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Short Thoughts

Published: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 06:03:22 GMT

Last Build Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 06:03:22 GMT



Wed, 21 Feb 2018 06:03:22 GMT

I had a thought-provoking conversation with my 1st cousin once-removed's spouse last summer that I'm still thinking about. It was in regards to old people going crazy. As people get older, they get crazy, and when I talk to my friends about their parents, it seems they're all entering the age where this becomes pronounced. I'm using overly harsh language - I don't really mean crazy in the sense of insane, it's more that as people get older, their thinking becomes less flexible so they become more difficult to reason with or change their minds. It happens to all old people.

We were talking and commiserating about that a bit, but my relative is a bit older than me, and they said something that is completely obvious, yet something I had never really thought about before. They mentioned that while they saw it in their parents, they had the self-awareness to recognize that they were also on that journey towards craziness. It's not just older people that go crazy - it's us. When their kids complained about them being "crazy", they partly understood why.

I have no idea why I never thought about this before - that because this is universal, I also myself am starting to become inflexible in the same ways I see in older people - but I hadn't. Egocentrism I suppose. But ever since that conversation, I can't stop thinking about it, and I recognize it to be true. I *am* more inflexible than I used to be. I think I am more difficult to reason with, or to sway. I used to be a really good listener, but nowadays I find myself wanting people to hurry up and finish so I can say my peace.

I can easily envision my children chafing against this. The listening vs. talking thing is already a bit of an issue. Man, it's humbling. I'm already becoming a crazy old person. I have no idea why I ever thought that would never happen to me.


Tue, 20 Feb 2018 06:14:56 GMT

I doubt anyone will be able to relate to this, but I just read a mind-blowing essay by Karol Berger from Bach's Cycle, Mozart's Arrow: An Essay on the Origins of Musical Modernity that I need to write about. The basic idea is that in the 18th century, the structure of music changed to reflect changes in how modernity viewed time. I just read the interlude, and it doesn't mention music at all, but is strictly about that teleological shift, roughly from Augustine, who believed in God and an eternal, external end, and Rousseau, who didn't see God as necessary and believed in a normative idea of progress in this world. It's only about 40 pages but it's a fascinating, broad, sweeping essay that blew my mind, and I'm only touching on what it discussed.

What's sticking with me in the end is his discussion of progress. He mentions a theory that in premodernity, societies didn't believe that history reflected linear progress. Instead, they viewed history as cyclical. This is reflected in premodern rituals and religions, in which cycles are prominent, in particular connecting with the cycles of seasons. But ideas of reincarnation was also common, the idea that even every life is a cycle. Messiaism and Christianity actually broke with these ideas, presenting a view of history that moved to some end. But even then, the idea that such a thing as progress exists and that history reflects that didn't really take off until the modern age, and Berger rightly notes that it was likely related to the rapid changes brought on by the Industrial Revolution. With the changes it brought, it was not difficult to see history as being a gradual but certain march towards something better. And I'd say it's virtually taken for granted that time brings forth progress.

Here's the thought I had - what if that's not true? What if the rapid rate of change in the time since the Industrial Revolution are not indicative of a permanent shift, but a one-time only time period? What if at some point, most progress will end? That might sound crazy. But for the vast majority of human history, global GDP growth was essentially 0. Over many, many years, life didn't get better overall, it just changed. There was shifting, but no "progress". What if that were to happen again? What if there are actually limits to scientific and economic progress? Everyone assumes there isn't, but is there any way to know?

Part of why I think this is because of a fascinating talk I heard a few years back from Tom Standage (editor at the Economist) where he said that the death of mass-media in favor of social media is actually a restoration, not a new thing. For almost all of human history, most media was social media. Mass-media was a historical anomaly that occurred only over the past 150 years. It might have been easy to assume that mass-media was a permanent artifact of the Industrial Revolution, but that may not be true.

So what if other things we assume to be permanent also aren't? Despite the massive changes in technology, economic productivity is actually slowing. What if there's an end to it, and society returns to a state where productivity mostly doesn't change with time?

Honestly, I doubt that's the case. But it's interesting to think about, simply because the idea of historical progress is so ingrained in people. I'm curious how people would view history if it no longer matched the world view of progression.


