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Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

September 28, 2007

Written by C.N.

China’s Role in Democracy Movement in Burma

By now, I hope you have heard about the protests for democracy organized by Buddhist monks in Burma (called Myanmar by its current regime). In case you don’t know the background, Burma has been ruled by a military dictatorship since 1962. There was a similar popular uprising for democracy in 1988 that was violently crushed by the military (similar to what happened at Tienanmen Square in China).

The Burmese dictatorship actually allowed democratic elections in 1990 but annulled the results when the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide. Isn’t that convenient? The NLD leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was subsequently arrested and despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has been under house arrest ever since.

last month, Burmese citizens staged small protests against skyrocketing fuel prices. After the military cracked down on these protests, Buddhist monks reignited the protests and since then, have expanded their goals to include real political democracy. At its height recently, an estimated 100,000 citizens have participated in daily marches against the government.

Unfortunately, it looks like the military dictatorship is starting to violently crack down by raiding Buddhist monasteries and firing into crowds of protesters. Ironically, in the midst of this impending crisis, there is hope that China can play a positive role:

China, which has come under increasing pressure to use its regional influence on Myanmar’s ruling junta, issued an evenhanded plea for calm on Thursday after refusing to condemn the military-run government at the United Nations. . . .

The crackdown puts China in a bind. Its communist government has developed close diplomatic ties with junta leaders and is a major investor in Myanmar. But with the Beijing Olympics less than a year away, China is eager to fend off criticism that it shelters unpopular or abusive regimes.

“I perceive a little movement coming from the Chinese government and the Chinese people,” Kouchner said. “But they are certainly, apart from the other ASEAN nations, they are really those who can do something to influence the behavior of the Myanmar government.”

As we all know, China has been roundly criticized on so many fronts recently, ranging from tainted foods and dangerous consumer goods, to environmental degradation, to its own human rights abuses. However, here, China has the opportunity to significantly improve its image — if it has the political courage to do so.

That is, China’s leaders are probably afraid that if they appear to be too sympathetic or supportive of the democracy protesters that the same kind of mass movement can emerge against them. If this fear prevents them from persuading the Burmese regime to react peacefully rather than violently to the protests, that would be a huge loss and wasted opportunity.

In that case, China will undoubtedly be complicit in any violence that takes place against the Burmese citizens.

September 27, 2007

Written by C.N.

Using Religion to Unite Racial Groups

In my previous post entitled “The Downside of Diversity,” I wrote about a new study by a Harvard professor which concluded that in areas with high levels of racial/ethnic diversity, residents are more likely to feel alienated and distrustful of each other.

In that context however, as the New York Times reports, in many churches around the country, an influx of new immigrants has led to increased racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in their churches. More importantly and in contrast to the findings of the above-mentioned, it has actually strengthened the social bonds between church members:

The Clarkston International Bible Church, which sits along an active freight rail line down the road from the former Ku Klux Klan bastion of Stone Mountain, is now home to parishioners from more than 15 countries. . . The church’s Sunday potluck lunch features African stews and Asian vegetable dishes alongside hot dogs, sweet tea and homemade cherry pie.

The transformation of what was long known as the Clarkston Baptist Church speaks to a broader change among other American churches. Many evangelical Christians who have long believed in spreading their religion in faraway lands have found that immigrants offer an opportunity for church work within one’s own community. And many immigrants and refugees are drawn by the warm welcome they get from the parishioners, which can stand in stark contrast to the more competitive and alienating nature of workaday America.

Indeed, evangelical churches have begun to stand out as rare centers of ethnic mixing in a country that researchers say has become more culturally fragmented, in part because of immigration.

The article describes that the transition to a multi-ethnic and multicultural church was not an easy one. As their town was experiencing these profound demographic changes, many old-time White residents were appalled and moved elsewhere, rather than live next to more immigrants and people of color.

Nonetheless, other long-time residents turned to the Bible to get guidance on how to deal with these social changes and found the answer in Jesus’s example of praying for unity among his followers. As a result, the church first rented out its facilities to Filipino, Vietnamese, and African groups for their own services. Eventually, the church invited these separate congregations to join them to form an expanded and inclusive congregation.

