Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Today is the last day of the year. With this posting I have met my goal of blogging more than I did last year. I do realize that I have cheated and that I have two entries today (on a blog called "What I Learned Today") ... but hey, it is my blog and to quote Cartman ... " I do what I want."

We have had a young person from Korea living with us since September and since then I have learned a lot about Korea. Before he moved in, what I knew about Korea came from the TV show M*A*S*H or from the Stephen Colbert song, "Singing in Korean". Sad, I know. So I have learned a lot just from talking with him and having a heighten sense of all things Korean. Every time the word Korea is said on NPR, my ears perk up.

For one, in Korea, the day you are born you are considered 1 year old. So I am actually 44 in Seoul but still 43 here. You get younger when you leave Korea and older when to go there.

Koreans don't really have middle names but generational names. Each family keeps a book for their family. You merge the middle name on the end of your first name, so if your first name is Chin and your generation name is Su then your name is Chinsu. All your siblings have the same generational name so if Chinsu has a brother named Dae, his full name would be Daesu.

Seoul is the largest city in South Korea, but Pusan (aka Busan) is the next largest. It is about the size of Chicago but with a warm climate on the southern tip of the country. Pusan was unscathed by the Korea War due to how far it was from the northern border.

Pusan's baseball team is called the Lotte Giants. The Korean Baseball Leagues has 8 teams. They have the name of a corporation and then the team name. Lotte is a huge conglomerate a lot like General Electric. Hundai, Samsung and LG all have teams as well. Their league has only existed since 1982 but is very popular and probably will grow. The champion of their league will face the Japanese, Taiwan and Chinese teams in the Asia World Series.

I get the impression that Koreans love American culture and products especially our beef. Their current president, Lee Myung-bak, lost favour with the voting public when he banned American beef due to fear of Mad Cow disease. His approval rating is lower than Bush's at 17% the last I heard. Coming to the US on vacation is not very practical due to the distance so Australia is a good substitute. Japan and Hong Kong are also popular, but China is not.

I have learned a lot by having a bright young person from another culture in my home. I recommend it to anyone interested in learning something new. Happy New Year.

He Looked a Lot Like Che Guevara

I just watched the film The Motorcycle Diaries via Netflix Internet streaming. It wasn't until I was done watching the film that I remembered that this film was based on the actual diaries of revolutionary Che Guevara. You cannot help but fall in love with the Ernesto "Che" Guevara in the film ... his passion, handsome idealism and curiosity are contagious. The story follows the 23 year old medical student Ernesto's trip, with his biochemist friend Granado, from his home in Buenos Aires, Argentina across South America to Venezuala. You watch Ernesto transformed from a young asthmatic college student, whose only interest is in graduating, traveling and women, by his experiences on the trip into a revolutionary. They meet coal miners, migrant workers, persecuted communists, lepers and tour the ruins of the ancient Inca Empire at the top of Machu Pichu. Like Jack Kerouac's Sal Paradise in On the Road, Ernesto traveled to find America and found a lot in himself as well. Spoiler alert: The film's climax comes when he decides to celebrate his birthday at the leper colony. The medical staff at San Pablo leper colony are segregated by the Amazon River. He dives in and swims across to cheers and jeers and emerges on the other side transformed. What a great image! I am adding the book to my wish list now. Let us all be transformed to face the changes and challenges of the new year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Barbie and her Liberation Organization

When Mattel introduced the Barbie doll in the 1959 American International Toy Fair, some people were outraged and some thought it would be a failure. Dolls were for children therefore they were made to look like children. Ruth Handler, Barbie's creator, watched her children play with their baby dolls as if they were adults, so why not make a doll of an adult or a teenager. Everyone at the fair hated Barbie, but the consumer is king. She sold out the moment she hit the shelves. 350,000 of them were sold in the first year. Today, every second three Barbies are sold throughout the world.

Jack Ryan was the engineer that designed her. He was a missile designer for Ratheon before working for Mattel. He was also married to Zsa Zsa Gabor. This might explain Barbie's controversial breasts. Her body hasn't changed throughout the years, but her eyes did. In 1971, her eyes were changed to look forward. They originally looked sideways, seductive like.