Tue, 20 May 2014 16:22:34 GMT

The third act of This American Life this week was really interesting. Story's about an African-American woman living in Paris. There are three things she mentioned about her experience there that I resonated with also, partly from my own expat experience.

First, she talks about how she realized that French don't see or treat black people in the same way Americans do, for both good and bad, and how that was a bit of a shock to her self-perception. I've related to this a little bit in the past couple years living the UK also. Because Asian-British are not seen in the same way that Asian-Americans are. I can't even quite explain the difference. I'm probably not even aware of the full difference. But for example, I find the Asians (I mean East Asians - not the South Asians Brits mean by "Asian") here are simultaneously more and less integrated. On the whole, I feel like their English language skills are better and they feel less like immigrants. At the same time, they feel never fully integrated. I'm doing a poor job explaining it, but it's a weird feeling.

There's also that the high-achieving areas aren't dominated by Asians here, and that also affects how we're seen. There's no Stuyvesant or Lowell or Whitney in the UK, good schools that by virtue of their quality became dominated by Asians. Not sure why, maybe it's just a different Asian population that ended up here. But it affects the perception. All this to say, I feel like Asians are seen slightly differently here than they are in the States, and it's a kind of odd, unfamiliar feeling.

The most interesting thing she says in the TAL episode is how shocked she is when French people say how American she is. That totally gets to the heart of the minority experience in the US. But I think for her, me, and probably most minorities, we never feel fully American in America, never fully comfortable, always feeling slightly like an outsider. It's shocking for her to be called American in character because she's never fully felt that way. And it's even more shocking to realize that it's true - she is American. I totally relate to that as well. I had a conversation with a coworker about this last night. But most people don't have enough bandwidth to categorize people by subtle distinctions. So when interacting with other people here, I kind of have to choose which category is most me, Asian or American. And to my shock, it's my American side. I'm totally American.

It's only shocking because in America, I think I'm categorized by others as Asian. If you ask me in America what category I belong to, there's no question - it's Asian. So it's an odd feeling to be categorized as something else. And to resonate with those different categories in both places.

The last insightful thing she said related to how, despite gaining fluency in French, she at times reverted to a bad American accent, specifically because she wanted to be treated like an outsider. And when she thought about it, she realized it's because there's a part of her that's actually more comfortable being on the outside.

I totally recognized myself in her comment and realized that explains a lot about me. And maybe that's another odd part of the minority experience in America. But I also find that I'm more comfortable being on the outside. For example, when there are too many Asians around (read: Cupertino schools), I feel uncomfortable. Jieun thinks it's a weird self-loathing thing. But I think the TAL gets to the heart of it more accurately. Whether it's from accommodation or whatever, I'm more used to being on the outside, so I'm more comfortable there. I prefer to be a minority. It's weird.

Holy Spirit Songs

Tue, 06 May 2014 14:10:12 GMT

One thing that struck me about the church we visited in Malaysia was that we sang a song addressed to the Holy Spirit in the second person. I felt myself feeling slightly uncomfortable about that, not because it's wrong, but because it's so rare. In fact I can't think of a single worship song that's sung to the Holy Spirit. There's Father, I Adore You and Spirit Touch Your Church, but both those songs start off by addressing other persons in the Trinity. Songs sung just to the Holy Spirit? Can't think of any.

My mindset towards the Holy Spirit and the charismatic has changed a lot in the past 15 years. Someday I'll talk about it.


Wed, 09 Apr 2014 16:24:33 GMT

For no particular reason, thoughts on Crimea.

One thing I've liked about working in the Facebook London office is how international it is. So I've talked about the Crimea thing with Russians, Ukrainians and even one Crimean. It's really interesting to get insiders' views on foreign affairs; it's much different than just hearing things secondhand from the media.

In terms of what I've learned from them, Fresh Air had an interview with some expert and it was surprisingly accurate, or at least very much in line with what my Russian / Ukrainian coworkers told me.

The interesting thing is many Ukrainians find Crimea useless and annoying. They're poor, so somewhat supported economically by the rest of Ukraine. And their population is very Russian, which skews the entire nation's politics. Most of the country leans pro-West. Crimea leans pro-Russia. So there are not a few Ukrainians who think it wouldn't be that bad if Crimea left - they'd be getting rid of a drain on resources and a drag on forming stronger ties to the West.

