Friday, November 27, 2015

Refusing racial victimhood

In a grand corridor of Harvard Law School, framed professors’ photographs hang on a wall. A week ago, someone put slivers of black tape over the faces of most of the African-American professors. I am one of those whose photograph was marked. ...

Since then I have been asked repeatedly how I feel about having been targeted by what some deem to be a racial hate crime. Questioners often seem to assume that I should feel deeply alarmed and hurt. I don’t.

The identity and motives of the person or people behind the taping have not been determined. ... Some observers, bristling with certainty, insist that the message conveyed by the taping of the photographs is obvious. To me it is puzzling.

Assuming that it was a racist gesture, there is a need to calibrate carefully its significance. On a campus containing thousands of students, faculty members and staff, one should not be surprised or unglued by an instance or even a number of instances of racism. The question is whether those episodes are characteristic or outliers. ...

Activists have succeeded in shoving to the top of the higher-education policy agenda the claims, dissatisfactions and aspirations of African-American students.

Successes, however, can generate or exacerbate destructive tendencies. I worry about two in particular. One involves exaggerating the scope of the racism that the activists oppose and fear. The other involves minimizing their own strength and the victories that they and their forebears have already achieved.

I have asked dissidents to tell me with as much particularity as possible the circumstances that led them to say that they feel burdened, alienated, disrespected, oppressed. ...

While some of these complaints have a ring of validity, several are dubious. ... Racism and its kindred pathologies are already big foes; there is no sustained payoff in exaggerating their presence, thus making them more formidable than they actually are.

Disturbing, too, is a related tendency to indulge in self-diminishment by displaying an excessive vulnerability to perceived and actual slights and insults. Some activists seem to have learned that invoking the rhetoric of trauma is an effective way of hooking into the consciences of solicitous authorities. Perhaps it is useful for purposes of eliciting certain short-term gains.

In the long run, though, reformers harm themselves by nurturing an inflated sense of victimization. A colleague of mine whose portrait was taped over exhibited the right spirit when he jauntily declared that it would take far more than tape to slow him down.
--Randall Kennedy, NYT, on maintaining perspective

Monday, November 23, 2015

Yoga is now politically incorrect

In studios across the nation, as many as 20 million Americans practice yoga every day. Few worry that their downward dogs or warrior poses disrespect other cultures.

But yoga comes from India, once a British colony. And now, at one Canadian university, a yoga class designed to include disabled students has been canceled after concerns the practice was taken from a culture that “experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy,” according to the group that once sponsored it.

In a telephone interview with The Washington Post, Jennifer Scharf, who taught the class for up to 60 people at the University of Ottawa, said she was unhappy about the decision, but accepted it.
--Justin Wm. Moyer, Washington Post, on the expanding zone of censure and prohibition

Why Jet Li didn't kiss Aaliyah

We all know the story of Romeo Must Die, how Jet Li is the movie’s hero, and the whole time you see this connection developing between him and Aaliyah, who played the female lead. And in the last scene, Li was supposed to kiss her, but when they showed the movie to test audiences, people said they found that disgusting. In the version they released, you just see them give each other a hug.
--Into the Badlands actor Daniel Wu on the bamboo romantic ceiling. HT: ACT

American Chinese food restaurant in Shanghai

Now, one restaurant in Shanghai is trying to bring American Chinese food back to China. ...

When visiting Shanghai as tourists, Fung [Lam] and Dave [Rossi] missed their usual versions of noodles and stir-fried classics, and thought others might too.

They decided to open what they believe is Shanghai's first American Chinese restaurant, featuring specialties served in Fung's family restaurants for 40 years: orange chicken, kung pao chicken and sesame shrimp. Dave describes the menu as "really American". ...

One of the biggest challenges was finding the right ingredients to use in the kitchen.

"As weird as it sounds, we actually import a lot of ingredients to make authentic American Chinese food in China," Fung says.

Items like Philadelphia cream cheese, Skippy peanut butter, cornflakes and English mustard powder must all be brought in from outside China. Even the soy sauce must be imported from Hong Kong, because that's what the first Chinese immigrants to the US used in their cooking.

The extra effort appears to be worth the trouble. The restaurant is usually packed on week nights and on the weekends, long lines of customers can stretch out of the door.

Dave and Fung have learned to predict whether first-time customers will approve of their food.

"If you're an expat, 99% of the time you're going to be happy. When it's a younger local person, we have maybe a 70% success rate," Fung explains.

Some locals come into the restaurant and ask for their food to be served in American-style white cardboard takeaway containers, mimicking meals they've seen on sitcoms like Friends and the Big Bang Theory. ...

Westernised Chinese food certainly has its critics. Some say the food is too sweet, its sauces too thick and gloopy, even too orange - a world away from the complex flavours of the vast array of foods found across mainland China.
--Celia Hatton, BBC, on the prodigal culinary son returning. HT: PW

Monday, November 9, 2015

Censorship envy

As the court wrote in a 1972 college student speech case (quoting Justice Hugo Black), First Amendment protection “must be accorded to the ideas we hate or sooner or later they will be denied to the ideas we cherish.”

One way that speech restrictions often grow is through what I call “censorship envy.” Say one group wins a ban on speech that it finds offensive. It’s human nature for other groups to then ask: What about speech that offends us — harsh criticism of Israel, or of certain religious belief systems, or of abortion, or of America?

Are we second-class citizens, whose feelings can be insulted with impunity, while other groups are protected? Are we weaklings who lack the power or status that the others have used to suppress the speech they hate? And if we’re not second-class weaklings, we demand the same “protection” from speech that offends us. That’s censorship envy, and it’s a powerful force supporting the growth of speech restrictions, at universities and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing many at universities, including student groups, administrators and even the federal Department of Education, trying to suppress student speech, again and again and again and again and again and again and again -- and the list could go on. Oddly, many of these restrictions come from political groups that see themselves as outsiders fighting the powerful. If that’s really so, how can they give the government extra censorship powers that can so easily be used against future “progressives” like them?

Monday, November 2, 2015

The crumbling of the Confucian social contract in South Korea

Their fall symbolizes the crumbling of a Confucian social contract Koreans have lived by for ages. Parents spent all their earnings for their children’s success, and in return counted on their support in old age. Now, many older Koreans find themselves without retirement savings or children capable of supporting them.

On the question of whether they had relatives or friends to depend on in times of need, South Koreans ranked at the bottom of countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to its annual “How’s Life?” report, released in October. The social support was the lowest among South Koreans who were 50 or older. ...

The 2015 Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index, released in October, measured the retirement income systems of 25 major economies and ranked South Korea 24th, with only India ranked lower. Last year, only 45 percent of South Koreans between 55 and 79 received pensions; their monthly payout averaged $431, or 82 percent of the minimum cost of living for a single person, according to government data.

About 30 percent of older South Korean families have a monthly income below the absolute poverty level. But they can get welfare only when they can prove that their family is unwilling or unable to support them. Many reject that option because they find it too embarrassing to reach out to relatives they have not contacted for many years.

And one out of every four elderly people in South Korea has depression, according to a study published by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs in September. As a group, their suicide rate is double the national suicide rate.
--Choe Sang-Hun, NYT, on defying stereotype