Mourning and moving forward

9 October 2022

It's a rainy, melancholic Sunday and the family is off on a trip, while I'm stuck at home to work and ponder the future.

We have decided to move the family back to my hometown. I will become a "goose father", migrating from Seoul to Connecticut during semester breaks. I'm convinced that this is a good choice that will improve lives and inaugurate a new and exciting stage in our lives.

Beginning a new stage of life means leaving an earlier stage behind. For us, this transition corresponds to leaving behind the simple joys and pains of childhood and moving forward into the complexity of teenage lives. The move is going to demand either a repression of emotion and a subsequently overpacked apartment or engaging with the fact that many of the foundations I have tried to lay with my children are now part of the past. Who needs that violin if it's not going to be play? And the skateboard that was used a few times? The microscope that offered a few good hours of interest? There's just no need for them anymore and no basement or attic to stash them in for future generations or rediscovery.

Many doors I wanted to open for them have become for the time being merely material reminders of unrealized potentials. The barely cracked open introduction to philosophy will need a new home. Bicycles will have to be sold. The past will have to be trimmed and edited. Hopefully the foundations we've laid have been solid and the kids no longer need such props. Now the task at hand seems to be supporting them in their own choices.

I don't suppose I'll actually stop trying to open doors. I'll just have to find new doors and new keys.

Kids and kittens

14 August 2022

We finally broke down and got a cat. My family has been pushing for a dog for most of COVID, but I was majorly opposed since I know how much work that is in the city. And more particularly because I knew I would get stuck having to walk it at 6am every morning. But I've been reasonably open to a cat, given that they are more independent and low maintenance. Somehow, over the spring my daughters changed their tune and decided they want a cat. Yesterday we went out to get some basic supplies in preparation for going to a shelter to adopt an older cat (and made some horribly uninformed choices!). But I heard many warnings about adopted cats with horrible habits and it suddenly clicked that the girls should have a chance to raise a pet from its infancy.

Off to Daluna Cats we went...just to look. But we came home with an American Short Hair we named Ash (after his ash blue eyes). Suddenly we are pet owners.

The girls are doing a great job so far. Ash is adjusting quickly. Life at home has been spiced up. And my daughter is in love.

Endings and beginnings

30 June 2022

The title sounds more apocalyptic and life changing than it should. The ending refers to the end of the semester, and the beginning to the beginning of the summer. As such, it designates a transition, but not one of any significance.

Rather, almost the entire purpose of this post is to warm me up for writing. The associate dean position and other concerns have eaten up so much time this semester that I am not convinced that I've actually written anything since the previous post four months ago. This realization is a bit startling to me and helps explain my hesitation to start writing about smart cities and the newest stage of capitalism. It's not easy to start writing again, and it's even more difficult when the topic is something so broad. One can never be convinced that they have read enough to write effectively on a topic as broad as the evolution of least not without a bit of hubris. Offhand I can think of more books on capitalism's evolution that I haven't read than books I have read. Whether this reflects my lack of learning or the breadth of the topic, it saps my confidence that I have some thing worth saying and it weakens my resolve to write.

But I will say it. For one only truly learns by putting one's ideas back out into the world. Of course, when you do, the world has a tendency to remind you of what you don't know and haven't read. But this, too, must be embraced.

And so the writing begins.

China and Russia

28 February 2022

This is the "more on that soon" part of the previous post. I had intended to point out that we should be paying close attention to China's response to the invasion of Ukraine. Fortunately, the media caught up to me and laid out quite a bit of the situation. But here are some of my summary thoughts and worries.

The most important thing to watch is China's position vis-a-vis Ukraine's sovereignty. The Russian invasion is a clear violation of national sovereignty. But Putin is positioning the invasion as support for breakaway regions and as a restoration of the Russian Empire's true historical bounds. In one fell swoop, this situation invokes Xinjiang and Tibet's dreams of independence and Taiwan's sovereignty. So observing its position reveals China's true inner desires.

Before the conflict, China reiterated its long-standing principle of non-interference in other country's sovereign boundaries. This position serves at least two purposes for China. First, it allows it to ignore human rights abuses and non-democratic practices in countries with natural resources or markets of interest. Second, it serves as an ethical high bar that raises hurdles to other countries that may seek to support oppressed peoples and regions in China. The principle serves as a linchpin of China's foreign policy, so now that the invasion is undeniable, the country must thread the needle between Tibet and Taiwan. Though it may now be shifting to reflect more global opinion, the second permutation was to suggest that the history is "complicated" and that Russia is restoring a rightful territorial control. The country has refused to call it an "invasion", preferring the term "situation".

Despite current efforts to demonstrate a lack of support for the invasion, China has yet to condemn Putin's actions. Thus, I am certain that the latter position is China's true position. The country must preserve its justification for an eventual invasion of Taiwanese sovereign territory. It is basically compelled to accept that the invasion of Ukraine is merely a restoration of historically accurate national boundaries because this is China's fiction about Taiwan. Ignoring the fact that historical boundaries are always selectively chosen to fit current material interests, China's linguistic peregrinations show that China's moral high ground of non-interference and territorial sovereignty is a dismal lie.

And so, I think it is imperative that we take Putin and others' comparison of the situation to WWII seriously. If the situation explodes (more along the lines of WWI than WWII), then I fear we will wind up with a two front WWIII. China's relationship with Russia may now be rocky, but it creates a formidable geopolitical bloc that will ultimately be dominated by China. Together, the two countries occupy most of Asia and share a long border, so a strong, outward facing relationship would reduce the need to protect the interior of the continent. The growing isolation of China and Russia from the rest of the world (or is it vice versa?!) naturally pushes them toward cooperation. The drive to cooperate is amplified by their complementary economic roles: Russia supplies natural resources to China's industrial engine. If the West is dragged into a hemispheric scale conflagration, then I expect China to take advantage of the distraction to move on Taiwan. Then we would wind up in a WWII-like conflict with an Atlantic Theater focused on Russia (in place of Germany) and a Pacific Theater focused on China (in place of Japan).

The future is dim.

The end and the beginning

25 February 2022

It is once again the end of my break. The vast, promising expanses of December that prompted lofty goals are crumbling before the inevitable onslaught of class preparation and management. That means that it is time to identify what I actually have achieved over the break.

  • Endless niggling administrative work
  • Put together a data set on the gender gap in ICT employment and ran some preliminary regressions.
  • Read a few good books:
    • Beloved, Toni Morrison
    • The Bear, William Faulkner
    • Scarcity, Mullainathan and Shafir
    • Thinking in Systems, Donella Meadows
    • The Dawn of Everything, Graeber and Wengrow
    • Second Treatise on Government, John Locke
    • The Sacred and the Profane, Mircea Eliade
  • Hiked once a week. Worked out the rest.
  • Set up my own learning management system (LMS) with Moodle, since the university is making it unpleasant to use its resources.
  • Converted my research summary into a document for our new Global Korean Studies report.
  • Converted the same research summary into a journal article.

But the freedom is gone now. Not only are classes starting but also administrative work promises to explode. Still, I am (tentatively) excited about the semester. I have a number of new Master's and doctoral students, which means more creativity as a reward for the extra work. Classes will eventually be in person again.

The only major damper at the moment is Putin's invasion of Ukraine. But more on that soon.

The sacred and the profane

21 February 2022

"It could almost be said that, in so far as human existence is fulfilled, it is itself an initiation." ---Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, p. 209

Tighten up and loosen up

19 December 2021

It has been too long since I've written. My new responsibilities as associate dean have kept me preoccupied and busy with less interesting work that is nevertheless necessary for my program.

I planned to write about how the contemporary Korean trend in wearing hair curlers in one's bangs (as described in the New York Times) reinforces beauty stereotypes rather than challenging them and that it really represents the increasing fragmentation of our social landscapes. I also planned to write about Thomas Pynchon's V. and how it also wrestles with the blurring of the animate and inanimate and our search for meaning as also reflecting the actor-network theory ideas described below. And I've even thought about extending this argument using Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, which has turned out to be remarkably engaging. And perhaps over the break I will.

Instead, I will first write about my boots and my little toe.

Since last spring, the little toe on my right foot has been getting sore and developing a callous from rubbing on the side of my otherwise awesome Salomon GTX-3s. Since the problem only started after a year and a half of wear, I thought replacing them with a new pair would solve the problem. Instead, the problem got worse. No matter how much I tightened the laces to stop my little toe from rubbing the outside of the shoe, the pain simply got worse. I was beginning to despair and to plan my trip to purchase almost any other shoe. Then, the other day, on a whim, I went with the counterintuitive loosening up of the laces. Lo and behold! The pain and discomfort vanished. And while this means that I may have to worry about not securing my ankles as well for descents, I don't need to buy a new pair.

I know this anecdote is mainly of interest to my little toe and I, but it has offered me a new lesson on living. Sometimes you have to try the opposite of what you are convinced is right. Sometimes we become so narrowly attached to a singular, "correct" solution to our problems that we exacerbate those very problems. Sometimes we just have to loosen up. (And sometimes we just have to tighten up!)

Distinguishing objects and indistinct worlds

25 September 2021

I am preoccupied with the question of why humans insist on separating objects from each other (and themselves) when materiality knows no boundaries. Our world is full of objects. On my desk I can distinguish my computer, my phone, some seet headphones (Shure SRH840s), a globe, a pile of books, and so on. I understand them all to be distinct from and independent of each other. But I also know that the light from the monitor affects the colors on the books' covers, that the CPU is bound to the speakers in my headphones through electric pulses that connect to my ear drums through the rattling air pulsing to digital information encoding Slum Village, and so on. There is really no way to separate these things. The waves of electricity transform into waves of air that transform into compelling beats. At a more fundamental level, all these objects are continually exchanging electrons and energy with whatever is adjacent to them. In essence, the material world is just a soup in motion, and our brains slice and dice it up into distinct objects.

So do these objects exist? Why do we distinguish them? This is what I am thinking about now, because all our theories, all our explanations, all our ideas, rely on distinguishing one thing from other things. In my graduate class, we are now reading Latour's Facing Gaia, which offers actor-network theory's view of a world made up of perpetual waves of retroaction that broaches no boundaries, that rejects insides and outsides...and yet cannot escape a reliance on these very notions. A problem I think Latour would happily confess to. So how do we recover objects?

One clue lies in our brains' visual processing. The visual cortex is wired to distinguish edges, which allows the brain to identify boundaries between objects. I need to do more research here, but I presume edge detection depends on color differences, continuity of shape, and sometimes relative movement. I am sure the science is fascinating. But the fundamental point is that we are genetically programmed to distinguish objects from their surroundings. It should come as no surprise, then, that our language and concepts build upon this fundamental biological process.

This raises more questions, of course, that I will simply leave hanging here. Do our brains see the "right" objects? Consider the role of visual attention's counterpart, inattentional blindness. Is there a continuum of objectness, thingness, from the concrete, unquestionable thing to the abstract, mutable object (like our theories)? And why would this biological function be programmed in us? Is it because "things" really do exist?

Gaia and humanity

17 September 2021

Apparently I said something reasonably concise and provocative in class today. We are discussing Lovelock's Gaia, and started to explore whether or not humanity was part of Gaia. I offered the following claim (probably based most immediately on Tim Morton's The Ecological Thought) for reflection before next class.

Even though humans are part of nature, we still conceive of nature as something outside of order to understand ourselves as a part of nature.

Summer and information

25 August 2021

The summer is essentially over. My daughters just returned to online classes, and my own classes begin in ten days. Consequently, it seems like time for a quick review of the summer and some thoughts on the information-theoretical approaches to consciousness, life, and individuality that I've been reading.

For a vacation, my summer was bursting with work. At my parents' house, I basically have to compress a year's worth of house and yard maintenance into the one month I am there. I also had to coordinate activities for my kids all by myself, since my wife stayed in Korea to recover from a year and a half of stay-at-home schooling. We lucked out and I managed to get the girls into a local, one-week overnight camp at the Mystic Seaport, where they learned how to sail and generally had a fantastic time. I also managed to get them together with friends they hadn't seen for two years, including a paddleboarding experience and old school summer lake swimming. Dovetailed into this, I had to coordinate vaccinations and shopping, cooking most meals, and generally running around trying to get things done. The work seems to have paid off for everyone else and therefore for me. My wife got to relax. My mother got some company. And the girls developed some autonomy.

But surely more interesting is that I've been reading information-theoretic approaches to biology and consciousness. My current research considers the ways in which we can or cannot consider cities to be thinking, acting individuals. The final outcome is not clear to me (otherwise it wouldn't be interesting), but I am confident that my new work will contribute to how we think of (urban) policy making in the era of algorithmic decision making. For whatever reason, I've fallen into reading papers that are trying to recode our understanding of everything under the rubric of information theory. Proponents seem to claim that information constitutes a more fundamental base for describing the world than materialist reductionism.

Information theory is based originally on the work of Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver, who developed the mathematical strategy for transmitting and receiving information. While their initial focus was on communications networks (and indeed form the core of contemporary ICT), the theory itself has proved broad enough to be applicable across material strata and disciplines. Though I did read Shannon for my master's thesis, for which I used a variation of their information measure developed for ecosystem diversity to measure economic sector diversity, I still find the concepts challenging in their subtlety, especially since it involves quite a bit of math. The measure of information is directly related to the measure of thermodynamic entropy (and indeed goes by the same name). The greater the entropy, the greater the information. In essence, as the number of possible (i.e., unpredictable) combinations or recombinations of the variable of concern (words, letters, atoms, proteins) increases, information entropy increases. This is somewhat counterintuitive, as we would typically think that something perfectly predictable gives us more information. That is, if you know I am going to say, it seems like the communication has more information in it. However, because you know what I will say, there is no new information in the communication. I might as well not have said anything. When you have no idea what I will say, the information in the communication is all new and therefore at a maximum. And this is because I could say an enormous amount of different things.

In The information theory of individuality (2020), Krakauer et al. suggest that higher levels of information correspond to higher levels of individuality. They first separate a system from its environment. They then argue that the less information is shared between the system and the environment, the more individuality the system possesses. This is because the state of the system itself does more to determine its own future state than the environment does. There are a couple of sweet things about this strategy. One is that one can make arbitrary distinctions and explore which divisions exhibit the greatest amount of information in the system. Another sweet thing is that their decomposition of individuality suggests that there are different forms of individuality.

But the coolest thing, which is also implicit in the second, is that it positions individuality as a continuum. That is, there is no such thing a complete individual (except at the corner case of a completely closed system outside of our universe). Rather, systems are simply more or less individual (along a couple of axes). So this theoretical finding raises the question of setting thresholds for individuality at the same time that it underscores the arbitrariness of any threshold.

For cities, the implication is that they could possess individuality even though they share a lot of information with their environment. Also, brainstorming now, this theory would seem to associate action with greater system individuality in that the system itself changes the future state of itself and the environment when it acts. So action would be the system effecting change, which could be weak or partial and commingle with the environment's effect on the system itself. Interesting way to thing about it...if not necessarily an innovation.

Marcuse and Trump

10 July 2021

I've just finished reading Herbert Marcuse's 1936 On Authority, in which his enduring interest in domination may first take clear formation. In particular, he makes the distinction between the authority necessary for any social formation and the authority employed under capitalism to dominate and exploit the working class, which in unified in the concept of surplus repression in Eros and Civilization. Though the monograph comes to a rather abrupt and unsatisfactory conclusion, the last chapter looks at contemporaneous bourgeois theories of authority (Sorel and Pareto, specifically) to argue that as bourgeois theories embrace anti-liberal forms of domination, their theory of the state becomes more abstract. A short section of the chapter strikes me as remarkably pertinent to considerations of the conservative right in Western democracies today.

The unity of bourgeois theory at this stage is negative: it rests exclusively on the united front against liberalism and Marxism. It is the enemy who prescribes the position of the theory. It has no ground of its own from which the totality of social phenomena could be understood. All its basic concepts are counter-concepts.... [101]

Marcuse then goes on to explain how material contents like race, blood, and people are used to create an empty signifier (my word) of authority that can be replaced by any individual as needed by the interests behind domination.

This has obvious echoes in the current right's reliance on attacking perceived affronts to moral integrity and policies for improving the material well-being of the general population with little positive content. Witness McConnell's statements about his goal being to stop or reverse Democratic legislation rather than to advance anything positive.

In fact, the only positive content in the right's platform appears to be the integrity of the nuclear, heterosexual family. Transgender bathrooms and gay marriage threaten the sanctity of marriage. Etc. And this, too, is striking. Throughout the latter half of the book, Marcuse discusses the importance of the bourgeois family for social domination. The central relation being the close fusion of private property with family, and family members' subordination to the dictates of property. Bourgeois theorists saw the disruption of this "germ" of social structure (the father as "king" of the family) as a major threat to the wider social order. It might just be time to go back to The German Ideology and Marx and Engels' other writings to better understand this. Though self-evidently important, I haven't given it much thought. Plus, it seems remarkably pertinent to Korea's current transformation into a low fertility, late marriage society in which women are increasingly eschewing traditional family roles for something new.

Displacement and relocation

8 July 2021

Yesterday I presented my paper (with Danielle Labbe) on injustice and gentrification in Hanoi. It didn't go well. And it's my fault. I didn't prepare early enough or thoroughly enough. I had too much material and had to cut it down to meet the time limit. So I hastily hacked away pieces of my argument. As a result, the logic of the argument didn't flow. I'm definitely disappointed with myself. But I guess I've learned the lesson that it is time to start rededicating myself to higher quality work.

The more interesting aspect of the presentation, however, was a question about the difference between relocation and displacement, which might be better framed as dislocation and displacement. One part of the paper itself argues that displacement is not necessarily a negative experience, even though we typically assume that it is. In the gentrification literature, displacement has referred to the physical relocation of a household out of their neighborhood. In gentrification, this dislocation is involuntary and therefore experienced as unjust and negative, which fits our definition of gentrification ("the production of space for progressively more affluent users that is experienced as unjust"). Davidson and Lees (2010), building on Tuan (1977), argue that gentrification can also entail a phenomenological displacement. Even if a person is not forced to relocate, the transformation of their neighborhood disrupts their livelihood or threatens their identity. People's lived experience is displaced. This is also assumed to be negative, but I do not think this is necessarily so. In our case of periurbanization in Hanoi, Danielle determined that many residents experienced neighborhood transformation and the subsequent phenomenological displacement in a positive. Farmers wanted their arduous working lives displaced by easier, more profitable jobs. Residents welcomed the infrastructural trappings of modernity, like better transportation, better drainage, and more attractive buildings. Even if there was initial resistance, most residents came to welcome the displacement of their traditional lifestyles onto new modern practices. Were this experienced an unjust, we would consider it gentrification, but since it is embraced, it cannot be designated gentrification.

Displacement, then, is a broader term that includes dislocation. "Dislocation", or "relocation", can be considered a physical displacement, a movement from one place to another. Though this is a form of "displacement", this term can also refer to phenomenological transformations triggered by a transformation of space and spatial practice around the individual. It could also refer to the psychological experience of dislocation. Moving to a new neighborhood can cause feelings of displacement, or not belonging to a place. When this is voluntary, like moving to a new country for new experiences, the phenomenological displacement is experienced as a positive event. In fact, many people actively seek out such displacement through tourism. Again, if the displacement is not experienced as unjust, if it is not involuntary, even dislocation can be a positive experience.

One should also further consider the use of "displacement" in psychoanalysis and Derrida, but haven't the time now. I must involuntarily displace my energies onto work that must be done.

Xinjiang and the strange flex

23 June 2021

An article in The Guardian today reports on an aggressive exchange in the UN human rights council. Canada, leading a group of over forty countries, expressed grave concerns over human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Tibet and demanded immediate, unfettered access to facilities to ascertain the truth. But rather than directly respond the accusations, the Chinese representative adopted authoritarianism's standard playbook of whataboutism, a strategy that has worked well for China (and Trump!) in the past. Specifically, it raised it's own concerns about Canada's human rights abuses against indigenous peoples in the past, highlighting the recent discovery of over two hundred unmarked indigenous children's graves in British Columbia.

This seems like a strange flex to me. There is no question that European peoples horridly treated the indigenous populations of North America in their colonial conquest of the continent. But the responses that I've read so far focus on national efforts to recognize and address these uncomfortable truths. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for example, responded, "In Canada, we had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Where is China’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission? Where is [China’s] truth?" While this is a solid response, it overlooks the obvious and damning implications of the Chinese attack. That is, responding to accusations of human rights abuses by bringing up Canada's tragic history of abuse, exploitation, and destruction of indigenous peoples is an implicit admission that China is engaged in similarly horrific abuses. The underlying argument---at its strongest---seems to be that the situation in Xinjiang and elsewhere is not as bad as what took place in North American history. But it's still bad!

But I suppose if there is no justifiable defense, one must grasp at straws.

IIT and the urban mind

21 June 2021

Integrated information theory (IIT) would argue that there is no urban consciousness. I am thinking actively about cities and agency lately. Arguably, one critical component of agency is the capacity for making conscious decisions. So I have been looking at theories of consciousness for clues to thinking about cities' minds. Over the weekend I finished Koch's The Feeling of Life Itself (2019), which is a phenomenological defense of IIT. His argument does not favor the existence of a collective urban mind.

Koch begins with the neo-Cartesian notion that all we know is built out of our experience, and that at least most of us experience ourselves as conscious. (Of course, we only know our own consciousness, but it is easy to accept the claims of others.) In essence, he argues that this experience itself is our consciousness, or alternatively, consciousness is experience itself. He proposes that our experiences adhere to five axioms: our experiences are structured, informative, definite, consistent, and independent. That is, our experiences have an organization that relates its various aspects (e.g., the spatial relation of a dog next to the tree), which in turn means that there is a non-zero amount of information contained in them (i.e., they are not completely random). Structure, in my reading, also gives experience a definite character that holds together independently of our other experiences. Being a neuroscientist, Koch posits that this structure has a neural correlate of consciousness (NCC), which is basically the structure of our brain's neural network.

He then uses this notion of non-zero information can be parsimoniously defined by an irreducible network of relations that have their correlate in neurons. If a portion of the network of experience can be removed without changing the experience itself, then it is not part of the experience. That is, for Koch, every experience can be described by a unique combination of neural signals, while all other neural activity remains passive background noise. And when that unique combination is active, it is our conscious experience. (This raises the question of whether any neuron can be eliminated without some incremental disturbance of the experience, but I am willing to accept this claim.)

Having established the postulated neural correlate of individual conscious experiences as independent and irreducible, he takes the step of suggesting that the maximally informative network at any one given time is consciousness at that time. While there may be smaller components that independent and irreducible, if they are part of a larger, more information-rich, integrated, and irreducible Whole, then they are not consciousness; that large Whole is consciousness. This conception of consciousness opens up some intriguing possibilities. On one hand, it means that a brain could have multiple consciousnesses acting in parallel so long as they were completely independent. On the other hand, if neurons in multiple brains could be tied tightly together, then we could see the emergence of a consciousness that integrates the two brains into one. It also means that every thing that is irreducible, that contains information, has an experience of some sort, however feeble. Even atoms floating in space just above absolute zero have some sort of experience.

But it also means that cities probably do not have their own consciousness. Koch suggests that the integrated information of tightly interwoven individual brains will have higher local maxima that their combination over the comparatively sparse networks of urban interaction. Consequently, experience (and hence consciousness) will remain localized. People will not lose themselves in an urban hive mind.