Further, the article notes that all groups involved had to change a little: ” Merging congregations has meant compromise for everyone. The immigrants who join the main congregation have to give up worshiping in their native languages. Older Southern Baptist parishioners have given up traditional hymns and organ music.”

This story about the evolution of the Clarkston International Bible Church is a great example of sociology in so many ways. The first lesson is that globalization and demographic change are practical realities of American society. With that in mind, “traditionalists” can try to keep running away and moving from town to town if they like, but eventually they will have to deal with these changes one way or another.

Alternatively, as illustrated by William Perrin’s example in the article, they can summon up the courage to consciously adapt to these changes and learn to even embrace these changes because it is these kinds of challenges that make us stronger and more united as a community and as a society.

A third “lesson” we might learn from this story is the positive power of religion to facilitate social unity and solidarity. Many Americans and particularly many academics, are rather skeptical and even hostile towards organized religion. In many cases, they see religion as a divisive force that only serves to perpetuate “us versus them” mentalities.

In many cases, these critics of religion certainly have a point and there are plenty of examples to support their perspective. Nonetheless, as this article illustrates, not all aspects of organized religion are divisive and in fact, as shown by the Clarkston example, religion can serve as a powerful and effective focal point that can bring together people from diverse backgrounds.

All combined, the final sociological lesson to be learned is that rather than leading to more alienation and distrust, racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity, with the help of some kind of “social glue” like religion, can indeed offer us the opportunity to socially evolve and to become better American citizens.

September 24, 2007

Written by C.N.

The New Upper Class in Viet Nam

Those who have been following the economic evolution of Viet Nam know that just like in China, the influx of capitalism has allowed many Vietnamese to improve their economic situation and to move into the middle class. But as the Associated Press/ reports, this economic growth has also led to an emerging upper class that is now demanding luxury items that were unimaginable years ago:

Since the late 1980s, a government that once micromanaged all economic affairs has been introducing free-market reforms and courting foreign investors, and with them have come new western styles and attitudes.

“Members of the new generation want to enjoy life and pamper themselves with luxurious things,” said Nguyen Thi Cam Van, 39, who has purchased five $1,000 handbags at Louis Vuitton. “If I can afford to buy something nice, it makes me feel proud,” said Van, who works at Siemens and also consults for a Vietnamese import company. “It lets you show people your taste and style.” . . .

Some of Vietnam’s shopaholics are young people who work for multinational corporations but still live rent-free with their parents. Others work for powerful state-owned companies and many have made fortunes in Vietnam’s small but booming private sector. . . .

In the two decades since Vietnam began implementing its economic reforms, the nation’s poverty rate has been cut in half, and per capita income has doubled in the last five years. Still, most workers in this nation of 84 million people still earn just a dollar or two a day toiling in the farm fields. Those working low-wage jobs find the new lust for luxury hard to stomach.

“The rich are getting richer, and the rest of us are struggling to make ends meet,” said Dao Quang Hung, a Hanoi taxi driver. “The money they spend on a Louis Vuitton bag could buy several cows for a farmer’s family and lift them out of poverty.”

This is a textbook example of capitalism at its best (or would that be its worst?) — the fortunes of many go up (in some cases, sky high) and raises national economic measures such as per capita income, but most citizens still toil near the poverty level.

The rise of wealth inequality has happened everywhere capitalism has gone and now it’s coming to Viet Nam. As I’ve said before, I don’t have any problems with citizens of whatever country working hard and earning their just rewards. The problem is when some citizens, perhaps through government connections, corruption, or other unfair mechanisms, enjoy certain advantages on their path toward affluence that many others do not.

The other question is, does this wealth inequality fit into the Vietnamese government’s vision communism and the ideology that all workers and citizens should be equal?

September 21, 2007

Written by C.N.

Who Deserves Freedom of Speech?

Freedom of speech and academic freedom are both cornerstones of American society and particularly, of academia. As scholars, we could not do our jobs as teachers and researchers properly without knowing that we have these protections to challenge conventional ideas, take a critical look at social institutions here in the U.S. and around the world. and on occasion, to say things that may upset the status quo.

