Archive for September, 2010

17th of September – Looking forward to Chusoek

Today is Friday. We had a class where we studied nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and then we did some proofreading of our second drafts of our essays we wrote this week, and in earlier weeks too.

Next week is Chuseok vacation. I hope it is sunny and fun.

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Conspiracies and Kochs

Today I want to write about something that has been bothering me a lot recently.

When I say recently, I really mean the last half a year or more. It is with regard to a mixture of ‘information’ that has been available on the news and internet sites, although particularly the latter. It is important to me primarily because my first sister is involved directly, personally, and deeply.

‘Conspiracy theories’ may seem like harmless fun at first, and to most people they will continue to be merely mild curiosities. To some people, however, these ‘esoteric’ theories become more than intriguing. They becoming beguiling to the point of deep, daily distraction. Distraction is not necessarily in itself bad, however, there are two points of risk.

The first is that some people are liable to become so involved in all the discussions that they invest not just time but also money, and then eventually even a sense of self-identity in what seems to them to be a ‘community’ of like-minded believers. This may or may not be a good thing, and this potential for good or bad us a topic to which I shall return again soon.

The second point of risk with conspiracy theories is that other people use those believers to their own ends. I am not just talking about the obvious ways, such as by making money from selling books, videos, or seats in  seminars on UFOlogy. Powerful people ‘behind the scenes’ have been using ‘conspiracy theorists’ to change society in important ways that you and I may not have even been aware. These ways are, I believe, destructive for most people, and especially for those who believe in these ‘theories’ so intensely to start with.

To return again to the first point above: some people say that we as humans are social creatures. We like to believe that we belong to some group whether it is a family, a religion, or just a sports club. These groups are usually ‘positive’ by which I mean that they help us to direct our daily energy in constructive and maybe even ‘loving’ ways, even if this just means love for a shared interest such as a sport, or a cultural focus such as a singer or style of music. All organizations can, however, corrupt, because all organizations are subject to the influence and control of those people and individual personalities who establish and maintain those groups. I suppose it is a matter of faith, but I certainly believe that the potential for enormous good is in all of us, just as we are all also ‘fallible.’ We can all ‘fall’ to corruption, temptation, and bad ideas and influences.

A topical (and some say ongoing) example of this is ‘the church’ although this phrase is fairly absurdly general. We could say ‘the Catholic church’ and even this is too general. We could cite ‘the crusades’ as a classic example, but I would argue that that was a series of events now isolated in one part of history. Let’s just say ‘some people within the Roman Catholic church’ and use the issue of hiding the names and reputations of clergy who commit pedophilia and sexual assault, and instead of dealing with these issues the clergy responsible for such obvious sins have been merely quietly admonished (scolded) and then moved to a new congregation (or church ‘parish’ or building and the group of people who go there to worship).

It is hard to know whether this behaviour has been ongoing throughout the history of ‘the church’ and to what extent, but a bigger question is whether or not this ultimately colours our perceptions of, or impressions of ‘the church’ overall. Of course for those directly and even indirectly affected it does rightly and fairly so, however, it is also absurd to say that every church minister is guilty of such sin. More than this, many individuals and groups within ‘the church’ have done many forms of powerful good for individuals and society, whatever the extent the hand of god may have played directly.

It is similarly difficult to say that sports, cultural or even family groups are necessarily ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as other individuals within such groups are also able to misuse any form of power other members entrust in them, whether it is taking money or some other illegality or sin. Whatever the fault though, for most people, emotions can quickly cloud judgment, and our opinions can be changed when our feelings are affected. The risk is that these feelings can extend – or be extended – beyond the initial person or cause of those feelings, affecting relationships with others.

This leads me back to the conspiracy theory groups, and perhaps one of the most important modern day examples: the 9/11 ‘truthers’ who could also be known as those who seek ‘the truth’ about the disastrous attack on the Twin Towers on the 11th of September, 2001. This group has evolved, eventually incorporating and branching out to reach people from other groups in society who share one aspect of their favourite conspiracy theories in common: doubt.

