Deworming development

Here is an interesting screed by Michael Hobbes that argues that development is a slow, piecemeal process that is unamenable to development's Big Ideas (like Millenium Villages, PlayPump, and deworming) because local contexts are so varied and complex that Big Ideas are likely to produce unanticipated and undesired outcomes. It seems pretty right on to me.

So it begins...

This evening my daughter asked me if I knew that "God made everything". Apparently a middle-aged man (presumably a pastor or priest) came to her (private) school today and talked to them about how God made everything. "Apples? Did mankind make apples? No," she quoted to me, "Spoons? Did mankind make spoons? No." Well, actually, yes mankind did make spoons. But I guess this is where our intellectual relationship gets interesting. There's no way I'm going to let her believe that I believe in God. But how do you counter this kind of claim in a discussion with a five-year-old? I figured the Big Bang and evolution should wait and focused on the spoon. First, I tried to show that people make things, using a wonderful picture she drew in art class today as an example of something "God didn't make". She countered that God made the paper and pens she used to draw the picture. (Smart kid.) So I showed her a video of how paper is made. I'm not sure this was convincing since she got distracted by the mere opportunity to watch videos, but it drew our first ontological dispute to a temporary resolution.

I guess we should make some of our own paper.

Shit t-shirts say

I don't suppose this is really appropriate here, but over the last two days I've seen some curious t-shirts on women I passed during my commute to Korea University. The first was a young woman with her boyfriend whose shirt read, "I'm not gonna lie; I wanna get high", and was covered in marijuana leaves. The second was a little older and perhaps on her own way to work. Her shirt read, "Boys ain't nothing but hoes and tricks." I know there are lots of similar examples floating around on the Internetz, but these made me wonder. Do the wearers know what they say? Perhaps they do and wearing them (in pretend ignorance?) is their little way of being edgy.


I read an article in the International NYTimes today that reported on American individuals' pride at being on Putin's sanctions list. "A badge of honor," one senator said. Well, it seems that I have my own badge of honor. My niece told me that she cannot access this website at her public school in Connecticut. Apparently it is listed as a "governmental advocacy" site and is thus inappropriate for high school students who should only be taught "facts" and not opinions. The details are vague and she is looking into the matter more deeply, but while this worries me, it is also a bit flattering. It worries me, of course, because even the official sanctioning of facts and opinions is ideological and politically motivated and channels students into narrow debates that do not question the broader organization of society, reducing their capacity as citizens. But it is also flattering that some individual, organization, or algorithm considers these words to be a potential threat (to...?).

My niece reports that she knows of no other blogs or sites that are blocked, just this. Of course, this means only that she hasn't come across others, but it also implies that there is likely an active limiting of free speech in the supposed land of freedom. Security through the suppression of ideas. Now where has that happened before...?

[Or perhaps it's just an expression of over-filtering.]

Mindfulness for tech

Evgeny Morzov has a short piece on how achieving mindfulness by disconnecting temporarily from the "always on" lifestyle can be either liberating or further enslaving.

Dogs versus people

Yesterday I had a little adventure around 선정릉 in Gangnam that has got my thoughts all in a flurry. I was on my way to a meeting of the City Knowledge Unit (CKU), which is an academic, business, and government group organized to promote Korea's model of urban development overseas. It has grown out of a similar group that concentrated on developing a strategy for expanding Korean construction overseas. On my way to the meeting I was reading the war machines chapter in A Thousand Plateaus, so perhaps I was just overly sensitive.

On the train (분당선), the first cognitive disjuncture was passing through Apgujong Rodeo Station (압구정로데오역), which explicitly evokes Rodeo Drive in LA. To me, this just seems like slavish mimicry and empty aspirations for conspicuous consumption. I increasingly fail to understand how anyone can fetishize the absurdly priced, supposedly fashionable objects offered for sale in the stores that populate such neighborhoods. Of course, the purchase of such goods is really to evoke the envy of one's peers and to assert one's equivalence or superiority over them. In short, conspicuous consumption is an external sign of power (generally). But I fail to understand why someone can believe that such competition can make them happy. (Perhaps it's just because I'm not wealthy!)*

Wolves change rivers

This link offers an interesting 5min film explaining how the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park after 70 years of absence has altered the very geography through a "trophic cascade". The basic idea is that a small change at the top of the food chain "cascades" down the chain, reshaping the ecosystem along the way. This interests me in at least two ways. First, it highlights concepts from resilience theory about how ecosystems are in perpetual construction and change. Second, having just read Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus chapter "1914: One or Several Wolves", which introduces the concept of multiplicities, this video suggests membership in a pack of "wolves" can have a cascade effect throughout social organization. That is, small coordinated groups of individuals can reconfigure social relations.

Hearts and Minds

The other night I watched Peter Davis's Hearts and Minds. And it was deeply disturbing. For those who don't know, the film is a documentary about the Vietnam War made before it ended. I don't have much to say about it other than that everyone should watch it. But the film does at least two important things. First, it shows what war looks like from both sides (though there is actually no footage of Viet Cong activities, just US military and its victims). Among the most disturbing shots were the full footage of the naked girl running down the street after having been napalmed with patches of skin burned off and the footage of the assassination captured in one of the most iconic photos from the war. I'll admit that I'm generally squeamish when it comes to viewing violence, even in film or television, but the genuine horror here for me is that it is unquestionably real. These are images of real suffering and a real killing. I am haunted by the fountain of blood that splashed out of the assassinated man's head.

Academic Torrents

A new site (Academic Torrents) has been started to share datasets and papers. Right now it's primarily physical science data, but we'll see what happens.

New contract

It's official! I just signed a new contract with Korea University for four years. I am certainly pleased to be part of this institution. But more importantly (for my mental well being), in Korea this second contract basically establishes a high level of job security. It is not tenure, but---barring a serious ethical breach on my part---it is close. Combine this with the fact that I have accumulated enough points already that tenure is almost certain and I can take a deep breath and relax a theory. In practice, that is unlikely; I have too many projects I want to complete and too many to which I have unwittingly committed myself.

Now if someone would just take over our lease so that we can move to our new apartment...