But as we also know, there is frequently a thin between freedom of speech and hateful speech and the boundaries between the two aren’t always very clearly marked. That’s the area where confusion and contradictions live. Two recent events highlight this delicate balance between academic freedom and excluding hate speech.

The first is in regard to the hiring process of the inaugural Dean for the new law school of the University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine, my undergraduate alma mater). As the Los Angeles Times reports, the candidate in question, Erwin Chemerinsky, is a nationally-renowned legal scholar and in virtually all respects, is the perfect candidate for the position.

The problem that arose however, was that Chemerinsky is known to be have a “liberal” perspective. As such and apparently, some more “conservative” constituent groups associated with UC Irvine opposed his candidacy. Upon learning of this opposition, UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake decided to rescind his offer to Chemerinsky.

Subsequently, scholars at UC Irvine and from around the country blasted Drake’s actions as an insult and threat to academic freedom. Shortly after facing this new firestorm, Drake decided to reverse course again and reinstate his offer to Chemerinsky to be the inaugural Dean of UC Irvine’s law school. Nonetheless, Drake still faces the wrath of faculty members over his initial decision to rescind the offer:

In a conference call with reporters, the chancellor and new dean agreed that Chemerinsky would enjoy absolute academic freedom and would continue to write opinion articles on a wide range of issues, not just legal education as Drake suggested last week.

“Chancellor Drake reaffirmed in the strongest possible way the academic freedom that I would have, as all deans and faculty members do,” Chemerinsky said. He later noted that he was aware that his role as dean also would require him to build a broad base of support. Before he was ousted, the dean had sought conservatives for some slots on his board of advisors. . . .

Business Professor Richard McKenzie did not think the chancellor could keep his job. “I personally do not see how [Drake] can be effective going forward given the opposition across campus to what he did. I’ve never seen the faculty so unified.” The cabinet of UCI’s Academic Senate met in closed session Monday to consider a response to the furor.

The second case over the boundaries of academic freedom centers on Lawrence Summers, former Treasury Secretary under Clinton and President of Harvard University until he was forced to resign over his controversial statements that suggested that women were naturally inferior to men when it came to succeeding in the science disciplines.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, Summers was initially invited to be a speaker at an upcoming dinner event of the University of California Regents, but many faculty members objected to his selection and the offer to Summers was subsequently rescinded:

“I was appalled and stunned that someone like Summers would even be invited to speak to the regents,” said UC Davis Professor Maureen Stanton, who helped put together the petition drive. “I think many of us who were involved in the protest believed that it wouldn’t reflect well on the university that he even received the invitation.”

The petition called Summers’ invitation “not only misguided but inappropriate” at a time when the university is working to diversify its community. “Inviting a keynote speaker who has come to symbolize gender and racial prejudice in academia conveys the wrong message to the University community and to the people of California,” the petition said.

So, let’s review — in the Chemerinsky case, faculty cried foul because they felt that rescinding the offer to Chemerinsky was a threat to academic freedom. But in the Summers case, faculty supported the effort to rescind the offer to Summers. Therefore, the question becomes, is this a contradiction, perhaps even hypocrisy?

Why is it okay to support Chemerinsky’s right to academic freedom but not Summers’?

The most obvious answer is that Chemerinsky is seen as having a liberal perspective while Summers, at least judged by his controversial comments about women in the sciences, is seen as having a more “conservative” perspective. Combined with the well-established fact that faculty members, particularly in humanities and social science disciplines, are overwhelmingly liberal, one can understand why Chemerinsky found support while Summers did not.

In my blogs and in regards to what I tell my students, I make no secret of the fact that I consider myself to be quite liberal as well. But I am also a strong believer in freedom of speech for everyone, provided it is not blatantly hateful. In that sense, I cannot help but see these two events surrounding Chemerinsky and Summers as nothing less than hypocrisy.

Freedom of speech is a universal right that belongs to everyone, not just the ones with whom you agree. That means that even if someone says something that I completely disagree with, I still support his/her right to express his/her views, again provided that it’s not blatantly hateful.

