8.31.2005

A history of losers

A while ago, I learned that New Orleans, where the post-hurricane looting is going on, was the recipient of convicts and other "winners" when it first began. Here's a bit of history of Louisiana, where New Orleans is located:

In 1717 the slow-growing colony came under the control of the Compagnie d'Occident (Company of the West), headed by Scottish financier John Law. Law gained great influence at the French court through his establishment of what became the French national bank. Because the bank invested heavily in the Company of the West and because Louisiana was the company's greatest asset, Law needed to develop the colony rapidly to maintain public confidence in the bank. He undertook a promotional campaign that brought in several thousand settlers. Many were German indentured workers who sold their services for a specified period, after which they gained their freedom. The settlers also included convicts who were forced to migrate to the colony. According to one company official, 7,020 Europeans went to the colony between October 1717 and May 1721. Because Law's company had acquired the Compagnie du Senegal (Company of Senegal), which held the French monopoly on the slave trade, black slaves from Africa were brought to Louisiana in 1719. About 3,000 slaves arrived between 1720 and 1731.

Law's promotional literature led immigrants to anticipate quick profits from mining and other endeavors that would require little effort and investment. However, the harsh world they found was dramatically different. Many people died because the overwhelmed colonial government could not meet their needs for food, clothing, and shelter. Most of the survivors stayed because they lacked the means to return to Europe.

Okay, let's review: a rich Scottish guy wanted to save his reputation, so he got a bunch of indentured servants, convicts, and slaves to go there. After those people arrived, and after he duped unsuspecting Europeans to migrate there, they were faced with misery and an indifferent government, but they were too broke to return to their homelands (except for the slaves and indentured servants, of course).

Apparently, this history impresses some people, including some folks in New Orleans and an ecstatic Canadian tourist: "New Orleans was colonized by convicts. No one wanted to move to the murky swamps around the Mississippi from Europe, so the French King put the populations of his prisons on ships and sent them to settle New Orleans. Locals proudly say that their city was founded by murderers, rapists, pirates and prostitutes."

So as the world watches the devastation and suffering, which is incredibly sad, they can also see a bunch of loser Americans behave no better than their predecessors. Way to go, U.S.A.

8.30.2005

He seemed annoying

When I saw a PBS special about Mark Twain a while ago, I thought, "Mark Twain was annoying." I don't know if it was his writings that made seem that way or if it came from the person who was reading his words for the documentary, but I couldn't finish watching it.

Yesterday I saw a Startrek TNG episode that had a Mark Twain character, and he seemed annoying too. So I thought, "I need to find proof that Mark Twain is annoying."

Some writings I found online were long-winded, such as this dialogue that would be severely edited or deleted if it was written today:

"Never has been sane an hour since. But he only gets bad when that time of year comes round. Then we begin to drop in here, three days before she's due, to encourage him up, and ask if he's heard from her, and Saturday we all come and fix up the house with flowers, and get everything ready for a dance. We've done it every year for nineteen years. The first Saturday there was twenty-seven of us, without counting the girls; there's only three of us now, and the girls are gone. We drug him to sleep, or he would go wild; then he's all right for another year--thinks she's with him till the last three or four days come round; then he begins to look for her, and gets out his poor old letter, and we come and ask him to read it to us. Lord, she was a darling!"
(from The Californian's Tale)


However, some of it was sort of funny, such as this excerpt that I saw at a Twain Quotes site:

"You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does -- but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you'll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it's the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain't so; it's the sickening grammar they use."

(from A Tramp Abroad)

So it's either that the actors are portraying him in an annoying way, or he really was annoying, and they're correctly interpreting his true personality. If he was really like that, I guess he's the type I would want to avoid at a cocktail party.

8.29.2005

Harsh, but true?

Someone lent me the book The Chinese Have a Word for It: The Complete Guide to Chinese Thought and Culture. It takes you through a few hundred Chinese characters and explains the meaning of each and its cultural concept. It's a very interesting book, and is not meant to be read from cover to cover, but to be used as a resource if you want to know about China.

