and orders not to move. He didn't, and he got better.

4. Non-serious fall.

5. Non-serious fall.

6. Non-serious fall, etc.

7. Last month, I get a frantic call from Mom. Dad was in the hospital with some kind of leg infection (you see, his legs are swollen, puffy and purple from always being in a wheelchair) and while he was in, they discovered he had pneumonia. He was in the hospital for nearly two weeks, then Mom suggested I come home to spend time with him before I am due to head out to Columbia.

8. Two lumps have been found: one in his right lung, about 6cm big, and another the size of a hen's egg where a lymph node once was. In fact, we do not know the status of these lumps, but we will shortly. Dad is very weak, tires very easily and his once beautiful voice only barely squeaks out because there is something pressing against his vocal chords. Dad has also had a catheter installed for easy fluid evacuation. He keeps the attached bag in a "modesty pouch" and he refers to the whole unit that he has to drag around as his "evil cousin". Yesterday, his "evil cousin" released himself onto Dad's bedroom floor. Thankfully, the room is tiled.

Dad entrusts his medical care entirely to the Office of Veterans' Affairs. This means he has a VA appointed doctor who orders numerous treatments from various specialists, a VA nurse comes around every now and then to make sure Dad is still alive. I am very concerned about how all this works, however. It seems that there is very little communication going on between all these disparate caregivers and poor Dad just carries on, taking the THOUSANDS of pills that have been prescribed to him by all of these different doctors. He's got the largest pill box I have ever seen.

At 82, it seems somewhat unavoidable that Dad is at the end of his run. We don't exactly know how things will play out, but without a doubt, things are not looking terribly hopeful.

Dad is known for his many, many quotes and expressions, and the efficiency and appropriacy with which he wields them; the one I hear most often, now, is "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may..." I don' think I've heard anything truer in some time...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Here's another piece from Tom Friedman at the New York Times. He brings up some very valid points. When I see what is happening here in China, America's future seems dubious in the best of light.

**Please note: For those of you concerned about America opening its borders and letting in crazed jihadists, gun happy Korean kids and janitorial job-stealers, bear in mind that Friedman is talking about giving PhD graduates greencards. Of course, he argues for looser regulation, generally, but the aim of this piece deals with intellectual resource that America is developing and then losing...
Laughing and Crying
Published: May 23, 2007

First I had to laugh. Then I had to cry. I took part in commencement this year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, one of America’s great science and engineering schools, so I had a front-row seat as the first grads to receive their diplomas came on stage, all of them Ph.D. students. One by one the announcer read their names and each was handed their doctorate — in biotechnology, computing, physics and engineering — by the school’s president, Shirley Ann Jackson.

The reason I had to laugh was because it seemed like every one of the newly minted Ph.D.’s at Rensselaer was foreign born. For a moment, as the foreign names kept coming — “Hong Lu, Xu Xie, Tao Yuan, Fu Tang” — I thought that the entire class of doctoral students in physics were going to be Chinese, until “Paul Shane Morrow” saved the day. It was such a caricature of what President Jackson herself calls “the quiet crisis” in high-end science education in this country that you could only laugh.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud that our country continues to build universities and a culture of learning that attract the world’s best minds. My complaint — why I also wanted to cry — was that there wasn’t someone from the Immigration and Naturalization Service standing next to President Jackson stapling green cards to the diplomas of each of these foreign-born Ph.D.’s. I want them all to stay, become Americans and do their research and innovation here. If we can’t educate enough of our own kids to compete at this level, we’d better make sure we can import someone else’s, otherwise we will not maintain our standard of living.

