Friday, June 30, 2017

Is Overly Investing in Grand Projects a Worthwhile Endeavor?

In a recent podcast for the Odd Podcast, Vanderbilt University anthropologist Prof. Arthur Demarest discussed the signs of a civilization on the verge collapse.  Prof. Demarest postulates a unique point of view, arguing that a civilization is at its very vulnerable at its supposed zenith, when its political, economic, and cultural achievements are at their highest, and the territorial extent at the greatest.  Instead of the civilization showing gradual decline with reduced wealth and territory over centuries, civilizations are much more likely to collapse decades after achieving the zenith.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Role of the UN Revisited: The Necessary Characters for It to be Taken Seriously

The UN can become prominent only when it is willing to step above national interests.  To do so, it must aggressively push for compromises that align with interests of all sides in any particular conflict.  Only with such initiative-taking can the UN not succumb to one-sidedness when conveying international legitimacy.  In other words, its task is not to offer moral high ground to any particular side, but to establish objective forums to discuss how conflicts can be halted in a positive-sum fashion.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

How a More Relevant UN Secretary General Can Reduce Global Conflicts

The recent years have seen renewed prospects of regional violence.  Just in Africa, internal repression of Eritrea, disorder in Burundi, and tense standoff between Muslim and Christians in Central African Republic, to name a few, continue to disrupt the normal livelihoods of millions.  One point of commonality among these conflicts has been an acute lack of international intervention to prevent escalation.  The lack of international interest has been most visible in these conflicts’ lack of appearance in global headlines, where international conflicts of choice have largely been those in the Middle East. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Feeling Human Fragility Revisited: How Breakdown of Authority Leads to Breakdown of Ethics

In the novel Blindness, Portuguese author Jose Saramago describes a world where a sudden epidemic of unexplainable blindness that struck an entire population led to sudden collapse of human civilization.  Amidst the disorder of a post-apocalyptic world where everyone is reduced to blind savages only concerned about procuring enough food for survival, the lone woman who can still see witnesses how quickly human morals can fall apart, just as quickly as physical infrastructures and institutions.  Yet, the stories of camaraderie among strangers in distress also speak to the power of human bonds in collectively overcoming difficulties.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Does "Ethnic Convenience" Make Cultural Integration More Difficult?

There are certain areas of San Diego one can go to feel completely Asian.  Beside the palm tree-lined boulevards, Asian supermarkets, restaurants, and living goods stores completely fill malls and shopping centers, with only the ubiquitous American fast-food chains (which are also ubiquitous in major Asian cities these days) the only non-Asian physical presence.  Signs in Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean predominate, with English signs in much smaller fonts as translations for the Asian language signs.  Asian cars carrying Asian families stream in and out of the parking lots.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Pros and Cons of “Primitive” Primary Care in Rural Africa

If there is anything positive about living in rural Tanzania, it is the low price and availability of medicine.  Even in the most remote village, there tends to be one pharmacy that sells everything from Band-Aids to tablets that treats malaria.  With many generics that cost no more than a few USD for something that would cost many times more elsewhere, it makes sense for price-conscious foreigners to purchase medicines in rural Africa rather than in their home countries.  What if one falls ill?  In market towns across the country, district- and regional-level hospitals exist to provide basic treatments. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

English Use in Foreign Setting Revisited: Is Forceful Use of a Foreign Language Leading to Cultural Conflict?

One of the most difficult things about working in a foreign setting is the need to communicate with locals in the local language.  Many people are not talented in the art of learning new languages, and many locals have not had experience having to slow down their usual ways of talking to accommodate nonnative speakers of their local language.  The result is frustration on both sides.  For the learner, it is a daunting experience of facing an unknown tongue spoken with plenty of ridiculous speed and incomprehensive slangs. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Case against Donations: Short-Term Gratification for Long-Term Damage

As noted in a previous blog post, one of the most admirable feature of American society is its charitability.  Not only is there ingrained culture of charitable giving among a significant portion of the local populace, there are physical institutions, ranging from tax reductions on donations to multiple large nationwide organizations that take in donations, that allow people to act upon their charitability in highly convenient fashion.  The result is a highly efficient and productive charity sector.  On global rankings for charitability as measured by percent income donated, America consistently rank at the top of the table.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Comparative History of Human Development Can Provide New Clues for Explorations of Extraterrestrial Life

In his book Guns, Germs, and Steel, Prof. Jared Diamond argues that the different levels of development among modern human societies, in terms of institutions, wealth, and technology, are ultimately due to different environmental conditions faced by their historical predecessors.  The availability of wild plants/animals for domestication and fertile climates/soil for food production enabled some societies, more than others, to adopt agriculture, explode in overall population, and create non-food producing specialists that enable innovations and complex society-building.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Parents as a Source of Reassurance as My Little World Crumbled

The year 2000 started well.  I was an ecstatic little boy graduating from elementary school in provincial Japan.   Finally, I was joining the “big boys” at the middle school across the street, donning the cool uniforms that I observed in pure envy for the past six years.  Change was afoot, and I was so ready to embrace it.  Instead, the change was much more radical than I had ever imagined.  Instead of moving across the street, father came home one day and notified that our whole family is moving to the USA, thousands of miles away. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Is Inequality a Prerequisite for Economic Development?