I saw an entry called "Personal Loyalty First" about the character "cheng," which starts out with a seemingly harsh description: "Generally speaking, the Chinese are inherently incapable of trusting people they don't know and do not have close personal ties with."

To say that a group of people are "inherently" unable to trust others is to almost deny that they're human, because we're malleable and can adapt to different situations. But when I asked some Chinese people about it, they basically agreed that Chinese people have problems with trusting people they don't know. Someone told me that it could be rooted in the ancient emperor system, when there was a lot of fighting and chaos. I suspect there are also some modern reasons for that type of distrust, but it seems that they're more willing to talk about ancient history.

The point of the "cheng" section is to give advice to foreigners who need to make important contacts and deals there: "...since the Chinese have been conditioned to put their trust only in individuals--not in institutions, including governments--it is especially difficult for the Chinese to deal effectively with large foreign corporations and foreign governments...There is nothing mysterious or subtle about the process of establishing cheng (chung) or personal bonds with Chinese, but it requires more time, care and investment than what is customary among Westerners."

I'd say that's an Asian thing, since it takes time to form relationships in various cultures. At least that's what I noticed in Japan, and what I've read, seen, and heard about in other Asian countries.

8.27.2005

Marina's accent

Because I was either in school or out of the country, I never watched Startrek: The Next Generation when it originally aired. I also wasn't interested in sci-fi until the late 90's, so I never sought TNG out.

Now that I've had more free time this month, I've decided to watch as many episodes I can because everyone says it was a great series. At this point, I feel like I've OD'ed on it, but I'll keep watching until I've seen all the episodes (or at least most of them).

By now, I've heard Marina Sirtis' accent so often, I had to find out what the heck it is. I read that she grew up in London and her parents came from Greece, so I wondered if her accent on the show came from that combination. But a TNG fan friend told me that she has a British accent.

I found out that

In the show, her English accent isn't heard because she uses a combination of accents that she devised. As she puts it, "In the 24th century, geographical or nationalistic barriers are not so evident. The Earth as a planet is your country, your nationality. I didn't want anyone to be able to pin down my accent to any particular country, and being good at accents, the producers trusted me to come up with something appropriate."

In an interview, someone asked her, "How has Troi evolved?" and she said, "Well, she's not foreign anymore. When we started, she had almost this Russian accent, and now she's almost American."

But Wikipedia says that at the end of the horrendous, tripe-filled Enterprise series, "Marina Sirtis' accent as Deanna Troi is less pronounced and more British, which is in keeping with the way she played the character towards the end of the series and into the movies."

During a fan interview, someone asked, "Marina, you were great on Stargate SG-1. Was it easier for you to pick up a Russian accent than a Betazoid accent?" and she said, "Russian was harder, because I had to be accurate. Betazoid I made up and as I was the first Betazoid we'd ever met, who was going to tell me I was doing it wrong?"

So the answer to my query is that she created a unique accent that morphed, a Russian accent is more difficult, and I really need to get a life because I'm becoming a geek.

8.25.2005

Kleptocracy

I'm still reading The Right Nation. It's not exactly a light read, and there's so much information in there, I need to consume it in bite-sized pieces. So far, I've become totally baffled by Paul Wolfowitz, but I haven't finished the book yet.

I've also discovered a term that's widely used but haven't heard of it until I read the book: Kleptocracy, which is

a pejorative, informal term for a government so corrupt that no pretense of honesty remains. In a kleptocracy the mechanisms of government are almost entirely devoted to taxing the public at large in order to amass substantial personal fortunes for the rulers and their cronies (collectively, kleptocrats), or to keep said rulers in power. Kleptocrats typically use money laundering and/or anonymous banking to protect and conceal their illegal gains.

Kleptocracies are by and large dictatorships or some other form of autocratic government, since democracy makes thievery more difficult to accomplish and conceal.

…The creation of a kleptocracy typically results in many years of general hardship and suffering for the vast majority of citizens as civil society and the rule of law distintegrates. In addition, kleptocrats routinely ignore economic and social problems in their quest to amass ever more wealth. As kleptocrats do not attempt to build or maintain functioning states, or even maintain large security forces for fear of coups d'état, kleptocracies are generally incompetent in the face of social crises, and often collapse into prolonged civil war and anarchy.

