How to handle prejudice — kid’s edition

When I showed my kids my last post they said I should write about some of their experiences.

I should post a picture here of my kids. I know they don’t look like your typical Mennonites, but neither do they look very asian. But, yes, I’m biased and I see them every day, so I could easily be missing something.

First there is the silly, thoughtless racism. Kids are still saying “Ching Chang Chong” to anyone they think of as Chinese. The first time a kid said this to my wife I was surprised. She gave them quite a tongue-lashing, though. I’m surprised that my son reports kids’ say this to him. This is, as he said, just ignorance.

Some people are simply curious. My 7-year-old daughter says a boy asked his brother to ask her if she was Chinese. This isn’t really prejudice, just kind of cute curiosity.

One guy really annoys Ginger with his stupid, racist comments like bugging her about Miss May, a Chinese substitute teacher as if Ginger knows this person’s personal details. Even though the school offers Chinese as a spoken language (what one of her friends called “chink” accidentally before correcting herself) for students to learn, some still ask her if she can speak “Asian” — as if it were one language. They also think that my children all go to the same church with the other Asian children.

Which is weird because even though we have a Mennonite background and name, we attend a Greek church.

I think a lot of this comes down to tribalism. Just by getting married, Alexis and I haven’t stuck with the tribe. And when we started going to a Greek church, that was yet another non-tribal activity. In a small town like ours, People aren’t used to those who don’t stick to their tribe’s customs, and they’re curious and (sometimes) rude as a result.

How to handle prejudice

Moving to Lancaster County has been interesting.

First, “Hershberger” isn’t such an unusual name. It is a Amish/Mennonite name, after all, and this is Lancaster County. There are a few of them here.

Since we came here 8 years ago, my wife has had to deal with people who were not expecting a Vietnamese woman when she introduced herself as “Alexis Hershberger” over the phone to them.

But even better has been this encounter that she related to me recently.

woman: Do you go to the Vietnamese church?

Alexis: No, we go to the Greek Orthodox church.

woman (surprised): Oh, when did you and your husband come to the States?

Alexis: We moved here from New Orleans 8 years ago.


Question: When is a person sure of having arrived at purity?

Answer: When that person considers all human beings are good, and no created thing appears impure or defiled. Then a person is truly pure in heart.

The person who is genuinely charitable not only gives charity out of his own possessions, but gladly tolerates injustice from others and forgives them. Whoever lays down his soul for his brother acts generously, rather than the person who demonstrates his generosity by his gifts.

Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly.

Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others.

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

St Isaac the Syrian

Another hit for North Korean junkies

Nothing to Envy book coverI am somewhat ashamed to admit it, but I’m a junkie for anything about one of the last great communist countries: North Korea.

The shame comes because this curiosity is at the expense of people suffering (still) because food is so scarce. I’m fascinated that the father and son have held on to power so tightly for so long and control so much of the information in and out of the country. While walls crumble, and others march backwards, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) still manages to keep its people at home and dependent upon their government for, well, everything.

Two recent books have provided a veritable bonanza of information for people curious about the country. The first, Nothing to Envy is the result of Barbara Demick‘s interviews and meetings with North Korean refugees. She turns their memories of life in the hermit kingdom and the accounts of their escape into a compelling narrative. It was the first time I’ve read anything from the point of view of someone who actually lived in the country and I’m glad I found it.

The second book, Pyongyang is a graphic novel written by a cartoonist who actually worked in the country. Before my kids checked this book out (I was ignorant of it till then), I wasn’t even aware that the country was trying to selling its people’s labor to foreign companies. The idea that they would do that seems to undermine the purity of their Juche ideal. Not that I really expect intellectual purity from them or anyone else.

Still, I just looked at the “Business in DPRK” page and their presentation seems straight out of 1984. Especially this part:

As opposed to other Asian countries, worker’s will not abandon their positions for higher salaries once they are trained.

Right. Because they are no higher salaries.

Shampoo Conspiracy

Shampoo_Aisle.jpg Did you know there is a Shampoo conspiracy?

I didn’t until last week when Brandon Harris, a designer at Wikimedia, shared his hair care tips during a Reddit AMA.

This led someone to quote a bit of the Wikipedia article on Shampoo:

Shampoo has only been used with fervor since the 1970s[citation needed]. Before then, either regular soap was used a few times a month or, just after the early 20th century, shampoo was used only a few times a year. It was in the 1970s that shampoo use became prevalent. Ads featuring Farrah Fawcett and Christie Brinkley asserted that it was unhealthy not to shampoo several times a week.

I mentioned this to my dad, a long-time Prell user. He was surprised. This didn’t fit with his memory. He said that in 1963, when he was first married, he used Prell and Head and Shoulders. It looks like this is one of those times my father was setting trends. Fourteen years later, in 1977, the New York Times reported that those two shampoos were the most popular (according to a footnote in the Wikipedia article).