In this case, I have no problems whatsoever with faculty disagreeing with Summers’ views, as I do myself. However, I cannot support the decision to rescind the offer to let him speak based purely on such philosophical or political differences of opinion, especially in light of faculty’s support for Chemerinsky’s freedom of speech.

In the SF Chronicle article that I quoted above, Professor Stanton argues that inviting Summers sends the wrong message at a time when the UC system is trying to diversify its community. There is some truth to that statement and indeed, appearances do matter.

However, I would argue that what would send an even more powerful message in support of diversity is to show that all opinions, perspectives, and experiences deserve to be heard, regardless of whether they happen to lie outside of the prevailing political environment or establishment.

This is the same valid argument that I and other faculty have used to promote Ethnic Studies and multiculturalism on campuses all around the country, so why shouldn’t it apply to Summers’ case?

In addition, another way to send a strong message in support of cultural diversity would have been to allow Summers to speak and then for faculty and others who disagree with him to directly and publicly challenge him on his views. The same right that allows Summers to suggest women are inferior gives us the right to suggest that Summers is completely wrong.

This would again demonstrate that the UC system, academia, and our society in general are founded on principles of critical analysis and confronting prejudicial statements, not selective censorship.

As my personal heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Dalai Lama have so acutely observed, when it comes to achieving real, meaningful social justice, we must be inclusive. That is, rather than solely concentrate on trying to address just one form of discrimination or inequality in isolation, we need to take a holistic view and recognize that all injustices are interrelated.

That is, in the words of Dr. King himself, “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I interpret that to mean that we cannot pick and choose which groups deserve justice and equality while which groups do not.

That is why I personally find it very painful when I hear, for example, when African Americans express homophobic thoughts against gays and lesbians, or when Asian Americans denounce the rights of illegal immigrants to become Americans.

In the same way that equality and justice belong to everyone, so too does freedom of speech.

September 19, 2007

Written by C.N.

Ramadan Photo Essay

In the Islamic world, September represents the start of the Ramadan observance, considered by Muslims to be the most blessed and venerated of all Islamic holidays. As such, Time Magazine has an interesting photo essay on how Ramadan is observed in various predominantly Muslim countries around the world.

Boys reading the Koran in Mathura, India © K.K. Arora/Reuters

September 17, 2007

Written by C.N.

India Becoming More Involved in Formula One Racing

You’ve heard about the economic and political rise of India for a while now. Well now, thanks to Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya, India is poised to become significantly more involved in one of the most prestigious and glamorous forms of athletics and entertainment in the world — Formula One motor racing:

Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya has promised his country to do his best to bring India into Formula One – and the sport to India. Mallya teamed up with Spyker’s director of Formula One Michiel Mol to make an 80 million euro bid for the cash-strapped team.

A statement earlier today said their offer had been accepted by Spyker Cars, and the buyout will be completed within 30 days. “Team India is on the F1 grid,” Mallya declared proudly in a press conference held today at Mumbai.

Mallya’s purchase of the Spyker F1 team is the latest step in India’s growing involvement in the sport. It began two years ago when Narain Karthikeyan became the first Indian-born driver ever to race in Formula One and is also progressing through the anticipated Grand Prix of India race that is scheduled for 2009.

All in all, these moves are further examples of India’s rise and efforts to raise its status and prestige on the international political, economic, and athletic stage.

September 13, 2007

Written by C.N.

More Domestic Than International Adoptions in Korea

When it comes to the issue of international Asian adoption (usually associated with White American families adopt an Asian child), one of the Asian countries most associated with “sending” large numbers of children to the U.S. is South Korea — close to 50,000 children since 1989 (according to U.S. State Department figures). But the tide seems to be changing — domestic adoption in South Korea have now overtaken international adoptions (thanks to the Transracial Korean Adoptee Nexus for covering it first):

About 60 percent of all adoptions were made domestically in the first half of this year, making it the first time for them to surpass overseas adoptions. . . .
A ministry spokesman said the “increase” is largely attributed to a new law prioritizing domestic adoption to overseas adoption — rather than changing attitudes towards adoption — as well as tax incentives and campaigns to encourage domestic adoptions. . . .