Wikipedia even has a list of the "ten most self-enriching leaders in recent years" (towards the bottom of the page).

I don't know how upright people from such awful countries survive there.

8.23.2005

Compare


In yesterday's Giongo Gitaigo post, Language Hat offered a link to a list called "Japanese sound effects and what they mean." So if you click on it, you'll see an alphabetized table of words. Exciting.

Compare that commendable list to this pretty manga on the right from the incredible Japanese site. It's a lot harder to memorize the "Japanese sound words" if you have to stuff the words into your brain from a list that may never be conquered. The manga makes it a lot easier.

8.22.2005

National Punctuation Day

Language Hat announced that it is National Punctuation Day on August 22, which means in the Central Time Zone, where I'm located, there's only a half hour left of this special day.

LH also provided a link to the history of punctuation.

It's funny how events can converge, because I've just started reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

In fact, since I'm posting this important news right now, my husband is reading that book, and I've just informed him that it's National Punctuation Day. So it's a weird coincidence for both of us.

Giongo Gitaigo

The "sound words" in Japanese take a while to learn because they're numerous and unique, and lately I've been focusing on them because they appear on the Japanese Proficiency Test.

They're called Giongo and Gitaigo: "Giongo are the words which express voice or sounds. Gitatigo are the words which express actions, states or human emotions."

Here are some examples, which describe laughing:

kusu kusu - to giggle
gera gera - to laugh loudly, to guffaw
niko niko - to smile
niya niya - to grin
nita nita - to smirk
ahaha, hahaha - the sound of loud laughter

Okay, that's not bad, but there are a lot more words that convey what seems to be every human emotion and more, which is why I got a very useful book called Giongo Gitaigo. It includes clear explanations in Japanese and English with written and illustrated examples. So now instead of trying to memorize all those phrases, I can identify the picture with the meaning. And when I try to recall the phrase, I can create a mental picture of what it means.

Even though the book is the best around on onomatopoeic phrases, there's something even more exciting: a Giongo Gitaigo website devoted to this topic! It is amazingly comprehensive and fun--imagine that. Here are a few features of that awesome site:

1) Mangas that help you understand the phrases.

2) A list of categories. When you click on a phrase, it gives you an example, and you can listen to it, too! Then below, it offers a basic explanation of each phrase, and if you want more details, you can click on the hyperlink to get a more detailed explanation. And what's more, they have sample dialogues that you can read and listen to!

3) An alphabetical list of the phrases in a hiragana chart. When you click on a character, it will give you a list of the phrases, and those lead you to all those goodies described above.

The only downside (not for me) is that you have to be able to read Japanese--there is no English or any other language there, not even in the About Page of the site. (Click on このサイトについて on the Index Page to get to the About Page.)

So thank you National Institute for Japanese Language! Please don't yank this site off the Internet!

8.21.2005

Are you neddy?

After speaking with a U.S.-dwelling Brit who doesn't know what a chav is (!), I decided to pay the Chavscum site a visit, and found a link to a test that asks, "How Neddy Are You?". I don't know because I don't know what "neddy" means. And I have no idea how to decifer this question, either: "Are you a ned or just a wee hopeful gadgie?

Doesn't anybody speak English over there?

If you want to take the test, it's understandable enough for us lowly Americans to take, so there's no worries. Just beware that there is some British English thrown in.

8.20.2005

Escaped

I just finished the novel (chick lit, actually) The Year of Living Famously by Laura Caldwell, and I must say that it successfully lifted me out of my bland life.

It's about a struggling New York fashion designer who works temp jobs, and while she's pursuing her dream, she meets a struggling actor who ends up being famous. It doesn't sound like deep literature, and it's not. It's just a fun read.

I don't know why I like to read fiction that is simply entertaining, because the non-fiction books, magazines, websites, and even blogs that I read aren't fluffy, and I don't have a frivolous personality. But if a book successfully shows me a subculture of the U.S. or another culture, and has a story that moves along, it's enough for me.