It is pure idiocy that Congress will not open our borders — as wide as possible — to attract and keep the world’s first-round intellectual draft choices in an age when everyone increasingly has the same innovation tools and the key differentiator is human talent. I’m serious. I think any foreign student who gets a Ph.D. in our country — in any subject — should be offered citizenship. I want them. The idea that we actually make it difficult for them to stay is crazy.
Compete America, a coalition of technology companies, is pleading with Congress to boost both the number of H-1B visas available to companies that want to bring in skilled foreign workers and the number of employment-based green cards given to high-tech foreign workers who want to stay here. Give them all they want! Not only do our companies need them now, because we’re not training enough engineers, but they will, over time, start many more companies and create many more good jobs than they would possibly displace. Silicon Valley is living proof of that — and where innovation happens matters. It’s still where the best jobs will be located.
Folks, we can’t keep being stupid about these things. You can’t have a world where foreign-born students dominate your science graduate schools, research labs, journal publications and can now more easily than ever go back to their home countries to start companies — without it eventually impacting our standard of living — especially when we’re also slipping behind in high-speed Internet penetration per capita. America has fallen from fourth in the world in 2001 to 15th today.

My hat is off to Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry, co-founders of the Personal Democracy Forum. They are trying to make this an issue in the presidential campaign by creating a movement to demand that candidates focus on our digital deficits and divides. (See: http:// Mr. Rasiej, who unsuccessfully ran for public advocate of New York City in 2005 on a platform calling for low-cost wireless access everywhere, notes that “only half of America has broadband access to the Internet.” We need to go from “No Child Left Behind,” he says, to “Every Child Connected.”

Here’s the sad truth: 9/11, and the failing Iraq war, have sucked up almost all the oxygen in this country — oxygen needed to discuss seriously education, health care, climate change and competitiveness, notes Garrett Graff, an editor at Washingtonian Magazine and author of the upcoming book “The First Campaign,” which deals with this theme. So right now, it’s mostly governors talking about these issues, noted Mr. Graff, but there is only so much they can do without Washington being focused and leading.

Which is why we’ve got to bring our occupation of Iraq to an end in the quickest, least bad way possible — otherwise we are going to lose Iraq and America. It’s coming down to that choice.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

An uncle of a certain Irishman with whom I am acquainted has turned us on to this blog Unless you're Irish, it's not going to be the most interesting read, BUT a photo I took in Beijing was just posted on it.

On May 13, it was reported on the blog that readers in China were denied access to the site. Ian, the Irishman previously mentioned, read this on that day, in China, and informed them of the fact that he could do so. To boot, he included a photo, for their gawking pleasure, I took of our friend, Tim, eating sparrows on a skewer. (The photo was taken after a rock festival we all went to during the the May 1 holiday week. [There is no explanation as to why Tim was inspired to eat sparrows, but he did say they were chewy.]) On May 15, the photo, along with their commentary, was published. Go take a look.

P.S. - Just to give you an idea of how little people outside of China know about the country, or at least, how little Irish people know about it, read the comment about Jiangsu and Guangdong.

P.P.S. - For those of you who fall into the description of the previous postscript, Guangdong province is the richest, most developed, and modern province in China. That's where Shenzhen, and other Special Economic Zones, are located--the first parts of China to get rich in the 1980s.

Monday, May 14, 2007

I just went back and read that last post. I am sorry--I didn't realize when I published it just how long and boring and irrelevant it was. To make up for it, here's another photo.

That's a chicken in a basket. It's a real, live, squawking, pecking chicken. In the lower left corner, you can make out a pant leg. That's MY pant leg. On my way into Vietnam, I took this bus from Daxin to Ningming (Guangxi Province, China). It's a public bus, the kind that stops whenever the driver sees someone waving it down from the side of the road. Everyonetakes this bus--men, women, children and chickens--and for just 20 cents, it'll take you about an hour away from where you got on.
In the upper left hand corner, you can see hand come in with some newspaper. That's the ticket seller. She obviously keeps sheets of paper handy for occasions such as these: She put the put it under the chicken's basket to keep chicken poo from getting on the bus's floor.

The blue bucket, seen in the lower right hand corner was right up against me, as well. Based on how it smelled, I'd say it was used to carry pickled vegetables at the market.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Just the other day, I spoke to an old friend of mine from Boston who is now living in New York. Within just a few minutes of talking, he said, "What happened to your accent?" I thought about it for a moment and said, "I'm not really sure, but I think it'll go back to normal when I get back to the States."