In 2005, Korea was rated the fourth biggest source for overseas adoptions, behind China, Russia and Guatemala _ 2,101 Korean children were adopted by foreign couples in 2005. The government has been making efforts to shake off the country’s reputation as a “baby-exporting” nation but any fruitful results have yet to be observed.

As the article notes, I’m not sure what effect this growing trend of domestic adoption will have on the overall numbers of international adoptions (we’ll have to wait for the numbers to come in later), but it is interesting that the government seems interested in trying to change their reputation as a “baby-exporting” country.

However, perhaps even more interesting is the government official’s statement that the rise in domestic adoptions has more to do with new laws and incentives, rather than changing social attitudes. So as such, it remains to be seen just how much of South Korea’s “baby-exporting” reputation will ultimately change.

September 11, 2007

Written by C.N.

Toyota Lands an A-List Team in Nascar

For those who follow American motorsports, you probably know by now that these days, the most successful American racing series, by far, is NASCAR, which claims millions of hardcore fans, billion-dollar merchandising sales, and a huge network television contract. You probably also know that amid much controversy, earlier this year Toyota joined General Motors, Ford, and Daimler-Chrysler as a competitor in NASCAR’s premier racing series, the Nextel Cup.

As I wrote previously, traditionalist (I might even say racist) NASCAR fans blasted Toyota for not being an American company (even though it employs hundreds of thousands of American workers in dozens of its factories located in the U.S.) and that it would use its “vast economic resources” to “buy” its way to success at the top. Sounds like quite a vast, diabolical, evil conspiracy that can only be concocted by devious hordes from Asia bent on taking over the world, right?

As it turns out, so far Toyota’s first season in NASCAR has been pretty much a disaster. There was a cheating scandal with one of its teams at the famous Daytona 500 race and since then, Toyota’s teams have consistently gotten their butts kicked on the track, presuming that they’ve been able to qualify for each race, which has not always been the case.

However, it looks like Toyota may finally be catching a break. As Sports Illustrated reports, one of NASCAR’s top teams is switching from General Motors to Toyota:

Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) will switch to Toyotas in 2008, ending a 16-year relationship with General Motors that produced three NASCAR championships. . . . This will make Gibbs’ three-car operation the premier Toyota team. With GM, Gibbs had to fight with [other elite teams] for top billing. . . The competition won’t be nearly as tough at Toyota, which has struggled mightily in its first season of Nextel Cup racing.

The automaker entered NASCAR’s top series amid much fanfare, but was embarrassed by Michael Waltrip’s cheating scandal at the season-opening Daytona 500 and horrendous on-track performances. Heading into this weekend’s race . . . the seven Toyota drivers have totaled just seven top-10 finishes. JGR’s three drivers have combined for 32.

Toyota’s teams have also struggled to make races — its drivers have failed to make the field 70 times in 178 attempts, and not one Camry is ranked in the top 35 in owner’s points.

I can hear the “traditionalists” howling right now. They’ll probably accuse JGR of “selling out” to foreigners and “betraying” their country. Funny, isn’t that the same racist criticisms that were leveled at Americans and American companies who did business with the Japanese back in the heyday of the “Japan bashing” days of the 1980s?

My point is, as the cliche goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. “Traditionalist” Americans always seem to be criticizing Asian countries, Asian companies, or Asians/Asian Americans for something or another, usually related to some perception that the “foreigners” are invading “their country” or in this case, their sport. It’s almost like clockwork really.

In the end, these “traditionalists” are likely to be left in the dust as the world and American society continues to move forward into the 21st globalized century. Here’s hoping that Toyota leads the way.


Update: On March 9, 2008, Toyota won its first NASCAR Sprint Cup race, with Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch winning the Kobalt Tools 500 in Atlanta, with teammate Tony Stewart finishing second.

September 9, 2007

Written by C.N.