If you've never met Laura Caldwell, you should. I met her this summer at the Printers Row Book Fair, and she is one of the friendliest and most helpful people I've ever met. Considering she's a successful writer (four novels and a couple of upcoming ones), she's really nice. She's going to appear at various locations in Chicagoland and elsewhere.

8.18.2005

Vowel rules

Since I teach English (ESL/EFL), I need to help the students with pronunciation. I have to do a lot of research in this area in order to teach it effectively, and so far I've found some good sites.

One site is called called the Sounds of English, and it has some helpful information, especially about teaching vowel sounds.

According to the site, there are "two crude rules for decoding. They don't work for all words, of course, but often enough to be helpful for beginners..."

Here are the two rules and some examples:

The Two vowel rule: If there are 2 vowel letters in a short word (syllable), the first vowel sounds like its "alphabet name". These rules work for monosyllabic words or stressed syllables of multisyllabic words.

cake
remain
tea
repeat
ice
arrive
cone
soapy
juice
excuse

The One vowel rule: If there is only 1 vowel letter in a short word (syllable), it sounds like a "relative" of the alphabet vowel.
 
had
thank
bed
pencil
his
listen
hot
comic
sun
summer

Those rules are for beginning learners, but they were helpful even with intermediate students.

8.17.2005

James is getting honest

Back in December, I wrote that James Patterson should be honest and say that his books are penned by James Patterson Inc. because he uses co-authors and borderline ghostwriters. Not only did I read about what he's done, but I even got to ask him how he uses other writers. Unfortunately, it seems like people didn't pick up on my suggested term, but hey, I went to the source, so it was a decent piece of "investigative journalism."

Tonight when I was in Borders, I passed by one of Patterson's numerous bestsellers. And guess what? He put a co-author's name on the cover. Imagine that.

The book I saw was Lifeguard, and it said that it was written by him "& Andrew Gross." I also saw another book, 4th of July, which he "and Maxine Paetro" wrote.

So I'm assuming that Patterson is starting to be more honest with the public. There's nothing wrong with that--he's a multimillionaire because people love his stories, and I doubt they're going to be upset that he's adding someone else's name. What matters is the final product.

Who it is


The mystery woman in the middle of yesterday's picture? Kes from Voyager (played by Jennifer Lien). The guy who was in yesterday's picture with the Cornell shirt is Neelix (played by Ethan Phillips), and the other guy is, of course, Robert Picardo.

Even if you don't know who Kes is, you've gotta admit that she looks very different if you compare this picture to yesterday's picture. When I first saw it, I thought she was a fan--not part of the cast. So you can understand how incredulous I was to find out who she was.

8.16.2005

Guess who?


I am trying to remain calm, but I'm finding it difficult to because of this picture that was sent to me. Guess who these people are? Who the guy is on the left is obvious, but the guy on the right isn't, and the woman is certainly barely recognizable. Hint: all three of these people were in the same sci-fi television show.

The answer is here.

8.15.2005

Nice couple

I met a nice couple yesterday at Rick Kogan's radio show: Ben Benedict and Naomi Ashley. Ben is a musician and seems to keep himself busy playing with various groups and productions, and Naomi merges her music with comedy, and also does theater. I chatted with them in the "green room" and during the commercial breaks, and I also served as their photographer. The photos don't seem to be posted at their sites, but I was told that they came out okay.

They're talented and nice people, and seem to have been really blessed with growing success since they came to the big city from their tiny midwestern hometowns. Here's an example of how nice they are: I sent her a very short "nice to meet you" email, and she reciprocated, then offered to send me their cd's. Considering I'm just a shmoe, that's quite a response. I just hope I move along the kind of upward trajectory they seem to be on.

8.13.2005

The Great Raid

Yesterday I said I was going to see the movie The Great Raid (the official site may not be working right now, but you can see a trailer here).

I usually don't like to see war movies, and I wouldn't have seen this one, but it was my husband's birthday, and that's what he wanted to do. It's not a chick flick--far from it--but it's also not some cutsy or melodramatic, slick Hollywood film. It was very straightforward and clear, and included real footage from that time. And I think that it showed not only the bravery of the guys who rescued the POW's (prisoners of war), but it also showed the bravery of the Filipinos who fought alongside the Americans and how courageous the Filipinos were who risked their lives in the underground resistance.

