Twofish's Blog

December 11, 2006

Protected: Putting back on the blinders

Filed under: academia, asian am, Career, china, father, wikipedia — twofish @ 7:39 am

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August 28, 2006


Filed under: academia, father, history — twofish @ 7:54 am

Speaking of relics of a bygone era….

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

I also was reading Kennedy’s moon space. One of the things that impressed me after reading the speech again is the combination of lofty idealism with the hard noise bookkeepping “where is the money going to come from” thinking.

The most interesting paragraph in the moon speech is the last paragraph….

I have not asked for a single program which did not cause one or all Americans some inconvenience, or some hardship, or some sacrifice. But they have responded and you in the Congress have responded to your duty–and I feel confident in asking today for a similar response to these new and larger demands. It is heartening to know, as I journey abroad, that our country is united in its commitment to freedom and is ready to do its duty.

That gets me because I don’t remember the last time that an American politician in recent years who has asked people to sacrifice personal interest for the greater good.

Compare Kennedy’s 1961 speech with Bush’s 2006 and 2005 speech….

There is not a word in that speech about hardship, inconvenience, or pain.

There are two paragraphs from Kennedy’s 1961 speech that are relevant to the situation in Iraq, and I don’t recall Bush making any of these points in any speech he made.

Let it be clear–and this is a judgment which the Members of the Congress must finally make–let it be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs: 531 million dollars in fiscal ’62–an estimated seven to nine billion dollars additional over the next five years. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.


I believe we should go to the moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of the Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we should decide today and this year.

The other thing that I’ve noticed in reading Kennedy’s speechs is that winning the Cold War wasn’t merely military, but involved an integrated military and economic strategy. The Soviet Union ultimately wasn’t defeated by military means, but it was bankrupted.

Also if you look at the two speeches….

The one thing that stands out about Kennedy’s speech was how internationalist in character it was, and how there *wasn’t* any sense of historical inevitability.  The United States *could* have lost the Cold War, just as it *could* lose the Long War, and that fact focuses the mind in a way that Bush’s speech didn’t do.

The reason all of this is significant for me is that I’m starting to understand what it was in Kennedy that made my father such a fan of his.

August 8, 2006

Comments on Orville Schell, the Cultural Revolution, and Wikipedia

Filed under: china, cultural revolution, father, wikipedia — twofish @ 3:20 pm

I’m more than a little annoyed at that article.  I was born in West Virginia, grew up in Florida, and even half way around the world, I couldn’t escape the effects of the Cultural Revolution.  I grew up in a world without aunts and uncles, and to this day, my view of the world consists of dividing people into a small number of inner family members you can trust, and the rest of the world who is trying to get you.  Part of the reason I spend so much energy in academia (and people in Mainland China are spending so much energy in economic development) is that he helps deal with the pain, and there is a lot of pain.
Having said that.  The problem with history is that people see things in different ways.  During the Cultural Revolution, power was in the hands of the Red Guards, and most of the officials of the CCP were put in jail.  The people who led China in the immediate aftermath of the Cultural Revolution were people that had suffered during it, and what they learned (and what I believe) is that the Cultural Revolution is an example of the dangers of a mob, led by one evil man, unchecked by the limits of law and bureaucracy.

If you want me to give a current example of a Cultural Revolution, look at Iraq where there is lawlessness and death squads unchecked by any central power, and where “neoconservative ideology” that we are going to magically create a perfect paradise right now, is playing the same bad role that “Maoism” did in the 1960’s.  The lesson I take from both the Cultural Revolution and Iraq is that if you believe in a utopian ideology and are unwilling to listen to other people or the facts, you will create a hell on earth.

What I learned was that social change must be gradual, that strong ideologies are dangerous, that institutions are important, and most importantly *different views must be respected*, because it’s only by debating the issues that you get answers.  I have major problems with some Chinese democracy activists because they are remarkably intolerant people.  We are right, you are wrong.  We are good, you are evil.  By contrast, the Communist Party of China really doesn’t believe in anything much in terms of ideology, and is willing to do pretty much anything to stay in power (even if it happens to be the “right” thing), and this means that you actually get real policy debates in the system.  To get wikipedia unblocked, all you have to do is to find the “right person” in the Chinese bureaucracy and convince them that wikipedia isn’t a threat to Chinese social stability or the Communist Party (and I don’t think that it is).

