Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Important statement about (modern) American society from David Brooks in his latest column.

Social support and community building are critical to a society's development. Given the dissolution of traditional norms and structures during the process of modernization (see "anomie"), we need to find new forms of association that provide support and moral guidance, and allow children to grow up in stable, healthy conditions with access to education.

Okay, I probably sound kind of conservative and/or Confucian and/or Singaporean, but I'm recognizing more and more that it's not just personal freedoms or market freedoms that matter in being able to live a good life. The form of community in which we live, and the education we receive when we are growing up (both inside and outside the classroom) also play a crucial role.

As David Brooks points out, the two political parties are focusing on material gains instead of looking at key social questions afflicting America. It's not the hot button social issues we should be looking at (abortion, marriage equality, stem cell research), but more basic concepts like family integrity and humanistic values (like not being greedy and materialistic; caring for others, not just oneself). Aside from the individual, there is the family as the basic building block of society, as well as the larger neighborhood/community/networks of care setting norms and expectations and helping to maintain them.

The "materialistic ethos" of both political parties means they're focusing too exclusively on economic questions without understanding the social context in which they sit. For example, Brooks finds that the Democrats now emphasize "reducing inequality instead of expanding opportunity. Its policy prescriptions begin (and sometimes end) with raising taxes on the rich. This makes you feel better if you detest all the greed-heads who went into finance. [Admittedly there's something satisfying about this.] It does nothing to address those social factors, like family breakdown, that help explain why American skills have not kept up with technological change. If President Obama is really serious about restoring American economic dynamism, he needs an aggressive two-pronged approach: More economic freedom combined with more social structure; more competition combined with more support."

Without looking at human beings as part of the equation, and in particular, considering human beings as moral, communal and spiritual beings with beliefs and ideals and worldviews -- then the economics-only approach, the technical-engineering-only approach, the "install the hand pumps-but-ignore-the-programmatic-side" approach, will not be sufficient to right our society. This doesn't mean we can't use numerical metrics to look at social support and evaluate progress. But without countenancing norms and ideas, we are ignoring something fundamental in society.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Don't piss off the choreographer by being late -- otherwise, he might turn into Dakota Stanley!

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Michael Tippett's "Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli"

Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli by Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Grooveshark

Monday, January 16, 2012

Hello & Goodbye to Huntsman.

Huntsman Says He's Quitting G.O.P. Race
Jon M. Huntsman Jr. informed his advisers on Sunday that he intends to drop out of the Republican presidential race, ending his candidacy a week before he had hoped to revive his campaign in the South Carolina primary.

Good run, Gov. Huntsman. I look forward to seeing you four years from now. From The New York Times:
Huntsman "formally announced his candidacy in June, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, calling for a more civil kind of presidential campaign and promising a better future than the one that Mr. Obama would provide. 'He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love,' Mr. Huntsman said of Mr. Obama. 'But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better president, not who’s the better American.' 
But the campaign of ‘civility, humanity and respect’ that Mr. Huntsman promised quickly faded into the background as his Republican rivals seized the attention — and the support — of a party faithful that seemed more interested in red-meat politics.“
Is this really the party the GOP aspires to be? One that revels in hatred and division, blame and vilification, rather than representing an open-minded and deliberate, but principled, political alliance? I mourn the day that an intelligent, humane and successful leader such as Governor Huntsman is driven from this party -- or at least for all intents and purposes, barred from victory. It signals the disappearance of justice, decency, civility and truth as watchwords of the Republicans, and highlights how ideology, conformity, tribalism and fear have gained ascendancy. Patriotism has been stamped out by nationalism.

This was once the Party of Lincoln. Where is the courage to do what is unpopular but right? Where is the leadership that unites a people, that venerates humanity, that speaks truth to power? Where is the voice for the voiceless, protecting the downtrodden and the minority citizenry? Where is the beacon that seeks reform? That busts the trusts, secures the safety of our comestibles, and offers a Square Deal to every American? The Republicans created the National Parks, founded the Environmental Protection Agency, signed into being the Clean Air and Water Act.