The Great Raid was for real: "The Great Raid on Cabanatuan in the Philippines on 30 January 1945 by US Army Rangers and Filipino guerrillas resulted in the liberation of more than 500 American prisoners of war (POWs) from a Japanese POW camp near Cabanatuan, was a celebrated, historic achievement involving Allied special warfare operations during World War II."

And the movie portrayed what POW's really experienced:

The POWs also experienced intense cruelty at the hands of their captors in Cabanatuan. All had witnessed hundreds of their compatriots die for lack of food and medicine. All had witnessed torture and summary executions. All had experienced Japanese brutality firsthand.

Former POW Richard Beck remembered:

It's a very sinking feeling to know that you are going to be abused for a long period of time, and that's exactly what it was, it was a long period of abuse -- starvation, beatings... Some people were shot for no reason at all, so you never knew how to assess the situation, whether you should try to lead a low profile. It was a case of never knowing how to cope.

Here's a description from another former POW of the kinds of things that went on:

If a prisoner escaped ...I can recall the second camp, Cabanatuan, uh, I thought it was a Filipino. It was an American Indian. They beheaded the individual. They put his head on a pole and they walked up and down the main road in the camp so we could all see what happened to an escaped prisoner. If you escaped in Cabanatuan, they took out nine men from your squad and shot all nine of them. And they did that. So as a result, we had people agreeing not to escape because it would mean the lives of other people. We had squads made up of ten people and I've got-- well, I remember people signing certificates they would not escape. And if they did, they'd be subject to court martial after the war. Because the Japanese would shoot the other nine. So your responsibility as a soldier to escape was cut off in a hurry unless you wanted to take the lives of somebody else with you.

The movie also showed the fear that the POW's had--that they would all be killed by the end of the war, which ended up being official Japanese policy:

The Cabanatuan POWs' fear of becoming victims of another large scale massacre were well founded. After the war, it became clear that there existed a high command order -- issued from the War Ministry in Tokyo -- to kill all remaining POWs. This order, read in part:

Whether they are destroyed individually or in groups, and whether it is accomplished by means of mass bombing, poisonous smoke, poisons, drowning, or decapitation, dispose of them as the situation dictates. It is the aim not to allow the escape of a single one, to annihilate them all, and not to leave any traces.

Throughout the Pacific theater, the Japanese treated POWs and civilians barbarically. Survivors of camps in Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Burma and Laos all reported experiencing tremendous cruelty, torture, disease and starvation. It is an astounding fact that while POWs died at a rate of 1.2% in Germany, they died at a rate of 37% across the Pacific.

I can't imagine how the POW's who suffered in those camps can function in their post-war lives. It takes a very strong person to not only live with the emotional and physical scars, but to forgive their captures for what they did. Every day we have to forgive people for what they've done to us, but those are usually tiny offenses compared to what the POW's experienced. Even living in post-war, prosperous Japan was difficult for me, but to have to survive the activities of imperial, militaristic Japan must have been practically impossible. I just hope all the former POW's have been able to find peace.

8.12.2005

Changes II

I must've been way too tired last night because I thought nothing of accosting everyone's senses with pink, including my own. I'm not even the girly type, so I don't know why I chose such a bright template. It must've been the rain and cloudy day that preceeded the transformation, the need to offer something bright. But I tweaked the code to mute the effect, and now I feel like it better reflects how I am.

Apologies to over-stimulated visitors. And I can post something later, since there's nothing to watch on television except Monk, since the Sci-Fi Channel is gone.

Though I may see a movie--The Great Raid.

Changes

As you can see, I've chosen a template that's more girly--I had the previous one for about a year. I've spent several hours going through Wordpress because I was thinking of switching to it. Even though I'm more familiar with it now, I've decided to stick with Blogger for the time being, because it's more of a no-brainer, and they've added convenient features that they didn't have last year.

Unfortunately, during the conversion, I lost comments that were made in Haloscan, but weirdly, I recouped the ones that were posted in Blogger a long time ago, which were lost when I activated Haloscan. So I'd like to apologize to the people who left comments with helpful info in Haloscan. I read all the comments, but alas, a latecomer to this blog will not be able to read them.