‘Doubt’ is a negative emotion as much as it is the unfortunate result of the usually positive mental process of analysis. Doubt can be easily applied to many areas of society and aspects of life. Some people are as ready to doubt as others are to believe. Doubt can, like any other emotion, evolve, spread within a person and between people, and affect moods of entire communities. But doubt left alone and unchecked for too long, and being naturally negative in connotation (or feeling), is ultimately destructive.

[ Update – 13 November, 2010. This post was filmed in February this year. The speaker has published a book entitled Denialism. He has a view very similar to mine on the currently rampant nature of skepticism, saying “Denialism is a virus and viruses are contagious.” His focus is different, however, in that it seems to be focused on the direct benefit and danger relationship of science denialism, whereas I see the issue as extending to political denialism, when then feeds back into science and other areas.]

I think a certain amount of ‘cynicism’ is healthy, and too much faith, misplaced, can be extremely dangerous. Equally dangerous, however, is the risk of those who will take our sense of betrayal, of being merely dismayed, or a feeling of sadness, fear, loneliness, or whatever the other ‘negative’ emotion, and add a sense of doubt against others in whom such may be misplaced. In other words, it is easy to help people to feel further negative emotions once they are already feeling bad, and some people are very good at doing this. In the English language we might call this ‘manipulation’. These ideas lead me to my second point mentioned above.

The ‘Koch’ brothers (pronounced ‘coke’), Charles and David, are very, very rich. They are among the few most wealthy people in the USA, and are amongst the wealthiest of rich people throughout the world. They have not been very famous, yet. Some of their wealthy friends are very famous though, and Rupert Murdoch is one of them.

Murdoch is famous for owning most of the biggest ‘mainstream media’ or ‘mass media’ companies around the world. Many people believe that he has too much control over the media, and some believe that this control even extends to what gets printed in every newspaper and what gets said on every television and radio station news report.

This belief, or conspiracy theory, is not new. Murdoch openly bought his media companies over the last several decades and is recognized widely as being the world’s greatest media ‘magnate‘. What is not so well recognized is that the Koch brothers also have a very wide range of influence, and they do seem to have actually been using that influence, and trying to disguise it at the same time.

The way in which the Koch brothers have worked is by giving money to small groups who again invest that money into other groups. We can call these groups ‘fronts’ or ‘public relations firms’ or ‘fake grass-roots activists groups’ (also known as ‘astroturfing‘). What this means is that people have been paid to lie, loudly and openly. They do this in mainstream media wherever possible, such as by writing articles and letters to the editor, or by conducting interviews or even making movies and TV shows, but also by contributing posts to website bulletin boards and making websites. They lie about many things which have influenced public opinion and thereafter government legislation. Those people have been paid to lie about who they are, and about what they want, and about what they believe, as well as the very information they give out to others.

Even though probably not paid for by the Koch brothers, a classic, ongoing, and recent example of this type of operation is the development of pro-smoking lobby groups. Fake pro-smoking groups have been found out throughout the world for many decades, and new ones in Australia and New Zealand as recently as this month.

Other people have shown the startling similarities between ‘pro-smoking lobbyists‘ and the ‘man-made global warming‘ skeptics. Another word for ‘skeptic’ is ‘doubter,’ or ‘denialist.’

The Koch brothers have worked in the same way, and have certainly tried to influence world opinion on global warming.

This is an opinion piece from the very prominent (famous) New York Times, and is fairly brief. It seems to preempt or lead into the next article, listed below.

This is the first full article of which I was aware, and was published in the mainstream media on The New Yorker website. It is much longer and goes into all the detail we need to know about exactly what the Koch brothers and their fake groups have been doing.

This is a short article published on September the 8th and summarizes the other ones. (It is actually a good one to read first.)

So, finally, the Koch brothers have been found out. It has been discovered that they use a lot of their money to pay many other people to tell their lies for them. I am very happy about to learn about this, because now I really hope that there will be a lot less ugly dangerous lies in the world.