Koch's argument relies on our acceptance that experience belongs only to the maximally integrated neural correlate and that more diffuse networks and experiences do not exist as consciousness. It is not clear that we should accept this claim. If even atoms can have a weak form of independent experience, why can't we posit weak forms of interdependent (or weakly integrated) experience that overlaps with denser nodes of experience? Are we to say that atoms have no experience once they become part of a molecule, a molecule when it becomes part of a cell, a cell of an organ, and an organ of a body? These combinations surely represent greater levels of structure and information, but they do not obviate the information of simpler structures. Koch's definition is definitely parsimonious, which has its appeal, but the theory itself (in a sense) deletes information.

I wonder if combining this strategy with Maturana and Varela's notion of autopoiesis would be more robust. In some interpretations, their idea implies that we draw boundaries around difference systems depending on analytical need. If integrated information is roughly analogous to autopoiesis, then we should be able to talk about the consciousness of identifiable unity, even if it overlaps with others. And that sounds like fun.

Specialization and generalization

10 June 2021

I firmly believe that society needs both specialists and generalists. We need specialists to zoom deep into the nitty gritty details of concrete situations so that we can take localized action and challenge the limits of generalized theories. On the other hand, we need generalists to tie together the different approaches to concrete situations so that we can take comprehensive action and challenge the biases inherent in narrow specializations.

I have always positioned myself as more of a generalist than a specialist. I love being able to range across disciplines and will hopefully someday be able to tie my knowledge together (or maybe conclude that it isn't desirable to do so). But that doesn't save me from self-doubt. When I see the depth of knowledge some colleagues can muster around a given topic, I get jealous. It amazes me. And the doubt begins to creep in. Perhaps I'm just a superficial dilettante? Maybe claiming to be a generalist is just a means of avoiding the boring and hard work of narrowly focusing on something. Can I publish if I am so broad?

Such thoughts resurfaced the other day, perhaps amplified by my transition into new areas of research. I started thinking about the books I am reading right now.

  • Prebisch, Raul. 1950. “The Economic Development of Latin America and Its Principal Problems.” Economic Commission for Latin America.
  • Koch, Christof. 2019. The Feeling of Life Itself. The MIT Press.
  • Melville, Herman. 1851. Moby Dick
  • Maturana, Humberto Rumesin, and Francisco J. Varela. 1991-08-31. Autopoiesis and Cognition. Springer Netherlands.
  • Fainstein, Susan S., and Lisa Servon. 2005. Gender and Planning: A Reader. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
  • Matthes, Eric. 2019. Python Crash Course. Random House LCC US.

Thinking over the list I felt pretty self-satisfied, actually. It ranges all over the discplines, from hard science to classic literature, from economics to biological theory, from computer programming to urban planning. I thought that even if I'm not narrowly specialized, at least I am broadly knowledgeable. Even if I am not a Renaissance Man, I can at least pretend that I am on the way.

MFW I realize that the average college student has a similar reading list!

Aging and risk aversion

27 May 2021

The fascinating and brilliant Albert Hirschman wrote an essay called The Principle of the Hiding Hand. Though some academics question the accuracy of the hiding hand concept, the idea itself has an instinctively compelling logic that Malcolm Gladwell apparently brought to life in the mid-2010s (I was unaware of this until just now). The basic notion is that people would not undertake difficult projects if they had a realistic assessment of the costs involved. In the context of development, a government might commit itself to building a dam to provide electricity, but even after careful cost projections, new challenges always arise. Cost estimates might be too low. Unanticipated geological features might be revealed that require new engineering strategies. Local resistance may stymie forward momentum. That is, all these costs were hidden when the decision was made, and it may be that they would be large enough to dissuade the government from undertaking the project if they really knew ahead of time. Instead, the sunk costs of commitment, planning, and investment force the government to forge forward. The struggle to move forward may result in new innovations, and the result produce unanticipated benefits as well. But the basic concept remains the same: if the government had a genuinely accurate understanding of the costs and difficulties involved, they may choose not to embark on the project to begin with.

It struck me this morning that this logic might explain the commonly assumed risk aversion of older individuals relative to younger individuals. Younger people are genuinely more willing to take larger risks with their lives and careers than older people. Older people get stale and boring, sticking to the tried and true rather than embracing the bracingly new. The standard explanation is that older people have more invested in maintaining the status quo. They might have kids, a partner, a house, a community. Meanwhile, younger people, unburdened by possessions and obligations, have less to lose and more to gain by taking bigger chances. But perhaps there is a role here for the hiding hand. Perhaps young people are ignorant of the difficulties, challenges, and costs involved in their decision and take the plunge out of ignorance. Meanwhile, people with more experience might better anticipate these costs and challenges, leading them to do a more accurate cost-benefit assessment that militates against taking the plunge. Having greater commitments and investments would also push the cost-benefit analysis into negative territory. So the risk aversion of older people is probably due not just having more to lose but also to their ability to see what the hand is hiding.

Zach Bush MD and COVID-19

24 April 2021

So a good friend of mine who studies holistic medicine suggested I check out Zach Bush MD. So I've been watching some videos. This was more or less my response.

He's a smart dude.

In particular, I watched the "innate immune system" video from his website, which seems to encourage us all to get COVID so that the human race (or perhaps the global virome can evolve) can evolve. And ultimately, I think he's pulling a fast least as far as COVID-19 goes.

So, in the first half of the video, he does a great job of explaining how our immune system works (at least to my knowledge). Viruses enter our bodies and our immune systems use existing defenses to keep the virus at bay or they develop new defenses. And we do this all the time. So far, so good. But then he pulls his first fast one. He says that the adaptation represents an "instability" in our innate immune system, but this is just because our immune system hasn't developed a response to that particular virus yet. Once it has, that response floats around with the other 10^15 responses as part of our innate immune system. So the notion of "innate" is a moving target for him. "Innate" only means that the immune system already has a response. For him, once we develop a response to a new flu variant (our "adaptive rsponse"), it is part of our innate immune system. Our entire immune system/virome has evolved and continues to evolve in this way. What I'm trying to say (I think!) is that he is creating a false binary between innate and adaptive that makes it sound like the innate is something ancestral and pure.

The second fast one comes with his dismissal of the vaccine. First he is telling us that the adaptive response to new viruses provides our inner virome with new genetic information (totally agree). But then he doubts that there are viruses we are not prepared for. "What are the chances that your innate immune system would encounter a virus is wasn't prepared for?" By his own numbers, there are only 10^15 inside us and 3*10^31 in the environment around us (soil, air, sea). That is a huge number of viruses never encountered, magnitudes more than are inside us. So it's actually highly likely that we would encounter a new virus...and it probably happens all the time.

That's where we get to number three. Most of the new viruses we encounter don't pose any risk. But some do. Some, like SARS-CoV-19, successfully exploit our cellular machinery by convincing it to produce even more copies of the virus. So some viruses are more dangerous than others. Zach Bush MD seems to consider all viruses to be equivalent in their relationship with our bodies. This is a false equivalence. The implication of this equivalence is that we should just let those whose immune systems cannot protect themselves die as part of the evolutionary process. Fine to say until it's people you know whose lives are threatened.

The fourth fast one is that he speaks as though the effects of the vaccine are ultimately different from the effects of encountering the virus in the wild. In my view, this is not the case. The whole point of a vaccine is to introduce the viral information in a safe way (inert viral DNA or mRNA) that prompts the innate immune system to launch an adaptive response that will create the antibodies/antigens needed in case the body encounters a live and vicious version of the virus. In essence, all a vaccine does is consciously and deliberately give our immune systems the viromic information it needs to fight a virus rather than wait for a chance encounter. Reaching herd immunity through vaccination just reflects the processing of new information and helps the virome stabilize.

Then he tosses in the falsehood that COVID-19 is rewriting our genome, but that's another discussion for another time.

So, while I find his position a bit disingenuous, I actually agree with a lot of what he is saying. His basic message in the videos I've watched seems to be that if we are healthier and live healthier lives we won't get as sick and that we can live healthier lives by cleaning up our environment. He uses much more complex and technical terms, but I think bottom-line that is what he is saying.

Anyway, that's what I think after a few hours of listening to him. Maybe you have a different take, reader?

Shock G and the eternal underwater

23 April 2021

Shock G is now underwater riming on a permanent basis. RIP.

The loss of Shock G today has really touched me. Obviously, the man was a creative force and hip hop innovator. First and foremost, he and the rest of Digital Underground perpetuated the magic that is Parliament-Funkadelic. In doing so, they moved California hip hop beyond basic gangster rap, moving the medium into realms of lyrical creativity still to be matched. Second, Digital Underground was Oakland Blank Panther conscious, particularly on Sons of the P. Third, they are just plain funky. Other people are thrilled that they basically discovered and made Tupac, but I'll DU any old day. (There's much more, of course, but my daughter is calling me away to experiment with TNT in Minecraft.)

But I'm also touched because Digital Underground was more or less synonymous with my time in San Francisco. I saw Shock G dance The Humpty Dance at a club South of Market. I'm sure I sat on BART listening to Sex Packets on a CD Walkman. Quite simply, DU is inseparable from my SF experience. More frighteningly, Shock G was just a few years older than I am. And when your idols are the same age and move on it brings mortality to the forefront.

Wish thenI could share some Heartbeat Props.

Fresh falling leaves and affect

23 April 2021

I've been trying to experience a more open systems, flatly ontological life lately. Inspired by the summary of ideas in Arturo Escobar's Designs for the Pluriverse and Jane Bennett's Vibrant Matter, I read some Thoreau, in particular his chapter entitled "Ktaadn". "Ktaadn" traces Thoreau's journey away from civilization to a transcendental moment of unity with the Wild in the clouds atop Mount Katahdin in the Maine wilderness. The underlying notion is that there is a blurry line between civilization and the self and the essence of things, their thing-power or noumena. That is there is existence beyond our linguistic apparatuses and our consciousness of self that shapes our selfness through its engagement with that selfsame selfness. This is affect.

Walking tthenhrough the woods (the Wild?) on my way to work this morning, I experienced something that seemed to capture my mood. My attention was snapped away from its thoughts by a crack and a downward whirling of a sprig of three elm(?) leaves perhaps too large and weighty for this early in spring. As the trio caught on some bare branch, I found myself thinking that the rotor-spinning descent was simultaneously a celebratory moment of beauty and a languid contemplation of maturation.

Transition design and gender swapping

20 April 2021

Lately I've been reading Arturo Escobar's Designs for the Pluriverse. The book strives to compile and organize the theory around autonomous designing across different onto-epistemological worlds in the interest of transitioning to a sustainable, convivial future. The basic idea is that we simultaneously create and understand our world through making it. Thus, different understandings of the world lead to different design outcomes (materially, socially, politically, economically, and so forth). And vice versa. One minor example would be designing our drinking instruments with handles. By changing the way we hold our cups, we change the way we use them. With handles, it is easier to manage hot drinks, like tea, and thus leads us to think of cups a holders of hot liquids rather than just cool liquids. It might also lead to new cultural practices of distinction, like sticking your pinky finger out when you lift your cup. More significantly(?), designing our economic production and distribution around markets has led us to think of ourselves as rational economic actors in competition with each other and to embrace cultural practices of competitive exchange and maximizing consumption.

The book is hthenome to a wonderful set of ideas, though I am getting a bit frustrated with it level of abstraction, which will hopefully be resolved in the next chapter or two I read. One of the ideas that has captured my imagination this week is one of the principles of transition design. Transition design is a (Western, designer-centric) approach to designing the transition to a new future. One of its principles, according to Escobar, is that the approach assumes that we are already undergoing a transition...whether we like it or not. Our climate is changing. Capitalism is once again approaching its limits and revealing its contradictions. Technology is creating new ways of connecting and weakening others. And so on. But transition design indicates that our future can o in many different directions. In one simplified set of trajectories, we can plummet into civilization collapse, wallow in incremental actions that perpetuate and prolong the crisis, or embrace a more convivial future. But the transition design thinkers appear to be optimistic. Perhaps that is necessary to achieve the transition: optimism as a design output. Either way, it's refreshing.

And my daughters gave me further cause for optimism this morning. One daughter was talking about how boys from her class were already designing their Halloween plague doctor costumes and how she was thinking about going as Harry Potter. My other daughter responded enthusiastically with "Gender-swap Harry Potter!" There was no questioning the propriety of a girl dressing as a boy. There was the assumption, I think, that gender exploration was a positive form of play. The 21st century may not be so bad after all!

Seasons and Sounds

03 March 2021

Thanks to COVID, thenthenI have spent much more time this year hiking in Bukhansan National Park. I've gone hiking at least once a week for the last year, three times a week when the gym has been closed. It's become familiar enough that I know what lies around the next corner, which rocks are risky, and what names I've given to the different stretches of the trails. It has also allowed me to observe the slow transition between seasons and of seasons.

Over the last two weeks I have been struck by the emerging sounds of spring. One of the beautiful aspects of hiking in the winter, especially after it has snowed, is the dramatic silence. There are no leaves rustling. If there is snow, it mutes any sounds that do emerge. So the drilling of woodpeckers stands out and makes identifying their location simple. It's a peaceful experience.

But spring is coming. And the sounds are changing. Last week was quite warm and birds were singing their welcome to spring. New birdsong reverberated off the bare rocks and through the empty branches. The coming spring was being heralded. Today was even noisier, but it was not due to the birds. Over the last week, the snow and ice that had blanketed the streams and muffled the rippling water had melted. In their place, newly melted snow from a late winter storm was rushing over the rocks with a fury not heard since the fall. The sound, though boisterous, was almost intrusive.

Spring begins to sing.

Winter break and new starts

27 January 2021

Let me first note that what I am about to relate may simply be a new form of procrastination.

I spent a good chunk of my morning moving bookcases around to make some books more accessible and to open up a little more space. Yesterday I took down a delicately drawn map of Yangon, which had been obscured behind a wardrobe. I also conducted a preliminary reorganization of some of my books to clear away piles designed to designate immanent reading material that were blocking other rows of books. It had been a turbulent example of thought in action, though in truth more potential than actual action.

The details aren't really important. What I believe they represent may be. I believe my actions of the last several days have been marking a transition from one phase to another. I recently applied for full tenure, and there is no reason not to expect it to be granted. Korea's system is fairly transparent and quantitative, and I have far surpassed the minimum requirements to acquire tenure. I presume the security of tenure is starting to sink in and birth the freedom of thought and exploration that it is designed to do.

Over the past decade, I have focused my energies on exploring the export of Korean new towns and apartment complexes overseas. I was even fortunate to receive a large grant from Korea's National Research Foundation that allowed me to learn about Myanmar and Vietnam in particular and research more generally. The three-year grant was from 2015 to 2018, but the research and paper writing lingered as I tried to clean up many of the loose ends. There are at least a half dozen papers my colleague and I wrote that never made it past their initial draft or presentation. I felt compelled to complete them, to ensure that the effort was not wasted. But two days ago I finally gave myself permission to let them go and close up shop. I may go back to them at some point or in some form, but I am no longer obliged to do so.

Rather, I can look forward to a new project or two. Two projects have been simmering away for a couple of years, while others have been cooling on the back burner. The first project is converting my Introduction to Development course into a book (of some sort). The second is---at least initially---a more radical departure that will take time to come to fruition. I want to explore the role of systems theory in urban history and theory and link this to artificial intelligence. The fundamental premise is that our societies are moving inextricably toward AI-driven policy making and operation. Since AI is based ultimately on cybernetics and systems theory, we need to come to grips with this history in urban planning. Hopefully, something useful will emerge.


Trump and COVID success

26 January 2021

As we pass 400,000 deaths in the US due to COVID-19, this is your friendly reminder that a bit less than a year ago, Trump outrageously tried to lower expectations by claiming that he would consider his government successful if it kept COVID-19 deaths below 200,000.

Trump and impermanence

8 January 2021

Like many, I have spent the last several days doomscrolling, reading political journalism, and listening to Congressional speeches in an effort to make sense of the assault on the Capitol building. It's not that I'm surprised that Trump's tenure has brought us to this point. Rather, it reflects my worry about the future of my country.

My thought is that America's democratic tradition will hold fast and secure a reasonable form of government for the foreseeable future. Much of this is contingent on how well the Biden administration can deradicalize the far right. In my view this will require a much more equitable distribution of wealth, and I do not know that I trust Biden's crew to deliver on this. If they don't, problems are likely to worsen. If we do, there is hope.

But I am mainly writhenting to offer my overly simplistic interpretation of Trump's act of sedition. I see it as the dramatic, climactic season finale of the Trump (shit)show. The Presidency has provided us with a never ending series of dramatic moments, plot twists, and characters driven by a narrative of good versus evil for both sides of the political fence. So it's appropriate that the season finale would culminate in an apocalyptic showdown between the forces of good and evil.

My suggestion ithens that---despite the very real negative consequences of Trump's administration---it has engaged Americans, if not the world, in a reality TV show underscored by the same fundamental themes that drive the success of the Star Wars franchise and similar vehicles. And I believe my suggestion that it really was "just" a season finale is borne by Trump's message today that clearly stated that there would be an orderly transition to a new administration and that despite everyone's disappointment this is just the beginning.

Stay tuned for Season 2.

Snowmen and impermanence

14 December 2020

It snowed yesterday. Real snow. And it brought all the kids out. Fortunately, my younger daughter was motivated to get her sister and I outdoors before our late breakfast to enjoy it. A few centimeters had fallen and it was ideal for snowballs and snowmen. In the playground a dozen kids were taking advantage of everyone's good fortune to make snowmen. After an hour or so, snowmen populated the playground. Though our snowman was a simple affair, others had fairly elaborate faces and arms. The place abounded with creation and energetic investment. A perfect neighborhood snow day.

I should have been forewarned of the snowmens' impending doom when the caretakers blasted across the edge of the playground with screeching leaf blowers to clear a path. The leaf blowers drowned out conversations and laughter, ultimately driving most of the youthful creators away. Sometime after the caretakers departed, we bequeathed our 80cm snowball to a couple of girls to use as a base for their snowman and went inside for pancakes.

In the early evening, my daughter and I had to run an errand. We thought we'd check on all the snowmen along the way. But the playground was completely empty of snow and snowmen. The caretakers had cleared them all away during the afternoon.

This really irritates me. Even enough to write this blog post about it. That much. :P Unable to imagine any viable safety reason for removing the snowmen, I can only think that they were removed in the interest of cleanliness and order. And this ticks me off for any number of reasons. Most fundamentally, it emphasizes a horrendously boring standard of appearances. In a quest for some sort of timeless ordered perfection, the temporary introduction of variety and change was brutally repressed. After all, the snowmen will melt. Even though the next few days will be cold enough to sustain them, the weather will soon warm up enough, and they'll be gone in a week or so. Why deny residents of the winter pleasure of seeing snowmen for a week? How sterile and boring does life have to be?

This repression of seasonal spirit would be bad enough, but it also destroyed the work of children and denied them the joy of creation. Of course the principle fun is in the building itself. But as any individual who has lived somewhere their snowmen do not get destroyed by sterile social norms, there is ongoing pleasure in passing by and seeing one's handiwork enduring. One might even patch it up once in a while if conditions permitted. And young people need to know that they can create things that change the world for the better, even in little ways. And it is equally important to watch the deterioration of one's creation as the weather warms. To observe the transformations as the exterior melts, shapes change, limbs fall off, and heads topple. Not only is it inherently interesting, it teaches them that even our finest efforts are impermanent and must be renewed again when the time is right.

Doing well and making mistakes

13 December 2020

In my father's mini-autobiography, he mentions two quotes from his father that he embraced. I realized over the summer how delightfully complementary the sayings are. The first of them we put on his memorial card: "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well." This is definitely the fundamental work ethic in our family. There is no half-assed work. If you're going to do something, put some energy into it, focus, and do it right. Then you don't have to do it again.

But trying to do something well doesn't mean that you will do it well. This is where the second saying comes in. My grandfather built my father's childhood home by himself in the small central Connecticut town where he worked. My father describes my grandfather finishing up the masonry on the deck of the house. They had worked to do it well, but the results were not quite what they had hoped. My grandfather said, "Well, the folks from New York will never see it." Ultimately the mistakes weren't that important.

After reading my father's autobiography, I realized that I had heard him use these phrases numerous times throughout his life. And now I realize how healthy this folk wisdom is. It encourages you to always give your best, but it forgives you for making mistakes.

Past and present

24 November 2020

As was recently pointed out to me, it has been quite a long time since my last post. As I am trying to recommit myself to 15 minutes of writing a day (or at least most days) and since I don't have any clear academic material to write down, I thought I'd pick this up and add a note.

Soon after my last post, I was compelled to rush to the US. After a problematic six months, my father passed away. Consequently, my summer was spent getting things in order for my mother. These transitions take quite a bit of work. All the credit cards, utilities, insurance, and so on have to be handled individually. And each one seems to require unanticipated paperwork and additional steps. But I seem to have gotten most of it done. I anticipate returning in the winter if COVID-19 doesn't get too much worse in the Northeast, though the very thought of it is exhausting. Travel requires additional visa applications, health screenings, and, of course, 14 days of quarantine on return.

Since returning, I've just been busy and neglecting this space. The ongoing life of online classrooms is also draining. Lecturing to black, placeholder screens diminishes the energy of the classroom. And it's easier to pull away than put more in. That said, I have no doubt that some of that the sapped energy is due to an unconscious processing of my father's loss and my new obligations. So I shouldn't blame it all on the format.

But the future is brighter. I can feel my strength returning. I should receive tenure in a few months time. And that new freedom is helping me unleash new projects, which I will write about in the future. The challenge, as always, will be to keep myself focused on one long enough to see it through!

Bicycles and skateboards

8 June 2020

I should be writing about the implosion of America, but instead I will briefly write about my daughters' explosion in skills.

Over the last two weeks, my youngest daughter has learned how to ride a bicycle and my older daughter has taken up skateboarding. After a long period of avoiding the fear or falling over, my younger daughter and I finally committed to her mastering the bicycle. I have to say that I admire her persistence over four or five days to consistently practice until she could zip off on her own. From the day she no longer needed me about a week ago, she has been out cruising and feeling the freedom of movement. And crashing here and there as she learns how to take corners better. But she's got it.

Then, yesterday, since I need to return to the maelstrom of chaos for the summer, we decided to pick up the birthday present my older daughter wanted, a skateboard. We rolled down to the good folks at Tussa Skateboards (in an eerily quiet Itaewon) and picked a board out. Frankly, I wasn't sure how enthusiastic my daughter was really going to be once she got going, but I was again astonished. We joined about 30 other kids for the shop's afternoon lesson. My daughter picked it up remarkably quickly, get up and stable on the board like she was born to it. After the lesson, she practiced for a couple more hours at home, where she started to get the hang of turning. She's got a long way to go, but I'm proud to see her developing so rapidly already. Happy birthday!

Human petri dishes and COVID-19

17 March 2020

A Canadian friend of mine now facing the public panic around COVID-19 spread asked me about the situation in Korea. I sent him the following. There is nothing novel in my assessment, but I thought that it encapsulates my view well enough to post here for posterity or others' curiosity.