I think that Haloscan isn't as necessary as it once was--Blogger allows anyone to make comments, and I have the power of deletion, should any obnoxious person come through (which hasn't happened yet).

I've also done away with Blogrolling--it's not difficult to add links to other blogs in this template. I need to add some more to the list, since I have a lot of blogs bookmarked, but it's way past my bedtime to think too deeply about it.

So enjoy the revised, dolled-up style and see you later, when I'll have a relatively more intelligent post.

8.11.2005

Gone

Last week, I complained that Stargate SG-1 was over because the quality of the program had taken a nosedive. Well, now I won't have to endure another episode because they've replaced the Sci-Fi Channel with the Golf Channel.

A totally unfair switch, don't you think?

Before I moved downtown, I never had cable because I didn't want to spend the money. Someone even accused me of being weird for not buying it, but it's important to prioritize when money doesn't grow on your trees. But when I moved downtown, cable was included in the assessment fees, so I've been enjoying it ever since.

Oh well. I guess I just have to finish those three books I'm simultaneously reading. And I have to recoup some brain cells. And get some sleep. At least I'm not in danger of missing any decent upcoming Stargate episodes, because I'm not sure there will be any. In a way, this is good timing. But it's still a cheap move.

8.10.2005

Hypocrites

Green Day is coming to Chicago and everyone is so excited about it, I thought I'd put in my two cents.

That group always disparages the establishment, whether it's political, societal, or informational. Not a unique thing--how long have groups sung about their grievances? But what bugs me is that they have become super rich from their albums and tours singing these types of lyrics:

Welcome to a new kind of tension.
All across the alienation.
Everything isn't meant to be okay.
Television dreams of tomorrow.
We're not the ones who're meant to follow.
For that's enough to argue.

Don't wanna be an American idiot.
One nation controlled by the media.

Aw, let's pity them. Or not.

If you walked down Michigan Avenue when their latest album was released, you would've seen a VERY LARGE sign that screamed that the album was at Virgin Records--it filled the entire window. Okay, we got the message. We will obey, walk into the store, and buy it.

If you've turned on the radio, you've heard them every few minutes. If you've looked at magazines, they've been on the covers. If you've turned on your television--that's right, the same television that they are whining about--they are there. They are everywhere. Doesn't this demonstrate their intense desire for others to follow them, to fork out big bucks so that they can become part of the elite that they consistently criticize?

The media that they are complaining about that wants to control everyone is the media that has catapulted them to fame and fortune. If they are so disgusted, why aren't they handing back all the money that they've made through their saturated media presence?

If they really wanted to practice what they preach and be true to the messages that they are bombarding the populice with (the very people who've given them their wealth and fame), then they should not pursue any marketing or PR because they are poisoning themselves with the evil that they are complaining about.

At least U2 is honest about what they're pursuing and how.

8.09.2005

Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder

I said yesterday that I would mention a phrase that Chrenkoff created: it's Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder. Here's only a part of what he said about it (if you think this excerpt is long, it's not an atypical length for his posts):

But there is another aspect to the "culture matters" argument, one that does not get nearly enough attention. It has nothing to do with religion, ethnicity, or national character; it is the social and moral legacy of life under a dictatorship. Iraq, quite simply, like many other recently liberated societies around the world continues to suffer from a Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder.

For the Westerners, the PTSD is a difficult condition to understand. We take so many things for granted - from comedians being able to joke about the President, to the assumption that the next government employee we encounter will not be expecting a bribe from us - that we are quite ill equipped to fully comprehend what life under a totalitarian system must really be like, much less what mental and spiritual legacy its victims have to labor under long after the statues of the Leader are pulled down.

We all "know" about the secret police knocking on the door at night, adulatory TV programs exalting the president-for-life, the pervasive corruption, queues and shortages, or the silly propaganda. Nothing, however, in our generally safe and comfortable existence would helps us understand just how pervasively difficult, destructive and dispiriting the experience of life under a totalitarian regime is. For most of us, life in Saddam's Iraq would have been no more real than the Middle Earth of the colonial New England. And failing to understand the condition itself, by extension we find it equally difficult to understand how the mental attitudes and habits of the past cannot be shaken off overnight but instead linger on, making the reconstruction and transition to normalcy such a difficult and painful process.