The only thing they value in Crimea is some base or port, can't remember which. That base or port is valuable because Russia gets access to it in exchange for low natural gas prices. That deal is already off and Russia's gouging Ukraine now. The other concern is that Russia won't stop there. Crimea first, who knows what's next.

Another complication is that there's an ethnic Tatar minority in Crimea (that I think has the longest ties there), They're Muslim. And my Crimean coworker is actually Tatar. The USSR treated Tatars horribly. There's a real concern that Russia would do the same. So they're one group within Crimea that's very wary of going back to Russia.

It's also not true that Crimea is solidly pro-Russia, even among the Russians there. The election to join Russia was (obviously) rigged. The issue is that Ukraine is in some ways a better Russia. Russian is spoken everywhere, it's culturally similar, and there's actually a very free press and free elections. It's like Russia with more freedom. So even many of the Russians in Crimea are wary of joining Russia. But it's impossible to say how many because the election was rigged.

So it's a super complicated situation. Many Ukrainians don't really care about Crimea save the precedent it would send in losing it. It's unclear how many Crimeans actually want to join Russia. And in the middle of it all are the Tatars. So what should the EU / US do? Who knows.

Random Observation

Sat, 29 Mar 2014 22:59:39 GMT

At the grocery stores in the UK, there are no baggers, and they don't help you at all. Like at the old Pak N' Save, you have to bag all your own groceries. I kind of find it stressful, especially if I'm with the kids, managing them, paying and bagging everything without holding up the queue.

Bonds of Marriage

Mon, 17 Mar 2014 11:28:25 GMT

At church on Sunday, the vicar made an announcement of upcoming bonds of marriage, along with a proclamation that if anyone knows of reason why they shouldn't get married, he should be informed. Fascinating. Apparently, in the Church of England, this process is legally required - the announcement must be made in the parish they attend and in the parishes each one resides in - up to 3 in all. And apparently, the history is that this was done to make sure they're not already married to someone else, or to ferret out other such shenanigans. Probably made more sense when said parishes were the ones they grew up in all their lives and they knew them very well, as opposed to today in the city when everyone is so transient. But that's the law.

I'm guessing this is the origin of the US wedding tradition of "speak now or forever hold your peace", and to me it makes far more sense - giving time for people to object before the wedding as opposed to at it.

I'm still interested in how US wedding (and other) traditions came to be, because I kind of assumed they had their origins in antiquity but Brits find many of them bewildering.

Super Bowl, Identity

Mon, 03 Feb 2014 11:02:43 GMT

Hats off to the Seahawks. I hate them, but they were the best team in the league this year and deserved to win. As a 49er fan I'm just gutted because now it seems clear they were the 2nd best team in the NFL.

I cannot express how annoying the UK coverage of the Super Bowl was. The announcers kept making really bad mistakes: one repeatedly referred to Seahawks receiver "Daniel Baldwin"; the main (Scottish) guy claimed at halftime that Seattle was winning because Russell Wilson was "on fire". Uh, was he watching the same game? Seattle's D (and special teams) utterly dominated. That was the game. Sometimes we complain in the US about announcers saying dumb things, but the UK just takes it to another level.

I enjoyed Khaled Hosseini (author of The Kite Runner)'s tribute to Candlestick Park. It made me realize one reason why I love football so much: it's probably the first thing in my life that made me feel really American. Asian-Americans have these complicated issues of feeling split and mixed identities. In my early childhood, I was raised Korean. I spoke only Korean at home, ate Korean food, went to a Korean church. So I remember feeling really out of place when I first attended school.

But once I got in the 49ers, I felt a commonality with my "American" classmates. I might eat weird food, they might think my house smells funny, I might have a bad Asian bowl haircut, but we could at least relate with the 49ers. I think that bond with my schoolmates is one reason why football means so much to me.

Speaking of identity, I realized something interesting about being a Korean-American in the UK. Being here, I'm kind of forced to choose which side - Korean or American - I identify with most. And I was trying to figure out why that is. And I figured out it's purely for other people - like it or not, other people need some sort of framework to understand who I am. And here, most people don't understand the nuances of being Korean-American; saying that confuses how they understand me rather than clarifying. So I have to choose. And which one I identify with subtly affects how people relate to me. I would be treated differently in the office if I categorized myself as Korean. Not necessarily badly, just differently.