Barbie has always been controversial in recent years more to do with her unrealistic or unobtainable proportions. Barbie Liberation Organization was formed in 1989 by people who were already pissed off at her anorexic figure but went over the top when they heard what Barbie had to say when she was fitted with a voice box: "Math is hard," "I love shopping!" and "Will we ever have enough clothes?". The BLO (also called RTMark or Registered Trademark) organized the swapping of voice boxes between Barbie and GI Joe making Barbie's voice much deeper and said “Vengeance is mine!” while Joe said "Let's plan our perfect wedding". They then returned them to stores in time for Christmas. I wish I had one of these.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Kiribati and Global Warming refugees

The island nation of Kiribati's 94,000 or so residents have a problem. By the year 2100 their entire nation with be under water in the Pacific Ocean. Two of their islands, Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea, already disappeared in 1999. Coconuts will no longer grow on several of their islands due to the salination of the soil. Salination problem is expected to spread to the rest of the islands by 2050 and so goes their economy. These folks are becoming refugees of global warming ... or a term that we will probably start using a lot soon ... Global Warming Refugees or Climate Refugees.

Kiribati is on the equator and is the eastern most nation in the world. They are always the first to celebrate the New Year. It consists of 32 atolls and several island groups that are just a couple of feet, at it highest, above sea level. Their president Anote Tong has started thinking long term and has been helping his citizens relocate already. He has worked with getting his citizens residency in their neighboring countries of Japan, Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand has already agreed to accept 75 of them a year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Samuel Worcester and Andrew Jackson

Every time I use a US $20 bill, I have to shake my head in amazement that we still have Andrew Jackson on our currency. The more I hear about this man, the more I despise him. Every time I hear someone call our current president the worst ever I just think of the Trail of Tears and how Jackson was responsible for marching families at gun point from Florida to Oklahoma. Bush is pretty disgusting but lets have some perspective. We've had far worse.

I learned today of a Vermonter that had a run in with Jackson. Samuel Worcester was a missionary from Peacham. He moved south to preach the word of god to the Cherokee. Like many whites of his time, he made friends and became close to many of the "savages" that populated Tennessee, Georgia and northern Florida. Worcester defied a lot of the laws of the times that governed relationships with the natives. For example, Georgia has had a law in the 1830's that a white person couldn't live on Cherokee territory without taking an oath of obedience to the state of Georgia. When Worcester refused to take the oath he and several others were chained, beaten and force marched 35 miles to the county jail. He was convicted of four years hard labor. Worcester challenged his arrest and the case went to the Supreme Court (Worcester vs. Georgia). He won (Georgia refused to show up). Like Bush, Jackson didn't seem to care how the Supreme Court interpreted the US Constitution and followed his own demons. He refused to enforce the law. When presidents are popular they seem to be able to get away with the crimes that only royalty could gotten away with in the past. Worcester and one other were to remain in jail and continue their hard labor until the governorship of Georgia changed a while later. They were set free with some stipulations. Worcester moved to Oklahoma awaiting the influx of Cherokee immigration that was to follow.

It should be notes that the private citizens at the time in Tennessee, Georgia and northern Florida had little problems with the Cherokee. They lived peacefully with them; they shared in commerce, in civic pursuits and even in worship. It is the federal government under the mantra of progress that forced them off their land. Rich industrialists and the railroad had a huge influence on the federal government. The more I learn of history, the more I realize that little has changed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Ubiquity of It's a Wonderful Life

When I was a kid, you couldn't change the TV channel during the holidays without bumping into Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. It was everywhere. It could have had its own channel for the month of December. This is no longer the case and it is only on a few times during the holidays now. I always thought that this was so they could sell the DVD, but it is really because in 1973 the owners of copyright forgot to renew it. When copyrights expire, a work goes into public domain. This is why you can put Superman in a song without paying DC Comics. After a while, the people own a work and not its creator.

In 1993, the Supreme Court ruled that the holders of a copyright of a story that a film was made of had certain rights over the film. Hence It's a Wonderful Life's ubiquity came to a stop and it only gets put on TV a few times a year. One has to wonder if it would be considered such a classic if the copyright hadn't expired.