In the previous blog post, I discussed the potential correlation between economic development and presence of nationalism at a state (rather than tribal) level.  But of course, to incentivize economic development requires a whole host of different factors, the presence of many at the same time in equal importance, rather than any particular dominant one, allow for an economy to take off.  I have no illusion that nationalism is the most important factor, and for many poor countries where nationalism is a fact of life, its presence is not even the obstacle holding back development.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Tribe-Level Nationalism as a Disincentive for Economic Development

Some months ago, this blog argued that a distinct lack of optimism among Africans is a root cause for governments not putting in the effort to develop their respective countries.  However, in the process, that post never clearly defined exactly what is the root cause of that lack of optimism, aside from making vague statements about historical circumstances that both the African peoples and leaders not emotionally tied to their particular countries, thereby precluding any conscious efforts for development in the long-term.  This post seeks to make clear what that "historical circumstance" really is.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Experiencing Suffering of the Poorest Firsthand is needed for Even the Richest

I write after two years in the depth of rural Tanzania, where I have worked for an NGO.  Our clients, a group of farmers scattered across a series of remote villages, struggles to make ends meet as changing rain patterns and dearth of high-quality fertilizers keep their farms unproductive.  It was a tough two years working to reverse these struggles.  Idealism turned into cynicism, hope into disillusionment.  For failures, I found myself becoming too quick to blame others, whether it be government absence, unmotivated staff, or refusal for organizations, including ours, to prioritize projects that are realistically feasible rather than glamorous for publicity. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Is Book Buying Also a Sign of Materialism?

What is the most visual sign of an intellectual?  For many people, the answer may be an obvious one.  The person must be well-read.  And what better proof is there of a person being well-read than having a study full of bookshelves, completely filled up with good books?  It is unsurprising than, whenever the average media outlet go conduct a face-to-face interview with scholars, professors, and experts, they are often conducted in their offices, flanked by bookshelves full of books related to the topics at hand and the person's field of expertise.  Having many books has become equated with knowledge.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Can Reducing Focus on Finding Good Food Lead to More Productivity?

There is no doubt that that rural Africa is not a desirable destination for food-lovers.  This blog has reiterated that fact repeatedly in previous blog posts.  So, logically speaking, someone who loves food but have not had the chance to enjoy many different kinds of it should make every effort to enjoy that great variety after leaving rural Africa.  Without going to excess, the person should be finding the most delicious spots around town, so that s/he can make up lost times of eating rice and beans everyday in rural Africa.  And the person would absolutely enjoy that exercise.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Why an International Tech Firm Should be Taxed and Tariffed Like Any Other Multinational

Surfing the Internet around the world is often an exercise in homogeneity.  With the exception of China and a few other countries restricting Internet access to certain sites, every country in the world popularizes the same website and Internet services.  Facebook is used by people around the world in dozens of different languages to connect with friends, while Google and Wikipedia are nearly unanimous as the first sources of knowledge.  On the mobile phone, the likes of Uber and Tinder have provided people in all countries with similar services, despite different on-the-ground conditions.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

What Reforms Are Urgently Needed By Modern Education

Today’s students ought to be anxious.  As technology develops, many cushy jobs are in the process of disappearing and being replaced by robots and computer algorithms.  Government policies, from increased tariffs to fickle visa regimes, make employment in an increasingly interconnected world volatile and unpredictable.  To counter these constant changes in the overall economic environment, Educational institutions need to restructure their curriculums and mindset to help students develop a diverse set of knowledge base.  Only with varied set of skills will students, upon graduation, be able to weather changing employment patterns as well as rise and fall of particular industries. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Person's Past Should Not be Simply Dismissed as Static History

It has been some six ears since I was last at my parents' house in San Diego.  And it has been more than ten since I properly lived in it as a high school student. Returning the place where I studied, slept, and waited for news of being able to finally leave for school somewhere else, I noticed, before everything else, just how little the place has changed over the last decade.  The same books I read then, the same furniture that I sat on, and the same decorations that I stared at still grace the house, with all of them in exactly the same places that I would have found them a decade ago.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

How Technology Assists the Blocking of Alternative Political Views

For first time in perhaps months, I sat down to read a newspaper.  For all its conservative leanings, the local paper in San Diego tries its best to look well-balanced, providing views from across the political spectrum on its op-ed pages.  Big bold titles with completely diverging opinions line side by side on the same page, giving the audience scanning through the content an ability to look at every view possible at one-go.  Even if a certain reader does not have any particular affinity toward a particular piece, s/he is bound to look at it somewhat simply because it sits next to another piece that s/he would agree with.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Is the Inability to Easily Fire Workers a Reason for Rural Africa's Lack of Formal Jobs?

"The guy was not doing so well, so we had to let him go..." casually quips the converser when speaking about the recent going-ons at work.  Back here in California, firing incompetent people is an everyday phenomenon that one simply lives, so much so that no one assumes that s/he would not be targeted by managers when periods of low performance and intra-office conflicts persist.  Even when one performs well, structural changes or financial problems at one's workplace is enough of a reason to fire people, and people, while angry or anxious, simply get on with their lives afterwards.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Visual Effect of Asian Increase in a Californian Airport

It is the author's first time in San Francisco airport (SFO) in perhaps 8 or 9 years.  The airport seems have gotten much cleaner, brighter, and bigger than before.  But amid the positive first impressions of the place, one other visual cue that stood out, maybe a bit too much, was just how many Asian people can be found in the airport.  The majority of people at the airport was Asian, from guys assisting passengers at the luggage scanning machines, the people guiding people around airports, to, of course, passengers themselves.  Even immigration staff, generally pretty multiracial, tends to be heavily Asian at SFO.