But I identify myself as American, because of the two, that's closer to who I really am. And here's the weird thing - since that's how I categorize myself here, I find myself acting more "American" here than in the US. Like, I think I'm vocally louder here. Still not at all loud, just louder than I would be in the US. Because I'm playing the role of an American. Because that's how I identify myself here. Because I need to identify myself in one category to help others understand how to relate to me. It's weird.

Anyway yeah, Super Bowl. In the local papers the Super Bowl got news coverage but I'd say roughly equal (or slightly less) than the 6 Nations Rugby Tournament. It's still seen as an American curiosity more than anything else. People who think London can support an NFL franchise full time are delusional.

Also, are the Winter Olympics big news? I feel like it's hardly mentioned here, probably because Great Britain is not that good at winter sports. If it weren't for the ads on US TV shows, I wouldn't even know when they were starting.

The Fall, Design, and Evolution

Tue, 21 Jan 2014 11:48:34 GMT

Andrew Wilson in Christianity Today about how he simultaneously believes "in the fall of Adam and Eve, the argument from design, and Darwinian evolution." I'm tend to not be public about this but I roughly believe the same thing, and have for a long time, like, since I was 14. I used to not talk about it because in my youth, a Christian saying (s)he was sympathetic to evolution was treated like a heretic. I feel like it's more safe nowadays because, as the article notes, many prominent Evangelicals now say the same thing (among them, John Stott, J.I. Packer, and Tim Keller). So at least I'm in good company.


Sun, 05 Jan 2014 00:25:07 GMT

Jieun initially loved Amsterdam, then liked it considerably less once she learned more about the Red Light District and the drugs. One thing I learned: "Coffee Shops" in Amsterdam are not coffee shops. Joshua wanted a donut, and in search of one, he and I went into what I thought (based on the sign) was a US-style coffee shop. I barely stepped in the door but my lungs are still recovering.

I don't consider myself super spiritually sensitive to geography, but I have had isolated experiences where I've had a sense of something spiritual about a place. The summer of '95 I spent in Daejeon, Korea, I felt like there was a spiritual light there. I had virtually no community or real access to worship that whole summer, but I still felt a spiritual depth. I felt the opposite the summer of '98 in China, that there was spiritual darkness over the area. I felt a darkness in Amsterdam too, that kind of manifested itself in weird dreams and a lot of difficulty sleeping that felt abnormal. Strange place.

Highlights were the canals and the Anne Frank Museum. The latter is haunting and enraging. Super crowded, but highly recommended. We visited the Charles Dickens House on Christmas and this was vastly different - it's one of those house museums where it makes a huge difference that that's where she actually was.

One thing that stuck with me though was kind of a random video of her father, who talked about his reaction once he was given and first read her daughter's diaries after her death. He was shocked at the depth of her feelings and thoughts. Of course he talked to her every day while she was writing them, and she told him how she was feeling and what she was thinking, but he had no real idea about the depth and content of her inner life. And what he says is that he concludes that parents don't ever *really* know their children.

That thought lingered, because I think it's true, and I already see that in my own kids. I know there's depth to Abby's thought, and I already know that there are ways in which I'm terrible at understanding her. And I know this because she tells me - there are times when she's upset, and when I try to get her to explain why, and she tries to, she frequently ends with "you can't understand". And it's true. Part of it is I'm terrible at understanding women, because Jieun says the same thing, and Abby also frequently says "only mom can understand" (or asks for Jieun straightaway). But part of it is more fundamental also, I think, in that parents can't ever fully know their kids. Jieun thinks this distance is appropriate, that parents aren't supposed to be friends with their kids or fully know them, but that their job is to love them and release them to independence. In any case, the idea that I already don't fully know my kids, and that I may not even be supposed to - that's something I've been thinking about.

One interesting about The Netherlands is that there aren't a ton of taxis around, so we rode a lot of mass transit. And combinations of them. To get back this morning we walked to the train station, took a train to Rotterdam Central (I booked flights via Hipmunk and didn't carefully check the airport. It was only when we were waiting for our flight at Heathrow that I checked to make sure that the "Rotterdam" listed on our flight status is in Amsterdam and discovered to my astonishment that it's not), a bus from Rotterdam Central to the airport, a plane to London, then a taxi home. 5 modes of transit in one morning. Nuts.