The Norman Hsu Campaign Donation Saga

For those who follow the news, you probably heard that Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and other Democratic politicians recently “gave back” campaign donations from Norman Hsu, a former Silicon Valley businessman, prominent Democratic fundraiser, and convicted felon who has been on the run for 15 years. Last week, Hsu turned himself in and posted bail, but today, he has apparently disappeared again:

Hsu pleaded no contest in 1991 to a felony count of grand theft, admitting he’d defrauded investors of $1 million after falsely claiming to have contracts to purchase and sell Latex gloves. He was facing up to three years in prison when he skipped town before his 1992 sentencing date.

Prosecutors said they suspected Hsu fled the country then. But a few years ago, Hsu re-emerged in New York as an apparel executive and a wealthy benefactor of Democratic causes and candidates. They included presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose campaign designated Hsu a “HillRaiser” — a title given to top donors. . . .

[Hsu is a] wanted man again after he failed to show up for a court date Wednesday and a judge issued a new warrant for his arrest.

The latest is that on late last week, Hsu was tracked down by federal authorities and arrested in Colorado.

Let me be clear so that there is no confusion — from everything I’ve read, Norman Hsu sounds like a total loser and he is an embarrassment to the Asian American community. He may think that he was somehow helping the “Asian American cause” and until his criminal activities, he probably was.

But he lost that goodwill when he engaged in his fraudulent scheme, became a convicted felon, and a fugitive on the run from the law. In that context, his latest disappearance is not that shocking.

The lesson to be learned here is, if you want to “represent” the Asian American community, do so by exemplifying what we stand for — honesty and fair play, not through fraud, criminal activities, and being a fugitive from the law.

September 6, 2007

Written by C.N.

Possible Hate Crime in Chicago

One my my readers, Paul, alerted me to the recent death of a 62 year old Vietnamese man, Du Doan, who was fishing off a pier in Chicago when he was apparently pushed into Lake Michigan and subsequently drowned. The Asian American community suspects that this death may have been a hate crime. Three suspects have turned themselves in — one is Black and two are White.

One of the suspects admits that he “accidentally” knocked Du into the water but denies that it was a hate crime. Apparently, the Chicago police aren’t buying his story that it was an accident because he’s just been charged with first degree murder:

Chicago police say John Haley, 31, deliberately pushed Du Doan, 62, into the water at Montrose Harbor on Saturday. Doan could not swim and drowned. . . . “I bumped into them and kept on going and I didn’t think anything about it,” Haley said. But police say Haley told them a much different story, describing in detail how he pushed Doan into the water.

Police believe Haley had been drinking alcohol earlier in the night, and at some point he and his friends decided to pick up something to eat and go to the lakefront to eat it. . . . When they arrived, Haley began to display “erratic” behavior, and the others . . . instead decided to leave, Belmont Area Lt. Anthony Riccio said. . . .

“As they were returning to their vehicle, Haley broke away from the group, and ran up behind our victim, and described how he pushed our victim in the water – that being taking both hands, shoving them in the back, and literally catapulting him into the water,” Riccio said. . .

According to police, Haley also admitted to pushing another man into Lake Michigan on July 31st. That man was able to swim to safety. Haley’s charged with aggravated battery for that incident.

At this point, the Chicago police don’t believe that it was a premeditated hate crime, rather just an act of random senseless violence. However, Paul, my reader who alerted me to this story, told me that the other fisherman that Haley earlier pushed into the water was also Asian, as was another fisherman who he tried to push but who was a former Marine and stood up to him.

In other words, these incidents seem clearly related and they also clearly show that the victims were targeted on the basis of their Asian identity. That would seem to constitute a hate crime to me.

Nonetheless, even if it was just pure coincidence that the targets of these previous incidents were Asian, and that Haley was not actively seeking out Asians to attack, I can pretty much guarantee that the moment he saw Du Doan and saw that he was Asian, Haley subconsciously decided that Du would be an easy target, based solely on the fact that Du was Asian.

In other words, the cultural stereotype of Asians as weak, quiet, and submissive was probably playing in Haley’s mind at the very moment he decided to push Du into the water.

