Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Better Affirmative Action Analogy

I used to believe in meritocracy. As an Asian American, I was against affirmative action, at least race-based affirmative action. Class-based was okay. When confronted with analogies about our meritocratic race to the top, I was unmoved by descriptions of starving African Americans that had been chained up until right before the race. After all, it's been 150 years since slavery ended, though its effects are still felt today.

Therefore, I would like to present a better Affirmative Action Analogy.

One candidate (white) goes to participate in a foot race. His parents are not only supportive, but have made it clear, explicitly or implicitly, that he is expected to finish the race, if not place in the top 10. Why not? Everyone in his family has. All of his friends expect to. They have trained together every day since the 6th grade. His parents have paid private coaches to teach him and bought him expensive training sneakers and the best track shoes. The morning of the race, he is fed a power breakfast and driven to the starting line in an air-conditioned car. There is a celebratory lunch planned for after the race.

One candidate (black) goes to participate in a foot race. One of his parents, and some of his friends and family members are supportive. The other parent accuses him of trying to be better than his ancestors. Some of his friends make fun of him for participating. Others tell him there's no point. Studies show that he is unlikely to do as well as his white peers. Of those who are supportive, few have ever run before, and don't know how to support him. He has been training on his own. The morning of the race, he walks to the starting line because everyone is too busy or unsupportive to drive him there.

Does that mean that he should get some seconds shaved off of his score? I don't know. But I do think he should be under consideration for some coaching before the final race.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Don't Be This Guy Who Travels

There's this post that's going around, called "Date a Guy Who Travels." It contains some good values. Experiences are more valuable than things, but that's the rule for Millennials, not the exception. The curiosity for the world and knowledge of the poverty people have to go through all over the world are good qualities as well. Being flexible and adventurous, looking for possibilities and leaving the comfort zone are all qualities to be admired. There are some beautiful sentiments and beautiful pieces of writing in the post.

And yet it rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it because, as an ex-pat and sometime-traveler, I have known many travelers who embody many of the actions described in the post, if few of the ideals.

I have known guys who scoff at resorts when they have never been to a resort.

I have never known a guy who scoffs at vacations. Who does that?

I have known guys who dismiss travel guides because they, "probably know the guy who wrote them."

I have known guys who fail to realize that using a "travel guide" as a "reference" is redundant.

I have known many guys whose number of Facebook friends is negatively correlated with their number real friends.

I have known guys who have lived in Southeast Asia for years, but have never traveled in Malaysia. This has as much to do with the anti-drinking laws and Islamaphobia as it does with the relative expense.

I have known guys who are always announcing new things they've discovered in loud and enthusiastic tones, only to clam up if you'd already heard of them already or want specifics (in other words, have an actual conversation--which is why no one ever listens to their stories anymore).

I have known many guys who are too busy documenting an event for Facebook to actually experience it.

I have known guys who lived out of a backpack. I have known guys who claim to be backpacking when the only time they carry the backpack is to the taxi taking him away from the airport (on the way to the taxi to the airport, the hotel porter handles it).

I have known guys who pontificate about human rights and the squalor of developing countries, but are blind to the inequality and poverty on their own doorstep.

I have known ethnocentric guys who claim they're not because they've, "been to 43 countries."

I've known guys who have hiked up the tallest mountain in Taiwan, but were unaware that there are Chinese supermarkets in the U.S.

I have known guys who love being at home because their mom unpack their bags and do their laundry for them, but when they feel cramped, they leave again.

I have known many guys who marry a local girl they met on their travels, even though her English is poor and he never learns her native tongue. Conversely, I have known guys who only want to hook up with white girls when they travel.

I encountered multiple publications who know that artisanal, local handicrafts are the new status symbol. The new height of cool.

I have known guys who confuse instant-gratification with a happy life. Maybe it is, but they have never considered the meaningfulness of their lives.

I have known guys who live to build a persona for themselves through Facebook and twitter and their desktop photos

Traveling is great. Even though we live in a world where we can view satellite maps, documentaries, and other people's Facebook pictures that document life from all over the world, the world itself is still a book, and people who don't travel only read one page. It is a privilege now, as it was when St. Augustine first penned those words, but nothing replaces experiencing things first-hand. So travel, and enjoy talking and interacting with those who travel. But remember not all those who wander have lost their prejudices and pretensions.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Avenues: A Lesson in False Humility

Avenues is a pre-K-9 private school in New York City which purports to emphasize humility in its students; the school's mission statement is to craft students who are “humble about their gifts and generous of spirit." For $43,000 a year. All of my information is from the New York Times feature. I just had to post a response.

The Good

The school does seem to be an amazing opportunity for people who can afford it, at least at the lower levels.  Nancy Schulman, head of the Early Learning Center, understands why parents feel the need to ensure their children have organic, locally-sourced, gluten-free, culturally diverse snacks (it's a control thing). 4-year-olds get to view abstract art (an oddly appropriate time for them to learn about it) and Schulman, "brimming with excitement, explained how the subject matter and the field trip were perfect for the immersion classes. 'You can use the vocabulary in both languages,' she said, to learn about the art."

Yes, the kids will be brought up to be bilingual: English and Mandarin. The one spotlight on a student of Avenues is, "Jackson, [who] emerged in checkered pajamas from playing a “Star Wars” game on a Mac and broke into a number of songs in Mandarin, including “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”He seems like a happy, well-adjusted kid.