  • Link from Slate Magazine's Explainer
  • Sunday, December 21, 2008

    Ponzi Scheme

    Ponzi Schemes are basically illegal schemes where you rob Peter to pay Paul. You convince new investors to give you a lot of money and you use that money to pay off your old investors. There really isn't a commodity supporting the scheme. You just keep making money based on the fact that you are giving a return to your investors. Eventually it collapses but by then the schemer can disappear with the loot.

    The first Ponzi Scheme ever was devised by Charles Ponzi in the early 20th century where he convince people to invest in stamps. The most recent just happened (this week) and was the largest ever by Bernard Madoff where he swindled over $50 million dollars from a lot of famous people and charities.

    Friday, December 19, 2008

    Mutilated US Money

    The US Treasury has a department of mutilated bills. If you have a mutilated bill, you can mail it to them and they will repair it and send it back to you free of charge or replace it with one of an equal value. What bills are considered mutilated? A bill that more than half of it is unreadable and its denomination is questionable. If your bill doesn't meet the definition of mutilated, you can just bring it to a local bank and they will replace it.

    You can send your mutilated bills to the following address (via registered mail):

    Bureau of Engraving and Printing
    Room 344A
    P.O. Box 37048
    Washington, D. C. 20013

    Sunday, December 7, 2008


    Snoopy made his premiere in The Peanuts comic strip two days into the strip's history. So October 4th, 1950 is Snoopy's birthday. Charles Schultz modeled him after his childhood beagles Snooky and Spike. He originally was supposed to be named Sniffy but changed it to Snoopy after discovering that Sniffy was taken. In the early days of the strip, Snoopy walked on all fours and was silent. After two years, the thought bubble was introduced to show what he was thinking. Other characters in the strip seemed to be able to read his mind because they responded to his thoughts as if he was talking. He was mostly silent in the TV specials. It was ten years after he was introduced that Snoopy started walking upright. Since then Snoopy became the real star of the strip and shows. Schultz claims that Snoopy became the character that the loser Charlie secretly wanted to be. Schultz suffered from manic depression and he modeled the character Charlie Brown after himself. When he was young, he claims, every time he started to show pride in some of his accomplishments, his father would tell him not to get a big head. So when he created Charlie, he purposely made him with a disproportionally large head.

    Thursday, December 4, 2008

    Gladwell's Hours

    Last year's New Year's resolution, for me, was that I would blog, at least one more entry, more than last year. As of right now, I need to blog 10 more times in 25 days to meet my goal. I really do learn something everyday. I work at home and listen to several podcasts a day which is mostly talk but some are music.

    Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers: The Story of Success, sounds like a great read. I haven't read it yet, perhaps I'll read it next (after I finish this Orson Scott Card novel). I have heard Gladwell speak on several podcasts and I think he was on the Daily Show recently. His latest subject is why some people have extraordinary success and some don't. He doesn't believe in the gifted but believes that people become successful through practice and lots of hard work. It is kinda like that old joke .... "Young man! Young man! How do I get to Fenway Park?!" The young man responds "PRACTICE!"

    He calls his principle the 10,000 Hours to Success. His best example is Bill Gates. Gates apparently spent 10,000 hours on a computer before he turned 18. I did the math, this over 416 days if he was awake on the computer all that time. This might explain Bill Gates' personality. This is not to say that everyone who spends 10,000 hours on the computer before he/she is 18 is going to grow up to be a billionaire. But given some luck and intelligence with the 10,000 hours, you have an outlier. My old track coach, Ira Brown, used to say that luck is when preparation met opportunity. So 10,000 hours doing anything like playing video games or watching Bill O'Riley isn't necessarily going to get you anything ... other than a potbelly and/or a bad attitude. It is important that you spend your 10,000 hours doing that is worth doing, hopefully learning or building a skill.

    The coolest stat I have heard him state is that something like 90% of the elite hockey and soccer players in the US and Canada are born in the months of January, February and March. This could be mere chance or this could be explained by the fact that most youth hockey programs on the continent have a cutoff of a January birthday to get into them. This would mean that those who get into these programs at a younger age are more likely to succeed. They just have more time under their belt than the others ... there are those hours again. This doesn't mean that every kid that is born in January is going to success or if you are born in December you are not. It is just a high level look at trends. How do you get the Molson Center? Practice!