12/31/09

Stuff I've learned/observed/experienced

I've been back in Korea for a little more than a week. Here's some random stuff.

* * *

If there's a line forming, then stand it. You won't regret it even if you don't want to be in the line. You never know when an entire elementary school of kids may show up. A colleague of mine who didn't take my advice dallied about for a few minutes. Suddenly, a million Korean kids showed up. He got back in line, but far enough that I needed binoculars to see him. Thankfully, the lines in Korea go quickly, so he ate about 15 minutes after I did.

* * *

My favorite sandwich shop opens at 10 a.m. I learned that a few days ago at 8:30 a.m., after walking 15 minutes out of the way to eat there.

* * *

I saw one of the directors at my job wearing a mask over his nose and mouth. Does he know something I don't know?

* * *

As a foreigner in Korea, I often must trust the Koreans around me. My colleagues helped me set up my bank account. I was standing there, with my documents out in the open for anyone, along with my allegedly secret password that seemed to be available for public information.

People show up at my apartment saying they need to take me somewhere. I do ask them questions about who they are just to confirm that I'm not being shipped off to China.

I should blog more often just so someone will notice if I have gone missing.

* * *

It snowed a lot a few days ago. It snowed the day after I arrived. Before I left D.C. I was slip sliding around in 16 inches of snow.

I hate snow. But I already knew that.

* * *

There is occasionally miscommunication between Koreans and non-Koreans. The more I understand Korean, the more I see that there is plenty of miscommunication between Koreans, too.

That would be fine if it didn't involve me. But I had another example...a manager rushed to me, saying I had to be at the main office at 4:40 p.m. today. At about 5:10, after I asked many times in Korean and English why I needed to be there, the manager apologized that I didn't need to be there.

I knew that, too.

* * *

Drivers can run red lights here at small intersections, as long as there are not pedestrians present, and as long as there aren't other cars speeding through the green light. Unfortunately, jaywalking is also rampant, meaning bad things happen at some intersections at which both drivers and pedestrians don't pay attention to signs and lights.

* * *

The ATM machine I went to earlier today was bilingual (Korean and English). There may have been other languages, I forgot to check.

I was just happy to be able to do stuff with my money in English. I hate guessing, wondering if the button I'm pushing means that I'm transferring my money to someone else's account.

* * *

A bad thing about banks here...a Korean friend of mine told me earlier today that they charge customers a fee for withdrawing money from an ATM. That's even when the bank is closed and you don't have an option to go directly to a live teller.

If there's a user fee, it should be for seeing a live person, not an ATM machine that is available 24/7.

* * *

Not every Korean is generous. The guy who picked me up at the airport not only did not offer me and the other pickup anything to eat, but he also proceeded to eat a Korean snack as he drove. He was munching away.

He did arrange for food later before we stopped for the night at a remote location. He dropped us off at a 7-11.

* * *

GPS machines in Korea warn drivers when they have gone several kilometers over the speed limit in an area with speed cameras. The damn sound can get so loud that you slow down just to shut it up. In comparison, radar detectors in America are almost always illegal. I guess the point here is really to get people to stop speeding, not to collect money for the city.

* * *

I also love the gas stations over here. Stopped at one with a colleague a few days ago. Apparently every gas station in South Korea is full-service. I've never seen customers pump their own gas.

The receipt shows customers that 10% of the money collected was a tax.

They serve canned coffee at some gas stations. Of course, the coffee snobs won't like that.

* * *

Drivers in Seoul are bad. I hate them.

The only thing I hate more than the drivers in Seoul are the drivers outside of Seoul.

CJL

linked by Booker Rising,

Update: Thomas Sowell was interviewed by Walter E. Williams on the show. I'll listen to it and mention their main points.

Man of the Year (again)!

I noticed that Booker Rising's readers have named Thomas Sowell the site's Bookerista of the Year. Well-deserved, to be sure.

I just held snap elections. I have been named Person of the Year of my blog. That has happened every year I've had this thing. Even when I forgot to hold elections I retroactively held elections and won.

Reasons my award means more:

1) Sowell would never show up at a Booker Rising conference to accept the award.
2) Because I've blogged regularly from both Korea and America, that means I've been Person of the Year on two different continents.

* * *

Thomas Sowell's longtime partner in crime, Walter E. Williams, will be hosting the Rush Limbaugh Show December 31.

CJL

12/26/09

Who can spit in the face of a country that is smiling?

Christmas eve, after arriving in South Korea the night before, I joined a group of Americans, Canadians, Brits and Koreans at a party in Seoul. During one of the stops, I disappeared for a few minutes to check my email at a PC room (PC방). They are very popular places customers can use a computer for about 70 cents an hour.

The problem is that I barely got to do much on the computer the other night. One of the guys working at the place treated me like I was about to write him a one-million dollar check (that would not bounce). Most PC rooms provide customers with a drink, such as iced coffee. Not only did he bring me the customary iced coffee, but also a package of cookies. Then, as I tried to check my email, he peppered me with questions about where I'm from, how long I would be in Korea, etc. It was a mixture of Korean and English, as the customers nearby watched, clearly amused.

Then, because it was Christmas Eve, I seemed to give him an early present. I asked him if I could take a photo with him.

I'm surprised he didn't ask me to wait so he could go get a haircut.

* * *

According to a former student of mine, there's an old Korean saying: Who can spit in the eye of a man who is smiling? It seems funny considering that Koreans are not known for smiling. Back when I was in Korea in the 1990s, I was told by Koreans not to be upset by unsmiling Koreans. Many people used to be taught that a big smile was a sign of stupidity.

As I noted a few months ago, a university in South Korea was even setting a Smile Clinic.

* * *

On the way home at the end of the night, waiting for the metro, there were some Americans cursing and complaining about Korea. I guess they were American. Definitely black in their skin color, and black in the Shakespearean sense of the word. They weren't listing specific grievances. Just cursing and complaining about what a lousy country Korea is. I asked a Korean guy in my small group if Koreans would be willing to start up a Deportation Fund to help such people get back home. He was ready to reach into his own pocket to get the fund going.

People have gripes about wherever they are, I know. There just seems to be something uncouth about complaining on the subway while using language that would make a sailor blush.

It is much better to do that type of thing on a blog.

* * *

A few minutes later, on the subway, three white guys got on, complaining and cursing in English like they were rap stars on the way to an audition. Mostly, they were complaining in graphic language about not being able to meet more Korean women, about Korean women being prudes. I did my best to ignore them. My colleague, a very proper Brit, noticed that the seats across from them were vacant.

I said there was a good reason no one was sitting across from them.

* * *

Even some of my new acquaintances acted like knuckleheads during the night. At one point, when we were walking down the street, they grabbed some of the New Year's Eve poppers that were on a table in front of a bakery and started setting them off. The store owners probably hadn't imagined that someone would just GRAB the items and set them off.

Of course, it startled some of the people we walked past. I grabbed a few of the unpopped ones to return the bakery. I did my best to apologize in Korean to the Koreans who had their stuff stolen, explaining that those guys were drunk.

Some people might think I've gone native and overly apologetic. Some have previously suggested that, as a black person in Korea, I should try to be a credit to my race.

Not yet. At heart, I'm a guy who has always believed it is wrong to take other people's stuff without their permission.

I'm a credit to myself. If I happen to be a credit to my race when it is in my interest then I suppose that is a bonus for the world...