Korea is Korea. We're not in Daegu, so we don't feel the deep fear here. But everyone wears masks all the time, even hiking in the mountains. Well, almost everyone. Those of us who don't wear a mask can get strange, accusing looks. All the science says that the masks don't really help unless you're around people aspirating. I do wear them on public transportation, though. So people are taking it very seriously and worrying about it a lot. Kids have been out of school for a month so far. My semester just started yesterday after a two week delay and we're teaching online. The school gave me hand sanitizer (even though there is a sink and soap in my office) and some masks. There is hand sanitizer everywhere, even on the buses. Everything is shut down and social activities have been minimized. Delivery services are having a heyday. It's like quasi-quarantine.

And it's working...or at least seems to be. But, even though there is fear and suspicion, there hasn't been any real stockpiling. Well, except masks. There is a shortage of masks and they are now rationed out at pharmacies. You can only buy them once a week on a day of the week determined by your birth year.

That said, I think closing things down, though extreme, is probably the best thing to do right now. I'm all about the "flattening the curve" argument and also the Spanish Flu argument. We have to flatten the disease incidence curve (or whatever it is called). Coronavirus doesn't pose much more than the risk of a serious and unpleasant bout of flue to most of us, but it is nasty to older people. Older people who get infected are likely to need life saving, ICU kind of care. But ICU supplies are limited, so if they get full, doctors have to let people die because they don't have the facilities to treat them, even though they might be able to save their lives. And COVID-19 is infectious as fuck. So if we want to save lives, we need to stop people from spreading the infection, even if they are healthy.

And then there is the Spanish Flu of 1918-19 example. It started off the same way, mainly infecting the elderly and compromised, but as it travelled the globe it mutated into something that would kill just about anyone. Death estimates range from 17m to 50m and even as high as 100m. I don't think we want that to happen again. So we have to allow COVID-19 no room to mutate by reducing the size the of the human Petri dish.

Stay safe. Stay healthy.

Dirt spoons and procedural justice

28 November 2019

Reuters has published a story on how 'dirt spoons' are turning against the current president as their hopes for the future evaporate. And indeed "good" job opportunities for the youth are harder than ever to come by. Youth unemployment has fluctuated around 10% over the last five years or so. Though it is now at the lowest during that period, it is not clear that the jobs are those that college-educated youth are seeking (and almost all youth are college educated).

The interesting shift for me is in the pursuit of justice. Under the prior, conservative government, social movements were mainly calling for redistributive justice. Now, with a more progressive government in power, they are calling for procedural justice, for a leveling of the playing field between the top 20% and the bottom 80%, just as in the article. (Reeves' Dream Hoarders is selling well here.)

It is unclear to me whether or not this is an ideological move by conservatives, who used the pretense of the abuse of class privilege to oust an otherwise progressive Minister of Justice who planned to implement major reforms to the justice system. It may also be a move to shift attention away from structural injustice.

Either way, tensions are brewing in South Korea.

One country and two systems

18 November 2019

The parallels between the language used in China and the language used by Trump are growing uncanny for me. I have previously written that I believe the best way to know what is going on with Trump is to listen to his accusations of others. The following quote from the People's Daily seems to be just such an example.

Justice, dreams and the future can only be discussed on the basis of humanity, and dialogue and communication will help solve dissidents and contradictions. When it comes to the question of ending violence, it is time for all the people in Hong Kong to stand up and say no to violence loud and clear. --- People's Daily

It seems to me that this is exactly what the Hong Kong people are doing. It is time for the police and Beijing to "say no to violence loud and clear". By this, of course, I mean that it is incumbent upon the government to stop its own violence and engage in genuine dialogue. This, however, seems highly unlikely since the government continues to express it's own refusal to compromise and enter a meaningful, human dialogue. According to The Guardian, the People's Daily issued an editorial today that translates as:

What we are facing today is a struggle between safeguarding 'one country, two systems' and destroying it. --- The Guardian
On an issue involving national sovereignty and the future of Hong Kong, there is no middle ground and absolutely no room for compromise. --- The Guardian

To be fair, the People's Daily today reports a statement seemingly similar to the first as:

The combat against violence has evolved into a fight between standing for and against "one country, two systems" principle. --- People's Daily

While the language is more calm, the message is the same...and the intent becomes clear in the second quote. I don't know which translation to believe, but I am biased toward the Guardian's translation, since the People's Daily is hopelessly one-sided in its reporting. (It is quite revealing to read the paper's English reporting on Hong Kong. While every wound to pro-Beijing supporters and Hong Kong police are reported, the wounds being inflicted on the protestors goes unmentioned. I can't even find anything about the protestors who have been shot. The spin is incredible. Trump could learn a few things.)

If it is a stark choice between one country or two countries, perhaps it is time to consider the second option. If the PRC truly cares for the people rather than its own wealth and power, this should not be such a difficult consideration. Choosing to respect the interests of the people and to reflect them in governance is precisely Mao's ideal. And after all,...

There should be no double standard when it comes to political violence. --- People's Daily

Korea University and Hong Kong

13 November 2019

I am encouraged that my class last evening was disrupted at the beginning by the sounds of a student organized demonstration against totalitarian practices being exercised in Hong Kong to limit citizens' freedom to determine their own futures. I am further encouraged by the small table set up by the back entrance to the university promoting Hong Kongers' cause and inviting passersby to add their own voice to our own Lennon Wall. I am also encouraged that there will be an event on Korea University's campus this evening at 7pm to talk about Hong Kong.

As the Hong Kong police and the PRC step up the violence against Hong Kong citizens, including incursions onto campuses, it is more important than ever to decry these practices and to praise and support those who are sacrificing their own safety and future to protect our freedom to shape our own futures. As I wrote below, Hong Kong's struggle is our struggle. Democracy is under attack throughout the world. It is not perfect, but if we do not defend it, we will wind up serfs following the orders of the global elite. Democracy is our armor. And it is time to fight.

If you are an academic, you might consider signing this Petition by Global Academics Against Police Brutality in Hong Kong.

70 years and stains

01 October 2019

So China has stained its 70th anniversary with the blood of protesters in Honk Kong. After Xi Jinping vowed to pursue "peaceful reunification", HK police shot a protester, putting him in critical condition. The policeman, of course, claims that he felt that the lives of his colleagues and himself were threatened, but it is not clear why one should trust that story. There does seem to be a wider spread use of petrol bombs today, but it is more likely that this is a deliberate gesture intended to intimidate the protesters.

Celebrations and demonstrations

01 October 2019

Though China's military parade was much more impressive than Trump's feeble 4th of July showing, ultimately it plodded along as a ridiculously boring demonstration of the country's military might. (Who actually gets off on military parades? Maybe just politicians with big buttons?)

Either way, the more important issue is that Xi Jinping reasserted the PRC's commitment to subordinating Hong Kong and Taiwan, just as is has Tibet and Xinjiang. Xi stated that Hong Kong and Taiwan must be peacefully unified with China. He also stated that the Chinese military will "resolutely protect world peace", which---as we know from our experience with late-19th century imperialism and US expansionism---refers to China's vision of world peace and is a way of justifying violent intervention in any sphere that threatens an empire's power. That is to say that China will surely justify violence to bring peace. And true to form, there is a new report suggesting that the supposed "rotation" of PLA forces in August was actually a reinforcement that doubled the size of the PLA's presence in HK.

During the artificially enthusiastic display of patriotism, Joshua Wong, a prominent participant in Hong Kong's fight for democratic practice and rights, tweeted that everyone should "call on [their] government to exert diplomatic pressure on Beijing". Here is the letter I sent to my Congressional representatives.

Dear Senator/Representative,

Today is a momentous day for China and for Hong Kong. At today's 70th anniversary celebration, Xi Jinping has restated the PRC's ultimate commitment to integrating Hong Kong and Taiwan into its authoritarian, anti-democratic political system.

This immediately threatens the human rights of Hongkongers and their freedom to make choices about their own lives. Those bold individuals protesting in Hong Kong are fighting for the same democratic principles and human dignity that are currently under threat throughout much of the world, including our own nation.

I am writing to encourage you to press forward with more active and visible Congressional support for democratic practice in Hong Kong. Hong Kong's fight today may be ours tomorrow.


Hong Kong and heroes

17 September 2019

The protests in Hong Kong should be the 21st century's "shot heard round the world". Just as those first shots fired outside Boston signaled the beginning of almost a decade of fighting for Americans' right to self-determination, the ongoing protests in Hong Kong (both violent and nonviolent) represent the first salvo in our contemporary fight for the freedom to make choices about our own lives.

The 21st century has witnessed attacks on the democratic principles and practices for many citizens of the world. In the US, Trump and his lackeys have worked to turn the justice system into a tool for protecting themselves and for demonizing immigrants and protesters. Conservatives have gerrymandered voting districts and intimidated and purged voters to manipulate electoral outcomes. They have encouraged violence and aggression in both policing and terrorism through their winking support of white nationalism and gun rights. In the UK, Johnson attempted to suspend Parliament and steamroll a no-deal Brexit. But the US and UK are just two members of a gang of increasingly authoritarian states denying their current and potential citizens the power to make their own decisions. In addition to historically authoritarian states like Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, and so on, Brasil, Hungary, Turkey, the Philippines, and Russia are also full-fledged members, and a host of aspirants seek to join.

The People's Republic of China under Xi Jinping stands as a living example of what is possible for authoritarian states today. Modern technology has facilitated the Communist Party of China's ability to suppress freedom of thought and political participation. The social credit system and online censorship has made it easier for the state to restrict citizens' freedom to travel, their freedom to speak their mind, their freedom to make choices. The plight of Uighurs in Xinjiang represents one possible future of technological totalitarianism. The ubiquitous deployment of facial recognition technology, electronic surveillance, and incessant police stops creates a continuous stream of inmates for the region's “vocational training centers” whose goal is culturalif not actual—genocide of the Islamic Uighur population.

There is little reason to think that the rest of the world is not headed in the same direction. Through the relentless collection of user data, global tech and finance firms have built their own privatized social credit systems that they employ to determine individuals' eligibility for loans and taxis as well as their freedom of speech. Police departments, federal agencies, and now Amazon's Ring continue to deploy the same technologies applied in Xinjiang to manage local dissent and create an \href{}{umbrella of total surveillance}. All of these actions steadily undermine citizens' privacy and freedom.

It is not difficult to see how these tools might be employed in an all too easily imagined apocalyptic future. If people and governments fail to avert climate change, we will come to live in a hostile world of extreme weather patterns, including more destructive hurricanes and typhoons, higher temperatures, and flooding, all of which will take the lives of those unable to afford to live and work in secure buildings. If we fail to alter our consumption patterns, we will deplete resources and generate a toxic environment that will poison those unable to afford the technologies currently being developed for future trips to Mars. And the majority of the world's population will be precisely those more vulnerable to climate extremes and poisoned resources. Artificial intelligence and roboticization will have eliminated any need for the masses to work, leaving the 1% securely ensconced in their Wall-E-style bunkers and the rest of us scrambling for potable water. Resistance will be managed with the tools of technological authoritarianism.

Protestors in Hong Kong offer a vision of a different yet possible future where people are empowered to make decisions about their own lives. Recently protesters have been holding out their hands with each finger representing one of their five demands. These demands fundamentally push for democracy and the rule of law. Hong Kong's citizens are demanding their right to democratically elect their own chief executive rather than live under one chosen in Beijing. Demands for the withdrawal of the extradition bill, an independent inquiry into police violence, and the release of protestors are calls for accountability under the rule of law. They are insisting on holding the powerful to the same standards they are expected to accept. Quite simply, Hongkongers are fighting for the fundamental right to self-determination.

Hong Kong citizens' commitment to a better future and their actions to realize that future should serve as an inspiration to those living in deteriorating democracies. Their struggles are the most courageous example of fighting against the creeping authoritarianism that threatens all of us today. Hong Kong citizens are fighting the first major battle in the 21st century's War of Independence, in our War of Independence.

Borders and bullies

22 July 2019

It's odd. Nothing has changed. I'm not doing anything illegal. I'm still an American citizen. I'm again about to make my annual summer migration to visit my parents. But for the first time I worry about crossing the border into my own country. In previous years, crossing the border has mainly been one of tedious and impatient waiting in line after a long haul on the plane. Of course, it was always attended by the moment of self-conscious tension when you come face-to-face with authority. But that tension was almost always dissolved in the warm patriotic glow engendered by the immigration official's "Welcome home."

I don't feel the same this year. I don't anticipate any problems. And there's no reason there should be any problems crossing the border. But under the current regime, in the current climate, I no longer have confidence that things will go smoothly. Between the capriciousness of the President and the complicity of Congress and Wall Street, between the crowding and poor treatment at the border's concentration camps and my family's own negative border experience two years ago, between chants to "Send her back" and Civil Rights Era calls to "Go back home", the border no longer feels like a bureaucratic hurdle. The border now feels like a barbed wire fence.

Maybe Trump got his wall after all.

Historic and legendary

1 July 2019

In the press conference following Trump's unprecedented stroll into the North Korean side of the DMZ, Trump himself described the event as "historic" several times and even labeled it "legendary". I'm not sure Trump understands what "historic" means. Organizing an international summit by Tweet with just 24 hours notice may be historic. But the mere fact that he was the first US president to set foot in North Korea is not historic. To be historic, the event itself must reflect and symbolize deeper changes. The underlying transformation is the truly historic component. Its significance simply gets compressed into a single event.

In this case there appears to be no meaningful underlying historical process. The outcome of Sunday's publicity stunt is simply that working talks are being restarted. As Michael Fuchs points out, this places us right back at the beginning. Okay, maybe not the "Rocketman" beginning, but certainly the beginning of talks. The only possible positive spin may be that the leaders' date in the DMZ may have kept up a relationship that could serve as the basis for future cooperation. Progress will not be made without some measure of trust building.

The event is not "historic", but it may be "legendary". "Legendary" only requires that an event be larger than life. And arranging a date through Twitter for an empty photo op may indeed be Trump's ego.

Please note that the argument informing my notion of "historic" was originally inspired by a talk by Marshall Sahlins that I once attended and whose contents are contained in this article. I may also have been inspired by my recent reading Walter Benjamin's On the concept of history.

Bodies and immigration

27 June 2019

This article and photo is disturbing. And it should be. It depicts the tragedy of a Salvadoran father and his two-year-old daughter who drowned attempting to cross the Rio Grande from Mexico to the US. The pointless loss is tragic in and of itself, but the photo of the two face down in the water by the bank of the river is doubly poignant because of the clear bond between the two. The father has tucked his daughter inside his shirt to ensure that she stays with him. And the daughter's arm is still flung around her father's neck, as if she were still clinging to him to keep her safe.

The story should trigger deeper reflection on the human toll of the US's currently inhumane and murderous immigration policies.

Presenting and entertaining

31 May 2019

A friend of mine was just asked to replace the speaker for this talk on survival skills that will take place in NYC this week. He tells awesome stories, but he doesn't tell them in formal circumstances like this and wrote that it's time for him to become an entertainer. I decided to offer some unsolicited advice for presenting, since I am procrastinating to avoid reading student theses! Since this is presentation season at my university, I thought it might be useful more broadly. This is most of what I wrote (edited for clarity).

Welcome to my life. As a professor I am an entertainer on a daily basis. You probably know of the following suggestions for giving presentations and teaching, but even if they are just a reminder:

  1. If you're nervous, just say so. It helps you relax.
  2. If you think you'll be nervous, memorize the first minute or so. It gives your system time to relax.
  3. "Never" look at the projection screen. If you need to see the presentation, look at the computer. You don't want to turn your back on people. Doing so is subconsciously interpreted as rude and, more importantly, it muffles your voice.
  4. Move around. Movement stimulates people's brain and keeps their attention. Staying at the podium doesn't work. But be warned that it makes you feel more vulnerable at first.
  5. People love stories. They are not appropriate for every topic, but they personalize you and build a stronger bond between you and the participants.

Actually, I think this would be my main suggestion: Think-pair-share. The teaching technique world says that people don't focus well after ten minutes or so, so if you break your talk up into little pieces and then do an interactive activity, you win. So you want to get people doing something. Plus people learn more when they think than when they listen. So what I typically do when I ask a question is ask it and then say "talk to your neighbor for a couple of minutes and come up with an answer". Then discuss it as a group. After that break from just listening, people are a bit refreshed and more people are willing to talk and try to answer your question. When discussing answers, be sure to recognize any good ideas your didn't think of or that are not your focus. There are almost always one or two.

Here's a link to a risk communication video by Bonner that actually has some cynically decent tips for presenting.

Hope this helps some of you.

Trump and sanity

24 May 2019

I've long had a theory that Trump has had a brilliant fundamental strategy for undermining the legitimacy of his opponents and deflecting attention from his own faults. He simply accuses others of things he is guilty of. So it comes as some dismay that after his supposed meltdown in front of Democrat representatives over funding infrastructure he has said of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, "She's mess...she's disintegrating. I've been watching her for a long time. She's not the same person. She's lost it."

Maybe he does need a break from running the country.

Weber and rationality

23 May 2019

In the weekly book club I am involved in with some of our students, we are reading John Dewey's The Public & Its Problems but in trying to understand Dewey's idea of how science should work confusion arose over Weber's concept of rationality. It drove me nuts through the night. Although I've read it a dozen times (maybe), instrumental and value rationality were not settling down together comfortably. So I went back to Economy and Society once again. My brief reconnaissance produces the following observations. They are surely incomplete, but I'm throwing them out here because there does seem to be a small core of value. If anyone wants to correct or educate me further, please email me.

I have not found a clear definition of rationality in the book. It may be there, but I haven't found it. Instead, rationality appears to be a process of deliberate, conscious analysis (and decision making). He breaks it down into two broad types: formal and substantive. Formal rationality involves clear quantitative calculations (though it also seems to include rigid structures, like government bureaucracies). Substantive rationality involves conscious decision-making based on ultimate values.

These are then connected to corresponding types of social action. Instrumentally rational (zweckrational) action is associated with formal rationality and calculates expectations about the behavior of others and the environment to pursue rationally determined ends. Note that the rationally determined ends could be predominantly formal or substantive, so you can pursue values in a consciously rational way. Value-rational (wertrational) action is associated with substantive rationality and is determined by a conscious belief in some value, regardless of you chances of succeeding. It seems that these types of social action are characterized by the source of their ends. The fucky thing is that instrumental rationality seems to be considered both a means and an end (as far as I can tell). Weber seems to be a bit sloppy here, but he is unequivocal. He states, "Action is instrumentally ration (zweckrational) when the ends, the means, and the secondary results are all rationally taken into account and weighed." But value-rational only seems to refer to the ends. Weber does not discuss any means other than instrumental.

He also adds two non-rational types of action. The first is affectual, which refers to action driven from emotion. The other is traditional, which refers to action done out of habit or custom (pragmatism again!).

Intelligence and wealth

19 May 2019

The notion that intelligence is a personal endowment or personal attainment is the great conceit of the intellectual class, as that of the commercial class is that wealth is something which they personally have wrought and possess.

--- John Dewey, The Public and its Problems, 1927, p. 211.

Houses and homes

15 December 2018

I guess I am making this list because I am about to move out of CJ International House. On Monday I will return to the US, and after six weeks will return to move into Girum New Town. All semester long I've been saying that CJ House is the one house that I'll never miss. But, of course, as departure looms the scent of nostalgia is creeping in. So here is a pretty complete list of all the places I've lived in order.

  1. Old Evarts Lane, Mystic, CT (eight years)
  2. Lantern Hill Rd, Mystic, CT (ten years plus summers and winters during school and more recently when the family has visited)
  3. Lewis Hall, Tufts University, Somerville, MA (one year)
  4. Milne House, Tufts University, Somerville, MA (four months)
  5. Lewis Hall, Tufts University, Somerville, MA (four months)
  6. Alcuin College, University of York, York, UK (one year)
  7. Whitman Street, Somerville, MA (one year)
  8. Hallfield Rd, York, UK (one year)
  9. 35th and Cabrillo, SF, CA (one year)
  10. Chenery St, SF, CA (a few months)
  11. 17th and Guerrero, SF, CA (six months)
  12. San Carlos, SF, CA (one and a half years(?))
  13. Eureka St, SF, CA (one year)
  14. 46th and Balboa, SF, CA (few months)
  15. Eureka St, SF, CA (few months)
  16. Insa-dong, Seoul, ROK (one year)
  17. Eungam-dong, Seoul, ROK (one year)
  18. Seokyo-dong, Seoul, ROK (three years)
  19. South and Southeast Asia (one year)
  20. 120th St, NY, NY (one year)
  21. 122nd St, NY, NY (three years)
  22. Brady Court, Bronx, NY (four years)
  23. Donam Brownstone Apartments, Donam-dong, Seoul, ROK (three years)
  24. Bomun e-Pyunhan Saesang Apartments, Bomun-dong, Seoul, ROK (three years)
  25. Elihu Island, Stonington, CT (one year)
  26. CJ International House, Korea University, Seoul, ROK (four months)
  27. Remian Apartments, Girum New Town

KU Klue and You

8 December 2018

I don't know if it is just a few students trying to get better grades here at the end of the semester, but I've received a couple of encouraging comments about my teaching over the last few days. They boil down to the fact that students feel like they genuinely learn when they participate in my classes. One person suggested that I don't simply feed the students information to memorize and spit back out, that the students have to actively engage the material and draw their own conclusions. The other person informed me that my reviews on KU Klue, Korea University's private student portal for commenting on professors and classes, are generally favorable, saying that students can learn something new and that although the readings may be difficult, attending class helps you understand them.

Of course, everyone likes their ego to be stroked, but more importantly---or am I fooling myself?!---these comments suggest to me that I am achieving my primary pedagogical goals. The most important thing for me is to help students practice thinking. And that requires processing new ideas independently. I deeply believe that one only learns by wrestling with ideas, by getting confused, by consciously reorganizing one's understanding of the world. A teacher cannot do that for another. A teacher can only create and facilitate opportunities for students to teach themselves.

Living labs and smart cities

1 December 2018

I haven't posted many independent posts since returning. I've been slowing filling in the details of the summer road trip below and working fairly consistently. So I thought I'd take a moment to mention the conference I attended the other day at KLID that was co-sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, the thinktank for the German liberal party.

When the director of the foundation was introducing the organization, he continuously referred to it as "FNF". All I could think of was Lupe Fiasco's record label, which caused a bit of pleasant cognitive dissonance. (Note that Lupe has a comparatively new album.)

More interestingly, there was a curious disparity (cognitive dissonance?) between the German and Korean presenters. One presenter, Julian Petrin of urbanista, offered a repackaging of participatory planning as urban living labs and co-creation, provocatively arguing that living labs' innovation lies as much in the process (of user/citizen participation) as in the outcomes. Marc Wolfram, meanwhile, argued that innovative outcomes (that can address environmental destruction) are more important. Despite their differing emphases on process and outcome, they were both pressing for deeper innovations through living labs, i.e., democracy and sustainability. The Korean speakers, for their part, pushed for a centralized notion of smart cities and living labs. In particular, Jong-Sung Hwang from the National Information Society Agency, pitched Busan EDC as Smart City 4.0, which supposedly transforms smart cities from products (like Songdo) to platforms for urban innovation. To my ears, the platform sounded like an even more centralized product. Indeed, the development seems to have no greater ambition than creating a new profitable product. At the heart is a supercomputer that will manage all the smart-ness, including augmented reality, transportation services, emergency services, the power grid, and so on. Combining the Busan EDC model with the explanation of LH's role in turning out large developments in record time, one can see that there is little role for user/citizen participation in the design and development of these urban platforms, as pointed out by In-Sook Kim of KDI. Rather, citizen participation comes after the fact as a mere consumer or perhaps marginal innovator. In short, for the Germans, citizen participation comes in the design phase, and for the Koreans, citizen participation comes in the consumption phase.