I also really hope my sister will stop believing so many of the big ones, even if she is correct about many of the smaller ones that maybe I still believe but that neither of us can prove to be true or false. Anyway, I hope that she will then start thinking about trusting other people again, and I hope that she is only ever right so to do.

By big lies, I mean things like doubting a world full of scientists who are all talking about global warming. I think this will only happen if many, many people learn this news about the Koch brothers and their tricky money investments very quickly. I am not sure that this will happen.

In conclusion then, I do hope all readers of this blog tell other people about this big news, and translate it into other languages, and share it further in the hope that the world can start to work together against global warming, for a healthier world, and for real, honest truth, without the smokey smog of lies, ‘truthiness,’ and big business disinformation.

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Sunday, 12th of September – Early in the semester, late at night

Oh my goodness; it’s nearly the middle of September already. How did that happen?!

This week was the second week of classes. The credit classes have taken off pretty well. All seem to be fairly motivated and interested. For example, most students have the book already, and typically all bring pens and paper to class. I think I’ve only seen one student who was not adequately prepared, and he was new. He’ll have to learn more quickly than that!

I have to say I feel mildly miffed that one student has moved out of the essay writing class already. It is quite disruptive to the students and to myself in trying to accommodate someone’s unique learning needs, and then to have them suddenly vanish without any input or feedback leaves me feeling quite lost. Teachers are only human; we’re neither magicians nor mind-readers, and I am one teacher who tries to work with all students, and enjoys the challenge of finding what works in different situations, and for different individuals. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth that I won’t get to see the work of the last two weeks bare any fruit.

On the other hand, it does mean I can return to focusing on the other students in the class with a greater sense of focus. They both seem more motivated and already capable.

Anyway, after a deliciously rainy and therefore sleepy-time Saturday, today was a brilliantly autumnal Sunday. It was so perfect I almost jumped out of bed, spent far too long cleaning my kitchen, and then raced out of the house on my bicycle looking for a swimming pool. I knew my favourite was shut, and anyway it’s too far away, so I went to my second favourite pool. It was overcrowded, so, I went to another pool nearby which I knew is open during lunch time, which by this stage it soon would be, before I would want to finish my swim. That pool, however, was closed because it was the second Sunday of the month. (This reminds me of the expression: ‘You learn something new every day.’) So, I cycled back across town to what is probably the closest pool to my place anyway. It is not my favourite pool, but it is still quite good. I was scared that it would be overcrowded as it was the last time I looked in there, but actually it was not bad. I thought this was because it was nearly lunchtime and all the kids and adults had gone home for food, but actually the pool stayed nicely and sparsely populated for the whole time I was there. I had a great swim, and then went downstairs for a nice ‘ahl bap’ (fish eggs and vegetables on rice in a hot stone bowl) for lunch. I was on my own, but I received a lot of text messages from a friend during the time, so it felt like I was chatting with her over lunch. That was nice.

After lunch I went for a bike ride. I found that the road most of the way to Tamyang is almost exactly 2o kilometers. I turned around just in front of the Hayundai car yard of some sort, and so did another 20 kilometers home again. I found it was an excellent route for practising for the 40 kilometer course in an Olympic length triathlon.

After the ride I came home and drank a power smoothie I had already made, and then went to meet the running club. I really should have been studying, but the weather was so perfect, and the timing turned out to be so good that it just seemed the obvious thing to do. We ran along the river the whole way. It was almost unusual to me to do a completely flat course, but it was actually really lovely to not see any cars, but rather to just hear the sound of the water and see it flowing strongly past after the previous day’s rain.

I was very sleepy at 10 o’clock, and should have let myself go straight to sleep, but no, I fairly foolishly thought I should do some work first, and now I am perhaps a bit ‘over-tired,’ and, even worse, I am hungry again! I should go and eat some more brown rice, and drink some soy-milk. Milk and nuts often puts me to sleep.

