Posts Tagged 'Op-Ed'

Contingency Plan

photo by theogeo

SEOUL – THE OIL CRUNCH MAY MAKE begrudging environmentalists out of us yet. Though we haven’t quite converted our highways into bike paths, ballooning energy bills and prices at the pump seem to have the world thinking that maybe it’s time to reevaluate our auto culture. A recent story in the SF Chronicle says that more people are turning down jobs that are far away from home, even if offered better pay, on considering outlays for gas. A few days prior, the NYT reported that suburban life is losing its appeal — if only ’cause it costs more to fill up the Chevy:

Mr. Boyle and his wife must drive nearly an hour to their jobs in the high-tech corridor of southern Denver. With gasoline at more than $4 a gallon, Mr. Boyle recently paid $121 to fill his pickup truck with diesel fuel. In March, the last time he filled his propane tank to heat his spacious house, he paid $566, more than twice the price of 5 years ago.

Though Mr. Boyle finds city life unappealing, it is now up for reconsideration.

“Living closer in, in a smaller space, where you don’t have that commute,” he said. “It’s definitely something we talk about. Before it was ‘we spend too much time driving.’ Now, it’s ‘we spend too much time and money driving.’ ”

Ah, yes. The power of the pocketbook. Where footage of drowning polar bears failed to touch our hearts, surely a kick in the wallet shall succeed. Al Gore’s warnings might have been dismissed as left-wing scare tactics, but numbers are harder to refute.

As that hole in the bottom of our bank account grows, so does the our motivation to go green. Over the weekend OPEC President Chakib Khelil said he expects the crude price per barrel to top $170 this summer. About the same time, the government here announced its oil contigency plan (Kr). Should the price of the benchmark Dubai crude shoot past $150, South Korea will begin to more stiffly regulate energy usage in the public sector — including vehicle usage, air conditioning and lighting. In the worst-case-scenario of $170 plus per barrel, the gov will start to make such impositions on the private sector as well.

But one can’t help but wonder: will these changes stick when (or if) the financial pressure lets up? Will we have finally realized that our current lifestyle isn’t sustainable, or will we just settled back into that big old gas-guzzling groove we spent so much time wearing in? Either way, parking will still be a problem.

Globalization Hits Journalism: OC Register to Outsource Editing

OUTSOURCING TO INDIA ISN’T just for the tech support or medical transcription industries anymore. Southern California’s Orange County Register has said it plans to outsource some of its copyediting and layout duties to the South Asian country — causing a stir in the already struggling journalism biz (via FP Passport):

Orange County Register Communications Inc. will begin a one-month trial with Mindworks Global Media at the end of June, said John Fabris, a deputy editor at the Register.

Mindworks’ Web site says the company is based outside New Delhi and provides “high-quality editorial and design services to global media firms … using top-end journalistic and design talent in India.”

Editors at Mindworks will work five shifts a week for one month, performing layout for the community paper and editing some stories in the flagship Register, Fabris said. Staffing at the company will not be affected, he said.

If the trial period turns out to be a success (however that may be gauged) it’s hard to believe that staff cuts won’t come in the tailwind — if not at the Register, then at the next paper that chooses to employ overseas editors.

Beyond job concerns, there is the question of how people living thousands of miles away can begin to edit content for which they have no context, for a community in which they have no vested interest. I’m sure the OC paper can expect spectacularly clean text on a technical level. But what it loses may be in the finer details.

Studying & Sleep-walking: Life in South Korea’s Prep Schools

the school from the inside. mokpo, south korea. by 摩根.

TWENTY-HOUR DAYS AND ENDLESS pressure for better test performance; it sounds closer to a description of a robot’s regimented existence than to a definition of quality education. Yet this is the grueling reality for students inside South Korea’s top notch prep schools. And while this rigorous instruction may be helping young Koreans achieve their Ivy League dreams, it raises some serious red flags about quality of life.