To some extent this is an acceptable and understandable difference in urban planning approach. What disturbed me, however, was the second panel's Korean moderator, Hyun Joo Kim from the University of Seoul, final conclusion. He basically suggested that German and Korean understandings of the smart city are different, and that's all there is to it. There was a finality in his statement that most Korean participants appeared to welcome. But this finality closed off any possibility for exploring how development processes might be restructured to incorporate more citizen participation. Democracy was dismissed.

My life and your life

19 September 2018

I got the best compliment ever over the weekend. I was traveling to Shanghai and Nanjing to meet the students in my streaming class. I wound up telling other colleagues about my summer trip and Elihu Island and my 2003 trip to western Mongolia among other things. Apparently a bit jealous of my adventures, one of the professors told me, "I wish I could live your life." Of course, I know that my life isn't that great, but it reminds me that it is pretty cool nevertheless. I mean, what better compliment can you get than someone wanting to have your experiences? Too bad they just get the Instagram version, where even the unpleasant experiences look exciting.

Travels and travails

9 September 2018

Over forty days this summer my family and I drove 10,000 miles across the US and back, camping almost all the way. It was awesome. There weren't actually too many travails in our travels, except a few serious downpours, but it sounded good as a title. If there are any genuine travails, they relate to the pain of having to end the trip. This post is really intended as a record of the trip and recollections about the journey. As the trip was forty days long, the entry will have to be built over time.

  1. July 01: Mystic to Newbridge.

    Drove from Mystic to Newbridge, NY during the East Coast heat wave. Did some last minute shopping at the REI in New Haven. The plan was to ease ourselves into traveling and camping by spending two days here and two in the next place.

  2. July 02: Shawangunks.

    Hiked around Lake Minnewaska and visited Stony Kill Falls. Minnewaska is an old haunt of mine from when I lived in NYC. My buddy Brad and I used to drive up to the Gunks once a week to hike in Mohonk or Minnewaska. This time I got to introduce my kids to my memories. Two memories were brand new, however. First, a friendly hiker informed us that if we actually went to the top of Stony Kill Falls, clothing was optional. We, uh, didn't go to the top. Instead, the second new memory was that my wife got us all to stand under the falls, though the dry weather had reduced them to a mere trickle. Still, it was the spirit of the thing and seeing my kids experience something they never expected that was the real treat.

  3. July 03: Newbridge to Tionesta.

    Drove to Tionesta in Allegheny National Forest. This was a long day, as we were working to get out West as quickly as possible. That did not stop us from stopping at the Lackawanna Coal Mine for a tour. The most interesting aspect of the tour was seeing how the miners maximized production by cleaning entire seams while maintaining safety by leaving pillars of coal behind to support the roof. In particular, the Lackawanna Valley had something like eight seams separated by granite, so it was like an eight-story mining apartment building. Plus, it was a well positioned national park. The campground we stayed at was at the base of a huge dam and was home to one of our more dramatic travails. Our trailer site was at the bottom of a small slope, and it rained ferociously for much of the night. So, on our third night camping ever as a family---and my wife and my first time in a long time---I wound up outside in my boxers for an hour (it seemed) digging trenches to try to keep the water from flowing under our tent. We survived. Friendly neighbors asked us how we survived in a tent, informing us that the dedicated tent camping sites across the river had been flooded overnight. So we were lucky, but scarred.

  4. July 04: Tionesta.

    On the holiday, we visited Tionesta and walked around Lighthouse Island, where we met and chatted with an Amish couple fishing. Later, YK and the kids went off to a local fair while I worked on a paper I was supposed to have already finished. It wasn't supposed to rain again that night, but torrential rains came down for a couple of hours and I was out in my boxers again. (I have to admit that while I was a bit stressed, I wasn't really worried, and it was fun to "battle the elements" a bit. I was further scarred and decided that I should buy a hatchet at some point for digging trenches and pounding tent stakes.

  5. July 05: Tionesta to Union.

    A very long drive to a KOA on the west side of Chicago. My wife had to drive through more heavy rain, and I had to drive through Chicago, which was a bit enervating, as I'd only been driving in the countryside for a year. But we did briefly stop in Vermilion, OH to look out over Lake Erie. I believe we also touched Michigan along the way, but I may be wrong. We ate Thai food in Elkhart, Indiana before continuing on toward Chicago and the KOA in Union. Meanwhile, our soundtrack of Jo Jo, Sing, Leap, and later Bruno Mars started to get assembled. I was not often able to listen to my own music selections during the trip, except on my birthday.

  6. July 06: Union to Pikes Peak, IA.

    This was a fairly manageable day. We spent most of it on Route 20, lunching in Lena at a state park and running through Galena and Dubuque and then following the Mississippi River north to Pikes Peak State Park, where the Mississippi meets the Wisconsin River at 500' bluffs and where we camped for the night. Route 20 took us along a stagecoach route through corn country. "Corn again!" my daughter coined to describe how boring the scenery supposedly was. And though I've heard many cross-country drivers complain of the Plains, I found at least this first stretch of "corn again" to be quite attractive and engaging. Perhaps there were more hills than in other areas? At any rate, this was the first time we tried our luck as "walk-ins" without prior reservations at the campground. We were fortunate enough to get one, but the other two free sites were taken within a half hour of our arrival. The campground itself was quite nice and shady, but it was filled with tiny black flies that did not bite but seemed to flock around my face. It was quite unpleasant, and it had us wondering if camping was perhaps a mistake after all! But making our first fire of the trip helped to dispel those worries. The S'mores were tasty!

  7. July 07: Pikes Peak.

    On this day, my job was to work on my paper. So after hiking around Pikes Peak and looking at the old Native American effigy mounds in the shape of animals, I stayed in the campsite trying to avoid the flies. Meanwhile, everyone else went down to the attractive town of McGregor to walk around and shop and to take a ferry on the river, where the girls got a chance to "steer" the boat and where Sienna seems to have lost her pocketbook with her some of her savings inside.

  8. July 08: Pikes Peak to Fort Thompson.

    Finally west of the Mississippi. We drove out to the Army Corp of Engineers' Left Tailrace Campground in South Dakota area to camp just below the dam. Lovely but hot. We saw white pelicans, the girls' first ever pelicans. That said,, we went shopping at Lynn's Dakotamart to pick up supplies and encountered a troubling sign of Native American poverty. There was a sign that said that the store stayed open late on days that locals received their welfare checks. This of course implies that are scraping by and need to shop for food the moment they receive their welfare. Must make for a stressful life.

  9. July 09: Fort Thompson to Badlands.

    Badlands. For me, the first major stop out West and the beginning of the real site seeings. I had long wanted to visit since one of my closest friends from college and after had told me that his father had visited the Badlands on a motorcycle and told him that it was incredible. As it is. Insanely hot, but incredible. And it was a great introduction to the geology of canyons and the Plains...and, of course, dinosaurs. At the ranger station in the Badlands, you can see researchers cleaning up fossils found in the park. And so began the trip's inevitable engagement with dinosaurs for the girls and geology for me. Volcanoes were soon to come. It was also where we learned about the Junior Ranger Program, in which kids complete a number of tasks that teach them about the park. Upon completion, they are sworn in (often with a joke included, like "I promise to always eat my vegetables.") and receive a badge. Somehow, no matter how frazzled or tired the rangers were, they always made time to sincerely engage the kids in asking about their experience and swearing them in. For the girls, the badge was the major goal, but they had fun doing the exercises, too. We often had to spend extra time somewhere just so that they could get their badge. Ultimately, they acquired quite a collection. I will say, though, that the program is excellent and the I applaud the National Park Service for the commitment to this program. It makes the park a richer experience for both kids and parents.

  10. July 10: Badlands to Spearfish.

    Woke up in the last of the mosquito campsites, the Badlands KOA, where I went for the last jog of the trip. On our drive out of the Badlands, we saw our first mountain goats and bison. The four bison were exciting, but nothing compared to what we would soon see in Yellowstone. The rest of the day was basically spent in the Black Hills. First stop was Mount Rushmore, still one of the kids' favorite stops. Like most of the national parks, especially the hyped parks, Mount Rushmore was cooler than expected. The site is a bit too patriotic, but it still is stunning. From Mount Rushmore, we drove along the Needles Highway, admiring the impossibly tall rock spires. After lunch among lodge pole pines, we drove through Custer State Park, hoping to visit Jewel Cave. Unfortunately, we were too late to get tickets, so on our way north toward Deadwood, I gave in to my wife's earlier suggestion that we stop for a swim at Sylvan Lake, where there were rocks towering up out of the manmade lake. Perhaps one of my biggest regrets of the trip is that I was all too often thinking about saving money and getting to the destination at a reasonable time. When I forced myself to relax and follow opportunities (and my wife's typically excellent suggestions), we had more fun. In this case it was a lovely dip in refreshingly cool water at the end of a hot day. Of course, we then had to drive almost two hours to drive through Deadwood on our way to stay in Spearfish for our first night in a hotel. Thanks to the HBO series, Deadwood was a must for me. I wanted to take a minute to imagine this silver-inspired pop-up city in its heyday and visit the famous Mount Moriah Cemetery, even though we did not have time to look around for specific graves. After all, I was the only one interested. Had a tasty dinner at the Steerfish Steak and Smoke.

  11. July 11: Spearfish to Devil's Tower.

    Laundry day in Spearfish. Also made my first experiment with dry ice in the snazzy Yeti cooler, which turned out to be an awesome investment, despite the price. My combination of a couple of pounds of dry ice and a ten pound block of icey ice kept the icey ice frozen for two days and the food plenty cold for a couple 100 degree heat. In the afternoon, we drove to Devil's Tower, still my youngest daughter's favorite spot on the trip. She loved it because I explained how it is a baby volcano and because it was the first volcano she'd every seen. And of course it looks amazing with the geometric edges scraping skyward. We were fortunate to get a site in the park campground, Belle Fourche. I think this was the first time that we headed to a campground without reservations, a practice we got much more comfortable with as the trip progressed. From the campground, you could see Devil's Tower and the feeling was awesome. The girls made friends with a young teenage girl traveling with her father to visit the rest of her family (or something like that). The only drawback was that the girl was up until 2 or 3am listening to religious adventure stories about God conquering demons. I didn't hear it much, but it kept my wife awake for a long time. It was definitely bad campground behavior. Don't know how her father failed to notice.

  12. July 12: Devil's Tower to Cody.

    This day was all about Wyoming. We first hustled back up to Devil's Tower so that the girls could get their Junior Ranger badges. And then we got back on the road. Originally I wanted to visit Thunder Basin National Park, but we decided on this day to stage ourselves for entry into Yellowstone the next day, so we made KOA reservations in Cody, WY. This is as good a point as any to mention the advantages of staying at KOAs. They are very much the hotel of campgrounds. You can make same day online reservations up to 4pm. This is awesome if you know you are going to be on the road until dinner or later and want to be sure you have a place to stay. They simply assign you a site (among the class that you designated), like a hotel assigns a room. This is necessarily as nice as letting you assess what is available and making choices that suit your individual preferences, but it is quick and worry free. And most importantly, as my buddy Brad's sister said, they have pools. And playgrounds. And the kids love this. They would always light up when they learned that we would stay in a KOA, because they knew that we would play in the pool and they could play on the swingset while my wife and I set up camp and got dinner ready. And of course, they have laundry and internet (kind of). So the KOAs had their place. As they did this day.

    After making our reservations, we took our time driving out I-90 to Route 14. Though I wanted to take Route 16 through Ten Sleep, since our Big Agnes tent was named the Ten Sleep 6, Route 14 is purportedly the most attractive road through Bighorn National Forest. And it was a gorgeous route. From the Plains, you climb and climb up the steep roadway into the Bighorn Mountains, which are a sister range to the Rockies. As the Plains fade away, you traverse wide, alpine meadows and then drop into precipitous, geometric valleys before exiting back out onto the Plains. On one of the last empty stretches of Wyoming highway, with no restroom for miles and a bladder threatening to burst, my youngest daughter was forced to pee on the side of the road. She refused at first, but her bladder insisted, and then her worries were over. One step tougher. After pulling into the Cody KOA, the girls went to the playground and inflatable trampoline while we set up. After a brief swim at one of the nicest pools on the trip, I pushed us out for one of the few things I consciously planned for: the Cody Nite Rodeo. I'm not a great fan of rodeos, but they have their interesting aspects and more importantly no one else in the family had ever been to a rodeo. And what better place to see your first rodeo than in Cody, the town established by Buffalo Bill Cody, the most famous rodeo man in history? Turns out it is the 80th year of the Stampede. The quality was not the highest, but it was better than I recall having seen. We enjoyed our dinner in the stands. And my older daughter watched fascinated. I think it was the amazement of seeing so many horses. It was also cool to see young girls and women riding and roping and whatnot. (I really should have let my wife get us all out for a horse ride at some time during the trip, but money made me shy.) At any rate, my daughter made us stay until the very end of the show and was ready to go back as soon as possible. The girls even joined the kids' game of trying to grab a red cloth off the back of a calf. I don't think they ever came close, but they were out there in the middle of the stampede field, something I have never done. I'm not sure they liked it. But they got a bit tougher again. I don't want delicate daughters.

  13. July 13: Cody to Colter Bay.

    After an aggravated effort to clear hosts of little tiny sand flea looking bugs out of our tent, we left Cody for Yellowstone. I have always stubbornly rejected the idea of going to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. Both are so famous and popular that I thought I needed to resist visiting. In my head I guess it was all Yogi Bear and tourists. But Yellowstone was on the way, so we figured we'd pass through on our way to Grand Teton National Park, which I was confident would be, well, grand. And with some good fortune, I was lucky enough to get us reservations for two nights in tent cabins (two solid walls and canvas for everything else) in Colter Bay. They were a bit expensive ($80/night), but I figured we could benefit from a modicum of comfort since we had stayed in our tent the whole time so far. Plus, they had bunk beds, which I knew the girls would enjoy. To go in through the east entrance of the park, the closest, we got to pass through Shoshone Valley, a reservoir and power plant that gave way to rough, rocky mountains and forests of lodgepole pine. We finally knew we were getting out of cattle country and into the wilds. But our entrance to Yellowstone was anti-climactic, if interesting in its own right. We wound our way down toward Yellowstone Lake, which sits at the heart of the park. The entire landscape consisted of grass and tall blackened sticks of burnt pine. It was disheartening, but it showed what forest fires can do. Indeed, it showed what forest fires must do to keep the forests themselves healthy. But it did not seem to bode well for our visit. At one point, we presumed that the whole park had burned down, reinforcing my belief that Yellowstone might not be all it is cracked up to be.

    But then we approached the lake. On the way down, we passed a waterfall that tumbled downward for 300m or more. Then we saw an elk walking along a spit projecting into the lake (and followed by 20--30 people!). We had sandwiches for lunch under some pines overlooking the lake. Suddenly it felt like we should stop the car and get out at every corner and turnout. We visited the ranger station to get Junior Ranger activity books and saw our first up-close bison and were warned about bears. And then we headed for Old Faithful, because if you're going to be in Yellowstone for one day in your life, you obviously have to see Old Faithful. I expected a disappointment (still!), but I wanted my daughters to be able to say that they had seen it. And they did. And we all loved it. I must mention again here how amazing the National Park Service is. They have done a fantastic job of spreading the crowds out around Old Faithful and protecting both them and the geyser from damage. We were also fortunate to be seated at the spot that a roving ranger came and explained how the pressure builds up inside the chamber below the surface and leads to the eruption. It also served as their ranger activity for their Junior Ranger books, which was convenient since we were trying to finish the activities and get their badge before we left the park in a few hours. One of the activities was to use a simple formula to calculate when Old Faithful's next eruption would take place, a great bit of math practice for my older daughter amidst the fun. We marked the time when the geyser started and timed how long it lasted, and my daughter was able to make the exact prediction that the rangers made. The eruption itself was also pretty cool. Not necessarily awe-inspiring, but definitely satisfactory. I probably would have pushed to move on, but the Junior Rangers saved us. The girls had to do a hike to get their badge, so off we went on the one-mile walk among the geysers and hot springs adjacent to Old Faithful. The clear water filled rock formations were amazing. Precipitated calcium formed jagged snow-like bluffs around the edges, and the sulfur tinged other spots a fascinating orange. And just as we returned from our hike, it was time for Old Faithful to erupt again, 5:39pm according to my daughter's calculations. She was exactly right. Awesome. In a few short hours the girls had finished their Junior Ranger activities. They were quite determined. So we went in to get their badges. When the ranger asked how many elk and bison they had seen, they responded just a couple. The ranger was surprised, so I asked where we should be going. Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley was the answer. Suddenly I had a feeling we would be back.

    But by now it was time to head south to our tent cabin in Grand Teton. The drive down was lovely all over again. There is just no end to the magnificence up there. The kids loved the bunk beds while my wife and I worried about mosquitoes flying in through the gaps between the canvas roof and the walls. The mosquitoes turned out to be a false alarm, since it is so cool at night there. But we did have to worry about bears for the first time. Everything that smelled vaguely edible had to go into the bear lockers, even make up and toothpaste. I expected to run into a bear at any moment, especially when I went out to pee in the middle of the night. But we didn't see any...until the next day.

  14. July 14: Grand Tetons.

    The Grand Tetons are quite simply gorgeous, and we were fortunate enough to have clear skies that showed them off to their best advantage, even if we didn't wake up for sunrise. Still, I was excited. We were going to go on our first real hike. We stopped by the grocery store in Colter Bay to pick up and pack up lunch. Most of us wound up with mediocre pulled pork sliders. We then stopped by the ranger station to pick up the Junior Ranger activity book and get some advice on trails. After some discussion, we settled on walking along Jenny Lake up to String Lake for lunch and then I would probably return alone to get the car and pick everyone else up. But the chief advice we received was to be wary of bears and that the rangers "recommend" carrying bear spray, available at the low, low price of $50--70. To be honest, they weren't pushing the bear spray sales; they were simply trying to keep people safe. If it had been just my wife and I, I would not have thought too seriously about the bear spray. But we were with the girls, and parental instincts urge you to protect. Still, since the cost was so high, we resolved with some nervousness to simply go for it. Never having encountered a bear in the wild, I was imagining that just seeing a bear would result in three-inch claws flying everywhere and ripping us to shreds. Needless to say, I was uncomfortable. And observing other people on the trail only added to my concern. Those trail runners who passed us? Small canister of bear spray strapped to the lead runner's shorts. The couple that passed us going the other way? Holster full of bear spray. It seemed that each of the four or five groups we passed were carrying bear spray, and I started to get very worried. Then, 20 meters away up on the hill above us, I saw the black fur of a bear's back as it walked by. We immediately aborted the mission, turning around and heading back to the car. Looking back now, I know I was over-reacting and things would have been fine, but it was the first time encountering a bear in the wild and it freaked me out. My feeling quickly changed. On our drive up to Jenny Lake for lunch, we stopped with others to watch a bear foraging in the trees nearby. As we walked along the lake, someone let use their binoculars to look at a grizzly on the other side of the lake. At the picnic area, we saw someone alerting an entirely nonplussed ranger that they had seen a bear a few hundred meters up the path. It became apparent that the bears were much less of a danger than I had imagined.

    In the afternoon we returned to Colter Bay. My wife insisted that we go canoeing on Jackson Lake. Ever money conscious, I was opposed to such an extravagant expense for such minimal returns. After all, we could canoe for free back in CT if we really wanted to. But my wife prevailed. We had a small heated debate when I learned that we would have to rent two canoes and our cost would double to $70 for two hours. As we debated, the counter person faded away. Eventually I realized that canoeing under the Tetons would be a unique experience and that $70 would not matter much in the long run. So off we went. One daughter and one parent in each canoe. The views were fantastic, and my wife and daughters had a brand new experience. Upon our return, we moved north to the Colter Bay beach of small, smooth stones. The water was chilly, but there was no way I wasn't going in. After all, I had jumped into the water off Elihu Island each day through the end of October. I could handle and even thrill in cold water. So in I went. What I didn't expect was that my younger daughter would so happily follow me, while my wife and older daughter entertained themselves on the shore. I was so proud of my daughter for being so bold and for enjoying the challenge of the cold water. It was a serious bonding moment.

  15. July 15: Yellowstone.

    There is no way to "finish" one of these incredible parks. There is only moving on when the time comes. And it came. We headed out of Grand Teton after breakfast and headed for the Yellowstone South Entrance to see if we might be able to get a campsite for night. On the way up we passed a bear, some elk, and a bison by a steaming geyser. And there were indeed a few open up by the Northeast Entrance. We aimed for Tower Fall. We traveled through Hayden Valley. It was fairly uneventful, but I was focused on Tower Fall and wasn't ready to stop and look around. We were fortunate enough to get a site looking across the valley to another hill. The view was not exceptional, but it was a view and air was clean and we were going to sleep in Yellowstone. We didn't have to leave yet after all.

    After lunch, we visited Tower Fall and hiked down the hill to the Yellowstone River, where we waded and cooled down for a while before heading back up. After that, we headed out Route 212 to Cooke City through the Lamar Valley, which I had seen billed as one of the best drives in America. And, indeed, one wants to stop at every corner and pull out as you wind through the steep, pine valley alongside Soda Butte Creek. And then we discovered why the ranger was so surprised that we'd only seen a couple of bison. We saw at least two huge herds. Males were fighting. Dust was flying. Calves were munching. And all were on the move. Not far away, there were countless elk. Exactly the kinds of things you seen in nature documentaries. We later learned from a ranger (at th eGrand Canyon, I think) that the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone had significantly impacted the ecosystem. I had already seen How Wolves Change Rivers. The short film shows how reintroducing wolves had cut down the populations of herd animals and that this had allowed the grasses to grow more lushly, which in turn countered the erosion caused by the river. And one simply assumes that the causal mechanism is hunting, but the ranger told us that they now think the biggest impact is due to fear. Because the herd animals fear being hunted by the wolves, they pay more attention to their surroundings, which means that their heads are up longer and more frequently, so they do not eat as much.

    In some ways, I think this day may have been the climax of the trip. We felt so fortunate to stay another day in Yellowstone, and we had seen all the nature one imagines when one imagines Yellowstone. We had seen the river, bear, elk, bison, rugged valleys, water falls, broad alpine meadows. It was unbelievable. So we made a nice, big fire, and my wife and I sat around a while in the coolness of the mountains' night sky and had a beer.

  16. July 16: Tower Fall to Pocatello.

    The day was a bit gray, but that was fine, since we were ready to get on the road. Or at least we had decided it was time to get back on the road. After all, we were already about halfway through our time and still far from the Pacific. We drove out to Mammoth Hot Springs, where rain started to drop lightly and we were able to marvel at the mineral deposits from the hot springs. Of course, there were water falls and elk and bison and breathtaking scenes. What else would you expect from Yellowstone? How could I ever have doubted how amazing the place is? Anyway, the intricate and unique patterns the hot springs created fascinated me. I couldn't stop taking close-ups of just parts of the mineral mounds. I think this is when my older daughter started to also zero in on the coolness of the small details of the landscape. By the time we hit southern Colorado, she was taking close up pictures of rocks and dirt and trees and things.

