Why the Boomers seem to have gotten more conservative

December 28, 2009

aging hippie

Like you, I love a good generation gap story.

So I enjoyed Kai Wright’s big, bold piece in The Root today about how the Baby Boomers started idealistic, sold out, and destroyed Earth and how it’s now up to their children (like Wright and me) to fix it.

But the problem with this fun, familiar let’s-psychoanalyze-a-generation-as-if-it-were-some-dude-from-Milwaukee sort of narrative is that a generation isn’t a single person. It’s many people, some of whom capture the public imagination one year and others the next.

So let me float Mike’s Theory of Generational Aging to explain Wright’s underlying observation: that Boomers seem more conservative now than they used to.

Here it is: People with revolutionary impulses tend to become prominent when they’re young, radical and energetic. People with institutionalist impulses tend to become prominent when they’re old, well-informed and well-connected. Thus every generation appears to grow much more conservative as it ages.

In other words, it’s always the old to lead us to the war. It’s always the young to fall.

– posted by Mike

(photo by DavidDennisPhotos.com under a Creative Commons license)


Landscapes shaping people

July 27, 2009

I just started reading River Town, by Peter Hessler, and thought this passage right at the beginning was interesting.

I often heard remarks like this, [that all the women of Fuling had a reputation for being beautiful due to being from an area with both water and mountains, or that people there had bad tempers because it was hot and there were mountains,] and they suggested that the Chinese saw their landscapes differently than outsiders did. I looked at the terraced hills and noticed how the people had changed the earth, taming it into dizzying staircases of rice paddies; but the Chinese looked at the people and saw how they had been shaped by the land.

-Hessler, 6

This reminded me of conversations I’ve had at various points with people from the Midwest. I am from the East Coast (or the Southeast, if you are one of those people who strangely thinks the East Coast only extends as far south as DC, or possibly Virginia,) specifically the piedmont area of North Carolina, and I am very used to being surrounded by hills and trees. In the days when I was frequently having to drive home from Iowa or Michigan during school breaks, I had a definite sense that “home” did not start until I entered the Appalachians and was surrounded by forests again. By contrast, several friends who grew up in the plains stated that they would find it a little scary not to be able to see for miles around. Hills and too many trees would give them claustrophobia. Whereas I found the first description of the plains in the Little House on the Prairie books terrifying and never really understood why they moved out of the Big Woods.

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Chinese Food: The Open Source McDonald’s

January 8, 2009

Jennifer 8 Lee gave a TED talk on the rampant spread of Chinese food throughout the US and the world, which is as entertaining as it is informative.

For those of you who have never heard of Jennifer 8 Lee, she’s the author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. I first heard about the book from the NPR review of the book last year, but fellow Geek Buffeteer Jennie also reviewed it over at Biblio File. I have yet to read it, but I really, really want to.

Now I’m hungry…

-posted by Dana


Before And After – Some Norwegian Ghosts

October 26, 2008

In keeping with Dana’s idea about posting a ghost story a day, here are two Norwegian stories – you’ll see that the first one isn’t precisely a ghost story in the classic sense of the word, but there’s a definite creepy otherworldliness to it. Both of them are folk stories which were collected about two hundred years, but are probably much older than that. They come originally from Scandinavian Folktales, translated by Jacqueline Simpson, but I’m retelling from memory as I haven’t got the book by me.

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The Tale of Hoichi the Earless

October 24, 2008

Yesterday, I had to act as an usher for a school performance by a visiting artist sponsored by the academic department I work for. Lest you think I’m complaining, I assure you I’m not; what this meant was that I stood in the cold for maybe as many as 10 minutes instructing middle schoolers on where to sit once they got into the auditorium, and then I got to enjoy a free performance for the next two hours. I suspect I enjoyed it a great deal more than the 7th graders.

The performance was given by a Japanese biwa player, telling a legend about The Tale of the Heike. For the middle school students, she chose the story of Hoichi the Earless, which is, appropriately for October, a ghost story. Since the actual singing/story telling is in Japanese, she gave the students a background explanation and an unsung version of the story in English. So here’s a ghost story for you all. (Note that I am retelling it from my memory of how the artist recited it, and am not looking up the official version, despite the lure of the internet.)

Background: Many years ago, in the days of the samurai warrior in Japan, there was a war between two clans, the Heike and the Genji. A decisive sea battle came at the Battle of Dan-no-ura, as the Genji fleet defeated the Heike. To protect the infant Heike emperor from the shame of defeat, his (grand?)mother took him in her arms and jumped over the side of the ship, drowning them both. Many other Heike warriors also jumped into the sea, and many more died in the battle. The beach forever after was haunted by their spirits (which are said to have taken physical form in the Heike crab, whose shell resembles a samurai’s face.)

The story:

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You Can Wear It Again, Part 2: Cover Her Face

August 21, 2008

It was a very proper wedding. The bride was elegantly dressed – the two bridesmaids were duly inferior – her father gave her away – her mother stood with salts in her hand, expecting to be agitated – her aunt tried to cry – and the service was impressively read by Dr. Grant.

– Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Trying to trace the history of bridesmaids and the beginning of their existence is about as easy as tracing any other wedding tradition; between frustratingly unsourced statements and a tendency towards misty assertions like “For thousands of years, brides have …” when what’s really meant is “Every wedding I’ve heard of had this” it’s hard to say anything with complete confidence that it can’t be contradicted. The same is true of wedding veils; people obviously wore them, and still wear them, but there are gaps in the history which can’t be easily filled in. Interestingly, one of the few things about which we can be fairly certain is this: bridesmaids and bridal veils were originally intended to serve the same function, which was to protect the bride above all else.

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You Can Wear It Again: Wedding Clothes Past And Present

August 13, 2008

Wedding season has been going on for some time, but enough of it remains that hotels are still being booked to capacity and people are sweating in unfamiliar airports in order to spend a weekend witnessing one of the oldest continuous rituals in existence. Like most other long-lasting rituals, it seems at first glance unlikely that many of our ancestors would recognize our version of it, and one of the major reasons for that – though far from the only one – is the change in dress involved. The North American standard today is what a place like Indiebride would refer to as a cookie-cutter wedding; poofy white dress, tuxes, champagne, rented ballroom, embarrassing DJ who plays YMCA, even more embarrassing bouquet toss and garter removal. It’s true that there are a lot of them out there – one summer I spent as a caterer’s minion involved serving about three weddings per weekend, and most of them blended together pretty fast because so little about the basic template changed. However, enough people go non-cookie cutter to support a pretty large alternative industry (not to mention a lot of websites), and a common theme here is that the Big White Wedding isn’t even that traditional – the white wedding only started with Queen Victoria. Another criticism frequently leveled at the white dress is that it’s supposed to be an advertisement of the wearer’s virginity.

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Blogroll Addition: Jeff in Burundi

July 8, 2008

We seem to be having some sparse posting of late, but the summer travel season (including such things as vacations, business trips, weddings, moving, and preparing for new schools or jobs) is well underway, which is terribly distracting for our writers, alas. Hence, a blogroll addition to keep you distracted.

Jefferson Mok is a classmate from Grinnell who has just moved to Burundi to “establish a residential shelter for female child soldiers who need assistance to reintegrate into their communities.” Simple, yes? Especially as the sole representative of his organization. You can follow his adventures so far at his blog. He spent the last two years working with asylum seekers in Chicago, and is now going to try to help at the source. We wish him the very best of luck! I, for one, am somewhat in awe at the task he’s taking on.


More Local China-Tibet Protest News

April 17, 2008

Not to make this blog all East Asia, all the time, but hey, it’s what’s catching my attention right now. It turns out there was a lot more fallout from the local NC protest/counter-protest I mentioned last week. A Chinese undergraduate somehow ended up between the two groups, apparently trying to get them to actually talk to one another rather than just competing over who could yell slogans loudest, and, well, things went downhill for her from there.

Some people posted an account of her actions to the Chinese student and scholar listserv I mentioned before as having organized the counter-protest. Outraged messages followed calling her a traitor. Then people posted her picture… and her name, her Chinese identity card number, her US address and email, her parents home and work addresses in China, a map to their house, and pictures of their front door. One of my colleagues has friends in the student’s hometown, and they called over the weekend to ask what the student had done to get rocks thrown through her parents’ windows. News of this has now made:

Interestingly, the two articles that came out today do not mention at all the event that took place last night, which the NY Times reporter attended sitting next to the threatened student. It was a panel discussion set up to address the contentious issues surrounding Tibet (and to some extent the Olympics as well) in a calm, rational setting. Though seven campus police officers had been arranged for security, the entire thing went very smoothly, with no heckling or interruptions of any kind during the speakers’ presentations, nor during the Q&A. The campus paper has a reasonably good report of the overall points that speakers made here: Panelists Stress Trust, Sincerity.

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Secular Memorialization

April 15, 2008

My last post on the Yasukuni documentary got me looking around for other stuff on the politics of war memorials in general. While I have mostly found so far that I will need to go to the library and check out actual books, I did come across an interesting article on Sino-Japanese relations in a 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs, which contained the following intriguing paragraph with a suggestion on how to handle the Yasukuni issue:

[C]onferences … involving academics from neutral countries such as Canada as well as Asian specialists from within the region, could improve relations by fostering less-politicized discussions of the war. Germany and Poland, as well as Japan and South Korea, already have joint textbook commissions that could serve as models for China and Japan. An initiative such as this could be particularly effective at de-escalating tensions in the wake of progress in the strategic dialogues outlined above. To help those dialogues along, moreover, U.S. officials should refrain from making casual pronouncements on the delicate matter of wartime commemoration in Japan. As Koizumi has noted, many personal issues are involved in such events. The Japanese people themselves, however, deserve the broadest possible range of options about how to remember the war. For several years, there has been spirited discussion about building a national secular war memorial to supplement Yasukuni, and this deserves serious consideration. Such a model has worked well in both Hiroshima and Okinawa. Apart from providing a way to commemorate the sacrifice of civilians and other heroes of past conflicts not enshrined at Yasukuni, a secular memorial would clearly help improve Japan’s relations with other countries in the region and provide foreign leaders with a way to gracefully honor the past sacrifices of the Japanese people.

-Calder, Kent E., “China and Japan’s Simmering Rivalry,” Foreign Affairs, 85(2)

(emphasis mine)

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