Good night!

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Saturday, 4th of September – A long lovely day in Gwangju, a shakey one in NZ

This morning I woke up to my first alarm and raced to get ready to meet anyone who wanted to go for a bike ride. James was keen to go for a ride, and he did not mind where, nor for how long we should go, so, I asked him if he would like to join up with the local group of Koreans, with whom we had been invited to ride. He said yes, and so we cycled across town to meet them by 10 am.

When we got to the meeting place at the Kim Dae Jung Convention Center we found that they were mostly all standing around as a couple of them fixed a bicycle tyre. When they were done we set off together heading towards Naju, but we turned off and went to the Nampyeong Forest Park. When we arrived, the guy in front, who had been towing a small trailer, opened up that trailer and pulled out the picnic lunch. The first thing he shared out to everyone was some cans of beer! It was such a hot day cycling in the humidity and sunshine that the beer was extra delicious. Our friend Jaihyun had also brought some sandwiches and some muffins for us to share, too, so along with the vegetables and fruit, it was a wonderful shared picnic lunch.

By the time we cycled home, James and I had been out with our bicycles for six hours. We had not been cycling for that whole time, but it had been a long, adventurous day, with lots of exercising, exploring, and socialising too. It was a lot of fun!

Something scary that happened though was some text messages I received on the trip. A couple of good, close friends sent me messages about the big earthquake that had shaken New Zealand earlier in the morning. They did not say that anyone had died, just that it had been a very large quake, measuring 7.2 on the scale. I really wanted to get home quickly to skype-phone my mother and check my sister and her family was okay. I ended up chatting with my mother for an hour, because, even though everyone was okay (there were no ‘fatalities’ or deaths) my mother and I had not talked for a long time.

Then it was time to rush out again, because another friend was having a birthday dinner party and another friend wanted to go together. When we arrived we met the birthday girl’s boyfriend outside. His name was Wesley, and he made an immediate impression as a really nice guy. When we arrived inside we found that the birthday friend – Laura from the USA – had made a huge vegetarian ‘pie’ especially for me because the party was supposed to be a barbeque, but I prefer not to eat meat; I like vegetarian cooking much better.

Laura showed me the pie in the refrigerator. There was no oven but there was a frying pan and a lid, so I fried some up for myself and my friend who I’d come with: Mano. He was born in India, but grew up going to an English speaking boarding school, and so he thinks more like a westerner. He enjoyed the pie a lot too; it had lots of olives, tomatoes, mushrooms, capsicum, and cheese and pasta in it, so it was very delicious. Other people saw it and wanted to try some, and so before a few minutes had gone by, the whole pie was completely gone!

Someone else had brought a salad, and with a drink or two to wash it down it was a wonderful dinner. There were many nice people with whom to chat while eating and after dinner too. By 10pm though, I was very tired and didn’t want to try to talk above the noise, so I started to think about going home. But another friend was supposed to come to the party but had not arrived yet.

I phoned my good friend Bongsuk to check how she was going after playing volleyball earlier that evening. She said she had just got into a taxi to come meet us. I suggested meeting at a coffee shop not far away. Just as I was about to leave, a new coworker demanded that we share a drink, so, I had a brief chat with him about work and drink, and we said “Cheers!” a lot between laughing at silly things like teaching English with strange accents (he is from Scotland), and then I raced out the door before he could demand I have another drink!

I met Bongsuk at the coffee shop and we chatted for an hour or so, but before midnight I was almost falling asleep at the table, so we said goodnight and parted ways again. It was another long, wonderful day.

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Friday, 3rd of September – A busy Friday coffee buzz

This afternoon I taught my second class of the semester to a room-full of students from two different majors: German education and music education students. They all seem to be fairly confident in their English ability already, but I was also very well prepared with the follow-up material for this second class session with them, and so it worked really well. I spent more time at work last night preparing worksheets just the way I wanted them, and it’s the second semester I’ve used them, and so after the fine-tuning last night, the class ran a lot more smoothly, and, it was more directly and obviously based on the pre-test I gave them two days before. Hopefully, they understood and appreciated the correct answer examples they were expected to practise with each other from these new papers.