    Originally we planned to simply sneak out the North Entrance of the park, but since Yellowstone continued to deliver, I decided we might as well drive down the one stretch of road we hadn't covered yet. Also, around this time, my buddy from long ago Korea bailed on us. He and his son were supposed to meet us in the northern Rockies for a drive out to Haida Gwaii. This promise may well have been the final weight that tipped the scale in favor of actually getting on the road. But after a week or two of failing to convince us to go through more empty plains to a family house on a lake, where we have "lost" a week of seeing North America's greatest hits, he told us that he had rented the place and wouldn't be able to meet us. While a big disappointment, since I haven't seen the guy since 9/11, the original promise helped get us on the road and breaking it freed up my family to do our thing. All good in my world. Cosmic determination in his. So rather than head north to Glacier National Park, Kootenai, Banff, and beyond, we decided to get to the West Coast as soon as we could. I was starting to thirst for those big waves, long beaches, salty winds, and ocean sunsets. So we headed south to Norris and then out the West Entrance to West Yellowstone, Montana. Perhaps we should have gone north. We got held up by multiple bouts of road construction. But by the end we had basically seen "everything" (at least as far as roads go), and our pizza in West Yellowstone was a total delight. From here, we jumped on Route 20 and then took I-15 south to a KOA in Pocatello, Idaho.

  17. July 17: Pocatello to Twin Falls.

    I think our initial plan was to visit Craters of the Moon National Park and then high-tail it into Sawtooth or something. After dawdling in Yellowstone, I was starting to feel pressure to cover some ground so that we could actually get to the Pacific Ocean. My wife suggested that maybe we didn't have to go all the way across the country, but what did she know? There was no way we could come this far and not touch the Pacific. That said, we held out the possibility of staying at Craters of the Moon, since it was in the middle of lava and volcanoes are my youngest's thing. Though sites were available, it would have been to hot, so we decided we'd push on.

    But not without checking out the lava fields and climbing an old cone volcano. We would also have visited lava tubes, but unfortunately we had visited Lackawanna and did not have shoes we could wear without threatening the local bat population. While visiting various spots, though, a couple from the region strongly recommended that we visit Shoshone Falls on the Snake River, which they said was called the "Niagara Falls of the West". So we made reservations at the Twin Falls KOA and headed for a visit. To my mind, though, Niagara Falls should probably be designated the "Shoshone Falls of the East". While Niagara Falls, which we visited in October 2018, exhibits sheer power, Shoshone Falls tumbles in strong staggered steps around rocky parapets and thereby expresses more character.

  18. July 18: Twin Falls to Deschutes.

    Having burned the last of our Yellowstone wood the night before (so as not to spread parasites or disease), we hit the road in earnest, following 84 west to Route 20 and Deschutes National Forest. Route 20 is basically the historic Oregon Trail, and it is a barren, forbidding stretch. We camped amid pines at Gull Point Campground on Wickiup Reservoir. Due to the drought, the reservoir water was low, but it was a calm, quiet site where we basically alone. We were finally within striking distance of the ocean, but it was clear that we wouldn't have time to drive down the coast and visit friends. We still had to get back.

  19. July 19: Deschutes to the Oregon Coast.

    This was a huge day. We started by visiting Crater Lake National Park, where there is a volcano inside a lake inside a volcano. This was destined to be one of my youngest's favorites, and perhaps it was. We were blessed with beautiful weather. As a result the lake's color was a brilliant azure and the pines a lush chartreuse. The endless photos we took fail to do the place justice. We wound up driving all the way around, which turned out to be a bit longer than we'd hoped.

    Fortunately, we did not have to stress out. I had managed to make reservations for the night at William M. Tugman State Park. The campground was a bit crowded, but the facilities were decent and the sites were separated by dense redwoods. Most importantly, one could feel and smell the moisture of the Pacific. Perhaps it's just nostalgia my days back in SF, but there is something about the smell and feel of the Pacific that energizes and embraces me. Somehow it just feels right to me.

    When we arrived, though, I was in a hurry. Sunset was approaching quickly, and we had to get out to the dunes to see the sun go down. We quickly set up camp, ate dinner, and then rushed off to dunes. The kids loved it. They had never seen so much sand, never seen a sand dune. We climbed up the closest dune just in time to watch the sun hit the horizon. My youngest daughter and I watched it closely and were rewarded. We got my favorite kind of Pacific sunset. As the sun goes down, the bottom edge widens out into a trapezoid and when the last sliver is about to drop below the horizon, it turns ever so slightly green. To have my arm over my daughter's shoulder and point out the whole transformation was a special moment to share.

    For the kids, the best was yet to come. I taught them how they could do what I called moon leaps down the dune. With a heave and huge steps it feels like you're defying gravity as you run down the dune. The kids loved it. I think they climbed all the way up the 100m dune two or three more times just to run down again and finally collapse on their butt. I don't think they would have stopped if my wife hadn't made us all go back.

  20. July 20: The Oregon Coast to Portland.

    We got a bit of a slow start and then headed up the Oregon Coast. Again, for me, it was like coming home. The big sweeping beaches stretching away under the bluffs. The stiff breeze mixing salt and pine in the air. The crash of waves occasionally obscured by a splash of fog. Just heaven. We made three major stops, benefiting from low tide. First, we visited a wide beach and walked out to the waves to officially touch the Pacific. My youngest misjudged a wave and got a shoe soaking wet. After changing her shoe, we moved on to a random area of tidal pools. The girls loved jumping from rock to rock and looking for life amidst the streaming seaweed. Our third stop was the top of a bluff to get some lunch (in the wind). After one woman kindly pointed out that we had left our engine on, we got yelled at by the landscaper for parking too close to the exit (never minding that he had occupied half of the parking area!).

    I had made reservations in Portland for Saturday night. It was to be our first and most expensive hotel. So, all too soon, we left the coast to turn back east toward Portland. On the way, we stopped for a coffee at Wild Rain, where the proprietor's ocean paintings demonstrated some skill. With only one night in Portland, we got there while it was still light and headed out. For me, the main destinations were books and beer. First it was off to the Deschutes pub for dinner. After all, we had stayed in Deschutes National Park... The beer was, of course, tasty. Then we made the obligatory stop at Powell's Books, which thrilled everyone since we all got a book. For the kids, I tried to head over to Voodoo Donuts for dessert, but the line was ridonkulous and we pushed on. My wife wanted to go down to the riverside park, and so we did. She was amazed at the number of homeless people, though I don't think it affected my kids too much. The evening ended by watching the beginning of Wonder Woman in Pioneer Square.

  21. I'm going to get a bit briefer to try to finish. 2018-11-30
  22. July 21: Portland to Umatilla.

    After a diner breakfast during which I was desperately trying to get my paper finished---and about to give up---we headed out of Portland and Back East. We followed the Columbia River to Umatilla. Umatilla is the former storage site for chemical weapons from World War II, mustard gas in particular, and there are fields full of marked mounds and sheds. A bit eerie. We crossed the river into Washington and set up camp, then back across the river to go shopping, and back into Washington to settle in. Our campsite felt like a park, and the area were we set up our tent with no water or electricity was probably meant to be a picnic area, since there were grills and picnic tables but no real sites. That said, we were not the only campers. Once settled, we drove to a genuine public park across the inlet to go swimming. The local Hispanic population was in full force. Camping was without incident.

  23. July 22: Umatilla to Ogden.

    This day was massive mileage day. We followed I-84 east to Ogden, Utah, which is just above Salt Lake City. Except for the very last stretch of I-95, this was the only place we "backtracked" over a road we had already driven. On our only other option was a longer and emptier drive through northern Nevada. I think it was somewhere along this stretch of road that I secretly decided that we would have to visit the Grand Canyon. We hadn't decided where to go after Salt Lake City, but I urged us to go south. I wanted to surprise my wife by actually going to the Grand Canyon, which she had regularly talked about. I had always assumed it would be as overrated as I thought Yellowstone would be. Having been wrong about Yellowstone, I figured we might as well give it a shot. In Ogden we stayed at a KOA and ate at a crummy diner. During dinner, I urgently made a reservation for July 26th, my birthday, at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (I think).

  24. July 23: Ogden to Spruces Campground.

    This day was a work day. Our car Etta, which is named after the previous owner whom we'd never met, was overdue for an oil change, had driven all the way across country, and was soon to drive in serious heat. So while the girls did the laundry and went for a swim, I got a premium oil change at Jiffy Lube. While waiting for my oil change, I fell into conversation with another customer who thought I worked for NASA because of the SSAA sticker my daughter put on my computer and just loved boilers. We started talking about the trip and in response to my question he said that his favorite place in southern Utah was Cedar Breaks, which I had never heard of. After the car and laundry were ready, we drove into downtown Salt Lake City so that the girls could visit the Children's Museum while I continued working on my paper at a coffee shop with uncomfortable modern furniture and overpriced coffee. We drove by the Tabernacle to say that we had because we felt we had to rush a bit to get to a first-come-first-served campground. And it is good that we did. The next day was Pioneer Day, a huge holiday in Utah that I had never heard of. After a long and lovely climb into the mountains above Salt Lake City, we were fortunate to get one of only a few sites left at Spruces Campground. We enjoyed a small fire amid the spruce trees.

  25. July 24: Spruces Campground to Cedar Breaks.

    Following the boiler guy's advice, we made a long drive south on I-15 to Cedar Breaks, hoping for another walk-in site. The drive was mainly flat on a dry plain between two mountain ranges. As we began the climb up to Cedar Breaks, a nasty thunderstorm ripped through the area and continued to threaten all afternoon. We found a site at Point Supreme Campground, which is at an elevation of roughly 10,000', which is kind of cool in its own way. Everyone else was fine, but I think I had some minor altitude sickness in the form of a mild headache each morning. The campground is basically a spruce wooded island in the middle of a wide mountain meadow lake full of yellow flowers. We pitched our tent while avoiding burst of rain showers and even a brief bout of hail. We then drove across the street to Point Supreme itself, the starting point of Cedar Breaks, which is in turn the starting point of all the canyons going south to the Grand Canyon. It was awesome. Striated oranges, yellows, and whites. Hoodoos climbing upward. Monumental depth. Later that evening, we noticed that the campers across the road included a couple of girls about my daughters' ages. Much later that night I was awoken twice by the howling of wolves in the meadow.

  26. July 25: Cedar Breaks to Zion and back.

    Since we had been driving so much and since putting up and taking down the tent and packing the car every day gets tiring and since we were camping at 10,000', we had decided to stay put for another night. The day's plan was to visit Zion National Park. As awesome as it is, it was by far my least favorite national park. We drove in to the park through the east entrance. Even though I couldn't find our National Parks Pass at the moment, the gate keeper let us through. And, oh my. The wind and water carved mesas there are phenomenal, abstract designs. Driving along the winding Mount Carmel Highway, every turn was simply astounding. Much busier than most other parks, but tolerable for the majesty. However, when we pulled into the park's core near Springdale, things got unpleasant. We found a parking spot on the road, paid for our parking ticket, and headed to the trail head. The ranger insisted on seeing our pass, which I still couldn't find. We assume that we lost it in our hurry at the crappy diner in Ogden. So we had to pay another $80 for a new pass. In the end, we still saved money, and under the current administration the Parks System needs all the resources it can get, so we chalked it up as a donation. Still hurt though. We took the crowded bus up Zion Canyon and got off early to have lunch and hike a bit further. Lunch was hot but filling and quiet. Then we got back on the bus to the final stop to follow the trail up to the Narrows. Still with the taste of an $80 loss in my mouth, the crowds on the trail greatly disappointed me and spoiled the experience quite a bit. Hiking up the trail, lovely as it was, was like climbing Baegundae, Seoul's most famous peak, on a Sunday afternoon. It was a single-file line moving up the trail. When we got to the point where you walk through the stream into the narrow canyons, I could see a thunderstorm out over the canyon. I believed that we could not continue, since the rain would make the canyon dangerous, and it seemed like people were flooding back. My wife didn't believe and thought I was playing weather fairy, which frustrated her. But I insisted, and after a bit of walking in the stream, we rejoined the line down the hill, which turned into a line for the buses. She learned from conversations around us that I had been right and that the rangers had been sending everyone back. Eventually we made it back to the car. And there was Springdale parking ticket on the windshield. Literally minutes after we had left the car, the traffic cop that I had seen pull up had given us a ticket because the license plate on the ticket did not match our license plate. All it said was "L". Then I remembered the screen that had flashed by as I pushed some buttons waiting for the parking station computer to respond. Knowing that the cop must have seen me park and leave, I got pissed off at the puny minded tourist town traffic cop mentality. They were probably just trying to meet a quota, but how petty. It was minutes too late to call to contest, so I immediately filed an online contestation. Needless to say, my ice cream did not taste so good.

    After winding back out through the beauty, which helped restore some good feeling, we returned to our campsite. Pretty soon the two girls from the opposite campsite were visiting, and the four girls starting cooking up magic potions or something. If I remember correctly, all the girls went over to have toasted marshmallows: dessert before dinner! But even before we sat down to dinner, the girls' parents, who of course we had waved to and exchanged simple pleasantries with, came over and just kind of joined us. Their timing was a bit odd, but they were certainly welcome. It was fun to sit around and chat with someone else. As I had guessed when they refused my offer of a beer, they were Mormons. They had driven down for a five day vacation. She was a former art student and he was an engineer. Nice folks.

  27. July 26: Cedar Breaks to Grand Canyon North Rim.

    My birthday. And we had reservations for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. In the morning, the four girls were back at their games, and as we packed up, the parents joined us and kind of watched. So we made a slow departure that morning, especially since we revisited Cedar Breaks in the sunlight. The drive down was uneventful but lovely. We lunched at the Rocking V in Kanab for some tasty Southwestern cooking. And we arrived fairly early...for us. We skipped the campground and headed straight for canyon. Holy be-moley! Just like Yellowstone, it was better than I had ever imagined it could be. Words can't do justice to vast, deep expanse of the Grand Canyon, to the antiquity of the geological strata revealed in its earthy pigments. Insane. But I can mention that I climbed to the top of a promontory on the first trail for a full view. Realizing that it looked more dangerous than it was and that I needed to encourage some rock climbing in my daughters, I helped them to the top in turn. I have some picture of me with my youngest daughter that I love, despite the fact that they all came out horribly. Having gotten a taste for the Canyon, we visited the ranger station to get the Junior Ranger badge process started, learning that we needed to attend a ranger talk that evening to make it happen. So we went to the campground to set up our site and eat some dinner. Rain made the process a challenge, but I had fun setting up our tarp as a shelter for my wife to cook dinner. The storm passed as soon as dinner was over, and we headed back to the North Rim Visitor Center for a craft beer, a sunset, and a ranger talk. The ranger, a recent graduate from Wesleyan, gave a great talk about the stories behind white men imposing their naming on places that had long had other names. All in all, an awesome birthday.

  28. July 27: North Rim to Flagstaff.

    We checked out of the site, apologizing for having made some small trenches to deal with the rain. I also asked the ranger if there were any last minute cancellations. There weren't, but she told me we could free camp just outside the park. Even though I knew we'd never do it and already had hotel reservations for the evening, I took down information on the site. Then, we spent the day driving along the North Rim. We spent quite a bit of energy identifying plants and trees. My oldest daughter spent quite a bit of energy making up names for places and convincing us that they were the real names. She had a great name for Angel's Window, but I've forgotten it. She was also pretty captivated by the Walhalla Glades Pueblo, ruins of an ancient settlement not far from the rim. I also thought it was fascinating, but my favorite was probably Wotan's Throne.

    Since we could not get South Rim reservations, I had made reservations at a hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona. The place attracted me for two reasons. First, it was the name of the beer my grandfather used to drink. Second, it was home to the Lowell Observatory. Much of trip had been by chance about my younger daughter's favorite: volcanoes. My older daughter had complained that there was no space activities. When I discovered the Lowell Observatory, I knew we had to go. We had a tasty late lunch at the Cliff Dweller's Restaurant amidst Mars red rocks on the backside of the Vermilion Cliffs. After winding our way through Page and Mexican Hat, we headed south on 89, where some idiot passed cars coming toward us at well over 80mph and forced me to slam on the brakes to ensure that we wouldn't have a head on collision that killed us all. It was by far the closest we came to an accident and, indeed, death. But we survived that and another lightening storm on our way into Flagstaff.

    We went straight to the observatory, since it was already 7pm or so. We saw a science show, and then toured the main telescope before returning for a talk on Mars. My oldest daughter loved it and did not want to leave after the talk, even though it was 9pm and we hadn't eaten dinner. At the hotel, we ordered Chinese food, which was delivered by a white kid and tasted poor.

  29. July 28: Flagstaff to South Rim.

    I originally thought we would head east toward Escalante or something from Flagstaff, but the Grand Canyon was so awesome that we decided to visit the South Rim before pushing east to find a campsite. Though I generally preferred the North Rim, perhaps because it was our first taste, perhaps because it was steeper, we very much enjoyed Desert View Tower, where we learned that the most dangerous animal to humans in the park was the squirrel, which could bite through to your bone if you offered them food. That said, the visit took us all day. And while I was starting to get worried about finding a campsite or hotel, I had gained enough confidence that we would find something somewhere. And we did. Something somewhere turned out to be free camping in Kaibab National Forest just outside the South Rim near Desert View. Driving into the area ("Turn right at mile marker 161," the guy at Desert View had told me.), we found an empty area that had been frequently used in the past. As we drove around to find a site, we came across a deer skin. Everyone was a bit freaked out about being so isolated. There was just one RV out by the entrance. Discomfort was made worse by the fact that everyone had to pee outdoors. My oldest freaked out about it until she finally just did it. First time is always the hardest. Perhaps because we saw a coyote in the Desert View Campground before we left, perhaps because we saw a dead animal nearby, the girls and my wife decided that the girls wanted to sleep in the car. We set that up. I cracked the windows and gave them a key. But then it started raining, and I didn't want to leave the windows open, and the girls got a bit scared of the lightening and thunder. So we moved them to the tent and locked the doors.

  30. July 29: South Rim to Cortez.

    In the morning I discovered that I could not open the car doors because the key was still inside. For a few moments, I was freaking out, thinking that we were miles from civilization in an empty wilderness and would have to call a locksmith that would take all day and a million dollars. However, it turned out that we had another key in the tent and were able to open the car. But not before I had had a minor heart attack. Ultimately, though, I am quite proud of our night in Kaibab. After a month of camping, we had finally done it without infrastructural support. We brought all our own supplies, including water. We had used only our charged lanterns for light. We had not picnic tables. We had lived without plumbing. We had truly roughed it and come out stronger. I had not had any real worries about being able to, but I am proud that we actually did.

    We couldn't resist going back to Desert View to see the Canyon in a different light. So I made reservations at the Cortez KOA and back we went. A ranger told us about the creepy crawlies of the Canyon, including the tarantula hawk.

    I insisted that we visit Monument Valley along the way to see the iconic image of the Wild West of John Wayne and John Ford. We drove through the horribly bumpy and red dusty reservation. And we admired the mesas. They still remain iconic memories for me. I'm sure this has been reinforced by watching a number of Westerns and road trips that visit Monument Valley since I returned to Korea. But still, the volcanic stubs sticking straight up out of a red wasteland are compellingly majestic. We reached the Cortez KOA at dinner time. The KOA was exceptionally clean and ordered, if tight. While we got set up, the girls played with a tween Swiss girl from the next campsite, who was traveling through with her family to attend an Up with People! reunion and visit some family. Her father seemed ignorant of the fact that we were just miles from Mesa Verde.

  31. July 30: Mesa Verde.

    But we weren't. My oldest daughter and I, who were both excited about it, drove to the visitor center at 7am to get tickets for the pueblo tours. We were one of the first and managed to get tickets to both Cliff Palace and Balcony House. After breakfast back at the KOA, we headed up to Cliff Palace with our Junior Ranger booklets and lots of water. Cliff Palace is the most famous complex. Unfortunately, that makes it the most popular, and tours have to move through fairly quickly and there is no real opportunity to go inside. But we learned about the role of seeps in both creating the cliff recesses and providing essential water for the settlements. And we learned that the reason for moving from the top of the mesa above into the cliff houses is unknown. Though there seems to have been defensive advantages, archaeologists suggest that there was little conflict. And then the people all vanished.

    After lunch, we visited Balcony House, where you have to climb a 10m ladder at one point and crawl through a tiny entrance that serves as the main entrance to the complex. Visiting what I think is the oldest preserved indigenous settlement in North America was touching. We had seen much of the country's natural grandeur. Now we were encountering its human accomplishments. For some reason, my older daughter remained equally interested. While my wife and youngest seemed ready to push on after the Balcony House tour was over, my oldest and I kept examining the evolution of the pit houses on top of the mesa that were ultimately superseded by the cliff dwellings.

    We returned to the KOA for a swim and lazy night.

  32. July 31: Cortez to Black Canyon of Gunnison.

    From Cortez, we ventured into areas famous for their Wild West past and luxury present. We followed Route 160 east to Durango (of mountain biking fame), and then headed north of Route 550 into the San Juan Mountains. There was more mountain awesomeness. We stopped in Silverton for lunch. Interestingly, Silverton has left most of its roads unpaved, which strikes me as a clever urban planning choice. On the one hand, it preserves the touristy Wild West feeling of wide, dusty streets. On the other, it must be relatively inexpensive to maintain, especially given the damage that winters must do to the roads up there.

    Then I gave my wife cause to hate me...again. From Silverton we continued north through Ouray. My wife really wanted to visit Telluride, but I wanted to get the kids to Dinosaur National Monument so that they could see and touch real dinosaur bones in situ. With all the stories of evolution and dinosaurs that we had encountered, I had hatched a bigger plan of visiting the Creation Museum in Ohio to demonstrate to the girls that other people had other beliefs. I wanted to create a sort of cognitive gap that would engender critical thinking. So I got fixated on Dinosaur National Monument. Plus, Telluride was a long detour, and I was convinced that we would not find affordable lodging if we arrived at dinnertime. Moreover, we had learned around this time that we had to be back for a party on August 12th. So I insisted we push north. I had expected to get to Grand Junction or so and find a KOA or something. But the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park was on the way, so we stopped with no knowledge of what to expect---other than a canyon.

    As we pulled in, I suddenly thought that we should check out the campground. And next thing we knew, we had picked a site and set up our tent. After this, we visited the canyon. I loved it. The hard, dark rocks formed a steep, black canyon that was a monumental counterpart to the siennas and ochres of the desert canyons. With the girls, we had fun finding shapes and faces in the Painted Wall. And of course, we started working on our Junior Ranger booklets.

    The girls learned of a ranger talk that evening at the campground on the soundscape of the park. Since we attended the first ranger talk at Devil's Tower, my oldest consistently strove to attend the ranger talks. And who can squash an inquisitive mind? So my wife graciously took the hit and prepared dinner while I took the girls to think about the sounds your hear in national parks. The ranger---yet again!---did a great job and opened our minds and ears to a new type of experience. He also mentioned a telescope star viewing later in the evening. Again, my oldest insisted that we ask him for more details. As the Black Canyon is an International Dark Sky Park, that very night there was going to be a telescope set up to view the planets. There was no question that we were going.