I speak from some experience here. While the late communist Poland and the Baathist Iraq were in many ways very different societies, shaped and constrained by different set of geographic, historical and cultural factors, there is a common denominator between all totalitarian societies the world over. Here are some bad habits that people consciously or otherwise pick up to help them fit in better and survive under a dictatorship, but which prove quite troublesome and counter-productive once the shackles finally fall off:

Distrust of the state and the authorities - the state is the enemy and the oppressor; you collaborate to the extent it is necessary to survive, no more. You don't owe it any loyalty and are quite happy to try to sabotage it in every little way you can - by breaking minor laws, petty embezzlement, cheating, dishonesty, lies, passivity or indifference.

A prison mentality - you might hate the state, but you still have an expectation that the hand you cannot bite will provide for you; feed you, clothe you, give you shelter and a job. Since the state has crowded out most, if not all, of the private sphere, logically only the state is able to provide for one's needs - you're quite literally at the mercy of a monopoly.

Lack of initiative and abdication of personal responsibility - as the state is seemingly omnipresent and omnipotent and the area of your personal sovereignty heavily circumscribed, this state of affairs breeds resignation, fatalism and passivity. Why would you bother to try to do anything if you can't achieve much? How can you really take responsibility for your condition if you're just a powerless puppet at the mercy of the Leviathan? And so you wait for things happen to you, as they always do, instead of trying to make your own fate. The system simply doesn't provide any incentives to think and act otherwise - initiative is not rewarded and can even land you in trouble, working hard brings in no more benefits than working little; effort and imagination more often than not hit the wall of limited practical possibilities.

Distrust of others - it's not just the state; you don't trust your fellow citizens too - at worst they might be spying on you for the authorities, at best they are competing with you for scarce resources. Either way, they're out to screw you over. So you only look after your own.

Circumstances change; and when they do, they usually change much faster than our habits. Closed economy may become a free market, dictatorship a democracy, theocracy a liberal society, but our mental adjustment to new realities lags behind.


Not only is this essay very interesting and insightful, but it's been written by someone who emigrated to Australia when he was a teenager. Even native English speakers can't write this well!

8.08.2005

Still bummed

I thought I'd get over it, but I'm still bummed that Chrenkoff won't be blogging anymore. Here's part of what he said about it:

...in the end, the decision - difficult as it was - came down to a simple choice: should I continue to stay indefinitely in the same job (which I enjoyed, but where I was standing still professionally) just because it allowed me flexibility to write outside of it, or should I try to move up professionally, even if it means having to give up my passion. Sadly, the passion didn't look like translating itself into a decently paying full time career, and so the majority view among the friends whom I asked for advice was that I should choose the "sensible" rather than the "romantic" course of action.


It's sad that in spite of being an excellent writer, he has to give it up--he can't follow his passion. Actually, he could, if he kept plugging away and networked and made important contacts who would help him get paid for doing it. I have no idea what kinds of efforts he made to be a professional writer, other than posting a plea at his site. But it seems "unfair" that he has to call it quits. The world would be perfect if we all got a chance to do what we're passionate about, or the opportunity and time to discover our passions.

At least Chrenkoff isn't yanking his fiction from the Metrofiction site. Hopefully he'll be able to get that published some day, too.

Subsequently, I'm going to post a phrase that Chrenkoff created, which includes his typical coherent explanation.

8.05.2005

Viagra triangle



I can't seem to find the origin of this phrase "Viagra Triangle," but according to Richard Roeper: "The Viagra Triangle is a slice of the city bounded by Chicago Avenue, Rush, Maple and State. Take a look at a map and you'll see the area forms a little triangle, inside which you'll find a heavy concentration of bars and restaurants often populated by men of a certain age and income and women of a certain age and ambition. Sure, this is a generalization, but on any given night, you will see men in heavy jewelry getting into $100,000 sports cars with women who look like they've spent the entire day getting ready. And some of those men just might need to take the occasional little blue pill to help them keep up with some of those women."