The Bad

But how long will that last? Jackson's parents may seem both successful and reasonable, but how will they compete with the children of parents who demand the non-genetically modified, organic, locally-sourced, gluten-free, culturally-diverse raw foods snacks? Or parents that fret that their children can see, "the upper outlines of a homeless man’s backside en route to a playground." Worse yet, how will children cope when the school puts together a task force to investigate the safety of the school neighborhood in response? Humility indeed.

Of course, the homeless man incident is also referred to as "the buttcrack email," which goes to show that some people are laughing it off. I'm still concerned about the students when they get into high school though. Avenues does not have upperclassmen students yet, but they will. That's when the mental and physical health of students start to plummet; that's when AP courses, the SAT, and college applications hit you hard. Add that mix to the pressure cooker that is Avenues, and I'd hate to see the outcome. One of NYC's best child psychologists is on board. They're going to need him.

And let's face it. This school is charging $43,000 a year and is for profit. That may ensure premium service, but it's always a bit squishy when a school is for-profit. In reality, all schools are, but those who are openly so are at the mercy of parent and student demands. Also, humility?

The Ugly

Let's be honest. The best place for children of people who make enough to pay $43,000 a year in school fees to learn humility is the public school system. And not even the public school system in their neighborhood. They need to go to a low-income neighborhood public school. Or low-income neighborhood private school. But public school would be better.

Their parents would undoubtedly continue to be highly involved, and will model one or both of two things for their children. One is social activism. The other is failure. Either way, they will likely grow up to be more resilient, encounter real diversity, and grow up to be humbler human beings, if only because they will see how people without the benefits their families provide fare.

You know who would really benefit from the type of education Avenues provides? Children from low socioeconomic castes. On a purely practical level, I think they need Chinese more. Rich people can hire translators and language tutors, but the blue collar class workers may need Chinese to serve our future Chinese overlords. Or if not, as manufacturing is outsourced more and more to China, they may need to chase those jobs. Or they may need to interact with Chinese speakers or Chinese characters when they take inventory or transport goods from boat to shore. When I eat at Din Tai Fung in Arcadia, all of the dumpling makers I see through the picture window into the kitchen look Latino. Once, while grocery shopping in Hacienda Heights, I saw a Latino man speaking ebulliently with his co-workers in Chinese. I'm currently in Taiwan, teaching English to children of the rich and powerful. You know who, on average, has better spoken English? That's right, child vendors in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc.

Or course, there are many other reasons children from low socioeconomic classes would benefit from an education at Avenues. The point is that they will never get anything close to that. As one commenter, cmhughes, notes, what they get instead is ducking under "police tape cordoning off the street to get into the building. A man had been shot in the head the night before and died; the police crime scene investigation unit van was still there collecting evidence . . . one young child . . . is very afraid of dying."

The Black Box Theater

The NYT feature, written by Jenny Anderson, makes much of the black box theater on school campus in which parents were having a forum on whether or not their children's snacks were appropriately non-genetically modified, organic, locally-sourced, paleo-diet, gluten-free, culturally-diverse, raw food, non-processed, and high class. A black box theater is a low-cost theater that consists of a flat floor and black walls (resembling a black box). It was developed for experimental theater, and should be able to represent anyplace and anything. Like the school, it is a seemingly progressive and democratic space that has been appropriated by those who claim to feel more, care more, and are the de facto elite.
Become certifiably humble at Avenues!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Commons: Allrecipes is not competing with your food blog

Whoever thought of the idea of emailing people a couple of weeks after they've purchased a book from Amazon to encourage us to write reviews: it works (at least for me). I wrote my first 3 reviews that way. If I were ambitious, I'd write more, and try and get on the Amazon Vine program, but I doubt that will happen. For one thing, I don't know if Amazon would allow me to review books that I didn't buy through them. Maybe I should post my reviews on Goodreads instead. Actually, what I should really do is write a thoughtful review of every book I read, post a preview on a public site, and then link to the rest on my blog.

Granted, I wouldn't shortchange anyone. All of the important stuff would be upfront, inverse pyramid style. But if anyone wanted more detail, they could click the link. I don't know if this is allowed.

But it should be. As long as the links are not spam, this would be a great way to get the best of public knowledge, while still allowing people to self-indulge express themselves on their own blogs. Think of Allrecipes.

Allrecipes is my go-to site if I'm looking for a dish. It has tons of recipes, and it doesn't make you look at 20 (albeit sometimes gorgeous) photos before you can look at the actual recipe. Plus it allows you to convert the serving size and move from US (British) measurements to metric. It even has nutritional information at the bottom! Most important, it has ratings and reviews. If I really like a recipe blog, then I'll trust that anything posted is delicious. But even that doesn't replace a comment that is liked by 50 and references at least 3 other comments regarding changing the amount of pepper to add. Sorry recipe bloggers, you lose.

That doesn't mean they should stop blogging their own recipes. It just means they should ALSO POST ON ALLRECIPES. If you think about it, it's great advertisement, if their dishes (and photos and writing) are really that good. Hey, if food companies can promote their products on allrecipes, I don't see why food bloggers can't promote their blogs. Wikipedia says they promote such practices. And go ahead and post on and and Food52 and Epicurious and all of those other social-networking food sites I don't even know of. (Actually, I don't think you can post on Epicurious, but they have an awesome name and it was the first recipe site I used regularly.)

Sidenote: My subtitle for this post is that Allrecipes is not competing with your food blog. I considered adding that it's not competing with your cookbook deal either, but maybe it's competing with your cookbook deal. But that's more the internet's fault, and you can't blame the internet for that, because people still get cookbooks published based on their food blogs on the internet all the time. I guess that goes to show that cookbooks aren't really about cooking. They're about personality and food porn.