During the final essay writing class for the week we started to look at proof reading, including checking our own writing for common errors, and using MS Word for some hints on what errors we might have made. I gave students’ essays a quick reading and we identified the more common errors. While I was reading their papers, the students made some coffee for us to share using my process essay as a guide.

The coffee was so delicious I ended up drinking two cups, which was good because I had to go out for a birthday party dinner straight after class even though I was really tired, so the coffee kept me awake and switched on throughout the night… Unfortunately, it also kept me awake when I tried to go to sleep. I ended up not sleeping until very late on Friday night!

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Thursday, 2nd of September – A long day for hairy legs

Wow, today was a long day!

I woke up at 6.30 and wanted to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t, so I got up and had some breakfast and then went for a bike ride.

I had not been for a real bike ride for a long time – at least a couple of months – and by ‘real bike ride’ I mean a long distance, non-stop. I have cycled across town, to the Yeomju Swimming Pool, but this morning I cycled 40 kilometers with NO stopping for any annoying traffic lights. … It was fantastic!

… But after having sat down to eat lunch with my friend in the university cafeteria, and then after having gotten up to walk back up the hill to work again, my legs were so tired they didn’t want to walk just from the table to the door!

Fortunately, my classes this afternoon were all really good, and then I had some spare time when I actually walked to the post office on the other side of campus, and then walked home to Jisan Dong to see if I could phone my mother in New Zealand on my home computer. She was not there though, so I took my bicycle again and cycled back to work for the essay writing class.

Tonight I cooked a big delicious meal of brown rice, black rice, mushrooms and spicy cabbage, and ‘chick-peas’, or what we call in Konglish ‘Egyptian beans’. It is very delicious. Actually, it is so yummy I just had some more before I go to sleep.

As I started to eat my rice I read an interesting article on a website. It was about bottled water, and I think it was very interesting. What do you think?

Extra:

I was just about to switch off and go to sleep when I saw this article about a SECOND oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico which has exploded. Apparently it is just west of the BP oil rig which has only just started to be controlled and cleared up after leaking a disastrous amount of oil into the local environment. I wonder how bad this new mess will be…

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Wednesday, 1st of September – Starting a semester

Yikes – it’s September already! How did that happen?!

Well, it’s the third day of the essay writing course today, and I am very glad to say that all students have their own blogs registered and ready and linked to the class website. Now I am looking forward to reading as many diary-type entries or ‘posts’ as the good students can write.

I find reading diaries a great way to get to know someone, just like writing a diary is a good way to reflect on my day, on my moods, my thoughts and feelings.

And of course, it’s also just a really good way to keep track of all the strange little things that happen in life. For one example, right now, we are going through a really strangely terrible bout of weather. I just checked the weather report online, and thunder storms and rain is forecast for the next week, for every day. This is, however, exactly how the weather has already been for the last two weeks or so. What is going on here? Rainy season is supposed to be at the start of summer, not at the end of it! Furthermore, even with all this rain the temperature is still about 30 degrees centigrade. It is hot and really humid.

Oh well; it is good sweating weather, that is for sure! There was a break in the rain yesterday just before I had to go to work, so I pulled on my running shoes and went and explored the next neighbourhood or suburb over from where I live. I had a great run, and obviously got ‘some sun’ as a coworker asked me why I looked tanned today.

I met some of my new credit class students for the first time today. They all seem pretty good, mostly, and I think it will be a good semester working with them. It also seems that there are usually about two students with a blood type of B- in each class of about 20 to 30 students, so, it should be possible to find more people who can help out Michael Simning. The poor guy just found out that he has leukemia last Friday, so he needs a lot of blood, but B- is very rare in this country. I hope he will be okay and make a full recovery, soon.

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