So you have to wonder: why did the New York Times leave that angle out?

In a recent story, the Times’ Sam Dillon featured two of South Korea’s premier preps, and seemed to praise Daewon Foreign Language High School and the Minjok Leadership Academy for their ability to churn out roof-shattering SAT scores and undergrads at Harvard, Yale, et al. Never mind the fact that the students hardly have time to sleep, let alone engage in a little frivolous young romance.

But as he was collecting quotes from teachers applauding their students’ superhuman concentration abilities, what Dillon forgot to do was take a step back and evaluate what all this rigor might mean for the development of young minds. To that idea, he dedicates hardly more than a sentence:

Both schools seem to be rethinking their grueling regimen, at least a bit. Minjok, a boarding school, has turned off dormitory surveillance cameras previously used to ensure that students did not doze in late-night study sessions. Daewon is ending its school day earlier for freshmen. Its founder, Lee Won-hee, worried in an interview that while Daewon was turning out high-scoring students, it might be falling short in educating them as responsible citizens.

“American schools may do a better job at that,” Dr. Lee said.

And then it’s straight back to the “Many American educators would kill to have such disciplined pupils” line that Dillon adheres to throughout most of the piece.

A better critique is over at the Metropolitician, aka Michael Hurt, who used to teach at Daewon and quit in the middle of his contract because he was so upset by what he experienced. Hurt faults these schools for over-valuing standardized tests, leaving students academically one-dimensional and “woefully ill-prepared”.

Basically, your life sucks at these schools for 3 years, but the kids and parents swallow their pride and ire, since it is the fast-track to America’s best schools. Period. That’s the exchange. But it absolutely brings out the worst of the Korean school system in a soul-crushing nightmare of pain that many students realize only gets them to the door of the institution they wanted, but has woefully under-prepared them to make it through.

Beyond arguments of educational policy there’s also a simple question of time. If these teens are locked up in their rooms with a stack of books until 2 a.m. every day, when do they get to meet friends? When do they go to concerts? When do they play outside? When do they get to simply act their age? Passing all of these things off as trivia that won’t matter ten years down the road is missing the point. We all need time to grow up.

Political Softball in a Hard World

photo by Matthew Bradley

NANCY PELOSI TALKS TALL. When the democrats won control of congress in 2007 she made a lot of noise about how the newly-empowered left would flex its political muscle and get things done. Since then the House has passed some stuff, notably the minimum wage bill — which stalled and sputtered and then passed after major revamping — but mostly it’s been hot air. America cried for change, and Pelosi’s democrats responded with a tepid murmur.

And now she thinks she can make a difference in China?

I rarely digress into political tirades on this blog, but when I read today that the speaker of the House wants President Bush to skip Beijing’s opening ceremonies, I cringed. Here’s someone who has called herself “firm and strong,” but who has repeatedly shot down moves to impeach the president over the Iraq war — someone who has pussyfooted around efforts to withdraw troops, and who has ignored the general sentiment of the American people.

But Pelosi’s apparently beyond all that now. She’s international, man. She’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, pushing for human rights and freedom in Tibet. And as lofty as a cause as that is, coming from her it’s total bullshit.

At her meeting with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, Pelosi said: “If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China’s oppression and China and Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world.”

It almost as if she thinks — after we invaded a country on a false premise, refused to hold anyone accountable and then turned a blind eye to illegal torture — we had the “moral authority” to do so in the first place.

The thing is, I’m not sure Pelosi is thinking at all. She’s just playing political softball, trying to make herself look good by taking a “hard line” with Bush, calling for some vaguely symbolic act which she knows he won’t deliver on. She’s wasting our time — and the Dalai Lama’s for that matter.

For all the press flurry that Pelosi’s stance has generated, her words ultimately mean nothing to China (except a nuisance) and nothing for Tibetans. We know this because we’ve heard it all before. All that big talk just trailed off into nothing, and left us with very little we could see.

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