* * *

We did make many Koreans smile. Early in the night, on our way to the Christmas Eve party, my British colleague mentioned that he could not read in Korean. So I proceeded to teach him the basics of learning to read in Korean. I suppose that it was a funny scene: A native English speaker teaching another native English speaker how to read in Korean. I can be quite demonstrative when I'm teaching. At one point, I even stood up, pointing at a couple of the words on the subway train to show him that he would be able to read almost anything.

He was really pleased that I had successfully taught him a couple of words. A young Korean man was so enraptured with our impromptu class that he almost fell over into my colleague's lap. He got off a few stops earlier, smiling as he left.

When I stumbled with a bit of the pronunciation, I then asked the Korean man who then sat down in the other guy's place to help out. He was delighted to do so. When he got off the train, he wished us well in our time in Korea, smiling like he had also received a good million dollar check.

* * *

The impromptu Korean class continued through the night, including after my colleague got the munchies. So we stopped at a Korean restaurant. Again, I demonstrated to him that he'd be able to read anything by pointing to words on the menu on the wall. Just about all of the Koreans in the restaurant were watching me as I was teaching him. A Korean friend with us was absolutely loving it, and not just because he was still a bit drunk.

He said he was amazed, he wondered if I had ever taught Korean before and if I could actually speak better than I had been saying.

CJL

12/25/09

Breen's column that outraged Samsung


“What People Got for Christmas”
Michael Breen
The Korea Times
December 25, 2009

At this time of year when Seoul’s bare winter trees are wrapped in beckoning lights ― blue and white are the in colors ― and Merry Xmas signs at hotels and department stores are really saying come-hither-gentle-reveler-and-empty-your-purse, and when expensive restaurants belch noisy year-end office party groups onto every street and the karaoke rooms are full, it is tempting to declare that Christmas has lost its soul.

But that would be a mistake. Christmas is a time for giving, and, before they can be given, gifts have to be bought. Commerce is good. Here, as proof, is a round up of some of the gifts given and received today by people in the news.

Samsung, the world’s largest conglomerate and the rock upon which the Korean economy rests, sent traditional year-end cards offering best wishes for 2010 to the country’s politicians, prosecutors and journalists, along with 50 million won in gift certificates.

Employees received two framed photographs of Lee Jae-yong, the new Chief Operating Officer at Samsung Electronics Co., with instructions to place one in their children’s bedroom and the other in their living rooms beside but slightly below the one of his father, Lee Kun-hee.

At Hyundai Motor, where the mood is buoyant thanks to booming sales in America, management gave each labor union leader a bobble head doll of Chairman Chung Mong-koo to put in the rear window of their cars. Union officials are scanning the toys for explosives.

Huh Kyung-young, the zany presidential candidate who claimed an IQ of 430 and was jailed last year for spreading false rumors that he had an intimate relationship with the politician Park Geun-hye, hasn’t given up. He sent her an inflatable doll of himself. Park, who is single and has a sense of humor, sent him a coupon for a consultation at the Joy-Full Hospital, the Gangnam facility that specializes in coloproctology.

Among the thousands of gifts and cards from international fans, the singer Rain received a wedding proposal from the British sensation Susan Boyle, which said, “Hey, Pee. If yooz cum tae ma wee hoos in Scotland, ah’ll show yooz a guid time.” (I only know this because Rain asked me to translate.) In a nice note, the Barbadian singer Rihanna said she thought of him every time she sang “Under My Umbrella.” “Come see me when Chris is not here, ‘ere ‘ere eh eh,” she wrote, in reference to her off-on boyfriend Chris Brown.

The ever-popular skater Kim Yuna said her Christmas present to fans this year was a promise to focus on skating and not appear in any ads in 2010.
President Lee Myung-bak sent world leaders a package of Korean food prepared by the First Lady, Kim Yoon-ok, with handwritten instructions on how to eat each item. The card to U.S. President Barack Obama read: “Hi, Obama and Mitchel. Korean food will soon be number one in the world. Put the safe beef, called hanwoo, in the lettuce holding by hand and place some small rice in there with the chopstick and wrap and eat. Take care the kimchi because you’re foreigners! It’s so hot it might blow you off! Do not beat the secret service!”

The president gave each Blue House staff member a pair of Wellington boots, to prepare them for next year’s focus on the Four Rivers Restoration Project. Staff members were not amused. “If he really cared, he would have peeled the made-in-China label off,” one female aide said.

There was also gloom in South Chungcheong Province where residents, whose dream for the proposed new capital at Sejong City was dashed by the Prime Minister in 2009, couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to send presents.

But Christmas gifts were business as usual at the National Tax Service, where junior officials hoping for promotion looked for the best ways to get the attention of their bosses. Among gifts received by the senior taxmen this year were the Mona Lisa by the Italian painter L. da Vinci, and the Statue of David, a sculpture by another Italian artist, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni.

From overseas, the new Japanese Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, sent President Lee a surprise invitation to visit Japan along with two complimentary ferry tickets to the Dokdo Islets. “Takeshima is halfway between our two countries,” he wrote in the card. “I think it can be a symbol of the new relationship that we can forge for our people.”

The prime minister’s wife, Miyuki, enclosed tickets for Korea’s first couple to join her next visit to Venus.

Chinese President Hu Jintao sent Lee a framed 100-yuan note with a reminder not to give a visitor visa to the Dalai Lama this year.

The leaders of the two Koreas also exchanged gifts in a tradition that began with the first summit in 2000. Lee sent Kim Jong-il a ship full of fertilizer and the dark blue Hyundai windsheeter he wore when he was the CEO of Hyundai Construction & Engineering in the 1970s. Sources say Lee also paid for a prayer pledge from his church, the Somang Presbyterian Church. Elders will undertake a 40-day chain prayer asking Jesus to speak to Kim on both the nuclear and gulag issues.

Kim, meanwhile, thanked the Lees for this year’s food aid and sent them a crate of 1943 Domaine de La Romanee Conti La Tache, a rare vintage wine, and a large packet of Kupi Luwak coffee beans. This rare bean ― fewer than 450 lbs. are harvested each year ― is extracted from the feces of the palm civet, a cat-like mammal that lives in Indonesia.

So, you see, there’s a lot of love out there. That’s what the city lights mean.

LA Times, May 10, 2010


12/20/09

"One-man crime wave" crashes

A friend of mine called me a few days ago. He was sad when he heard about the death of Chris Henry, the football player who died a few days ago in a domestic dispute with the mother of his three children. People don't like to speak ill of the dead so I can understand his concern, as well as those of bloggers. Some people who are saying nice things about Henry never heard of him until they had heard he had died.

The main point of the nice comments has been that Henry had been trying to turn his life around.

Here's the part of the story that adds some context. It is from a 911 call by a woman who was following the truck Henry was on shortly before he expired:
"It's got a black man on it with no shirt on, and he's got his arm in a cast and black pants on," she told a dispatcher. "He's beating on the back of this truck window. ... I don't know if he's trying to break in or something. It just looks crazy. It's a girl driving it."
If Henry had not been arrested five times or been suspended by the NFL for half a season (which is known for being lenient with players) then I might be more sympathetic. Henry, who was called a "one-man crime wave" by a judge, crashed to reality a few days ago.