These are radically different lessons than the one that Orville Schell takes, and I have great difficulty with his article because he assumes that his view of history is the *right* one, and gives no sense that there are other interpretations with radically different consequences.  One nice thing about wikipedia is that the wikipedia article on the Cultural Revolution does go into the different interpretations (and I know since I rewrote the article to include them).

Personally, I’m satistified with the line that the Communist Party has taken on the Cultural Revolution.  Something really bad obviously happened to Hu Jintao during the Cultural Revolution, that he doesn’t want to talk about, and the fact that he is quietly dealing with that, is more conforting to me than a loud showy (and meaningless) show of pentience, and it would be just cruel to have him to take responsiblity for whatever that bad thing was.  Same for Deng Xiaoping.  He was “sent to the countryside” and his son was left a cripple because of the Cultural Revolution, and you want *him* to take responsibility for that.  That’s insane.

The really bad people high up, ended up in jail.  All of the mid- and low-level people….  Well I think if you talk to them you see in their eyes, guilt and shame, and I’m willing to leave things at that.  No one in China dares say anything good about the Cultural Revolution.
For the most part, people don’t want to talk about the Cultural Revolution because no one wants to talk about being in hell. Talk to anyone of that generation and you will quickly notice major scars from that era.  Even if they don’t talk directly about anything that has to do with the Cultural Revolution, you see something in their eyes and the way that they move their face.  People don’t like to talk about really bad things that happened to them.  People *especially* don’t like to talk about really bad things that happened to them if it means that someone else is making some political points.

This worries me a bit since people not talking about the Cultural Revolution will lead to amnesia in the next generation.  Part of this involves an issue that I’m working on.  I’m a massive bundle of neurosis as a result of the traumas I’ve suffered, and I’m wondered about how to present this all to my children.  Part of the reason I’m writing these blogs is that when and if they want to find out, they can.

I’m also writing these blogs because I’m a little tired of “know-it-all” outsiders (like Schell or person who commented on my article “Waiting….”) who come in and try to tell me how I should grieve and how I should deal with the situation.  Schell is entitled to state his own opinions, but there is a really strong element of condescension in his article.  It’s as if he is saying, I know how to deal with historical trauma better than you Chinese because I’m smarter.

And how does he?

August 7, 2006

Babies R’Us and 26-100

I got out of academia because of something that happened at Babies R’ Us. My wife was expecting, and I was still a RA. I was looking around for baby decorations and cribs and other things, and I realized that I couldn’t afford any of the stuff on a RA salary or a post-doc salary. It’s hard to describe the awful, humilating feeling being in a large room full of decorations and baby things, and to realize that other people can give that stuff to their babies, but you can’t.

I got back in because of something that happened in Room 26-100 at MIT a few months ago at the reunion. The physics department had set up a bunch of physics demonstrations, and my kids were just loving it. There is the pendulum that demonstrates potential and kinetic energies, and I was able to use them to use that to teach my six and eight year-olds some basic facts about phase diagrams and resonance. When I was going through that, I was thinking to myself, you know, I’d make a damn good physics professor if someone just gave me the chance. I was also thinking to myself, maybe my kids are a little too excited about MIT. They think of it as some fun cool playground (which it is). I didn’t quite have the heart to tell them about the bullsh*t undergraduate admissions process which elite universities use to separate the worthy from the unworthy.

I had the same bad feeling when I did the video at wikimania for the MIT Media Lab and MacArthur Foundation. When you start me talking about science, I start getting very animated, but in the back of my mind, I feel a little disgusted with myself. Actually more than a little disgusted. I’m getting people interested in science and then submitting themselves to an inhumane and terrible system that will brutalize and abuse them, that turn their idealism into bitterness and worst of all will make them think that its their damn fault.

I mean, we have this really, really, really stupid stuff like the NSF report on the future of science in America. I am utterly amazed at how the brightest minds in the science and engineering can come up with just total stupid garbage. It’s because the people writing the report are the “winners” of the system and there is no way for us “losers” to say anything useful. People are trying to get more and more kids interested in science and engineering while ignoring the fact that there are no science and engineering jobs at the back end.