The "grand" vision of the GOP has been lost in the squalor of American politics and small-minded partisan fighting. It has been lost to the plutocratic clutches of corporate donors. It has been ceded to self-absorbed and self-interested wealth. It no longer seeks to educate its citizens to be more broad-minded, noble and loving, but to barricade themselves against science and reason, while xenophobically attacking the new as alien.

I am looking for Republicans, but I see only the mob carrying torches, with demagogues in their midst whispering poison among them. Moral leadership to open the hearts and minds of men has fallen into disfavor. Polls and consultancies do not inform but control. Inspiration has fled, and incitement has moved into its stead. These men do not seek to lead the crowd to protect their rights and the rights of their brethren. They beguile and play rhetorical tricks, stoking the worst of emotions and striking the most frightening of notes. They levy threats, sell destructive tales, rend humanity.

It is the road to disenfranchisement, the atomization of men. It is the splintering of the solidarity in democracy and mutual responsibility that once helped strengthen and guide our Republic. It is an abdication of the worst kind, for it leaves our country vulnerable -- destitute of reason, bereft of a universal sense of ethics.

The Republic is breaking, and we need women and men who care enough to mend it. They will heal society by building communities -- not by tearing them down -- and halt the blasting apart of the nation that has been built over generations by so many dedicated, enterprising, creative and caring hands. Such were the hands that belonged to Americans (plural) -- federalist, democratic, republican, liberal, constitutional Americans. They created a new kind of society that represents a unique and courageous experiment for mankind. May it live for many more lifetimes.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Whose assault?

"In an essay published this week in a Communist Party policy magazine, President Hu Jintao said the West is trying to dominate China by spreading its culture and ideology."

Nah, the West isn't trying to spread its culture. You just destroyed your own (see: Cultural Revolution 1966-1976) and left a massive vacuum. Are you concerned that materialistic folks are now buying Western pop culture as the thing?

"President Hu Jintao has said that China must strengthen its cultural production to defend against the West’s assault on the country’s culture and ideology" FYI strengthening culture is probably not best served by increasing Communist propaganda. How about supporting traditional cultural enterprises?

"international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of westernizing and dividing China." Well, they're not the ones who demolish ancient temples and raze traditional architecture, replace them with shopping malls, and lay down ugly tarmac and 8-lane highways in the middle of cities where generations of families once lived. Greedy developers and complicit CCP officials are really the ones responsible for confusing "modernization" and "Westernization" -- anyone else is just following their lead. (Sometimes I wonder if "modernization" is even the goal, or if infrastructure is just a byproduct of self-enrichment). The authorities are the ones who adopt sh-t city planning that's good for cars and not people, just like -- oh wait for it -- the Americans did in the mid-20th century. So watch where you're pointing your fingers.

By the way, people from the West are also not the ones who forced the country to adopt Soviet-style (i.e. alien) economic planning (which utterly failed, by the way), or who divided the country into "black" and "red" classes and pitted them against each other.

It's the people in power and the rich who are taking the worst aspects of "Western" culture, such as unbridled capitalistic greed -- laughing all the way to the bank as they douse the country with it -- while ignoring important features of Western life such as freedom of speech, checks and balances, and the consent of the governed and public participation.

Let's close on this note: "In his essay, Mr. Hu did not address the widespread assertion by Chinese artists and intellectuals that state censorship is what prevents artists and their works from reaching their full potential. Last week, Han Han, a novelist and China’s most popular blogger, discussed the issue in an online essay called 'On Freedom.' 'The restriction on cultural activities makes it impossible for China to influence literature and cinema on a global basis or for us culturati to raise our heads up proud,' Han Han wrote."

Ironic that for Chinese culture to flourish, the state should take up some "Western" features. Oh wait ... maybe that means that those features are less "Western" and more global than you want to admit. Just some food for thought.