    So, at 9pm approached, we made our way to the appointed destination nearby. A volunteer had set up a rather expensive telescope and focused it on Mars. The girls loved it. As the telescope moved through Saturn and Jupiter, we had to gently pull my oldest away so that others could see. She just got back in line to view again. I think she checked out Saturn three times. And it was worth it. You could literally see the colored rings around the planet. The eye of Jupiter was clearly visible. It was astonishing to think that we were "directly" looking at them with our naked eyes. I want to believe that my daughters' evident interest encouraged the volunteer to find new objects after other spectators had faded away and left about eight of us. He showed us a couple of things I still cannot believe I have seen. We viewed a globular cluster, an exploding star (I think), and something else. (I'll have to ask my daughter. I'm sure she wrote it down.) Finally, my oldest was getting her space fix.

  33. August 01: Black Canyon of Gunnison to Dinosaur National Park.

    The kids had to go for a hike to get their badges, so my wife drove to the visitor center and I took them along a canyon-edge trail. Even as we got to the trail, we had to wait for a deer and her calf to get out of the way, since we had learned not to frighten them or get too close. We had seen them wandering around the campground a couple of times the day before. The walk itself was pleasant enough, but the most interesting thing to me was that my older daughter had taken to copying me and taking close-up pictures of rocks and other objects to capture the patterns. I had started at Craters of the Moon and I guess it appealed to her.

    After looking at the sun through a different telescope owned and operated by the same amateur astronomer and receiving our badges, we started the drive north on Route 50 and then Route 139 through country Colorado to Dinosaur. It turns out that Dinosaur is one entrance to the park, but not for the fossils, so we picked up our Junior Ranger booklets and drove another 45 minutes almost to Vernal. In the car, the kids played a game we made up from the booklet of making up dinosaur names by translating the Greek words into new names. Upon arrival, we first reserved our campsite and then returned for one of the last buses up the hill to logjam cliff of dinosaur bones that is the highlight of Dinosaur National Monument. We touched some fossils and then walked down the fossil trail looking for our fossils. We did find a few that were pointed out in the guide. And we took lots of close ups of rocks. Good fun. On the way out in the middle of the open desert a rainstorm came up on us. We starting running out of fear of lightening that had been regularly instilled in us by the rangers. Fortunately, we got wet but the storm soon passed without electrocuting us. We returned to the campground and relaxed a bit. In the dark and their bedtime clothes, the girls decided that they wanted to climb the hill behind the site to see where the chipmunks had run off to. So we started up...and then took a long time coming down. The girls were scared of sliding down, so they basically slid down on their butts, filling their bedtime clothes with dust adn sand. My wife was not happy.

  34. August 02: Dinosaur National Park to Rocky Mountain National Park.

    Before heading east on Route 40 to Rocky Mountain National Park, we visited some ancient runes and the Josie Morris homestead. The homestead very much interested me. Josie Morris started it in 1913 and, while rustic, the grounds were orderly and attractively organized. She had a small canyon fenced in for her cattle. The yard was a delightfully open space with enough large trees to provide a consistent shade. I tried to impress upon my daughters how amazing and tough she must have been.

    Then it was back on the road in hopes of getting a campsite in the park. Time was ticking, and we could feel that the Rocky Mountain National Park would be the last major Western stop for us. We were again fortunate to get a site at Timber Creek Campground. Unfortunately, the site had been in a fire some years previously and completely lacked shade. After setting up camp, we settled in for a mellow dinner and fire. After watching some elk pass through the campsite, the girls insisted on another ranger talk. This time the talk was about winter visits to the park. Not the strongest talk, but it did leave us with the distinction between deer scat and elk scat: elk scat will not fit up your nose.

  35. August 03: Rocky Mountain National Park.

    We woke up and were told by a passing ranger that the temperature had dropped to 39F and was still hovering in the mid-40s. It was the coldest morning of the trip. But that didn't stop my awesome family from deciding to go for a hike in the rain near Grand Lake. Even as the rain was threatening and began to drizzle, my toughened brood kept trekking. For a while. Then the youngest started to complain about the distance and rain, so we turned back, went grocery shopping, and headed back into the main park for a drive up Route 34 to the Alpine Visitor Center. There is, again, no way to describe the beauty of the mountains, especially as the skies cleared in the afternoon. We climbed up to the nearby Alpine Ridge and looked at the Never Summer Mountains below which we were camping, and around to mountains that were possibly in Wyoming. After hot cocoa, coffee, and souvenir shopping for my parents, we made our way back down and visited first two small lakes and second the Holzwarth Historic Site. To get to the historic site, we crossed what is nearly the beginning of the Colorado River. Here it was only 3-5m wide, and we touched water that would eventually carve the Grand Canyon. On the way back across the open grasslands surrounding the river, it again threatened rain. And again we ran. Dinner was cooked and eaten under the tent awning (one of the best features of the Tensleep Station Six).

  36. August 04: Rocky Mountain National Park to Limon.

    After closing up camp, we drove back up to the Alpine Visitor Center. We moved on over the highest road in the US, stopping regularly. The kids wondered at the marmots more than the scenery. We wound our way down. Following the sign suggestions, I learned how to use the Etta's manual shift option since I wanted to preserve our brakes, which had worn a bit unevenly and shuttered a bit at high speed. We parked in Glacier Basin and took the bus up to the last stop, Bear Lake. My wife had been insisting that she wanted to visit a mountain lake, so I set my sights on Nymph Lake, which instinct told me would do the job. This was basically to be our last hurrah before returning to the plains and the long slog back East, so I wanted it to be good. And it was.

    As we walked up, we came to a large rock that the girls insisted on climbing. This was my first reward. My girls had moved past their city-bred caution around the coarse, dirty natural world and were really embracing its rough scramble. They had become such pros. I can only hope they don't lose the enthusiasm And Nymph Lake, which sites at the bottom of a rocky basin, was as beautiful as I had hoped. It wasn't in the middle of a meadow, but that's not what you get at the altitude in the Rockies. It was clear, lined by pines, and dominated by a promontory behind it. Really, just the perfect "end" to our trip. As we left the lake, we encountered a pair of elk. By this time elk were not particularly special, but it was still a nice note. Mostly we commented on how stupid people were to try to get as close as they were. We scooted over the stream on a tree trunk bridge a bit too close to the wildlife, paused, and then headed down. As rain began to fall, we sighed and hit the road. We had reservations at the Limon KOA.

  37. August 05: Limon to Kansas City.

    The Limon KOA was not our favorite. Though there was a decent pool and the site was well tended, it was located just off the highway after days in the forest, and the tent sites were as far from the bathrooms as possible. We had never had such a long walk. Worse---and there is nothing the KOA could do about this---winds were so strong that night that some guy line pegs got pulled out and we were kept awake by the flapping fly. Perhaps it was a user error. But we got out early and essentially spent the day driving I-70 across Kansas. And I have to say, Kansas was far more engaging than most people describe it. It's corn again, but the hills roll and there is plenty to catch the eye.

    Our first stop was Q39 for some of the tastiest BBQ I've had. I had decided that from this point on, my wife wasn't going to be too happy---and she wasn't---so we'd try to entertain ourselves with some better food and a few sites. Q39 was the first effort and furnished us with another souvenir, some honey BBQ sauce for use back in CT.

  38. August 06: Kansas City to Hoosier National Forest.

    The night was uneventful and we moved on across Missouri. The major stop I had conceived for the day was Blues City Deli for takeout that we could eat under the Gateway Arch. The deli was highly regarded, but I assumed it was like a NYC deli and would be takeout only. However, there was crowded seating and settled in for another monstrously tasty meal. Stuffed, we headed down toward the Arch...and trouble. I personally didn't have any great desire to spend time looking at it. I thought that we should just see it since we were in the neighborhood. So, when we passed the $6 parking, I just decided to drive on, pointing the Arch out to everyone so that we could push on toward our next destination. That was the dumbest thing I did the whole trip. My wife was pissed...and rightly so. For $6 and 30 minutes, we could have gone under the Arch and contacted yet another icon of Americana. But I was only focused on the end goal another four hours away. I even missed a chance to visit Lincoln's childhood home because I hadn't even known it was there until we were too far past. And Lincoln is one of my kids' favorite presidents. That said, we still didn't reach Hoosier National Park until it was starting to get dark. We still could have afforded 30 minutes and $6, though. Sorry, honey.

    There was another novel thing of note about our lovely pine campground. The girls went to check out the bathrooms on their own with only simple notice to us. Through most of the trip, they always went first with one of us. But this time they went to check it out and let us know if it was any good. It was. (Note: they may have done this earlier, but this was the first time it really sunk in how much they had grown.)

  39. August 07: Hoosier National Forest to Cambridge.

    In the morning, we drove by the Painted Ladies of Louisville and out I-64 to the Creation Museum outside Cincinnati in Bullitsburg. It was my big educational moment...or so I thought. Despite the $100 price tag and my wife's reservations, in we went. To me the place was fascinating. It's all predicated on dinosaurs, which presumably draw the kids in. The place starts by placing a bit of scientific doubt, showing two paleontologists amicably disagreeing about the dating of dinosaur bones in sedimentary rock. One thinks the bones are from millions of years ago and the other from 5,000 years ago. Then, as one goes on to learn more about dinosaurs, pseudo-scientific language is used to debate whether God added venom to snakes and other animals after Eve ate the apple, or if he simply threw a switch that he had already genetically programmed. The language seems intentionally opaque so as to convey an air of scientific rigor and sophistication beyond the average visitor's abilities. Indeed, I heard someone say that they "weren't so sure any more. It seems so complicated." Then the notion of a corrupt and confusing world starts to creep in. There are light indicators of global conflict and disorder. This is accompanied by the notion that God's way is much more straightforward than science's confusing pathways. There is even a poster that shows scientist's meandering pathway of evolution in the form of a winding arrow and compares this pathway to God's: a straight line from Adam to contemporary man. It's so much simpler! Having generated some cognitive dissonance, they then hammer you over the head. You have to walk through a hallway of people talking about their problems with drugs, infidelity, crime, homosexual tendencies, etc. The hallway is dark. The music is ominous in a horror movie sort of way. My wife, who already thought things were a bit weird and was not as interested as I, decided that it was too scary to bring the girls through. So she an my oldest just started cruising and left me and the youngest in the dust. I quickly moved through the horror tunnel but slowed down when we came out. Because the answer to the horror and disorder was the story of the bible told in large-scale diorama form, where dinosaurs frollicked with deer and Eve. Once we got to the bloody scene of Cain and Abel I decided that we should give up and hurry on. Outside, we visited the small zoo they have. They offered camel rides for $5 a pop. Though a rip off, I had not made the horse riding happen during the trip, so I made sure that the kids got on the camel. They loved it. As the weather continued to turn, we got back on the road. We stopped at our last hotel, a small clean place in Cambridge, Ohio, where we dined at a nearby Greek restaurant of no special mention.

  40. August 08: Cambridge to Hersey.

    The reality of the trip's end was coming down fast, but we still had a few more things to do. We left Cambridge for the Hersey, PA KOA. We passed through Wheeling, West Virginia and into Pennsylvania. I had thought about visiting Pittsburgh, but I had to recreate my childhood memories for my kids. I needed to take them to Hersey's Chocolate World, of which I have fond childhood memories. We went on the revamped ride through the making of chocolate, which seemed less informative than it did as a child, but everyone loved it. I then got suckered into taking the kids to a 4D movie about robots and candy heroes. We stocked up on Reese's and other candies for my father and the upcoming picnic party. Then we headed to the Hersey KOA. I expected it to be a bit grimy and full of mosquitoes. After all, we were back on the East Coast. But the place was lovely, spacious, and bug free. The kids once again inspected the bathrooms for us, and we went for a swim in the ever present pool. Bittersweet.

  41. August 09: Hersey to Mystic.

    In the morning, we packed up for the last time. I wanted to drive through Amish country to replicate those childhood memories some more. So we visited an uninspiring covered bridge and drove out through the countryside through Manheim, Lititz, Ephrata, and Blue Ball before getting back on the thruway. But we did see a young man driving a horse-drawn buggy and make the obligatory family stop at Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in Lititz, where I had gone as a kid and where my wife, sister, and I had taken my nieces when they were my kids' ages. And then...

    And then we had to head back. We didn't want to return too late, and we didn't want to drive through NYC at rush hour. But we did have to stop for Korean food in Fort Lee. I let me wife choose.

Austerity and capabilities

2 September 2018

Last fall I was asked to contribute to a special issue of International Planning Studies with an article on austerity and Korea. That article is now available as Austerity in reverse: Korea, capabilities, and crisis. You can also download the accepted manuscript here. I worked with Jeeyeop Kim (Ajou University) to understand Korea's long development trajectory, which I posited was the reverse of austerity since austerity relies on a reduction of social welfare or capabilities and development is fundamentally about increasing capabilities. We argue that the developmental state advanced capabilities, that the neoliberal policies since the mid-1990s have increasingly threatened those gains, and that social pressure has been essential to slowing the deterioration of capabilities, using housing as an example. Here is the full abstract.

Development is austerity in reverse. And austerity is development in reverse, a form of de-development. This paper argues that austerity is a neoliberal technology for returning countries to positive economic growth that reduces social spending and thereby reverses development. Drawing on Sen and Nussbaum's human capabilities approach, an exploration of Korea's development since 1960 supports this and three additional claims. First, the expansion of capabilities in Korea is tied to democratization and exponential increases in social spending. Second, Korea's experience with financial crises and austerity programmes demonstrate that increased social spending is compatible with rapid recovery. Third, Korea's roll out of neoliberal technologies and economic transformation since the 1980s have undermined the capabilities developed during earlier industrialization. Fourth, the importance of housing as a vital tool for political legitimation, especially since democratization, has sustained political interest in providing better housing, suggesting that social movements are essential to protecting social spending.

Korea and KPOO

30 August 2018

I've been busy. The main thing was spending 40 days in the wilderness driving to the Oregon Coast and back with the family. Totally awesome, but a story for another day. Right now I just want to mention that I returned to Korea last night and am setting up my bachelor pad for the next four months. After lots of bad signs about my arrival (torrential downpours mainly), I just received a good sign. As I hooked up the computer speakers I had forgotten I had stored in my office, the first music that came on was KPOO's Wake the Town Radio, which is one of my very favorite radio shows of all time. Perhaps things will be more awesome than I expect. After all, moving in the rain is considered good luck in Korea...and it was fucking pouring.

Noddings and Sahlins

17 May 2018

In the midst of a middle of the night read, I was struck by a curious parallel between the moral positions presented by Nel Noddings in her work on caring and Marshall Sahlins on reciprocity in primitive society.

Nel Noddings strove to counter a masculine notion of abstract ethics based primarily on reason with a feminine notion of materialist ethics based primarily on emotion. She critiqued the view that ethics was at its most sublime when the basis for decision making was each individual's abstracted value. The result is that one should apply the same rational ethic principles and standards to one's immediate family as to those across the world. (Kant?) As the example shows, this leads to emotionally contradictory behavior. Rather, Noddings argues for a situated ethics based on caring in which one should make ethical decisions contingent upon how emotionally close a person is to you. That is, one should certainly favor one's daughter's well being over that of a stranger in a strange land. Because one cares for those closest to them (socially and emotionally), ethics should prioritize those close to the individual making the decision. Therefore, as (social) distance increases, one's ethical obligation to others decreases.

This is precisely the way Sahlins describes the ethics of reciprocity in primitive societies. Generalized reciprocity, in which resources are pooled and redistributed without demand for repayment (Mauss' gift), is morally correct for those in your household. As one moves further out along kinship and tribal lines, the moral impulsion to give weakens and moves toward balanced reciprocity, in which explicit expectations of equitable exchange prevails. As social distance increases and one deals entirely with strangers, it is often morally permissible--and sometimes even lauded--to cheat them in trade or even to outright steal from them, like Navajo horse raids. This he calls negative reciprocity. So, like Noddings' ethics of caring, primitive societies embrace stronger ethical commitments to those closest to them, and these commitments wane as social distance increases.

What makes this more interesting to me is a comment that Sahlins throws out that modern, industrial economies rely much more on balanced reciprocity to function effectively. The import, I believe, is that the mode of production drives ethics (economic structure drives the superstructure). The primitive society is a segmentary one of significant autonomy at the household (of kinship group) scale. There is little to no interdependence on individuals socially distant. The individual is primarily (more) dependent on those immediately around them. However, as the mode of production moves toward specialization and mass production, the level of interdependence increases, and moral standards of exchange shift strongly toward balanced reciprocity.

Sahlins has not (yet) spoken of how social distance and anonymity in modern economies simultaneously fosters negative reciprocity (caveat emptor). But it is clear that a change in the mode of production entails a change in the ethics of reciprocity. The fourth industrial revolution or sustainability entail the transformation of moral obligations. The question is one of causality. Can moral change can lead economic change? Or does economic change lead moral change?

Clastres and Sahlins

10 May 2018

I have recently finished reading Pierre Clastres' Society Against the State and am in the midst of reading Marshall Sahlins' Stone Age Economics. Clastre's book famously influenced Deleuze and Guattari, while Sahlin's book influenced Clastres and the whole post-development literature.

Clastres' book develops a political anthropology of so-called primitive societies, in which he draws on his knowledge of indigenous American peoples to argue that they are organized (almost rhizomatically) into small groups that are designed to limit the exercise of power of leaders over others. He concludes that states must be forced on society and should be considered an external force of expropriation that is fundamentally based on uneven power relations. Presumably this is the origin of Deleuze and Guattari's "Ur state".

Sahlins' book, on the other hand, develops an economic anthropology based in a Marxist reading of political superstructures reflecting economic foundations. He posits the notion of a domestic mode of production (DMP), in which the household (broadly conceived) is the fundamental unit of production and distribution. There is much here of relevance for development theory. Three elements stand out for me at the moment. First, the contradictory Western colonial views of so-called primitive peoples as, on one hand, living harsh lives that require them to work ceaselessly to just barely survive the day and, on the other hand, as being inherently lazy. The first view is one used to justify colonization as a bringer of civilization and wealth, while the second view is used to justify the use of force to compel indigenous people to work (as effective slaves). This is a clear ideological contradiction that I hadn't really considered before. And it is one that immediately suggests the underlying political economic goals of colonization. Sahlins' solution to this contradiction--and the second notion of interest--is to empirically show that indigenous societies are the "original affluent societies" (drawing on John Kenneth Galbraith's famous notion). He demonstrates that in those very societies that Westerners tend to see as incurably impoverished and technologically backward are actually so efficient in procuring sustenance and supplied from their environment that they only work four to five hours a day on average. That is, they do not live lives of bare subsistence. And in this way, they are better off than many proletarian workers in the early industrial revolution. Heck, they may even be better off than many of us with our eighty hour work weeks. At any rate, this observation also addresses the view that indigenous workers are lazy and prone to run away after earning some money: this is the only thing they have to do to survive on their own. People are accustomed to working until near term stocks are replenished and then relaxing to enjoy themselves. Because they can. The third item of interest is that primitive peoples (often nomadic) lifestyles do not support or require high levels of accumulation since their environmental so abundantly provides for their needs, and therefore accumulation is not a societal value. The Western capitalist mode of production, however, is fundamentally based on the believe that no level of accumulation is sufficient. While the domestic mode of production naturally imposes limits on accumulation, e.g., how much one can carry, accumulation under the capitalist mode of production is theoretically infinite. The indigenous approach has proved sustainable; the latter has not.

When we put these two books together, two points immediately pop out. First, "development" and the "civilizing mission" rely on the external imposition of statehood. That is, the colonial powers had to literally force states upon indigenous peoples who wanted no such thing. To the extent that development is based on introducing economic and political capitalist relations, it is thus rooted in unequal power. Second, these books taken together imply that to achieve sustainability, we must not only find a replacement for accumulation but also reduce power imbalances in society.

I don't know if this is possible, of course. For another unexplored aspect of both books is the notion of population density and political structure. The affluent and equal society in both cases appears to depend to a great degree on low population densities, including the possibility of rhizomatic meiosis to reduce population densities. Both authors, however, leave open the question of political transformation as population density increases. This surely lies at the base of differences between anarchist and socialist concepts of appropriate political structures (cf. the debate between Bookchin and Harvey over the role of cities). Or perhaps this is a difference between the domestic and industrial modes of production?

Things done and undone

12 April 2018

What have I accomplished so far during my sabbatical? My previous post about finishing Marx's Capital has engendered a moment of reflection on my achievements during my sabbatical to date. The thoughts are amplified---as they always are---by the sense of impending endings. Though I have more than four months before I return to Korea, other endings lurk near. In about six weeks I will have to move off the island and resettle in my parents' house. During those weeks I will have to prepare my final report for research project, explaining what has and has not gone according to plan. Soon after, we plan to travel for a month, which is a new beginning but also a probably end to my scholarly work. All these closings demand a sort of reckoning. Why it has to be public, I don't know, but here it is.

Over the greater part of the last year, here is what I can say I have done.

  • Lived on a lovely island (despite the undertone of jealousy for others' wealth and good fortune and infrastructure challenges)
  • Stayed quite fit
  • Bicycled regularly in beautiful surroundings (something difficult to do in Seoul)
  • Chaperoned a number of my daughters' school field trips (unlikely in Seoul)
  • Helped my daughters with their science projects (a volcano and a water rocket)
  • Spent a lot of time with my family (also difficult in Seoul)
  • Begun to get my daughters outdoors
  • Taken the family to DC
  • Started gardening at my parents' place
  • Plan to take the family across country car camping
  • Managed my uncle's transition to a nursing home (including cleaning out and selling his house)
  • Written two and a half papers
    • Fragmented states and pragmatic improvements: Susan S. Fainstein's contributions to planning theory, an introduction to Susan's theory (forthcoming under AESOP)
    • Austerity in reverse, now in the midst of minor revisions
    • Transnational gentrification as imperial process, which is half written
  • Attended four conferences
    • RC43 in Leeds
    • ACSP in Denver
    • AAS in Washington DC
    • UAA in Toronto
  • Read some good books
    • Marx's Capital
    • Mumford's Pentagon of Power
    • Lees et al. Planetary Gentrification
    • Beauregard's Cities in the Urban Age: A Dissent
    • Thant Myint-U's River of Lost Footsteps
    • Pierre Clastres' Society Against the State (May)
    • Marshall Sahlins' Stone Age Economics (May)
  • Read a large number of articles
  • Read some novels (mainly classics of worker exploitation)
    • Dickens' Hard Times
    • Dickens' Tale of Two Cities
    • Upton Sinclair's The Jungle
    • John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men
    • John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath
    • China Mieville's The City & the City (May)
  • Rooted my old phone and tablet
  • Created external SSD drive install of Arch Linux that I hope to use in classes in place of my laptop and the locally installed OSes (May)

Of course, there are many things I wanted to do and have left undone.

  • Write three or four more papers
    • Built Out
    • Contemporary Concessions
    • Quick quant paper comparing Vietnamese and Korean attitudes to high rise housing
    • Two or three other co-authored papers awaiting a few days of work from me :(
  • Read a gazillion more books (I shipped a whole box of books and have read practically none of them.)
  • Lay the basis for a new stage of research, which depended on reading many of the books as mentioned above
  • Read a large number of articles
  • Create graphs and tables to use for my Introduction to Development and Cooperation class
  • Cook lots of Indian food
  • Learn how to make and control robots with a Raspberry Pi

Heather Campbell (formerly Sheffield, now UBC) told me that if you accomplished half of what you planned, you have been successful. Not sure if I have been successful (academically), but I am close and I've done pretty good on the family front.

Also, I have to remember that when I return to Korea, I will be alone for four months and can live the monastic scholar's life. Of course, I won't get everything done then either!