This is just disgusting, and the more one thinks about it (which no one with an NSF grant has) the more disgusting it is.

The people on the NSF panel are some nice people, but their institutional interest is to get more funding for science and technology for universities.  If this results in a massive overproduction of scientists and engineers, they don’t see it as their problem, and they certainly aren’t thinking of the human costs of getting kids interested in science and engineering.

You are getting kids interested in a field, and having them enter a brutal process designed to weed them out. What the HELL is all of this about? I’ve seem just too many bright and idealistic high school seniors at University of Texas who want to be physicists and engineers that then go into those stupid undergraduate weed-out classes (which I should point out that MIT does not have), which leaves them bitter and brutalized.

OK, that’s merely anger. What is turning this into total rage is this…….

If I don’t do something to change the system, my kids are going to go through it.

August 1, 2006

Rant about dating

Filed under: academia, china, father, massachusetts institute of technology — twofish @ 3:07 am

Here is a rant.  I sure hope the dating/courtship situation in college campuses is better than when I was in college, because when I was there is was totally hell.  The thing that I hated was that there was this assumption that because you are a geeky Asian-American male, you are devoid of passion and masculinity.  It wasn’t until that I left MIT, and lived for a few years that I realized how insane that notion was.  For me, being masculine involves tough, it involves being smart, it involves going out in the world and doing what has to do done for your wife and kids, it involves discipline and self-control.  One reason I enjoy physics and law is that it is a very, very masculine environment (not to say women can’t be masculine).  There is a lot of elemental conflict and primal emotion that goes into coming up with a good legal brief or a good academic paper.

I also wonder who came up with the idea that if you are serious about someone you have to sleep with them rather quickly, and if you aren’t sleeping with them immediately, then somehow the relationship isn’t serious.  I absolutely hated the term “just friends”, as opposed to what?  College is when you start making up your mind about family, identity, nation, religion, career, and there just isn’t a forum where you can really just talk about these things with people of the appropriate gender.  I think part of it is the idea that romance is something separate from all of these things, but my experience has been that when there is an underlying match, that sparking the romance is easy, and that people lose sight of the fact that the social and biological purpose of romantic feelings is to form strong family units.

(Incidentally, I’m starting to understand why religions are so obssessed with sex.  I have a feeling that the neural pathways involved with reproduction, doing physics, and worshiping God involve the exact same dopamine networks.)

I often wonder what is it that I really want from the “fairy princess” that would make me feel better.  I think part of it is that it would make me feel better to knew that she is being taken care of.  There are lots of people out there who are more masculine than I am, who would make better fathers, better husbands than I would, and it would make me feel much better to know that she ended up with one of them, and perhaps it was a good thing for her that nothing happened between us.   Women who I’ve been attracted to have the uncanny ability to choose as their boyfriends, total idiots, and it would make me feel better to know that this isn’t the case.

The other thing that is that it took me a while after I left MIT to realize that there were parts of me that were very strong and masculine, and that I wasn’t the Asian-American “geeky eunuch.”  I felt more like a whole person, once I made that realization, and one of the things that’s always bothered me is that there is someone who was once an important part of my life, and whose opinion (unfortunately) still seems to matter, doesn’t completely realize that these masculine parts of my personality exist.  She always saw me when I was broken, not when I was functional, and the notion that the impression that she has of me is when I was at my absolute weakest, I find disturbing and humiliating.

The worst part of hiding and denying feelings is that you end up hiding and denying that parts of you exist, and this makes you less of a human.

I sure hope that things have improved in college since I left it.

July 31, 2006

Off to Wikimania….

Will be heading off to WikiMania on Tuesday. The nice thing about blogs is that you can mix the personal and the professional. I’m a very nervous about going off to WikiMania because I’m in the middle of a life transition, something similar to graduating from college. I’m going to start travelling a lot more in the future than I have in the past, and things like my career, my family, and basically who I am are going to change radically in the next few months. As with all life transitions, I’ve been very, very nervous and stressed. I’ll survive, but it is uncomfortable. On the other hand, growing up always is.