I know that my accent is different, but I like it. People have a very hard time placing me from the way I speak and it has been concluded that I have an "International English" accent, meaning it is clear I am a native English-speaker, but I don't carry too many very place-specific sounds. The benefit of the way I speak, beyond keeping my origins elusive (a convenient thing for an American abroad), is that a lot of students like my accent and pay me good money to teach it to them. I have been hired to do recordings and have taught classes just on pronunciation. (For those of you that don't know it, during my teacher training, I got really into phonetics, which was good because it's a specialty--not too many ESL teachers are very familiar with teaching students how to produce sounds.)

But beyond my teaching experience, my accent was always a little different and I believe this is a result of my father's doing. As a child he would consistently correct my grammar and pronunciation. "Don't mumble. You should speak with pear-shaped tones" he would announce, and he would remind me that the "h's" in words like "when", "where", and "white" were there for a reason. When I would call my sister "stupid", pronouncing it "stoopid", he would say, "she's not stooped over at all, but you sound 'stupid'". These brutal lessons in elocution were followed by "Voice and Articulation" classes at Emerson College. The bastard of a man who was my professor, also the man who wrote the book that we used, felt that I spoke with too much "vocal tension" and instead of just one required semester of his class, I had to take two, the second including private coaching with his assistant. I absolutely hated this man, and his class, and while I found the subject interesting, I had a hard time finding respect for anyone who failed to correctly say my name (he said it my-LEE, not MY-lee, putting the stress on the wrong syllable) whilst still claiming to be an expert on speech.

Since passing that class with a C, I have learned the value of learning how sounds work, and it has helped me to become a good language teacher, as well as language learner. But the question still begs, "What happened to your accent [since]?" I suppose that my only good reply is that I live abroad and associate with few Americans. Right after college, I lived and worked in London. Upon returning to Boston, I worked for an English company. Here in China, I work for the British Embassy and the vast majority of my colleagues are English, or Scottish or Australian.

In my mind, language is rather fluid. It's really impossible to learn everything there is to know about a language because it is constantly changing. Students in China often get frustrated when teachers tell them "no one speaks perfect English", and often, you can hear the effects of a student having many teachers from different places, for example they'll say, "I cahn't (British) eat eggplants (American)." Also, when put into situations where accents are very different from the ones known, ears adjust to facilitate understanding. The first month of working at the English company in Boston, I had no idea what anyone said--it took that long to learn their patterns of intonation and differences in vowel sounds. For some people, like me, I suppose, the tongue also adjust with the ears, so not only to I learn to hear the sounds, I automatically learn to mimic them. This is my only explanation for why my accent has changed. I'll admit that when I'm with a group of British people, my "r's" soften, for example, from "caRRR" to "cahhr". At the same time, I also sharpen my "t's", so instead of "a puppy is a liddle dog", as Americans would say it, I come out with something more like "li-ttle", though it's hardly a full-blown British "li-TTle" or even a hard "li-le" where the sound is dropped altogether, as how Londoners will say it. (In fairness, that old goat, Ken Crannell, my articulation teacher, told me that Americans are supposed to pronounce the "t", anyway--we just don't.) By no means do I sound actually like a British person, nor am I trying to, but I realize that the simple changes are enough to make me sound "not quite American".

There are two reasons why I am writing about this terribly-interesting-I'm-sure topic and there are: 1. I just heard this clip about American accents on NPR and 2. I am very nervous about going back to the States after having lived abroad for more than three years. Every time I go out and hear Americans, I think about going back. I realize that I have created a little bubble of a life here, and it's very colorful and very international. I suppose that part of the allure of living abroad is NOT associating with compatriots (as my friend Michael says, it's like taking sand to the beach), and I fear that I will feel somewhat out of place when I return. (Oh! Oh! Pity me! Little Miss Jet Set is afraid of missing her French friends going back to her land of cultural and social expectation!) Of course, I'll be in New York, the capital of the world, and of course, I'm sure I'll get along fine. I guess I'm just nervous about leaving Beijing.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

In past posts, I have made mention of my recent trips abroad. Since last November, I have been to Guangxi province in southern China, northern Vietnam, Hawaii, Ireland, Paris, the South of France and Berlin. However, for various reasons, I have failed to actually post any pictures, or write about these adventures.