Two years and three volumes

10 April 2018

Today I have completed a project. Over the last two years I have been reading all three volumes of Marx's Capital a few pages a day. I finished the last of more than 2,500 pages this afternoon. Time to break out the IPA.

Of course, there is Bernstein's Volume 4 and the Grundrisse that I could still read...and hopefully will eventually do so. But I have finished those volumes of Capital written primarily by Marx. And that is no small feat. So I will ignore the existence of an endless list of follow up readings and simply celebrate my accomplishment. This achievement is all the sweeter for coming just before Marx's 200th birthday on May 5th.

David Harvey once said that anyone who finishes reading Capital wants to write a book about it. I guess I'd better start.

Myths and machines

15 January 2018

It's been almost exactly six months since my last post. You would think that being on sabbatical would have given me more than ample time to write about my experiences and my thoughts. But so far you would be wrong. I mostly blame the young kids in the house, but life has also intervened unnecessarily.

I should write about our amazing---if small and drafty---1875 farmhouse on Elihu Island. I should write about swimming through the end of October despite rapidly declining fall temperatures. I should write about the hurricane just before Halloween that pushed an immense oak tree across the only road to the island and the only power line to the island, leaving us stranded without power for days. I should write about having responsibility for my negative equity uncle's tiny estate thrust on me when it was suddenly determined that he was no longer fit to live on his own. I should write about the grounding reflections on aging that experience has engendered. I should also write about the joy my daughters express at their new school and how they have code switched into English. I should write about how full-blooded the holiday season has felt here in America. I should write about the Arctic temperatures that have frozen the cove outside our kitchen window except for a small hole where the hooded mergansers have gathered. I should write about the kids' first major snowstorms, the snowmen they built, and the sledding they did. And I should probably write about reading Ta-Nehisi Coates on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. I should write about many things.

But I have a few words about Lewis Mumford's The Myth of the Machine. Mostly I just want to announce that I've finished reading both volumes. I've been reading them piecemeal a couple of pages a day for more than a year, and I finally finished the second volume last night. The main thing that has struck me while reading these volumes is the influence he must have had on Deleuze and Guattari. It may sound a bit odd, but I am convinced of the connection. First of all, from citations in A Thousand Plateaus, I know they read him. It may only have been the essay version of The Myth of the Machine, but there is sufficient commonality to suggest a fuller reading. Prime among these is the notion of assemblage, a term Mumford uses throughout the volumes to refer to a socio-technic system for transforming the world. More specifically, D&G appear to draw their concept of the war machine from the machine in Mumford's title. For Mumford the machine is the model for the modern power complex that strives to centrally manage society as if it were a mechanical device. That is, the machine cum war machine is an assemblage for channeling living energy. For Mumford, the machine is too rigid to contain living, creative energy and is thus prone to breakdowns that open opportunities for revitalization and renewal. These openings, of course, are D&G's lines of flight.

There are also strong parallels between the history Mumford offers and that of D&G. Both parties argue that the modern state was created by hunting tribes dominating pastoral cultivators. And both highlight the role of metallurgy. I understand that D&G got many ideas from Pierre Clastres, but he is next on my reading list, so I do not want to push this potential influence further at this time.

Most striking to me now, however, is Mumford's final chapter on materialization and etherialization. These concepts parallel D&G's territorialization and deterritorialization. Materialization, like territorialization, refers the process by which pre-linguistic ideas gradually take on material form; and etherialization refers to the opposite process by which material form crumbles over time until it is hidden in our language and thought, like long lost etymologies. For these three authors, these two processes are always interacting and shaping each other in a nondirectional evolutionary process. They are also profoundly human and subject to human determination.

All these parallels suggest to me that D&G drew many ideas from Mumford. It may have been that this way of understanding the world was materializing all over and both parties simply followed the same natural course. Regardless, I believe I will have to dig deeper into history. Not to determine who influenced whom, but to read Patrick Geddes's work. Mumford consistently contributes his most fundamental understandings to his advisor, Geddes. So, if Mumford influenced D&G, then Geddes was an indirect influence. If the Mumford and D&G only moved along parallel paths, Geddes's writing should still offer a productive framework for considering D&G's writing. It doesn't hurt, of course, that I am an urban planner and Geddes was one of the most influential early planners.

Lions and robins

17 July 2017

I went over the student evaluations of my classes today. For the most part, The comments were quite positive, and I'm grateful that so many students genuinely seem to appreciate my teaching. It may sound trite, but it is one of the rewards of the job. There are always a surprising number of students who ask for more structure to the lectures and for the presentation slides or notes to be made available. It was especially prevalent in the new graduate class on international development and cooperation I taught this semester. And I have to admit that sometimes my lectures could use a bit more organization. But I don't feel that they are that bad overall, especially in the graduate class. They were challenging and sometimes rushed, but I thought they were fairly well processed.

And that got me thinking. I think some students want me to do all the information processing for them, while I see myself more as a guide to the students own learning. While some students want me to be a robin, I see myself as a lion. When robins hatch, the parents forage for food, fly back to the nest, and regurgitate the partially digested food into the gawping mouths of the chicks. Some students are like those chicks. They want easily digestible, already broken down ideas and knowledge. I, however, want my students to learn how to break down ideas and knowledge for themselves and build their own idiosyncratic understanding of how our world works. Like the mother lion, I see my job as wounding the prey, bringing it to my cubs, and giving them the opportunity to kill it for themselves so that they can later hunt on their own.

Of course, I am aware that robins also hunt once they leave the nest. The distinction is more one of species than right or wrong. But if you want to take my class, be a lion, not a robin.

Houses and happiness

10 July 2017

Today, finally, someone bought the apartment we are renting and saved us from months of rent on an empty apartment.

Love and bosses

19 May 2017

For the last week my youngest daughter has been trying to get her mother to say that she loves her more than her older sister. She would get very upset when my wife refused to say that she loved one more than the other. It was quite confusing for us until last night. I was trying to explain to her how love is a non-rival good (through obviously in different terms) and that her mother's love for her older sister did not diminish her love for the younger one. She refused to believe me. In the midst of her tears, my daughter told that there was only so much love to go around and that her mother's love for her older sister meant that she did not love her as much. Her source? Boss Baby. The whole premise is that there is only so much love in the world and the dogs are stealing it from the babies. She totally absorbed that and applied it as a theoretical framework to understand her world. Amazing!

Theses and feces

12 March 2017

This Thursday at 5pm somewhere in the International Studies Hall I will explain to all comers how to ensure that your theses are not feces. Over about an hour and a half I will explain what makes a good thesis question, how to structure your thesis, how to avoid plagiarism, and what tools you can use to be more efficient.

You can look ahead (or behind) for my suggestions and a copy of my presentation by visiting this page. Note that I hope to update it over the next couple of days, but the substance will be essentially identical.

Peace and preparation

25 February 2017

Just watched 150 of our students graduate. Congratulations! It's always a pleasure to watch the happy and well deserved smiles that indicate the passage from one phase of life to the next. Good luck to all of you.

And it also marks a small transition for me. My chaotic winter is over and the new chaotic semester is about to begin. But before it does I have two days of solitude to reflect on the winter and re-energize for the spring. Before I came back from the Campus Asia kick-off symposium in Kobe, my wife and daughters ran off to Okinawa for a few days (that will turn out to be much less warm than they were hoping!). Though I have to get some work done (so that I can have time when the family returns), at least I will have a bit of mental space to settle...and will increase this space by going for my now annual hike tomorrow morning.

At any rate, I think I am beginning to look forward to the new semester and the excitement it will bring. I have been reading some very interesting books for my development and globalization classes. And I hope they will provoke engaging discussions. In particular, at the moment I am reading Karl Mannheim's Man and Society in the Age of Reconstruction. It keeps offering observations about mid-20th century society that aptly capture contemporary uncertainty and reconstruction. Hopefully much of my time tomorrow will be spent reading more.

Tanzania and Cambodia

10 February 2017

I am primarily just writing a note to update things since it has been so long. Since I last wrote, Trump has assumed power, protests have erupted, and Park, Guenhye's impeachment process is getting unnecessarily dragged out (presumably seeking victory through attrition).

This winter was supposed to be a quiet one with a focus on writing papers. Instead it has turned into another whirlwind world tour. I spent a week in Hanoi conducting interviews and site visits to understand the market for apartments there. It was phenomenally productive and I still have to sit down to sort out what we have learned. My RAs were amazing at organizing our meetings and focus groups. We met a number of professors from NUCE who taught us a great deal about Hanoi's urban development (though it was surely rudimentary to them!).

One of the tidbits they taught us was that Hanoi's urban planning has always been tied to humans' relation to water, specifically the Red River. Interestingly, I just returned from a GPAS/KOICA sponsored study trip to Cambodia where we learned that the story of Angkor Wat is also a story where water plays the central role. So there may be something about SE Asia and people's relationship to water that lies at the core of spatial planning.

In Cambodia I was the senior faculty member and therefore in charge of our team's formal exchanges with Cambodian representatives. For me, this was a major learning experience and fortunately I was able to draw on what I learned by watching one of my former colleagues on a trip to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Because it was just the two of us, I watched carefully how he connected (or not) with the other parties we encountered.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I have taken from the last couple of weeks is that the world is full of endless possibilities. I may have lost some of this sense over the last few years of having kids and getting stable. In fact, it may be the very achievement of a degree of stability that has allowed me to recognize again the excitement of the world's abundance. Of course, having access to money is key to realizing many of the possibilities, but I have renewed faith that one can make things happen if one wants. Through the conversations I have had new ideas and potential projects have bubbled up and over. The move now is to choose which to act upon and realize.

Thieves and honest men

24 November 2016

This morning I read in Capital that there is an old English proverb that is often reduced to: "When thieves fall out, honest men come by their own." Marx uses it to describe the truth about the economy and labor that emerged in the early 1800s as the aristocracy and industrialists argued amongst themselves about who exploited the common person more. I wonder if this is what is happening in Korea today.

Cosmin Visan and participatory budgeting

10 November 2016

Congratulations goes out to Cosmin Visan, who today successfully defended his PhD dissertation and passed with flying colors. His dissertation, A Simulacrum of Participatory Democracy PB in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, builds on research conducted over a year in Cluj to show how local elites were able to capture a participatory budgeting initiative to provide legitimation for their own interests. Cosmin is my first doctoral student. I hope subsequent students produce equally high quality work. Here is the abstract:

In 2013, in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, a Participatory Budgeting pilot failed as a result of elite co-optation and sabotage. This was a civil society effort at deepening democracy by introducing a form of participatory democracy in the second largest city in Romania.

This study asks the question, "Can civil society deepen democracy at the municipal level?" The focus is on the city of Cluj-Napoca, in Romania and the concept of deepening democracy is operationalized as the pilot Particpatory Budget that occurred in 2013 in the district of Manastur.

The study argues that, even though the enabling conditions for success were met, the pilot PB failed because the Mayor’s Office was only willing to implement a Simulacra PB—a version they could control. They did not want to share power with the citizens, and saw PB as a consultation effort that could improve efficiency and help build party power in the district. In order to prevail, they steered the conclusions of the working group toward their ends, blocked the demands for a dedicated sum in the budget, ensured there would be no independent executive board, and applied a Latourian classification strategy in order to steer citizen demands in the direction they desired. Civil society participants could not overcome the Mayor’s Office designs for sabotage and co-optation.

The case study is embedded in a theoretical framework that provides a model according to which genuine efforts at democratization will be structurally opposed by elites in a representative democracy. This has implications for other instances where civil society advocates deeper democratization—a regime change from representative democracy to participatory paradigms. The theoretical model used in this instance proposes that elite resistance to change is a defining feature of representative systems. Given this, civil society participants need to organize better, and to share their experiences of sabotage and co-optation through international diffusion networks, in order to counteract complex games of elite manipulation.

Trump and America

9 November 2016


UPDATE: Here is Peter Marcuse's take on the situation, one that is harmonious with my own.

Explaining the election:

  1. A critical shift in the organization of the economy post 1968, from industrial to hi-tech capitalism.
  2. Leaving many dependent on the old economy hurt and at a loss, largely the white working class, hold-over racism and sexism accentuated as scapegoats. (foreclosures, evictions, bankrupcies, struggling suburban homeowners – not the really poor, homeless)
  3. They reacted with anxiety and an emotional attachment to the past Deep Story (their traditional identity?).
  4. They blamed, quite rightly, “the” establishment, although not clear as to its membership, pushed by media etc. to blame "government" (social media, TV, not press?)
  5. Trump as politician picked up on this, despite his own membership in the new establishment (motivation? pathological egotism? Business).
  6. The anxious white ex-working class built up a deep story, a vision, abetted by Trump and the media that was heavily emotional (shaping identities?)
  7. That story, built on real anxiety-inducing experience, mis-interpreted history, and built a psychological/ideological barrier that facts and reason could not penetrate (high school or less education?).
  8. Trump offered the charismatic fairy tale leader, believe me, trust me, not them, they have failed you (over 30 years? Since Reagan? since Johnson?)
  9. Hillary offered no vision that addressed the grounded anxiety (health care costs? Real unemployment levels?).
  10. But Trump’s allegiance as a businessman is and always was to the new elite establishment, and he will unify the Republican Party around it. The holdouts will be those with a personal repugnance to Trump’s personal behavior, which they will swallow. (social circles, clienteles, customers, tenants?)

Mining and me

15 October 2016

I forgot that I should self-promote. An article I wrote with one of my current PhD students, Alexander Constantine Lupilya, has just come out in the Journal of International Development. Entitled ‘You have hands, make use of them!’ Child labour in Artisanal and Small-scale Mining in Tanzania, it looks at the socio-economic drivers of child labor in artisanal and small-scale mining in Tanzania. Here is the abstract:

This paper examines child labour in artisanal mining through ethnographic research in Tanzania. The poverty hypothesis argues that households send children to work to bolster household income. The sociocultural approach suggests that child mining offers valuable vocational training. This paper builds on a growing literature that complicates these approaches' straightforward claims by illustrating how household fragmentation is generated through the encounter of traditional cultural practices with mining's culture of consumption. This encounter exacerbates household fragmentation, which in turn increases child poverty and labour. These findings suggest that policy interventions should also address these mediating factors rather than poverty per se.

Marx and planetary urbanism

12 October 2016

This semester I taught that part of Lefebvre's Urban Revolution that introduces the emergence of the urban society as the urban incorporates the rural, as the town consumes the country. Additionally, in preparation for my ACSP paper, I have been reading the debate over planetary urbanism, in particular Richard Walker's response to Brenner and Schmid in City (19: 2-3). In his response, Walker argues that Brenner and Schmid have an unclear notion of the "urban" and often conflate it with capitalism in general. He argues that this all-inclusive treatment of the urban eviscerates the word of any tractable meaning. Instead, we should continue to use both concepts in a dialectical fashion. It is not enough, Walker says, to say that the urban is incorporating the rural; rather, we must also consider ways in which the rural is incorporating the urban. I think he has in mind urban gardening, rural-urban migrants, perhaps fashion choices, and so on.

This dialectical relationship seems to make sense, and my recent trip to Ethiopia suggests as much. Here is a picture of a sheep market on the edge of Addis Ababa. Farmers, I presume, bring their herd to this roadside in the hope that a butcher will purchase them.

Sheep market in Addis Ababa

But what has prompted me to write is a chance encounter with Marx and cities as I was reading Zerzan's Twilight of the Machines. He includes a quote from the Grundrisse (p. 479): "the modern [age] is the urbanization of the countryside, not ruralization of the city as in antiquity." Though I have yet to read the material preceding the quote, this is almost certainly one source of Lefebvre's inspiration for the urban society notion. The question Walker would then have to pose is whether Marx is letting go of the dialectical relation in this quote or if Lefebvre, Brenner, and Schmid have pushed Marx's concept beyond dialectics. And then I suppose one would have to ask if letting go of that dialectical framework is useful or not.

I don't think so.

Guns and love

7 October 2016

My trip to Ethiopia under KOICA's auspices is coming to a close...and a wonderfully fulfilling one at that. Thanks to Prof. Lee, Jin-Sang's extensive experience and consequent network in Ethiopia, other professors and I enjoyed dinner in the home of Ethiopia's Speaker of the House of People's Representatives, Abadula Gemeda. For me it was an incredible learning opportunity. Here is a man who started his adulthood fighting against the Derg in the bush with Meles in a Marxist-Leninist parth, rose to the head of the Ethiopian military, and is now Speaker in an actively capitalist government.

He shared a few bits of wisdom. The first was that if you can run a military, you can run any machine. The logic was that decisions in the military concern the most precious thing, life. He is certainly responsible for the loss of life, but he genuinely appears to care. I cannot imagine that he took decisions lightly. The second tidbit reinforces this thought. He said that the only way to win a war is with love. He argued that an army can't win by destroying the enemy (or at least trying). That only creates new enemies. The only way to win is to love the enemy. Give them water and food when they are captured. Talk to them. Teach them. Turn them into friends that you can live with. Further to this is that you cannot understand yourself without understanding why your enemy sees you as an enemy.

The last perhaps was that one must take every opportunity to live life. That is why he volunteers on the weekend. That is why he has adopted several children (despite being 60!).That is surely why he invited us over to dinner. And I'd like to think that is why I went.

Bikes and books

17 September 2016

Today marks another first for Sienna. She can now officially ride a bike. Though she still has much practice to do, she can now get started and keep moving for quite a distance without assistance.

Gian, meanwhile, continues to impress with her patience for and ability to sound out words. She's going to be reading alone in no time.

Fish and sharks

26 July 2016

We're staying at my uncle and aunt's amazing new place in Cape Cod for the week. They have a heated pool with a shallow end that is low enough for Sienna to stand. Their cousins swim like fish, despite the younger one's struggles staying on the surface. It seems that seeing this has inspired Sienna. Yesterday she figured out that it was okay to put her face in the water, and now she's diving and swimming like no one's business. She doesn't want to get out of the water. And that makes me happy.

Dogs and pigs

13 July 2016

Na Hyang-wook (나향욱) director general for Korea's Ministry of Education has been fired for calling for a formalization of Korea's caste system. He was quoted at an apparently drunken dinner as saying that, "Not everyone can be equal. We must accept reality.... I believe that we should solidify a class system in our society. The people should be treated like dogs and pigs. It's enough just to feed them and let them live." The people were defined as "the 99 percent". Of course he added that he belongs to the 1 percent. He made additional remarks that the 99 percent does not even try to improve themselves.

There is not much to add, since the former official's words are frighteningly plain. It indicates that Korea is already a caste society. I wanted to write "evolved into", but I think Korea has always been a caste society. The consciousness of this fact was disguised by the rapid growth of the past few decades, during which the lives of most people in Korea improved immensely. However, having caught up with the developed world, there is less growth to share domestically and people's lives are no longer improving. This, more than rising inequality, has led to reemergence of the consciousness.

Sienna checks one off the bucket list

11 July 2016

Thanks to a colleague of mine, the family and I were able to go on an experience trip to Incheon as part of a magazine that promotes tourism in the city. Fortunately, our trip was not to the city but to Shimnipo (십리포) on Yeongheung Island (영흥도) via Daebu Island (대부도). The fiction was that we went "glamping" (그램핑, or glamour camping, which is a current trend in Korea where you pretend to be camping by using camping gear but that really everything is basically done for you and your facilities are luxurious). The reality is that we were on a photo shoot and got to do a bunch of wonderful things as long as we posed properly at times.

We walked along the beach. We dug for clams and crabs. We barbecued tasty pork. But perhaps the most important thing was that we went on four-wheel ATVs along some paved and unpaved roads. This was fun simply by its nature, but there was an added bonus for Sienna. For weeks she had been telling me about her friend who gets to ride occasionally in front of her father on his scooter and how much she wanted to try. Scooters aren't really my thing, so I just kept the conversation moving. But thanks to the good people of Incheon, we knocked that one off of Sienna's bucket list with some serious aplomb.

Gian skates

25 June 2016

Yesterday we all went to the ice rink so that Sienna could get speed skating lessons so that she can be ready to take speed skating lessons from tomorrow through school. There's something painfully Korean about that, but I'll move on to the important thing. It was Gian's second of third time skating, and she had to guts to skate by herself. She was horrible and slow, but she didn't fall (except the one time I caught her). She didn't go far by herself, but she went with a kind of confidence that Sienna did not have at the same stage and (probably) age.

[Update one week later: We went skating again, and she was much more confident, even skating on her own at times. And one time venturing out on her own to catch up to Sienna and I! Apparently, she soon fell and crawled back to her mother, but the guts...! I also realize that I've forgotten to note what an amazing job she is doing learning to read and write in both Korean and English. She is kicking some serious butt.]

In other news, David Harvey has been in town this week. I saw him speak at an even hosted by 창비 Publishing and then in conversation with the mayor of Seoul in the middle of a Korean Association of Space & Environment Research (KASER) conference. This group is clearly where the progressive geographers belong. So I will be joining as soon as my grading is done. At any rate, there was nothing surprising in what David said...if you know his work. But it is always interesting to me to see how he string ideas together. The most interesting tidbit (and something new to me) is a figure (he said but I could not find) from The Enigma of Capital that he started with. Between 2010 and 2013 (or something like that) China consumed more concrete that the West has ever consumed. [Update: A former student guided me to a graphic for this.] Of course, this plays three roles. First, it is a spatial fix for surplus Chinese capital. Second, it buoyed up a flagging global economy. And third it protected the state from massive uprisings among the--at one point--30m unemployed workers (Enigma says 20m). Fun stuff.

Korea's corruption economy

20 June 2016

According to this article in the Joongang Daily, a new report has been released by the Korea Economic Research Institute (KERI), run by the chaebol lobby group called the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI). The report claims that a new anti-corruption law designed to put caps on gifts/bribes to public servants, journalists, and teachers will potentially damage the economy by almost $10b USD in the coming year. Personally I think the law will be helpful at blunting the tip of corruption in Korea, but what strikes me is this. Korea's annual GDP is $1.3t USD. If the economy will potentially lose $10b USD due to an anti-corruption law, that means that roughly 1% of economic production is driven by corruption. And there is surely much more that is hidden.

The Korean urban development story

4 June 2016

Yesterday, as part of my project on the export of Korean apartments, I went to one session of a day-long conference hosted by the World Bank and the Korea Green Growth Trust Fund (KKGTF) entitled "Investing in Green Resilience". Let's move quickly past the redundancy of "green resilience" given that resilience is an environmental term and that "green" has been appended simply because one host is the Korea GREEN Growth Trust Fund. And let's also move quickly past the "testifying" character of the presentations I saw ("Thanks to the $20m from the KKGTF we were able to leverage $60m in additional investment." It's all about "leveraging"). What interests me at the moment is that the speaker from LH (황규홍) provided a nice distillation of the key story that urban-oriented Korean development people use on a regular basis. There is a standard narrative that is used to promote and legitimate Korean involvement in overseas housing construction. And this is it.

Korea urbanized rapidly in the 20th century, especially after the Korean War. The war had destroyed a great deal of housing, and the country adopted apartment buildings as a solution. Korea's solution to rapid urbanization started with apartments in the 1960s, moved on to apartment complexes in the 1970s, and to New Towns in the 1980s. Land readjustment was a major tool that enabled its success. As a result, Koreans have shifted from living in independent homes to living in apartments. And apartments are the best management solution for all sorts of infrastructure and environmental services.

Buy Korean.