The basic plan is that I’m going to be travelling to Taiwan in the summer when school is out for the kids, and I’ll be travelling either to NYC or Boston one week each month. One week each month should give me enough time and energy to network and start publishing papers. Part of the reason this is uncomfortable is that I’m not used to travelling so much. I’m also not used to spending money quite this freely. I’ve always been taught to save up money for the future, but the future has arrived, and if I don’t cash in my chips now, I don’t know when I ever will. If I don’t travel, I can’t network, if I can’t network, then I’m stuck in Austin for the rest of my life, and the thought of being 50 and doing what I’m doing now is both depressing and scary. I don’t want that to happen to me, and if I want to avoid that, I have to do something about it now.

A lot of this becoming a “global nomad” has to do with changes in technology and the way that the world works. Phone calls and telecommunications have made working remotely extremely cheap. Jet planes and discount tickets have also changed the economics of flight. One final thing that has also changed. In 1949, my family ended up on different sides of the Taiwan straits, and because of this separation, I’ve always had somewhat of a psychological resistance to anything that “splits the family.” One thing that is the case is that I’m now growing more confident that there won’t be a repeat of the Chinese Civil War, and this has freed up a lot of psychological energy, and made me less afraid of flying to and fro, and having my wife and kids physically in a different location than I am in.

I’m anxiously awaiting direct flights between Shanghai and Taipei in 2008, and that will just be the beginning. What will really change things is when you have direct flights between 2nd tier cities like between Jia-yi and Taizhou, Zhejiang or Hefei, Anhui which should start happening in the decade or so after the start of direct flights, at which point I really become a nomad. That opens up a whole other set of issues. My relatives in mainland China are blood, but they are still largely blood strangers, and either connecting or reconnecting is going to be stressful and create huge new constellations of relationships.

And with all of the changes and stresses in my life, it’s not surprising that I’ve been thinking a lot about my alter ego Professor W and his wife Professor L (see the sidebar). Professor W (aka the person I would have been if some things had changed) is more or less satisfied with his professional life, whereas it wasn’t until my nervous breakdown about three weeks ago, which was triggered by an article about the “real” Professor L, that I was willing to admit to myself (or more accurately forced to admit to myself) how totally dissatisfied I was with my professional life. The fortunate thing, however, is that to change this part of my life, I don’t need to break any fundamental laws of physics.

July 27, 2006

Marriage, school, and 19th century China

Filed under: academia, china, father, history, Wife — twofish @ 11:50 am

One of the fun things about reading is that you learn a lot of interesting things that bring up questions. One useful question that I’ve found is to ask “so where did this idea come from anyway?” For example, it would be interesting for someone to do a paper (or point me to one) that talks about the idea that the “personal” and the “professional” should be separate just like the “science” and the “humanities” should be separate. I have a feeling that a lot of these ideas come from Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” which talks about specialization. However, there is probably a lot more to that than this.

Also, what are the historical roots of current ideas on dating, relationships, and marriage?

Anyway, I lot of what I went through at MIT and what I’m going through now, make a lot more sense now that I’ve read “Education and Society in Late Imperial China, 1600-1900” and its chapter on “The Education of Daughters in the Mid-Qing.” There is this paragraph….

In addition, the ideal of woman-as-scholar—popularized in the opera that retold the story of Chu Ying-t’ai—conflated scholarship and romance, and held out the possibility, very much alive during the Ch’ing period, of a companionate marriage that included intellectual exchange and shared aesthetic experiences as well as household management and reproduction. So fathers interested in educated women were also concerned about wives for their sons and husbands for their daughters: a good education for one’s child, regardless of gender, was a key to successful matchmaking in the upper classes.

Oh…. So now I get it. Something else, if you take the ideal of “woman as nuturer” to its conclusion, then you don’t end up with a Chinese woman in engineering or physics, you end up with them in biology and/or early childhood education. Hmmmmmm…..

July 25, 2006

Protected: Getting it wrong…..

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Protected: Grown ups have no problems…..

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July 23, 2006

Protected: What a sick and perverted world we live in

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