At this stage, it would be difficult, and rather boring, to hack out a bunch of lengthy travelogues and put up the usual tourist snapshot photos, so I have arrived at new solution: For the next while, on this blog, I will post some of my especially good photos with some description. If the photo provokes a greater story, then that, too, will be posted. But instead of detailing my travels chronologically, I'd like to present just snippets of journeys, randomly--only the most beautiful, intriguing, striking or moving moments will be shown.
I hope you will enjoy this approach.


Mom and I had accumulated enough mileage for me to make a trip back to Kona in December. I was there just a week, but for two days, Mom and I played tourists and went to places I have never been before.
The road to Hawi, from Kawaihae, ends in Kapa'au. In my memory, I had never been there before, but my mother seemed to know it. The view from the road is quite pretty and once you're at the end, there is a trail that leads down into the valley, and this black sand beach. It was windy, and the sea was rough, the day we went, but winter weather cast dramatic grey tones to the scene, which I generally prefer to perfect bright and sunny Hawaiian beach days.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

It's been such a long time since I've ranted about something; lucky for me I found Debbie Schlussel.

Ms. Schlussel is someone I have never heard of before, but apparently she has a following (a following that puts her only second to Ann Coulter). This is her April 16th post in response to the initial news available about the shootings at Virginia Tech:

"So, the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech massacre is a Chinese national here on a student visa. And, today, this alien did "the job that Americans just won't do."

Remember that the next time you hear President Bush and Condi Clueless waxing lyrical about how we need more foreign students in America. We do not. Remember the Mana Saleh Almanajam and Shaker Mohsen Alsidran, two Saudi students in Tampa, last year, who hijacked a school bus full of kids while wearing trench coats in 90-plus degree weather?

* How did a Chinese national get two 9 MM guns and plenty of ammo to go with it?
* Where did he learn
such excellent marksmanship?
* Was he
behind the bomb threats in the last couple of weeks?
* Will America--and its out-of-touch university officials in their ivory towers--finally let its college students have the right to keep and bear arms on college campuses, instead of
constantly tabling the Second Amendment rights of college students?
And most important:
* Will this make America more vigilant in who it accepts as foreign students and less eager to take in these nationals--site and background virtually unseen?

That's the only question I can answer with a great degree of confidence:
Don't Bet On It.

The biggest lesson here is how vulnerable America's college campuses are to bloody massacres like this one. And how unprepared and poorly-trained campus police are to deal with such situations.

Don't count on that to change too much either.

And remember: Just because this attacker was not Muslim, doesn't mean there aren't plenty of potential and hopeful ones among the thousands Muslim nations are sending here to "study" under Saudi King Abdullah's scholarships.

Like I said, don't forget the two Saudi students from last year."

Now, to give the woman credit, she wrote a retraction statement the following day. It went exactly like this, in full:

**** UPDATE, 04/17/07: The shooter has now been identified as a South Korean who is a permanent resident. ****

OK. I'm coming back to the States in a matter of months and let me tell you, bullshit like this does not sit well with me.

Ms. Schlussel is by no means a stupid woman. Check out her site and you'll see she gets around But the extreme way in which she interpreted and reacted to the first reports of the Virginia Tech killings, as well as her half-assed attempt at a retraction, makes me fear for my safety as an only-half-White person in my own country. Is Ms. Schlussel (whose name is clearly NOT ANGLO in extraction) really suggesting that immigrants are more likely to be terrorists than red-blooded, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, native-born Americans? (Um, Timothy McVeigh killed how many people? In which country were the Columbine boys, who were, by the way, referenced by the Asian gunman at Virginia Tech, born?) And is she really arguing that it might be difficult for what would be legitimate alien (someone on a student visa) of Asian heritage, let alone anyone in America, to buy a firearm? (And even if such a person were denied, how hard would it be to steal a gun, or go through other illegal means to procure one?) Come on. They still sell guns at Wal-Mart, don't they (at least, they did the last time I was home)? What's more, off that note, should gun sellers be more leery of Asian customers, than of American ones (as it is implied in her comments)? Let me tell you, in my humble opinion, ANYONE toting a gun should be considered dangerous, to themselves and the people around them. People in America die everyday from guns, and I reckon more people get killed accidentally or through suicide, than through any act that might justify personal gun ownership. And to rant further, just think about it logically: It isn't usually Asians that go around defending the National Rifle Association; it's White folks. Well, mostly white folks. I have a feeling they might take a bit of color around the neck.