I think its impressive how little it takes to generates a controversy. The No poo wiki page is (like the first linked article in this blog post) filled with assertions with nothing to back them up. I would expect to see a controversy around articles like Creationism (and, indeed, Creationism’s talk page is filled with warnings about the proper place to debate the validity of the topic) but there is quite a lot of discussion on Shampoo’s talk page. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that people become so impassioned about (what I consider to be) a prosaic topic.

Occupy Wall Street

Day 12 Occupy Wall Street September 28 2011 Shankbone 11.JPG My mother sent me a copy of a column printed in USA Today yesterday: “In 1920, U.S. saw the carnage of class warfare” Given the title (Ooh! Class Warfare!) the comparison of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) to early 20th century violence isn’t surprising. The columnist tries to shock us by comparing OWS to the forgotten bombing of Morgan Stanley on September 17, 1920:

At noon the previous day, a horse-drawn wagon carrying hundreds of pounds of explosives and deadly shrapnel exploded in front of the headquarters of J.P. Morgan at 23 Wall St., the heart of America’s financial district. The final death toll was 38, with more than 400 injured.

Great, now people who think there is a problem with extreme wealth inequality are just about to bomb us! The editorial goes on to say:

The suspects were surprisingly similar to the spectrum of leftist protestors who are occupying Wall Street right now. They ranged from radical progressives to socialists to communists to anarchists, from homegrown Bolsheviks to Italian Galleanists to Communist Party USA.

I haven’t seen any Galleanists, Bolsheviks or violent anarchists, but then, I haven’t been following it very closely.
Still, that list of ideologies reminded me of Chris Hedges “Death of the Liberal Class” (Interview with Chris Hedges). Chris Hedges book starts around the turn of the century and moves through the violence of the 20s, the Great Depression and beyond.
An interesting counter-point to this columnist is Robert Reich’s take. As he points out there is something happening today with the OWS:

Even more startling is the change in public opinion. Not since the 1930s has a majority of Americans called for redistribution of income or wealth. But according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, an astounding 66 percent of Americans said the nation’s wealth should be more evenly distributed.
A similar majority believes the rich should pay more in taxes. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, even a majority of people who describe themselves as Republicans believe taxes should be increased on the rich.

Even more interesting is the comparison that many people (even Republican politicians) see between OWS and the Tea Party movement.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner said:

I understand people’s frustrations. The economy is not producing jobs like they want and there’s lot of erosion of confidence in our government and frankly, under the First Amendment, people have the right to speak out.

There is something going on the people on the right throw tea parties and people on the left start occupying everything. Something is deeply wrong and change is coming. Hopefully there won’t be any crazies with bombs.

Only Visiting NOLA

Today, I’m in New Orleans for the NOLA Hackathon for MediaWiki. As I walked through Lafayette Square where the Blues and BBQ festival was setting up. I thought, wistfully for a bit, about how much I love New Orleans and how much I miss leaving here.

Scandals, page 1

That lasted until I sat down in PJsand looked at the front page. The top three headlines each reminded me of the corruption and cronyism that Louisiana and New Orleans are known for: Public defenders are ambulance chasing, an audit of a 13 year old construction project reveals invoice padding, and a local businessman pleads guilty to bribing the sheriff.

So, I’ll visit, I’ll enjoy hacking MediaWiki with my friends, staying with my sponsors (who live next door to my old home here), enjoy the food, and then, when it is all over, I’ll enjoy returning home to the quiet Lancaster County, PA.

A freetard on Steve Jobs at his passing

Outside Palo Alto apple store following Steve Job's death.jpg
I heard an NPR bit on him yesterday. I didn’t know his father was Syrian.

The story, though, was irritating for its fanboi-ism (even though a woman reported it).

As far as I can tell Steve Jobs was no more a “computer genius” than Bill Gates. He certainly didn’t invent the smart phone, nor was he the first person to release a cellphone with a camera. The story attributed both of these things to him, incorrectly.

He was a marketing genius. But he was also a micro-manager who would look at, say, versions of the Mac or iPhone that his engineers brought him and make design changes on the spot. He expected long hours from his workers.

He also was good at controlling the Apple brand. When Jobs left Apple, his replacements wanted to imitate IBM’s success with the PC, so they licensed out the specifications for the Mac so that people could start developing clones of the Mac. The Mac really suffered during this period. When Jobs returned to Apple, one of the first things he did was kill off the clones.

I respect a lot of what he has done as a business man — he knew what Apple needed as far as business and marketing. I respect his taste for design. He was able to market the iPhone and iPod as the devices to have.

But over the years, I’ve become more attracted to the sort of people Fake Steve Jobs called “freetards”. And, truly, the parody does seem to really have insight into how Steve Jobs actually thought.

I’m not happy Steve Jobs is dead. And he is a significant person beyond just the tech world. He did a lot to popularize computers during my life. He’ll be missed by many.

I’m just more interested, now, in making computing resources (and knowledge) available to everyone. I respect his focus on usability — we freetards use a lot of the ideas that Apple engineers developed and popularized — but while I do want to sustain my current standard of living, I’m interested in making resources available for everyone, not selling more shiny widgets.