Archive for October, 2008

If Paulo Freire was a Brit…

October 29, 2008

and a goofy one, this is pretty much what he’d say:

Good stuff.

Of course Sir Ken’s critique can be extended to hierarchy as a form of social organization in general, not just within the education system…


The Boys in Green

October 24, 2008

So I’ve been furrowing my brow upon this Green revolution stuff, not only because of the strong capitalist bent to it and the glaring lack of political feasibility, but also because I hear about it so much — and as a rule, whenever something crosses that threshold of being in my face all the time, I start to find it annoying.

HOWEVER last night in class I saw a terrific presentation by the incomparable Scott Sklar of the Stella Group which executes renewable energy projects for industrial and commercial interests worldwide. This man gave me a much needed positive vibe about the notion that possibilities exist for our future.

Check it out: the military is always on the cutting edge of new technology, and they’re *great* at getting public funding in this country. So I thought what Mr. Sklar had to say about current military projects particular interesting — since they tend to end up in the public sphere and thus the market for consumer goods (like our fair internet).

Did you know that 80% of combat deaths in Iraq are due to soldiers traveling in convoys, hence making easy targets of themselves? And of course what are they carrying in the vast majority of these convoys? Fuel!

Did you know that the military has been one of the prime movers in the development of PV-nanotechnology that can be used in dyes? You will be able to generate energy for your house by painting it with this stuff — they’ve even been able to print it on paper to make little flexible polaroid-sized solar cells. Absolutely insane.

Did you know that they make portable solar powered water purification systems? (These will come in handy in the battlefield as well as in turmoil following natural disasters, the incidence of which we can expect to go up!)

Did you know that there are also a lot of folks within the DOD who are advocating for the strategic importance of “distributed energy” — finding ways to generate energy in a de-centralized, renewables based way?

There are the same people (though military man McCain is obviously not part of this group) who worry about nuclear power and our insanely inefficient power grid as national security risks! Our energy grid needs to be more flexible, like the cell phone network — which, by the way, depends on cell towers 20% of which operate off of solar energy!

Did you know that they already sell backpacks with little solar panels embedded in them, so you can charge your laptop while you walk around?

And finally: Did you know that the solar and wind industries are the third largest employers in Germany and Spain? You can’t keep military prowess and hence global hegemony while the economy suffers…so I think there’s a faction in the Pentagon pushing for this move towards renewables. And these people tend to have quite a bit of political clout. And hell, if there’s anything that People’s Liberation Army over in China likes to do, its try to get our technology…

Here I am a peacenick quasi-anarchist and its *the military* that get me excited about the move to green energy…absolutely insane!

In Search of Lost Relatives

October 16, 2008

On the bus today a lady sat next to me wearing a faint lavender perfume that took my nasal cavities for a light speed ride straight back to my childhood.  It smelled exactly like my grandmother’s perfume.

It was one of those intense, palpable memories that you (pretend to have) read about in the novels of Proust. Unlike big P I can’t use writing to recreate the organic phenomenon that is memory — that would be too much work for me to write and for you to read. But I feel kind of compelled to talk about it because my grandmother has been dead for 10 years and this was the strongest impression of her and the longest I’ve sat and thought about her since then.

So let me put this in context.  When I was a child I would visit my grandparents’ house in the tranquil green  English countryside — an absolute clichee, I know — but this was a place where time was too lax to pass as such, rather it kind of just gurgled gently forward as in Winnie the Pooh.

I realize now that this was largely because British children’s television was nowhere near as diverse and sophisticated as its American counterpart, prompting me to experience a complete lifestyle change whenever I was over there.  I would get my fix of TV mostly through old VHS’s (Dad’s Army, Fawlty Towers, Mr. Bean, etc.) but they never had the same engaging power over me as the American stuff.  Besides, my grandparents had a giant and very personable labrador retriever that needed my companionship.  I couldn’t help going outside, to play or go for a walk or simply to read. My ferocious allergies and creeping boredom and chidish itch for constant stimulation would all dissipate after a while, and I would briefly enjoy the country life.

As it should be, country life was punctuated at regular intervals with tea and biscuits and trips to the village shop to get candy.

(For those of you who haven’t been to the UK, it’s safe to say that the ratio of the quality of British candy to American candy is approximately equal to the inverse of the ratio of the quality of British children’s television to American children’s television. That is, British candy will blow your mind.)

It was in this impossible world that my grandmother would take me for walks on the public footpaths through endless meadows and fields, regaling me with the battleground deeds of Robert the Bruce. She would allow me to accompany her to the ancient churchyard in the village, which she would tend to while I ran around oblivious. She would even indulge me with spry games of hide and seek around the garden, where the potting shed and the enormous cedar trees were the most tempting, and hence the worst, hiding places.

Beyond gardening and cooking and tea making and child rearing and all the rest of the vast array of stereotypically feminine skills that she seemed so effortlessly to posess, my grandmother was a very strong and unique person. She drank and smoked heavily and swore — she enjoyed watching cricket and rugby — she read voraciously about obscure and exciting things like medieval history — and these traits added tremendously to the air of mystery surrounding her household.  The first chapters of “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” will always remind me of that place…like the peace and otherness was all part of some strange literary adventure waiting to unfold.

There was one other time in the past few years that I remembered those days so clearly — it was in my apartment in Beijing (of all places) where the whirr our little stand-up washing machine and the miasma of tobacco smoke in the living room would occasionally resonate with my memories of sitting at the kitchen table with my grandmother, reading or talking or just being silly, with the endlessly comforting wash cycle buzzing in the background.

Now even as a kid I was aware and quite thankful that this wasn’t my real life. If it had been, I would have been faced with many unacceptable corrolaries: the necessity for British schooling and the accompanying British sports, the boredom, and the afore mentioned lack of Nickalodeon just to name a few.  No way.

But nostalgia always wins in the end…and today on the bus I finally realized that my grandmother was the mistress of a realm that I can never go back to.

Incidentally, how old was T.S. Eliot when he had Prufrock proclaim that bit “I grow old, I grow old…”?

He was 23.


Asian studies humor

October 10, 2008

Just wanted to share a couple of nerdy/humorous things from yesterday. First, a snippet of dialogue:

American Grad Student: Dude, can I ask you a question? Do you find, being a grad student, that you have no life?

Taiwanese Grad Student: Ah, of course! What’s wrong with that?

Priceless. One can never be sure whether things like that will still be funny when you try to transcribe them…but it was pretty funny at the time.

This second joke requires a bit of context — we were watching a documentary from the 90s about Korea’s rapid development and the film was profiling a guy called “Frank” who owned a small factory making tennis rackets.  At the time, small industry in Korea was faced with restricted access to foreign markets, rising labor costs, and limited access to financial resources since these were reserved for the huge government subsidized companies or chaebol. (This pattern later became one of the major factors contributing to Korea’s vulnerability to the Asian financial crisis)

SO Frank has to go through a Japanese import/export company to get his rackets overseas. The Japanese company gets all the publicity and they also they give him shit about the quality of the rackets — even though these are like specialty, hand made, top of the line rackets.

The PR blitz features tennis legend Bjorn Borg (winner of 5 consecutive Wimbledon’s, a record matched only by the amazing Roger Federer) using one of these rackets.

At long last, the humor:

Film Narrator: Bjorn Borg is pleased with the tennis rackets. But the Japanese executives are still dissatisfied…


Alright, forgive me…now back to work.