Kids often look up to athletes as role models. With that in mind, I'd like to suggest a few lessons to be learned from Henry's case:

1) You should not try to resolve your domestic problems with violence. After all, your fiancee may keep driving. You may fall off the back of the truck and hit your head on the ground. A better strategy when your fiancee is driving off in the truck? Wave at the truck, and say a cute rhyme, such as, "goodbye truck, goodbye fiancee, I'll live another day."

2) Stories about turning your life around should not include a report that you are beating on the back of a truck being driven by your fiancee. It undercuts your credibility.

3) A lot of women are bad drivers so you should not beat on the back of a truck as a woman is driving. If she doesn't want you in the truck then get a ride with a different woman.

4) On the bright side, if you at least say you were turning your life around there will always be people to defend you.

CJL

Baby, It's Climate Change outside

Back in the day when I was a student, I wondered why homeless people stayed in cold climates. If you're going to be homeless, why not be homeless somewhere warm?

I guess it should have been self-evident...if you have made decisions that have landed you on the street then you probably won't make decisions putting yourself anywhere except on a better street corner nearby.

I remember arguing to some people who called themselves homeless advocates that instead of sleeping overnight with homeless people to show they cared, that they'd help the homeless more by helping them move to the deep south for the winter.

After trudging through the snow yesterday in D.C. and Virginia,, I'm sorry I didn't set up such a program so I could apply to be moved to Florida or Texas.

I mean, if even a bird with a tiny brain knows to move deep south for the winter, then why am I still living in a cold weather climate?

* * *

I'm not following political issues that much these days, but...

I have noticed that global warming has become climate change. It is a sleight-of-hand move that I won't go along with. During the 1970s there were warnings that there was a chance we'd have global cooling. That morphed into global warming. Then it became a little tough to explain how the same problem could lead to either warming or cooling.

So...Viola! Abracadabra! Cover your eyes! Cover your brain! Forget what we were saying! Global warming+global cooling=climate change.

The tremendous snow should be a rude reminder that humans have very little control over the climate or weather. Even if we wanted to make it snow 27 inches over a large area in just a day, could we get it done? Could we stop it? I assume we can't stop it because if we could then I would not have been slip sliding around yesterday.

* * *

Yes, I ignored the repeated warnings to stay home yesterday. At least I did (make that, could) not drive.

There were no taxis on the street. I walked for five minutes to the metro--I saw one car moving, slowly. There were very few people on the street. The mall I went to last night was a ghost town.

How bad were things?

Even the Chinese restaurant at the mall ran out of food!

Even the McDonald's near my home was closed!

I bet even the hookers were home on a Friday night!

McDonald's closed? Chinese restaurants running out of food?

The only other time I've seen things like this, with so few people out, with so many restaurants closed? I went to New Orleans a few months after Katrina devastated the city. But that was not a natural disaster, at least according to the conspiracy theorists who thought it was part of former president Bush's plan to destroy the city and eliminate black people.

* * *

linked by pengram, Booker Rising,

* * *


Ray Charles & Betty Carter - Baby It's Cold Outside

12/4/09

Is Our Education Reporters Learning?

Yesterday I went to the Brookings Institution for a policy forum, No Reader Left Behind: Improving Media Coverage of Education, celebrating the release of the report, "Invisible: 1.4 Percent Coverage for Education is Not Enough."

The main point of the paper: The media doesn't write about education enough and when they do they tend to write about non-education topics.

* * *

A few random thoughts and comments:

* The authors say that 1.4% is not enough. But what is a better or more palatable percentage? If they had announced that 3.3 or 5.2% of stories were about education then those numbers might also seem small.

Whenever someone introduces a shocking or dire statistic without comparing it to another number, I'm reminded of the economist who was asked, "How's your wife," and he answered, "Compared to what?" So 1.4% is not enough...compared to what?

* If 1.4% is too not enough, then could someone please explain why I have had to set up a folder filter for all of the friendly people sending me links to education articles and blogs? Anyone who wants to read about education all day long can do so. I used to do that back when I was at Cato and Fight For Children. I'm not paid to do so anymore so I am free to ignore the stories just as my fellow citizens do. But really, if education is your interest then you can spend your day going through education stories and if you have more free time then you can read the original studies rather than just the reports.

* I'm not convinced that there is a demand for more education coverage. I really do wish that someone with access to website hits of newspapers would have been on the panel to tell us if 1.4% of the hits on their sites were to education articles. People may say they want to read more education articles, but they also say they want to lose weight and do many other things they never plan on doing.

* The authors did raise a good point that too many education stories are about non-education issues. On page 8 of the report they demonstrate that the most common stories were on school finance/budget cutbacks, politics in education, H1N1 or heath, the economic stimulus package.

Good point.

My question: Do they believe that more coverage would be on education related issues? As the old saying goes, if it bleeds, it leads. There would probably be more in-depth stories about budgets and political issues.

* One reason there isn't much of a demand for national education stories: People tend to personalize education. Quick anecdote here: Back when I was a guest host then later a host on XM Radio, I did a few education-focused shows. Most of the people who called in did so to discuss their own kids, not national stories. Those stories just don't seem to resonate in education. No Child Left Behind or a cut in the soccer program at your school? Most people want to discuss the soccer program.

Thankfully, I didn't try to have an education focused show, I might not have lasted the first month.

* E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post (he's stage left) highlighted recommendation #5 from the report: "Reporters should draw on education research in the way that health care reporters use medical research." Sounds good but it won't happen.

a) If there is a new medical innovation, cure, or some form of cosmetic surgery then you can go to a doctor to get it done, sometimes immediately. But if there's something new in education then can you go to your local school and ask them to put that in the curriculum? Much education research ends up being esoteric battles over ideological differences about what a proper education should be (and most people can't even define what they mean by "education") whereas with medical research there are clear outcomes.

b) I'm not a doctor but it does seem that there is some settled science. Disputes, of course, but has a doctor tried to put leeches on you recently? With education is there an issue the late Gerald Bracey and Chester Finn would have agreed about--and for the same reasons? School uniforms, sex ed, school prayer, home schooling, teacher training, vouchers, diversity, testing, charters, etc., etc., etc. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw--you could line up all of the education researchers in a line and they still wouldn't come to a conclusion.

* The speakers mentioned that the education beat needs to become more valuable or respected. Right now, it is a stepping stone for many reporters. The case of Jay Mathews of the Washington Post was cited.

But journalists skip around different beats. That's expected! They are supposed to know something about everything and apparently have experience covering just about every beat as they rise in the world of journalism. Jay Mathews was a reporter for 17 years and the author of 3 books on China before he wrote his first book on education. He has written 10 books, just 3 or 4 of which are about education. Certainly there are some who stay on one beat but there are many more who bounce around.

* The speakers discussed the lack of access to classrooms. I was tempted to get up and yell, "You lie." It is the eternal Groucho Marx contradiction of journalism. Marx (or W.C. Fields, or Oscar Wilde, or Woody Allen) said he would never be a member of a club that would have him as a member. On the one hand, journalists often complain about everybody and their momma begging them to write about them and their organization. On the other hand, journalists complain that they don't have access to particular organizations or people.

Journalists don't like to go places they have been invited. They want to go places where they must go undercover. I mentioned to a couple of the speakers and journalists who discussed the lack of access to classrooms as a barrier to education coverage that there are at least 40 charter schools in D.C. that I could lead them on tours on as soon as they were ready to go. Based on my visits to charter schools, they are desperate to tell their stories, to show people what they are doing. I say that as someone who is not an enthusiastic supporter of charter schools. I also mentioned that there is a for-profit education center I recently visited. The school leaders claim in their brochure literature that they have on average raised SAT scores 362 points. I invited the journalists at the event to visit there, too. There certainly should be some interest in people producing such good results.