Anyway, point being, Debbie Schlussel sounds like a right asshole (or maybe better, an asshole for the Right) and America is a fucked up place. I can't wait to come home.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


So, this is big, big, big news! Who'dda thunk it?!
Classes start on August 6th (that's because I'm a "new media" major; print and broadcast majors start the following week), but I'll probably head back to the States a lot earlier as my Chinese visa expires the 10th of July. The program, which will be at the university in New York City, is only ten months long, and after that, it is my hope to come back to China, or at least Asia, and start a non-teaching, journalism-related career. (We shall see...we all know how the whole "film school to film career fiasco went").

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I'm back in Beijing. I was in Europe for a month. That was good, and I promise to write more about that in the next post. Until then, check out this photo. Fellow China (Hong Kong based) blogger, Dezza, over at, tipped me off to it.

"Delegates doze during the opening of the National People's Congress in Beijing March 5, 2007. Around 3,000 delegates to the annual meeting of China's parliament, the National People's Congress, convened in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on Monday."
Claro Cortes IV, Reuters
Beijing, March 05, 2007
Published:18:11 IST(5/3/2007)

Dezza put this one up on his blog, but there were also other photos taken at the Congress and published on the Hindustan Times Web site. I like this one also, especially give the description.

"Hostesses wait in the freezing early morning for delegates to arrive to the Great Hall of the People for the start of the annual session of China's Parliament on March 5, 2007. Premier Wen Jiabao in his speech warned China's communist cadres that their lavish spending and luxurious lifestyles would not be tolerated, as he unveiled another raft of measures to curb government graft stating that Communist Party officials will no longer be allowed to get involved in golf course development, build palatial government offices or spend big on entertainment."
Peter Parks, AFP Beijing, March 05, 2007 Published:17:56 IST(5/3/2007)

Friday, February 23, 2007

So life in China is as usual, always busy and always changing. I just came down with a nasty bout of tonsilitis and it required two intraveneous doses of antibiotics, as well as a follow up of tablets. Gross. Though I haven't posted a damned a bit my trip to Vietnam, and then Hawaii, I will announce to you all that I will be leaving for one-month trip to Europe on Monday. Talk about a charmed existence...

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My friend Emily told me this joke. (If it hasn't been mentioned before, Emily is a Chinese lady who I used to work for. She ran an English "school" in her living room on the weekends, and I was the teacher. She's a very smart, industrious and open-minded gal, and she is one of my favorite people here.)

This is how the joke goes (it's a loose translation):

There are three people at Policemen's competition: a German, an American, and a Chinese. The policemen are told that they must go into the woods and bring out a bear. The American goes in first and after 10 minutes, brings out a bear. Then, the German goes in and after 9 minutes (German efficiency, of course), brings out a bear. The Chinese policeman then goes in, and after 8 minutes, brings out a rabbit. The judges look at him and ask, "Why have you brought out a rabbit?" The Chinese policeman then throws the rabbit to the ground, kicks him in the ass and says to him, "Go on, tell them who you are!" The rabbit looks up, and with his hands in the air and bruises on his face says, "I'm a bear!"

Ironically enough, just two days after I heard this from Emily, Tim, an English friend, told me the exact same story except it was squirrels and not bears, and the Chinese cop was LAPD.

Monday, January 01, 2007


Yet another year in China has passed. My god. I may never leave.

I went to a party at my old apartment last night. Among the 50 or so people there, I am rather sure that I was the only sober one, which was alright. I promised myself I would ring in the new year totally clear in mind, body and house, meaning I tidied up my place before mindfully trashing someone else's.

Very much has happened this year, and I was hoping to use this opportunity to impress you all with lots of pictures from my recent travels. However, China's internet service is still recovering from the damage to the undersea cables suffered during that big earthquake in Taiwan, so uploading photos seems to be a no go, at the moment.

Until I regain picture posting capability, I wish you all the very best in 2007!