As I walked through that area tonight, I thought about what he said as I saw those types of people, in addition to the 20-something dolled-up, under-fed women and their same-age group male counterparts. I think it's a magnet for bored suburbanites as well as the urban well-to-do.

8.04.2005

Saw some people

The day started out hot and muggy, and I didn't get as much writing done as I wanted, but I ended up seeing a few folks.

First of all, when I was walking to the Art Institute of Chicago, I saw Chicago photoblogger Rachelle Bowden, who's also the editor of Chicagoist, which the media likes to describe as a blog.

It's a great site, but I would say it's more of an interactive online publication rather than a blog, because it's part of what I call the "Ist Franchise," started by New York-based Gothamist. They have articles at each of the city sites, written by a staff, and readers can make comments. But I wouldn't consider them blogs because I see blogs as independent entities created by one person or a team to provide a creative outlet and an opportunity to write for the world, free of the constraints and limitations (ie, lack of opportunities) of traditional media. I think that the initial reason for a blog is individual, free expression--"Writing Without Borders" or "WWB," as I call it.

Anyway, I saw Rachelle taking a picture of the Chicago River from the Michigan Avenue Bridge, near where the Trump Tower is being built, and I asked her, "Are you Rachelle, the blogger?" She said yes, and then we walked down Michigan Avenue, talking about New York and the thousands of hits she gets at Chicagoist. I was surprised that she wasn't weirded out that I talked to her, because I don't think it's common that readers approach her, or even recognize her. She's a nice person and I hope to see her again sometime.

Then this afternoon, I saw John Kass in front of the Tribune building (where he works), chatting with another media guy who I didn't recognize. Kass is the only media guy who is not afraid to criticize Mayor Daley, and has even written about his affiliation with the Mafia. You can read his columns at the Chicago Tribune site.

Kass is totally cool--he's on page two of the paper and is successful, but he is totally down-to-earth and humble. I would love to hang out with him sometime, but that's quite impossible, so I'll just continue to say hello. Actually, I have had a few five-minute conversations with him when he's taken cigarette breaks in front of the Tribune building, and he's always been nice enough to tolerate me. So if you've been wondering what he's like, he is cooler than you think.

Finally, when I went out to eat at Big Bowl on Ohio Street with the best teacher on the planet and the other students from the Japanese class I go to every week, I saw Steve Dahl. He's a Chicago radio guy who became even more famous for Disco Demolition 25 years ago, where he blew up thousands of disco records in Comiskey Park (where the White Sox play, now called Cellular Field).

I was surprised he was there, but when I got home, I read in his blog that he and his show staff were going to be there. They have "team dinners" at a Chicago restaurant once in a while, and the one I was at happened to be the place for their meeting tonight. Exciting. Well, not really, because I continued to speak "Japlish" (a Japanese-English mix) with the folks from the class, and Steve and the gang were on the other side. But who cares. The Mai Tai was tasty.

So what started out as a humdrum sweaty day ended up being not so bad.

8.03.2005

Tips updated

Now that I have more time, I've finally created another American Culture Tip at the Metrolingua site.

If you're American, it will seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how people from other countries don't understand our seemingly low-context culture.

8.02.2005

East coast terms

I love New England and New York City, and even though I don't live there, I appreciate the words they create.

One that I recently saw was "Kremlin on the Charles," which I first saw in a Mad Minerva post.

The term refers to Harvard University, as described by Richard Nixon (I discovered the term's origin here).

Another cool phrase that I just found out about was via a Michelle Malkin post (with a picture): Muffin Top: "that unsightly roll of flesh that spills over the waist of a pair of too-tight pants, like a muffin bursting out of the pan. "

I need to put my own creations out there. I have posted one of them at some other blogs, but I have to make sure that I was the first person to use it.

8.01.2005

Whining terrorists

Check out this video of a terrorist complaining about subtitles. It's very funny, especially if you've ever wondered why they use subtitles when certain people speak English.

Update: If you don't see the video, you will not know that it is a joke--it's from a British comedy show.