They weren't interested.

It has been said, What someone wants you to publish is advertising; everything else is news. Journalists aren't interested in visiting places they get invited.

The mistake I made was in taking those journalists seriously. If I had mentioned a problem with the budgets of those schools or education centers then they might have been interested. That, after all, is what the panelists were complaining gets too much coverage...

CJL

"Is our children learning?"
--George W. Bush

Update: Got a comment from a health policy expert who notes that medical research is as bad as education research. I have the feeling this will quickly become a "your field is worse than my field" discussion...

Update #2: Linked by This Week in Education.
Update #3: Linked by Inner Education for Inward Educators.
JProffit concludes: "I think a series profiling the school climates of an inner city school, a middle-class school, and affluent school, and an inner city charter could provide great discussion."

That's a fine idea, but a "series" sounds too serious. In addition to points I've already made about readers not really being interested in such topics and reporters not showing up where they've been invited:

1) Been there, covered that: I'm sure every newspaper can cite such a series that has previously been done. It could have been 10 or 20 years ago, but if they've done such a series and anyone at the paper with institutional memory argues that no one read it then, either, then they won't see the need to do another. Plus, haven't there already been books done by researchers and reporters visiting schools? Overall, such books praise those schools while adding some caveats.

2) Who's gonna pay for it? In an age of declining revenues and subscribers, newspapers don't seem to be that interested in a long series that take reporters off the daily beat.

3) Reverse the relationship: Educators need to understand reporters. How do newspapers make decisions about what to cover? That seems to be a mystery to educators (and, I'll add, probably a lot of reporters, too). A lot of educators and researchers, including those at the Brookings discussion that got this conversation started, seem to think that reporters and newspapers write stories based on the public interest and what it is that people want or need to read. Seems to make sense to outsiders, but what do the people working for newspapers think about that as they are putting out a daily paper?

12/3/09

Case Closed on Tiger

A friend of mine read my comment about the prospect of me being chased out of the house at 2 a.m. by a woman armed with a baseball bat. His comment: "So, instead of Casey at the Bat, it would be Casey Fleeing the Bat?"

* * *

Tiger Woods has paid his fine for being a bad driver. He should stop releasing statements admitting to anything, even if videos or pix get released. Better to have reporters shouting questions at him rather than feeding the media frenzy.

* * *

Yesterday I heard Charles Barkley recommending that Woods "be a man" and address the media. That's the same Charles Barkley who told police he was speeding because he was in a hurry to get a blowjob. As he explained to police, the reason he had run a stop sign: "You want the truth? I was gonna drive around the corner and get a blow job."

Barkley will say anything. It isn't surprising he would advise others to do the same.

A media person on TV this morning suggested Woods should quickly admit to everything, perhaps even hold a press conference. Of course a media person would want such a thing.

Woods should take a lesson from Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina who is barely holding onto his political career. So admitting transgressions will stop the media frenzy, right? Then who were those reporters flying south of the border to smoke the woman out?

* * *

A friend of mine keeps telling me that what Tiger Woods does in his marriage is not anyone's business. I agree with him. I have noticed, however, that my friend knows even more details about this case than I do. I am getting most of my Tiger Woods updates from him.

* * *

A female friend of mine says that Tiger Woods' wife should not have "gone ghetto" on him. Any woman who marries someone rich and famous like Tiger Woods should expect such a man to stray.

That sounds like a good position but I would just recommend that the couple agree on that in advance. I know that I would have married Tiger Woods and agreed in advance that he could cheat...

* * *

I'm in a three-way conversation about Tiger Woods.

Person A: The media should investigate Tiger Woods and report about his alleged affairs. This is yet another example of a cheating professional athlete/celebrity.

Person B: Not even the police should have asked Tiger Woods questions. It was his home, no one was complaining.

CJL: The police should at least knock on the door to ask questions when there is a chance of abuse or violence. But once it is determined that everyone is okay and no one wants to press charges, then the cops should move on (which, according to police, is what they usually want to do).

CJL

11/30/09

Tiger Woods

"I don't care what people do as long as they don't do it in the streets and scare the horses."
--attributed to many people

* * *

And, I'll add, as long as you don't run over a fire hydrant and into a tree.

Wow, the Tiger Woods story is amazing. The speculation is even more amazing.

I might as well as jump in, too.

1) Should Tiger talk to the police? Just do what is legally mandated. If I were Tiger Woods I would just give my name, rank, and serial number.

2) I doubt that we'll ever get the real story. We might find out he is not the tiger in his own family.

3) A man running out of his house at 2 a.m. in the morning? If you heard about me running out of the house at 2 a.m. from a woman who just happened to have a baseball bat, wouldn't you think I was probably up to no good?

4) I don't care about Tiger Woods and his wife. They don't want to talk, there is no proof of abuse. But once you end up lying in the street after running over a fire hydrant and hitting a tree? Then suddenly I am very interested in your domestic life. If that happened to one of my neighbors then I would want the police to get an explanation to prevent that from happening again.

5) Of course, there is great irony in Tiger Woods possibly getting chased by his wife while she was armed with a golf club.

6) Whatever happened, Tiger needs to protect his image. As Mark Twain has been quoted as saying: "It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt." In Tiger's case, it is better to let people speculate about what happened rather than to turn state's evidence.

CJL

11/29/09

Stop! Charleston time!

People who watch me dance (at clubs, parking lots in Korea, karaoke bars, anywhere there's enough space for me to turn) are often surprised to learn that I didn't know how to dance until I was a sophomore or junior in college. Up to then, I had been a reliable wallflower. If there was a wall that needed to be held up at a dance party so that it would not fall on the dancers then people could call on me.

I had the ability to stand with my back against a wall for hours without moving.

* * *

I still remember the day I learned how to dance. I had gone to a party but hadn't danced. I was incredibly shy then so that didn't help. I had never drunk alcohol and wasn't interested in starting. The music was so loud that I couldn't really talk. So, as I stood there, I thought to myself that it was really kind of pointless for me to be there if the wall was already secure.

I've always been an all-or-nothing person. I decided that I would learn to dance--or drop out of college until I learned. Thankfully, I didn't do that. I might still be a sophomore at Harvard.

I'm sure that my exit interview with my academic advisers would have been quite interesting:

Ms. Spreadbury: So, Casey, you're saying you're dropping out of college because you haven't learned how to dance yet?
Casey: That's right. There is really no point in me being here if I'm just holding up the walls during dances. It seems I should be getting paid for such labor. So I will go out and work for real.

* * *

After another party of not dancing, I remember being at home the next day. I turned on my boom box, got out my favorite music of that time (Prince, New Edition and Patrice Rushen), and danced for about four hours in front of a mirror. Like magic, I could dance. Even I thought I looked smooth as I danced at college parties. I even looked natural.

* * *

One of my favorite memories from this past summer in Seoul was one of the nights I had gone out singing and drinking with my American and Korean co-workers. One of the Korean employees, an assistant manager, clearly admired my ability to dance while I sang. After he had enough to drink that particular night he decided that he wanted to try. So I was teaching him various hip-hop moves (from the 1980s and early 1990s) as we cued up every hip-hop song.

He was dancing like it was 1989!