Note: To be fair, the LH representative did say that he was not sure that Korea's urban legislation was the "best" and that land readjustment may not work everywhere. So there is some well needed caution in some people's version of the story.

Bumps and bicycles

15 May 2016

A lot has happened since the last post. I've conducted research in Hanoi. I presented a fun paper on our economy's impending automatization and the precarity that will attend it. But the biggest developments are probably with Sienna, who has found new opportunities for physical development through elementary school.

She started first grade (and thus elementary school in Korea) a little before my last post. I presume that seeing all the things that the older kids do has generated new confidence and excitement about doing it herself. Sienna has always been a bit cautious about engaging physical risks, but she started jumping from high(er) places, climbing up the jungle gyms, flipping around poles, and other more risky but clearly exciting activities. As a parent, you just have to suppress your overly protective instincts and let them go. I formulated a theory though. I figured that some of her adventurousness was facilitated by the fact that she had not yet suffered any pain, that she had not fallen and taken a serious whack.

Within days of conceiving the theory, she did. Her feet slipped on a plastic slide and she tumbled more or less face first into the ground. I think she managed to get her hand in front of her face in time, because she wound up with a purple finger and forehead.

I figured she would return to her previous cautious ways, but I was wrong. If anything, she seems more empowered. This weekend she received a bicycle from a classmate and decided that she would learn to ride it. If anything, it's smaller and less easy to control than the bike we already have, but she likes it. And don't you know, she'll probably be able to ride by the end of the weekend. After three sessions, she is able to go about 25 meters. So she really is riding a bike, but she has some work to go to really be competent.

More importantly, she is just blossoming physically and it seems to be giving her much more confidence.

And lest I forget Gian, she is also growing rapidly. She has become much more engaged in learning Korean and English, not hesitating to speak in broken English to me. She's kicking butt, but she has not been attaining as mainly clearly demarcated milestones lately.

Jaque: Interaction to upset

21 March 2016

Last week my friend Marc Brossa gave me the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Andres Jaque and to participate in a panel discussion with students in his current super-luxury apartment studio at Princeton. Let me start by stating that I like his work. Because it is not going to sound like it. :)

Though he emphasized his focus on actor-network theory, to me the central focus of his work seemed to be on fostering direct, person-to-person interaction. I'll take both of these aspects in turn. My basic concern is that he does not dig into these things deeply enough. Rather, the engagement is superficial and almost pubescent.

He presented his comparison of Burlusconi's high end residential development with its underground media city, through which idealized lifestyles of the residents were depicted, and a building in Madrid or Barcelona that serves as a center for Senegalese(?) migrant workers. The core point---and a good one---is that the physical architecture of one site cannot be separated either from the socio-economic network in which it is embedded and the architecture that mediates other sites in the network. The import of this point is probably greater for architects than for urban designers and planners, to whom this must seem fundamental. My concern with the way it was presented (perhaps the documentation is different) is that a direct connection between the two projects was averred but never illuminated. The only thing I could see is that they are connected by both being actor-networks. If this is the point, it is a trivial one. Everything is an actor-network (if you follow Latour and other ANT theorists). To be meaningful, the comparison would have to identify homomorphisms or shared actors or something to have any real traction.

This superficiality carries over into the theory behind his interactive spaces. In many of the projects he showed, a major feature was that the design forced people to engage with other and potentially conflict. He began with the notion that architectural representations typically reflect what he called "happy endings", a delightful term. That is, architectural representations display highly polished spaces that hide the underlying conflicts and messiness of daily living. In much of his work there is an effort to either unveil the hidden realities that support happy endings, e.g., Phantom, or to create spaces that encourage new social interactions, e.g., the Plascencia Clergy House.

One intervention in the latter that I quite like and find indicative of the issue I have is the creation of a garden with numbered plots but no predetermined boundaries or paths. The point of the garden is to force the residents to interact and make decisions about boundaries and paths. I love this. I think it's brilliant. But it only goes so far. Once the discussions have taken place, once the conflicts have stabilized, once the decisions have been made, we are left with, in effect, a happy ending that disguises all the process that has led to the "final" organization of the plots. Following Deleuze's reading of Foucault, what the garden does is call forth power relations that over time stabilize and form a sediment that structures other interactions. My question to Andres was essentially this: "If these interactions are going to lead to happy endings, why stir them up to begin with?" I think there are some very good answers to this questions. One might argue that power relations should be constantly unsettled in order to encourage innovation (though to what end?). Even better, one might argue that existing sedimented happy endings are only happy for some and that creating spaces that upset these unhappy endings is a means of creating new forms of relationships that will improve society.

But Andres stops short of such statements. (Or at least he did when I met him.) One is left with (at least) two possible explanations. First, it is possible that identifying "enemies" might jeopardize his client base. Second, it may just represent the pubescent teenage boy drive to upset things simply to upset them. To the extent that architects and artists see themselves as "shocking"---and I think oftentimes this is the case---this sort of statement seems accurate. But we need better motivation for upsetting happy endings than simply the desire to make people unhappy. We need a more mature practice.

My life's most jet-setting month and some initial thoughts on Myanmar

16 February 2016

It was drawn to my attention that I have not updated in quite some time. Somehow I wind up busier and busier every semester and have lost the opportunity to add anything here. And since the coming semester promises to continue the trend, I thought I would post a quick update.

I have been home a total of four days over the past month. First it was a week in Japan (Tokyo for research and Kobe for a talk). After two days of recovery I was off for ten days in the US (Harvard and MIT for networking, archival research, and student guidance; a day at my folks' house; and Columbia/NYC for networking, research interviews, student guidance, and pizza and beer). Two more days of rest in Seoul and then on the night of the Lunar New Year, the family and I were off to Myanmar (Yangon for research interviews, family vacation, and cultural exposure for the girls). Quite simply, this has been the most jet-setting-est month of my life...and all because funds needed to be spent. It was also surprisingly grueling and productive.

So a few preliminary thoughts on Myanmar...or at least Yangon, where my research has inadvertently(?) focused itself. I am trying to understand how international actors are shaping the development of the city. For the moment I have a couple of preliminary impressions to note.

  • The range of international capital is fascinating. When one thinks of development, one tends to think of European or American firms investing in emerging markets. However, in Myanmar's case, it seems that much of the capital is Asian. There is Japanese, Korean, and Chinese capital to be sure, but there are surprising sources (to me). The high end shopping mall across the street from the (disturbingly) high end hotel we stayed at so that the girls could swim was built with Vietnamese capital. Inside, one of the signs for a coming coffee shop (Black Canyon Coffee) described it as "a Thailand original" and listed locations throughout SE Asia.
  • The construction coming in is remarkably contemporary. It makes sense of course and indicates more that I have not traveled much in the developing world recently. But I was still struck that the most prominent construction is generally high-end, modern construction. This creates a much more robust contrast between new and (probably) international wealth and existing citizens.
  • More romantically, I was reminded of Herbert Marcuse's observation about the park benches he saw when he visited Hanoi in the 1960s: they only seat two and thus foster romantic interaction. Yangon does not seem to have much for benches, but couples sit together everywhere. And the beautiful thing is that they use the umbrellas necessary to keep off the heat as a tool to create an intimate space for just the two of them. The result is a remarkable degree of privacy and intimacy in the midst of busy, crowded city.

Justice and the city virtual special issue

15 October 2015

I am pleased to announce that a virtual special issue on Justice and the City has just been completed and is available at Taylor and Francis's website. Inspired by Susan Fainstein's recent piece on The just city in the International Journal of Urban Studies, the virtual special issue (with free access until the end of the calendar year!) compiles some classic articles that inform her arguments and some more recent articles that engage and expand her work. All pieces are drawn from Taylor and Francis's extensive archives. The collection was put together with Jung Won Son from Bartlett (UCL) and help from Aletheia Heah.

Non-ideological Korean history

13 October 2015

I've just read that the current government has decided to reverse a seven-year-old legal change that replaced government-authored history textbooks with a list of textbooks approved by the Ministry of Education. From 2017 middle and high schools will have to use new government-authored textbooks. This "deliberation" of knowledge is surely another sign of increasing censorship in Korean society, but the thing that most caught my attention is the claim that the new books will be "ideologically neutral". According to the Joongang Daily, the Education Minister said, "We will dispel the people's worries over ideological biases and create textbooks based on constitutional values and objective facts to foster a proper view of the state and a balanced historical understanding for our youngsters." This effort is supposed to "end the controversy over ideological bias in history textbooks".

But of course there is no such thing as an ideologically neutral text. "Ideological neutrality" is what you get when those in power succeed in establishing their ideologically biased interpretation of history (in this case) as the mainstream view. This is generally done by establishing "objective truths" that are beyond question and by carefully curating which "objective truths" are incorporated into official accounts and which are not. We can see this move in the very language of the Minister. He specifically mentions "objective facts" in the quote above and refers elsewhere to a reliance on "verified materials". But the inevitable role of ideological interpretation is also clear in the quote above. The Minister argues that the textbooks will be "based on constitutional values", as if there is only one objective understanding of those values. The very nature of values is that they are interpreted based on experience and ideology. For example, one can interpret the constitution's environmental injunctions as trumping economic development or one can interpret environmental values as aspirational goals that follow development.

Values are ideology. And the government's reversal of limited freedom in historical interpretation is an ideological move.

Theories of Everything

3 October 2015

In a fit of procrastination I just read The Trouble with Theories of Everything by Lawrence M. Krauss. Quite simply, it argues that physics theories are scale-dependent. That is, theories that apply at one scale---however microscopic---do not necessarily apply at others. It goes further to suggest that attempts to unify theories lead to new mismatches. What I take from the article is that a theory like gravity may be suitable for one scale of analysis, say, an apple falling from a tree, but reveal theoretical flaws at other scales, say, predicting the behavior of subatomic particles.

I wonder if we should apply this notion to the social sciences. With my graduate students I've been reading two books so far this semester. The first is Bruno Latour's Reassembling the Social, and the second is Martinelli, Mouleart, and Novy's Urban and Regional Development Trajectories in Contemporary Capitalism. Latour's book describes the actor-network theory (ANT) approach, in which our understanding is built up from the actors themselves and (kind of) decries the development and application of grand theories of the "social". URDTCC, meanwhile, is basically an anti-ANT approach that applies a host of macro-level social theories to urban and regional development. The further wrinkle with the latter is that the approach applies these theories to multiple time and spatial scales. And it enjoys variable success in doing so.

On some long term scales, the broad social forces (or "actors" in Latour's terms) create a smooth narrative, but one that feels hollow after reading Latour. For example, we are told in the context of financial capital's dominance in the contemporary development of London that, "The two fractions of capital---industrial and financial---eventually became antagonistic, a struggle that ended with the hegemony of financial capital and the decline of British industries"[66]. In other places, actors "positions" and "sociospatial structures" are "reinforced". But we are not told how they struggled, of what that hegemony consists, what the positions are, nor what "reinforced" means. These terms are shortcuts for summarizing what happened, and while I do not doubt their "accuracy", the shortcuts do not tell us "what happened" on the ground. And I guess I want that.

But this is where the scales come in. URDTCC primarily uses regulation theory for its analyses, and I think it generally does a good job of describing the big picture. However, it obscures so much of the local level dynamics that drive the processes. We need to know how certain financial capitalists pushed through regulation in their favor, for example. And this involves (perhaps) other theories that describe political action, psychological constitutions, investment decisions, etc., theories that in turn would not necessarily describe the macro-level outcomes.

Must we then rely on different theories for different scales of action? Krauss's article would suggest that we should. But it would also suggest that the effort to unify these scalar-specific theories should produce its own advances and new mysteries.

Bedtime stories

25 September 2015

More kids than business on this blog... This time it is because my older daughter finally seems to be getting interested in reading. She recently received a 만화책 (comic book) from a friend. Apparently it is their favorite, "I am Star". She told us that they even run around the playground during recess saying "I am Star" because that is what gives the girls in the book their power. Anyhoo, combine this with the extra work my wife has been doing with her to read, and suddenly Sienna is the one reading bedtime stories to her sister. For the last week or so, she has read to Gian from "I am Star" and other kids books until Gian falls asleep. Then she comes into our room, tells us that Gian is sleeping, and returns to their bedroom and puts herself to bed. I love it.

Bugaksan (북악산)

14 September 2015

There's a lot going on right now. I'm teaching a class that is simultaneously streamed to Nanjing and Fudan Universities. I'm getting my research project up and running. I am writing a biography of Susan Fainstein. I went to beautiful Urbino, Italy for the RC21 conference, where I ran into some old friends and made some new ones. And there's other stuff.

But I'm really writing because I'm proud of daughters for walking with little complaint (none on Sienna's part) from Sukjeongmun(숙정문) to Chunguimun(청의문) yesterday. Though it's only a couple of kilometers, here are links to a couple of links that show what a feat this is (1 and 2). Let's just say that to get some amazing views of the city, you have to do a lot of very steep climbs and descents. And the girls kicked butt. It made my weekend pretty awesome.

Big Week

29 July 2015

So this has been a big week for us. We have been in the US since early July. Most of the time has been at my parents' house, but the extended family also took a five-day trip to Sebasco Harbor Resort in Maine. It was fantastic in its own right, but the big news for us involves the little ones. First, Gian has started summer camp at Pequotsepos Nature Center, which she has been wanting to do for the last couple of years. Even though she screams bloody murder every morning when we drop her off, she is bouncing when we pick her up. Second, Sienna went ahead and lost her first tooth at the closing lobster bake in Maine. Then yesterday she lost her second tooth eating corn fresh from Whittle's. But the biggest thing is that this afternoon she swam by herself without support for the first time ever. It was only a meter or so, but it was independent...and amazing.

Research grant

30 June 2015

I have just learned that I will receive a $90,000, three-year research grant from the Korean National Research Foundation to study the export of Korean housing models to developing countries. I am a bit daunted and quite a bit excited, as this will quite clearly define my intellectual efforts over the next few years. The project combines two approaches to examining the role of housing in development. One aspect of the research is to examine how housing models are imported from more developed nations and translated into the local context. This will draw on actor-network theory, policy mobilities, and the interpretive policy analysis approaches to policy formation. The second is the cultural approach to housing, which seeks to explore how housing shapes culture and is in turn shaped by culture.

I will be working with Park, Jinhee, who recently received her PhD from the University of Sheffield's Town Planning Department. She will be central to the cultural approach, which she has been developing through her dissertation.

Tooth fairy

23 May 2015

Sienna's first tooth seems to be loose. Time for the Tooth Fairy to put us in her address book.

Talk about mmm...pop music

8 May 2015

It seems our domestic world has taken a new turn. Sienna came home Friday enthralled with 여자친구 (GFriend)'s pop song 유리 구술 (Glass Bead). She has watched it repeatedly trying to learn the lyrics and started practicing the dance moves the girls were doing. The other day it was The ABC Song and now suddenly it's K-pop time. Insane.

In a stroke of genius, however, YK printed out the lyrics to the song so the Sienna could learn them. But of course she has to practice reading to do be successful. :)

Shows I remember

17 April 2015

For some reason, I could not sleep this morning. I kept thinking about shows I've seen in my day. It is probably because I was talking to some students the other day about how I was a young man during the "Golden Age of Hip Hop" and how they did not know some of the big names from the time. So I thought I'd compile a list before I forget their names, too! But I can tell I've already forgotten many.

  • Jazz
    • Sonny Rollins (Harkness)
    • Les McCann and Eddie Harris (Yoshi's)
    • Mal Waldron with Eddie Black and Lew Tabacken(?) (Elm Street)
    • Ornette Coleman with Don Cherry (The Channel)
    • Sun Ra (SF)
    • Gil Scott-Heron (SF)
    • Charlie Hunter Trio (SF)
    • Eddie Palmieri (Columbia)
  • Blues
    • John Lee Hooker (club on Geary)
    • Albert King (SF)(?)
  • Hip Hop
    • Spearhead (club on Divisadero)
    • Public Enemy (Oakland)
    • Digital Underground (SF)
    • Jurassic 5 (without Chali 2na) (Columbia)
  • Funk and soul
    • P-Funk All-Stars (all sorts of combinations all sorts of places)
    • Fela Kuti (Norwich)
    • Budos Band (Brooklyn)
    • Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra (Manhattan)
    • Nortec Collective (Brooklyn)
    • The Neville Brothers (SF)
    • Maceo Parker with Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis (Emeryville)
    • RiotGoinOn (Bay Area)
    • War (San Jose)
    • Brand New Heavies with Guru (SF)
    • James Brown (La Bastille)
    • Los Amigos Invisibles (Brooklyn)
    • Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (Brooklyn)
  • Reggae
    • Yellowman (The Channel)
    • Reggae Sunsplash (CT, with Mutabaruka(?))
    • Lambsbread (Mystic)
    • Jimmy Cliff (Norwich)
  • Rock
    • Hard Lessons (NYC)
    • Acid Mothers Temple (NYC)
    • Metallica (Oakland, since they were playing with Public Enemy)
    • Tsunami (SF)
    • Eurythmics (Fairfield, CT)
    • The Call (Orpheum)
    • The Alarm (Orpheum)
    • Asia (first concert ever) (Hartford)
    • Styx (second concert ever) (Hartford)
    • U2 (Hartford, 1985)
    • Dead Milkmen (Tufts)
    • Tracy Chapman (Tufts, before record contract)
    • The Reducers (Groton)
    • The Cartoons (Groton)

The world is a summation of Others

13 April 2015

At a friend's suggestion, I watch Koreeda's Air-Doll (2009) the other night. It struck me in many ways that I'm trying to explain to him, but for you, you get the central poetic line from the film:

It seems life is constructed in a way that no one can fulfill it alone. Just as it's not enough for flowers to have pistils and stamens. An insect or a breeze must introduce a pistil to a stamen. Life contains its own absence, which only an Other can fulfill. It seems the world is the summation of Others. And yet, we neither know nor are told that we will fulfill each other. We lead our scattered lives, perfectly unaware of each other... Or at times, allowed to find the Other's presence disagreeable. Why is it that the world is constructed so loosely?

Swimming underwater but getting wet

23 March 2015

After we returned from the US in the summer, we went swimming at the local public pool rather often. But as Sienna started taking lessons, I stopped going. Yesterday, though, we went back again. And by the end of the visit, Sienna was swimming underwater without a life jacket for the first time...and loving it. She started by ducking under the lane separator and gradually graduated to freely going underwater, taking a few strokes, and then popping back up again. If she just kept going when she popped back up, she'd be full-on swimming. Nevertheless, she was really swimming freely.

I'm so proud. What a winter! Ice skating, inline skating, swimming,...and lots of fun doing math.

Meanwhile, Gian, who has never been afraid of the water, is splashing around swimming with her floatation device and kicking up a storm. Pretty sure she'll be a swimmer soon, too.

Dalai Lama's reincarnation

12 March 2015

So the Dalai Lama has stated that he is considering ending his lineage as the head of Tibetan Buddhism. This is presumably in response to the high likelihood that the Chinese government plans to take control of the reincarnation to ensure that the next Dalai Lama is amenable to Chinese control of Tibet. To me, this seems like brilliant political strategy on the part of the current Dalai Lama. It would in effect devolve opposition to Chinese control of Tibet to Tibetans themselves, decentralizing and strengthening the struggle.

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government is not pleased with this possibility. Unfortunately, a recent government official's statement has reduced the Chinese government's position and strategy to farce. Zhu Weiqun, who leads the ethnic and religious affairs committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body that meets at the same time as the Legislature, made a statement that effectively positions the Chinese government as an all-powerful spiritual entity. His statement has certainly positioned the Chinese government as the leader of Tibetan Buddhism.

Mr. Zhu said that "Decision-making power over the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, and over the end or survival of this lineage, resides in the central government of China."

So the Chinese government is in charge of reincarnation. If you're Buddhist, you might want to apply for your visa now.

Winter break inventory

28 February 2015

I am just back from hiking over Knife Rock (갈바위) in Bukhansan. I have wanted to go hiking all winter since I didn't live up to my own promise to myself to go hiking regularly during the past semester. I was finally motivated by a family-free day and a desire to "finish" something, since my work seems only to be broadening with every step forward lately. During my ambulation, I decided that I should take stock of other things that I managed to "finish' over the winter in order to make myself feel better. I'm not sure that the following items represent accomplishments per se, but they are things that I wanted or needed to do.

  • Went for a solid hike...once.
  • Redesigned my website, learning a bit of HTML5 and CSS3 along the way.
  • Helped my older daughter learn how to ice skate. This is probably my major achievement over the break.
  • Watched all of Archer.
  • Watched the first season of Bojack Horseman.
  • Read the core of Asimov's robot series: I, Robot, The Caves of Steel, and The Naked Sun. These seem eerily prescient.
  • Bought and set up a new desktop computer for my office. This finally gave me the power I need and allowed me to create a consistent Arch Linux install across all my computers.
  • Reorganized my office.
  • Traveled to Shanghai for a conference.
  • Presented at a second conference.
  • Submitted a first stage research proposal to the NRF.
  • Wrote a short piece on some current arguments in urban development for KRIS, our house journal.
  • Committed myself to an hour of writing every morning (though we'll see how that holds up).
  • Started reading a number of books for academic purposes, but these are not "finished".
  • Made an effort to organize and streamline my approach to thesis advising.


26 February 2015

"Every truth forms in negotiation, however messy, with aspirations to the universal."
-- Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection


15 February 2015

"You gotta know to be a hypocrite, baby!" -- Lupe Fiasco


12 February 2015

Though I launched the site a couple of days ago, I think the basic site is now assembled and ready to be put aside for a while, especially since I have a great deal of work left before the semester begins.

Over the last several days I experimented with jQuery and php as means of keeping the site simple and fast. Additionally, I wanted to make sure that as little as possible had to be repeated on each page (and thus potentially edited!). I started with php to load the sidebars and content, but then I decided I wanted the content pages in a separate subdirectory. Well, that messes relative links right the fuck up. So I tried jQuery, which created an ajax setup that would simply reload the main section. It worked, but the urls were not meaningful and thus could not be used for bookmarks or copy-and-pasting into emails to students and others. More irksome, though, was that it called the library every time I visited the site, slowing it down and creating an external dependence.Finally, I figured out how to create a php variable for the root directory. The code looks a little uglier on the navigation selector, but it seems to be working like a charm and keeps it in-house.

I'm sure there will be small issues as I go along, but I'm confident I have tight little site now. So it's time to move on to more important things.

Producing anew

10 February 2015

The spammers have won. As is obvious, I have chosen to put my Drupal site to rest for a while. Last semester students consistently complained that they were having trouble logging into my site to upload their response papers. Eventually I discovered that the innumerable requests from comment spammers were turning my site into a useless pile of mush. At the peak, spammers were requesting over 7GB of data per day and crippling my site.

Using .htaccess I finally got the traffic under control. But two things led me to decide to hard code my site and abandon it for now as a course management system. First, Korea University has now implemented Blackboard. And though I have heard a great deal of negative reviews of Blackboard, it certainly seems as though it will be as effective at delivering the syllabus and course materials and at allowing students to upload response papers and view grades. Plus, for the students, it will reduce the number of sites they have to visit to get their work done. Second, I realized that---in part as a labor of love---I have to put in a great deal of time each semester getting students' IDs registered, setting up the course page permissions, and whatnot. Third, it became clear that to keep the spammer assholes under control I would have to regularly put in time entering the latest compromised computers that were attacking my site.

And so, I have decided to simplify for now.