Friday, April 25, 2008

China Learns English

China, as you know, is getting set to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. What you perhaps didn’t know is that the Chinese have been mounting a historic campaign to teach English to millions of their citizens in time for the Games (guess how that’s going…)

Courtesy of the New Yorker here’s an engrossing story about China’s efforts to master English, told through the prism of one of its foremost English instructors and motivational speakers.

To summarize the article, China only recently turned to English to help them develop. After Mao Ze Dong ascended to power they turned to Russian over English. Only about ten years ago did serious English language learning come to the fore once again. Now there’s a huge push to learn Shakespeare’s tongue; many people see speaking English as offering life changing possibilities (I agree wholeheartedly).

I know very well how hard it is to learn a foreign language. Moreover, as a former English language teacher, I have a lot of respect for Li Yang, the guy profiled. Teaching English effectively is really hard work. Not only do you have to be able to explain grammar concepts effectively, you have to inspire the students to want to learn, and you have to foster an atmosphere in class where students feel comfortable making mistakes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Al Qaeda Complains

Don’t you just hate it when someone else gets credit for something you did? All that time, all that hard work you put in, only to see others bask in the glory. Anybody can understand the frustration.

Well, that’s how Ayman Zawahiri and the rest of Al Qaeda feel when people blame 9/11 on “the Jews.” -----See the BBC article here

Zawahiri, on a recently released audio recording on some Islamist website, claims it as an idea propagated by (shia) Iran to discredit the Sunnis.

Please, don’t forget to rub this in the face of any conspiracy theorist/anti-Semite you might meet in the future.

As an addendum, the Onion beat me to it:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Me and my Brother

“Me against my brother, me and my brother against my cousins; me, my brother and my cousins against our nonrelatives; me, my brother, my cousins and friends against our enemies in the village; all of these and the whole village against the next village.”

-Arab Proverb

What I'm Reading

The history of the twentieth century was a clash of ideologies: Communism, Fascism, and Capitalism. Will the 21st century be an ideological/civilizational clash as well? Capitalism? Secularism? Zionism? Whabbism? Salafism? And God knows what else?

Over the past year I’ve been trying to read up on the Middle East. History, literature, journalism, you name it. I really want to know every detail of how the U.S. got itself into Iraq, how the Middle East came into it’s present state, and what the future holds.

I just finished The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright of The New Yorker. Published in 2006, the book traces the rise of Islamic fundamentalism from the mid-century writings of the intellectual Sayyid Qutb to 1970s Egyptian jails to Soviet occupied Afghanistan to Al Qaeda and 9/11 with a lot of stops in between. It’s a very informative read, it illuminates a lot of issues, and brings even more questions to the fore. Wright is a great story teller and really moves you through the book, no easy task given the subject matter.

Next up is Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuscinski on the 1970s overthrow of the last Shah of Iran. In addition I’m planning to read Once Upon a Country by Sari Nuseibeh.

I am also itching to read War and Decision, Douglass Feith’s recently published memoir of his time in the Bush administration. Feith is the former Undersecretary of Defense -he worked for Rumsfeld- and has (in)famously been called “the stupidest fucking guy on the planet” by General Tommy Franks (ret). He was one of the driving forces behind the decision to invade Iraq. It’ll be interesting to read his side of events, and his self-criticism – I’m assuming it’ll be there anyway. (But I’ll wait until the book comes out in paperback).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Of Popes and Pedophiles

Way to stake out a position on a tough issue, Pope.

Pope says pedophiles not welcome in Catholic church.

Monday, April 14, 2008


It still rankles me that Al Gore got a Nobel Peace Prize. He made a documentary, that’s it. Perhaps he could’ve been awarded something by a documentary association, but a Nobel Peace Prize?

And no, he wasn’t the figure to put Global Warming on the map. Growing up my generation watched countless environmental and global warming documentaries in school. Anytime we had a sub in science class that was what we watched. All those films (whose producers didn’t win Nobel Prizes, mind you) must’ve sunk in because it’s a big issue for my generation.

This year I think they should give the Peace Prize posthumously (I don’t even know if they do that) to Aristides de Sousa Mendes. Follow the link; he’s a guy that deserved it, fuck Al Gore.
All the petty sniping between Hillary and Obama really rubs me the wrong way. Can the Democrats please pick a candidate already so we can move on? Hillary claims Obama is an elitist? Look, honestly, if you don’t think you’re better than most people, you probably shouldn’t be RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Labyrinth of Borges Quotes

Jorges Luis Borges was an iconic figure in 20th century Latin American literature. He never published any novels, only collections of esoteric short stories, but the stories could blow your mind (as long as you could understand them). Here are some interesting things he said:

"Democracy is an abuse of statistics."

"The Falklands thing was a fight between two bald men over a comb." –referring to the 1982 Falklands War between England and Argentina

"Nothing is built on stone; all is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone."

"Reality is not always probable, or likely."

"To die for a religion is easier than to live it absolutely."

"Censorship is the mother of metaphor."

Check out this (kinda rambling) essay about Borges from Slate.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

White People

Check out this crazy funny website: Stuff White People Like. Although they say white people, they are really referring to upper-middleclass suburban progressives.

Some gems:
-Most white people choose a favorite soccer team based on either a study abroad experience or a particularly long vacation to Europe or South America.

-The best thing you can do is to act impressed when a white person talks about critical theorists. This helps them reaffirm that what they learned in graduate school was important and that they are smarter than you. This makes white people easier to deal with when you get promoted ahead of them.

-When engaging in a conversation about corporate evils it is important to NEVER, EVER mention Apple Computers, Target or Ikea or anyother store white people actually frequent.