After our group finished drinking and singing, the assistant manager called a driver to drop me off and then to drive him and his wife home. As we waited, he was still in the mood to dance. So, in the parking lot, he insisted that we dance some more. So there we were, at a parking lot at 2 or 3 in the morning, doing variations of MC Hammer's Running Man.

We had a great time! After that, he constantly addressed me as "my master" whenever the topic of going out singing and dancing came up.

I enjoy that type of dancing and still do. But I'm reminded of something Ray Charles said about singing rap music: Man, I don't respect nothing I could do when I was 12 years old.

Okay, so I was 20 when I finally learned how to dance...

* * *

Although I enjoy dancing to hip-hop, rap, top-40s, reggae, I've secretly wanted to learn how to dance to swing. That type of dancing--swing--has always looked cool to me. I loved the music before I was aware that there was a particular dance style attached to it. I wasn't aware that I could take classes to learn. It wasn't until graduate school that I actually tried to dance swing. But it seemed that I would need some help at learning swing, that I wouldn't be able to dance in front of a mirror to learn. Of course, at that time, I didn't realize that it would be almost two decades later before I would actually learn the basics, and that I would do so in Seoul, South Korea.

* * *

If you go dancing at a club you can dance by yourself, with a partner, with a group or with an imaginary friend. It doesn't really make a difference. You could be dancing with one person, then just completely move around the room and dance with no one in particular. Sometimes when people are dancing at a club it is hard to tell with whom they are dancing.

But swing dancing? You need someone to dance with. You could change partners, even during a dance, but you do need a partner. You and your partner must communicate with one another. If not, you could elbow her in the face or she could swing and hit you in a spot that would hurt a lot (probably on purpose to avenge the second or third elbow in the face).

When done right, swing dancing can be beautiful. Two people interacting. The leader leads, the follower follows. They become one.

But when done wrong? Read on.

* * *

After grad school I moved to Taiwan. I was young, free, and curious so I went. I couldn't find any swing dancing places. For all I know, I may have walked past them every day. I moved to Korea next. I couldn't find any swing dance places. My friends weren't helpful. At that time, swing dancing in Korea was dismissed as being a place for lonely housewives and playboys to meet. I didn't care who else wanted to dance that way. That is like telling me I should not vote for a particular candidate or believe in a certain idea because of others who support that candidate or idea. As it has been said, "An idea is not responsible for who believes in it." For me, an activity doesn't become bad because of the other people who also enjoy it. I can fit in with any crowd.

I moved back to America. By then I had moved on to other hobbies and didn't think about swing dancing until I was at an office party. A little guy was twirling his wife around the dance floor like he was moving his own hands in a puppet show. Ah, swing! My long-lost, I never really knew you friend!

As I was preparing to go to Seoul last summer, I e-mailed myself a to-do list. There were seven things I wanted to do in Seoul. Number 1 on the list: learn how to swing dance well enough that I wouldn't embarrass myself. I remember telling myself that if I had not learned the basic steps that I would leave Seoul after a month. I can just imagine the conversation with my bosses, explaining that I would leave early because I had not learned how to swing dance.

Perhaps I should I have told myself that I would never leave Seoul until I did learn how to swing dance.

* * *

Swing dancing is very tough for men who are beginners.

The man must lead when it comes to swing. Very often, he must physically PUSH the woman in the direction he wants her to move. I've never hit or pushed a woman who didn't ask for such things so it is kind of tough for me to push a woman when we're dancing. But it must be done or communication breaks down. I would really prefer to verbally inform her what I want her to do next, MC Hammer style: "Stop! Charleston Time!"

The man dancing is usually referred to as the leader. Guys who want to swing dance must get good, and do so fast. When you're a guy who is a beginner then you don't really have a suitable dance partner. The expert female dancers surely must be bored with a guy moving in slow-motion. The female dancers who are pretty good are probably looking to move to the next level; that means dancing with someone who can spin them around and lead them through difficult moves. Female swing partners who are also beginners? Then it is the blind being led by the blind.

There are some moves that I have now mastered. There are some moves that I'm in the process of mastering. And there are some moves that treat me like I'm their prison bitch.

This past summer, when I was moving in slow-motion through a step, one woman I was dancing with got impatient and spun herself through some moves. I was still looking at my feet. (I was being told in Korean not to look at my feet. I pretended I didn't understand.) That was the last time I mentioned swing dancing to her. Another woman, a beginner, danced with me a few times. Then she danced with a guy who looked like he should be on a dancing show. She came back to me, raving how well he had led her through moves and how great it was. We danced again, but I had less enthusiasm than before. I knew I was moving in slow motion for her.

It has been said: "Sure [Fred Astaire] was great, but don't forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards . . . and in high heels!" Sure, Ginger Rogers did it backwards and in high heels, but would she have taught a beginner? I asked several women who were good dancers if they could teach me moves. They had no idea about the guy's role, they just knew how to follow. Whereas men are the leaders, women swing dancing are followers. There are always guys willing to guide them, especially when they see them dancing with a guy who clearly doesn't know what he is doing.

Even though men are leaders and are ostensibly in control, to the point we must push women through dance moves, there is a lot of pressure on us when we first start. It is kind of like one of the lessons from the book A Self-Made Man. In it, lesbian journalist Norah Vincent goes undercover as a man for 18 months. She joins a bowling team, goes through therapy sessions with men, even lives at a monastery. One thing she realizes: Dating is tough for men. They are expected to take the lead in asking a woman out. Of course, women have their own challenges, but they are in the position of waiting for guys in the club or bar to come to them. As Vincent told 20/20: "In fact, we sit there and we just with one word, 'no,' will crush someone," she said. "We don't have to do the part where you cross the room and you go up to a stranger that you've never met in the middle of a room full of people and say the first words. And those first words are so hard to say without sounding like a cheeseball or sounding like a jerk."

The great thing about swing dancing is that no one refuses to dance with anyone. But what if you aren't ready to lead?

* * *

By the way, I have yet to see any gay people swing dancing. Women dance together, but as far as I have noticed, it is only because there aren't enough men available. Men, and I am definitely including myself in this, would prefer to be wallflowers rather than dance with another man.

* * *

I would probably now be considered an advanced beginner. So I can lead beginners. In Seoul, after I had learned the basic steps, I went out dancing with a beginners' class. At last, I could kick sand in someone else's face! I remember dancing with a friend I had recruited for the beginners' class, watching her struggle with the beginning steps. She was looking to me to teach her. I did so with great enthusiasm. I danced with every woman in that beginners' class, happily telling them what they were doing wrong, confidently leading them.

I have now found a happy medium back in America. I can lead a friend of mine who is a beginner and wants to learn. I was ready to kidnap her when she told me that when she gets married that she will want to swing dance for an hour every night with her husband. I'm just one chapter ahead of her in the book of swing, but that is enough for now. I'm hoping she won't go out swing dancing without me. An expert dancer could probably teach her in one night what it will take me months to learn, and I'd have to find a new beginner to experiment with.

My main dance partner now is a friend who (1) happens to be a professional dancer (2) who is also incredibly patient. She is Ginger Rogers teaching a beginner. I don't underestimate the importance of a patient woman who can also dance well. She has taught me more dance moves than my brain or feet are ready to comprehend yet. A few weeks ago she showed me, no kidding, nine different dance steps that are connected. As I tried to "lead" her through the steps, I felt like I was dancing in front of the kind of mirror at an amusement park that distorts your shape. I knew what things were supposed to look like but the mirror in my brain made everything look distorted. I did my best to lead her, but I think she could see from the befuddled look on my face that I was trying to catch nine rabbits at the same time. My brain, eyes and feet just weren't communicating. They seemed to be sabotaging one another.

A few days ago she dumbed it down for me, teaching me fewer moves, going through the same steps until my brain and feet worked together. She insisted that she was having a good time and couldn't wait to go out again.

* * *

There is a video of me that I am doing my best to keep hidden, that thankfully only my Korean friends who don't speak much English have a copy of. I am wearing a t-shirt in Korean that reads "today is my birthday." It was actually the day after my birthday. I was dragged to the dance floor and had to dance for a few minutes with women while everyone else applauded and watched. The women would change every 15 to 30 seconds. It was tough, the music was fast. I remember being embarrassed because I didn't realize I would have to do that. I had only been swing dancing for about 6 weeks so I only knew a few moves.

Anyway, next time I'm in Seoul swing dancing, I may try to keep it a secret that is my birthday unless I'm actually good then.

* * *

There's a Korean word, han, that explains the unfulfilled frustration that a person feels. There apparently isn't an English equivalent to the word. As it is explained here: "No foreign word can adequately translate it, for it includes such different nuances as are conveyed by the words rancor, grudge, hatred, lamentation, regret, grief, pathos, self-pity, fate, mortification, etc. Han's exact meaning can only be grasped experientially."

My experience with swing hasn't been that serious but I will be happy when I am a good swing dancer.

CJL


Hammer Time!


Charleston Time!

11/15/09

Random Thoughts from writing session

I’ve joined a writing and blogging support group. We get together once a week to WRITE for at least an hour. About any and everything. The following is what I did during the session.

* * *

Ignorance is Power?

A commonly cited quote is Bacon's "knowledge is power."

Sometimes not understanding the world around you can be a benefit. When I was in Seoul, I went on a retreat with a swing dancing group. About 40 Koreans, me, and an Australian guy. I won’t go into detail about the mayhem and mischief we engaged in during the retreat. At one point, we played a game where a man from each of the 5 or 6 teams had to hold a woman in the air, while flat on his back, using his feet and hands.

Doesn’t sound challenging, I know. To add to the challenge, each woman had to take a drink of water before starting, and hold it in her mouth. Meaning, if she laughed that she would spit the water into the man's face. And while the men were holding the women up, members of the opposing teams did their best to make either the man or woman laugh.

I was at an advantage for several reasons:

1) The woman I had to hold up weighs about 90 pounds. So it didn’t take much effort.

2) I couldn’t understand what people around me were trying to say when they were speaking in Korean.

3) They weren’t fluent enough in English to crack any jokes funny enough to make me laugh. I would have had to ask them to repeat the joke a few times for me to understand it. So I closed my eyes and hummed a Prince song while they chatted around me in Korean and broken English.

When it was down to the final two teams, one of the organizers who could speak English told me that I had to hold my partner with just one leg. No problem. For once, not being able to understand Korean really came in handy as we easily won. I held her up a few extra seconds after the other team had dropped out, just to make the point that we were better, not just lucky.

* * *

Dating--Mismatches and Bad Matches

H.L. Mencken once said that editorial writers must get out of the office at least once a week. Even though I usually drive to wherever I am going, it is still enjoyable to take the metro sometimes to watch people. Of course, women on dates probably don’t like to hear about the benefits of taking the metro or walking. As the old song goes, “I can be bad all by myself!” She can take the metro or walk by herself.

But then, I guess it depends on the woman. I saw a feature story on Yahoo earlier today about terrible dating experiences people have had. The teaser headline quoted one woman as saying she knew it was going to be a bad date when the guy asked whether if she liked McDonald's or Burger King. I hope she let the guy know so he wouldn’t waste time on her in the future. One problem with dating is that people aren't honest at the beginning of the process about what it is they want. They complain to friends or Yahoo instead of letting the other person know directly.
So many of the terrible dating stories that were told seemed to be about people with different priorities and values. Just like a job interview, people highlight what is great about themselves so they can get the job.

If the woman who didn't want McDonald's or Burger King had mentioned a place she wanted to go, then offered to pay for it, then cheapskate guy probably would be quoted on Yahoo one day as saying it was the best date he ever had.

Or, she could have done what I told a woman to do about a man who recently complained they had not sex after he bought her dinner. My advice? Send him a check to cover her portion of the evening. She can't give back the time he wasted but at least he'd have his money back. She did, and he seemed to be okay.

Some people can have fun on dates whether or not they spend money, other people aren't having fun unless they the receipts to prove they had a good time. I'm reminded of a date I went on. I recommended a couple of restaurants to her. She seemed interested. Then I asked her what she would like to eat. She said that she wanted to have Onion Rings at Burger King. I thought she was joking. She insisted that's what she wanted. I took her at her word. We pulled into Burger King, ordered the food, then ate in the car. She seemed to be happy with the meal. It wasn't the only time we ate like that. She seemed to be uncomfortable if I spent more than $20 on the date. So many people are so strategic when it comes to dating, it is always refreshing to meet people who are just themselves. She was frugal with her own money, she didn't expect me to spend a lot of money on her, either, in order for us to have a good time.

* * *

Trains Not Running on Time

A few weeks ago, I was waiting at DC's Metro center when I looked at the message board about approaching trains. The next subway train would be there in about 16 minutes? Okay, so it was a Tuesday night. Still, 16 minutes? After being in Seoul, I got used to trains consistently arriving every couple of minutes. It seemed that a 5 minute gap was a delay. During 3 months of riding trains in Seoul, I don't recall a single train outage. But then, I may not have understood the message board announcing problems elsewhere...

Not just the trains are a problem in D.C. There is ALWAYS at least one escalator out in a DC metro station whenever I pass through.

One thing is the same between the two metro systems. I can’t understand what the train conductors say. In Seoul, after listening numerous times, I finally caught onto the Korean phrases being used by the bilingual recorded voices. In DC, I still have trouble understanding which stop the conductor is announcing. Anyway, I can comfortably listen to my iPOD, whether if I’m in Seoul or D.C., as long as I look for the stop's name written on the wall.

In Seoul, many of the trains now have specific information, inside the subway car, on electronic boards, info such as the name of the stop, which side the doors will open. That's in English and Korean, and in areas where there are more Japanese or Chinese living or shopping, then the signs are in those languages, too.

* * *

Get mad, put it down on a pad...
I’ve been driving on a consistent basis since about 1996. When I was in Seoul during this past summer I didn’t even have an international driver’s license. I got used to taking the metro again. It was exciting for me because I was having a second look at Seoul. When I’m driving I’m too busy paying attention to the road and defending myself against other drivers to watch the world as it goes by. Getting a second look at Seoul was great, I may go back for a third look. At some point, I’ll be ready to write something more extensive about being there. But then, the more time I spend there, the less interested I am in writing about it. I remember reading once where a writer said that, after spending a day in China you want to write a book. After spending a month in China, you want to write an article. After spending a year in China, you just put your head down and mutter to yourself.

As Public Enemy said, “When I get mad. I put it down on a pad. Give ya somethin' that cha never had.” I’m not mad, I don’t have a pad, but I’ll blog or write an article at some point. Most of the time I think I don't really have things to say about Seoul that are worth the time to say them formally, then I will hear about something, and say, "I could have written that story."

* * *

NPR discovers Korean exam hell

A friend called me yesterday, quite excited about an NPR story he had just heard about South Korean kids going through exam hell. It was in reference to the college entrance exam students there take. He wanted to know if I had heard the report. No, I said. As he began to tell me the story, I stopped him. I then guessed what the story was about, guessed the outline of how they told it. He was amazed. He then reminded me that I had just said I hadn't heard the report. Oh, I said, I didn't hear the report you just heard, but I've read and heard that story so many times before. I'm pretty sure that I've even told him about Korea's exam hell, but I realize that some people don't listen until the New York Times or NPR says it. I then added some things they didn’t say. He told me that I should have written the story. I probably will, next year or the year after when the people at NPR or the New York Times (again) discover that Korean kids are going through exam hell.

* * *

A tourist in my own country

One great thing about living abroad: It is perfectly natural for me to take photos. As a traveler, tourist, or explorer, you are expected to be curious. When I was in Seoul I even took a photo of a McDonald's motorcycle used for making deliveries. I had never seen such a thing in America.

But back in my own country? Things I see now are so interesting. I suppose it could be a form of reverse culture shock.

Sometimes, I even want to take photos with people I meet for just a brief time. I've lived long enough to know that I won't see many of those people again and after a short time won't even remember what they look like. I wish I had taken more photos a few years ago when I was working at Cato, back when I was in Korea the first time around, the brief time I worked at Fight For Children. Everybody at Cato is now at least a decade ago, some are graying, some of the olden folks have retired, etc.

When I was on my way to the writing session I got out my camera when I saw a sign telling riders all of the things they couldn't do. No eating, no drinking, no loud music, etc. It didn't mention that I couldn't take photos! So I took a photo of the sign. I also video recorded part of it (click the "free user" option).

It reminded me of a few things...One, a 45-year old D.C. woman who got handcuffed and arrested for eating a candy bar in a D.C. metro station. Yes, she had been warned, but STILL! To quote Dickens, the law is a ass. Two, I remember one night shortly after I joined the swing dancing class that one of my classmates bought all of us ice cream cones in the subway station. We ate and talked on the train. I wish someone had taken a photo of us doing that.








11/6/09

The courtship of Michelle Rhee

It was announced on the local DC news last night that former basketball star Kevin Johnson and DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee have gotten engaged.

I heard the rumor about them dating so long ago that I thought they were already married and on the verge of divorce...

* * *

A few months ago I testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. As I recall, I was on the second panel, Rhee was on the first panel. I thought about saying something to her in Korean but just greeted her in English.

From previous press reports she had always seemed a bit melancholy. That morning, she was upbeat, optimistic. She even SMILED during her testimony as she testified without any notes. I'm guessing that she enjoyed talking with the members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission more than she does dealing with local DC activists. Just like presidents are more popular when they go abroad, politicians and other government leaders are more popular with outsiders than insiders.

* * *

As soon as it was announced a few years ago that Rhee would be the Schools Chancellor, the local activists went into overdrive. They were still upset that Mayor Fenty had pulled a rope-a-dope. After being seen as a friend of the public schools when he was on the city council, he announced soon after he won the primary that would take over the schools. I was there on inauguration night when some of the activists walked around with their signs denouncing Fenty. A mayor getting denounced on inauguration night? I'm not surprised that his poll ratings are so low and that some (such as Council chairman Vincent Gray) are considering running against him.

Many people were still upset at the way Superintendent Janey had been dumped by Fenty. After leaving Janey twisting in the wind for a few months, Fenty suddenly fired him, cut off his email within minutes, then introduced Rhee as the new schools chancellor. It was a really cold thing to do...and just the way I would have done it, even though I met Janey a few times and liked his arrogance.

* * *

I just checked my email, the local disgruntled activists are as disgruntled as ever. As one said, Rhee is ambitious so she sees Johnson (currently mayor of Sacramento) one day being governor of California, so she'll be first lady of the state. Rhee, another says, is on her way out so this is her exit strategy, to be a consultant to the city while Fenty is still mayor of DC.

Once they find out what she had for breakfast this morning they will probably also complain about that.

* * *

So there was Rhee. Separated from her husband, as the Washington Post mentioned in just about every one of the stories about her for the first month. Getting attacked by activists questioning if an Asian woman could lead a school system with mostly black students. Others were upset she was getting paid so much ($275K annually). In just about every photo of her she seemed to be frowning.

I had read in the travel books that Koreans are taught not to smile in public. Politicians in Korea were notorious in the past for never smiling. I had guessed that Rhee was just being a good Korean city administrator.

* * *

Kevin Johnson was one of my favorite NBA players. So I was delighted a few years ago when he gave a great luncheon speech at the annual Black Alliance for Educational Options symposium. He had a great story, he was incredibly optimistic. The guy always seems to be smiling. I suspect his enthusiasm has rubbed off on Rhee. Or, at the least, he may have told her, "Honey, you gotta show some teeth when you're dealing with ya peeps." Another assist for the point guard!

After Johnson finished his remarks that day I tried to get to him to invite him to be on my radio show to talk about charter schools. But after seeing the herd of women lining up to talk to him, I thought better of it. I didn't want to get between him and those women...

I guess now that he is hitched with Rhee that the sisters may be less enthusiastic than before.

CJL

Update: Here's the Washington Post confirming the story

10/28/09

Easier said than done

A friend of mine who used to be a journalist now refuses to read op-eds or blogs. I understand why. The author can say anything he or she wants without suffering any consequences for what happens later. Also, the author can call for an overhaul of entire systems and industries without worrying about how to get it done.

That's why a staff editorial in today's Korea Times is so refreshing. The KT staff outline many of the problems with "elite" schools that recruit top students.

The KT staff then concludes in staff editorial style:

"Therefore, policymakers and educators are required to overhaul the entire education system and the college admissions policy in order to hammer out more comprehensive measures to free students from private tutoring and narrow the education divide."

Oh...and the staff also added..."
It is easier said than done"

Congrats!

* * *

By the way, whenever I read staff editorials by newspapers advising politicians and citizens about what they should do, I keep in mind that many newspapers have closed down, are printing their papers in red ink, and are struggling with circulation declines. According to a recent story, U.S. newspaper circulation down 10.6%.

Seems that if newspapers want to fix problems that they'd start with that. But I guess, to quote the Korea Times, "It is easier said than done."

* * *

Andy Smarick has a well-researched and pretty smart piece arguing that the attempts to improve low-achieving schools has failed and continuing with the policy is misguided. He goes into some detail about it, but the main points are that (1) instead of trying to reform failed schools, it would be better to close them down and (2) to reopen closed schools as charters.

Wow! Talk about being easier said than done! I'd prefer to start my own newspaper!

* * *

I have been having an ongoing argument with a libertarian friend of mine. He opposes vouchers, tuition tax credits, charters, just about any form of school choice. What does he want? To blow up the whole public school system and start from scratch. We've argued about this over the phone, over lunch, on the radio, and probably in his dreams. I tell him that even vouchers scare many people, why in the world would they be interested in the complete unknown of starting over again.

I wish I had thought to tell him, "It is easier said than done."

* * *

Arguments for completely starting over sound good. They may even be correct most of the time. After all, whatever has been going on probably hasn't been working, that's why some people are calling for reform. There are interest groups embedded, making money off the way things are currently being done. Everyone may want a better mousetrap, but not if you are the mouse.

Just think about the teachers and administrators in the current system. They may love the hypothetical new jobs that they'd have in the hypothetical new system, but I bet they love their current jobs even more than hypothetical jobs. It is hard to pay for lunch with a hypothetical salary. It is hard to impress a woman with your hypothetical car when you're late for dinner.

I reminded my libertarian friend who wants to blow up the school system that after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision overturning Jim Crow that there were black educators worrying about what would happen to them! The entire system was going to be overhauled, segregation was being made illegal, black children would (theoretically, at least, for a decade) be able to attend local schools...and some black educators were wondering, but what about us?

* * *

Calling for overhauling systems is appealing, in the way it was during the 2008 presidential campaign when candidate Barack Obama was making pretty speeches saying that he was for change. He even had a pretty slogan, "Yes, we can," to go along with it.

It is hard to be against change in theory. How has that been working out for president Obama? Apparently, change was and is easier said than done, whether if you're a blogger, journalist, researcher, or president of the United States.

CJL

10/23/09

Gerald Bracey, invited to his final mugging

"Journalism largely consists of saying 'Lord Jones is Dead' to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive."
--G. K. Chesterton

* * *

I don't usually do obituaries because

(1) I don't know the person who has just passed away
(2) It is usually in poor taste to speak honestly about the recently departed
(3) I do know the person who has just passed away, but still feel too close to them to write about them on a blog.

But I will make an exception in the case of Gerald Bracey!

In case you didn't know, he was an education researcher and public schools advocate. He was also highly sarcastic, acidic, a gentleman who was often uncouth and even childish.

A couple of random thoughts and memories:

* Just as I was getting into the education policy analysis world I thought about inviting Bracey to be a speaker on a panel. I asked a couple of prominent education researchers. The first three told me that they refused to be on a panel with Bracey. I could invite him, I was told, but it would be tough to get anyone who was prominent to talk with him.

* My first encounter with Bracey was at a Manhattan Institute panel discussion. The topic was DC education choice. I had read quite a bit about it and was versed in many specifics at that time. So, during Q&A, I went after Bracey. He later wrote about it, saying, "It was not the most hostile audience I have ever faced, even though you could almost see the heat rising from the bald head of Cato's Casey Lartigue as he railed at me during Q & A (even Brennan asked Lartigue if there was a question anywhere in his comments)."

It was the first time that anyone had referred to my head in a professional context.

* I learned to be skeptical of Bracey. I remember when we spoke at the same charter school conference a few years ago in Florida. During a break, Bracey told me that I was wrong, that he was actually a school choice supporter. I laughed at him for trying to put that BS past me. He then dared me to prove he wasn't. I listened to him, then realized the game he was running. He then fessed up that he was a PUBLIC school choice supporter, then mentioned that I was one of the few school choice supporters who pushed him on that instead of just dismissing him. He told me that I was a great listener. At times, it seemed that he was playing head games with people, testing to see if they were listening, thinking. He had a PhD in psychology, so he may have been.

He later wrote that he had been invited to a mugging. At that time, he described me as being "laid back." (He later dropped the "laid back" part in the official 14th edition of his rotten apple awards.)

I later asked him what he meant. He said that I seemed to be "super cool" despite my views on things. I completely agree with him about me being super cool. Parenthetically, that reminds me of a very liberal black woman at a minority writers seminar who told me, after we had spent a few days together learning how to write op-eds, that I seemed "normal" even though I worked at Cato.

* One of the few things I liked about Bracey: he was a listener. I always had the feeling that he was listening because he was looking for a flaw in your argument. Nevertheless, he rarely interrupted other people when they were talking. He was a Jekyll/Hyde--a gentleman who would disagree with you in a friendly way, then later eviscerate you in print.

* We mixed it up a few years ago in a discussion on his education discussion group. I remember getting a lot of off-list emails from his critics, some of them prominent, who were happy to see someone taking him on directly. I didn't mind his barbs, I knew they didn't help his point. The attacks always seemed childish. Again, the psychologist in him seemed to be determined to get into the heads of his opponents. I don't allow people to live rent-free in my head. I remember that he got really upset when I turned his style on himself by questioning his funding sources. I didn't really give a damn. It was one of the rare times that he really seemed to get upset. He ended the thread after that.

* I first met Bracey at a debate he had with Chris Whittle in Arizona. It was a crowd of mostly school choice supporters. Bracey, a defender of public schools, was the punching bag. I was amazed when the debate was over that no one talked to Bracey. I spent several minutes probing his facts and figures, much to his amazement.

* Jay Mathews of the Washington Post, Greg Toppo of USA Today, Andrew Rotherham of EduWonk and certainly others Bracey attacked over the years have noted Bracey's passing. Bracey spent a lot of his time focused on correcting the media. As I mentioned to a friend a few years ago, he is similar to Rush Limbaugh in that regard--he spends much of his time correcting and challenging what is written about in the media.

There's a Korean phrase 미운정고운정 that (is much deeper than I could understand, I'm sure) describes the feelings that even adversaries can have about one another. The best comparison I could come up with is two boxers who hug one another after they've been battling each other. There is both a good and bad feeling. The people that Bracey attacked over the years seemed to respect that he was genuine, even though he was uncouth. For all of his flaws and personality quirks, he did keep school choice advocates and education reformers on their toes. We could all be sure that at least one person had read our studies, reports and op-eds.

* I wasn't surprised two years ago when Bracey, who enjoyed debunking myths, wrote me a nice e-mail expressing regret about XM 169 pulling me off the airwaves after my radio co-host and I debunked the Memorandum 46 myth.

My favorite myth Bracey debunked: That American kids today are somehow less informed than kids in the past. He has mentioned it several times, most recently in a response to Bob Herbert of the New York Times. Of course, we still came to different conclusions about what that means for education policy today.

* A few days ago I was complaining to a friend about Bracey. I had come across some comments Bracey had made about education in South Korea. As usual, Bracey had to take a gratuitous shot by putting the worst possible spin on things. Last week I was scribbling some notes for a possible article about education in Korea. If I ever get around to it I will still mention Bracey.

CJL

10/22/09

I agree with B. Obama and Rush L.

Back in DC

Last week I gave four speeches at universities in North Carolina. My main topic was the relationship between minorities and the government. By the third time I had given the speech I was already ready for the Q&A as soon as I stood up to start talking.

Barack Obama

I agree with Obama's administration moving to allow people to smoke weed in states where it is allowed for medical purposes.

I also agree with Obama's ongoing effort to control compensation for company executives whose companies receive government bailouts. That'll learn 'em.

Rush Limbaugh

Those NFL players grumbling about Rush Limbaugh possibly being a part-owner of the St. Louis Rams might have felt differently if he had stated he was in favor of abolishing the salary cap.

Organ donations: A world-wide catastrophe

Economist Gary S. Becker writes in favor of allowing vital organs to be sold. I agree with him. He concludes: "My conclusion is that markets in organs are the best available way to enable persons with defective organs to get transplants much more quickly than under the present system."

It isn't just in America where altruism is failing to produce enough organ donations. According to the Korea Times: "Less than one out of 10 South Koreans donate their organs while more than 18,000 patients are waiting for transplants."

CJL

10/7/09

Mini-speaking tour next week

I'll be speaking at four universities in North Carolina next week. Here is an announcement that has been posted on the Fayetteville State University Website.