Haley may not identify as a skinhead, have ties to neo-Nazis, nor possess White supremacist literature at his home, but I have no doubts whatsoever that his ultimate motivation for pushing Du to his death was based on the fact that Du was Asian and was therefore seen as an easy target.

In other words, stereotypes do kill.

September 5, 2007

Written by C.N.

Possible Breakthrough in North Korea-U.S. Relations

If you’ve been paying attention to international events (other than the Iraq War) in recent years, you already know that the mutual animosity between North Korea and the U.S. is very deep and intense. In fact, I just finished watching an excellent documentary entitled “Inside North Korea” on the National Geographic Channel that describes the fervor of that sentiment inside North Korea.

However, as the Christian Science Monitor reports, after some recent high-level talks between the U.S. and North Korea, there now seems the real possibility that relations between the two enemies might be significantly improving soon and even move toward something resembling “normal”:

The deal struck by the top US and North Korean negotiators in Geneva for North Korea to live up to its promise to give up its nuclear weapons program apparently comes with crucial US concessions. The US agreed in the talks to take North Korea off the State Department’s list of “terrorist” countries, according to a spokesman for the North Korean foreign ministry, and also to provide political and economic “compensation” in the form of removal of sanctions. . . .

“You can see the North Korean strategy,” says Moon Jung In, professor of international relations at Yonsei University in Seoul. The reward for North Korean cooperation, besides an outpouring of aid, he says, is diplomatic relations between Pyongyang and Washington. “North Korea is interested in normalizing relations,” says Mr. Moon, who functions as an ambassador at large for the South Korean government. “The US has nothing to lose.”

The article goes on to note that this apparent deal is just the start of the process and the final details still need to be hammered out. In addition, we should remember that there have been previous hopes for a breakthrough that have been shattered by one party or the other.

However, the preliminary indications here are very positive and encouraging and I, like virtually everybody else involved, hope that it come to fruition and that U.S.-North Korean relations will start becoming normalized.

This is one area in which President Bush has the real potential to leave a positive legacy for the U.S. and the world.

September 3, 2007

Written by C.N.

The Root Causes of Racial Tensions

In an earlier post entitled “The Downside of Diversity,” I wrote about a recent study that concluded that all other things being equal, cities that have higher levels of racial/ethnic diversity also have lower rates of civic participation, trust among residents, and other measures of “social capital.”

I argued that perhaps one of the reasons for this surprising finding is that external stressors such as the Iraq War, economic uncertainty, environmental degradation, diminished individual liberties, humanitarian crises around the world, to name just a few, set up a political climate and social framework that have made Americans more fearful, uncertain, pessimistic, defensive, and/or distrustful of many things, not just increasing racial/ethnic diversity.

As further example of that, I refer to an article in Time Magazine that marks the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation on New Orleans, by describing how, in the context of trying to rebuild the city, racial tensions between Black and White residents unfortunately are at an all-time high:

City council meetings have devolved into shouting matches. Local crime stories on the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s web site, which allows readers to post comments, are inevitably followed by a string of missives reeking of barely disguised racial hostility, calling for citizens to arm themselves against the “thugs” responsible for the city’s sky-high murder rate.

And a string of guilty pleas from corrupt city officials . . . has elicited charges that white prosecutors are motivated by race; even the somewhat staid Louisiana Weekly, an 80-year-old newspaper targeted to African-American readers, recently ran an op-ed piece claiming the U.S. Attorney’s Office was abetting a white power grab. . . .

Hill points out that in times of crisis . . . ethnic groups tend to circle the wagons. “When people’s basic psychological needs, and physical needs — security, food and sustenance, health care — are not being met . . . there’s a tendency to fall back on ethnic group identity,” he says. “[B]both whites and African-Americans have fallen back on their ethnic group identity to fulfill their basic needs.”. . .

But the underlying cause of racial tension . . . lies in a string of broken promises that predate Hurricane Katrina, says Ronald Chisom, executive director of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, a collective of community organizations based in New Orleans. “This disaster has just compounded what we’ve dealt with for years,” Chisom says.

Before the storm, poor schools, inadequate health care, low wages, high unemployment and substandard housing were the norm for a vast number of New Orleanians, especially poor blacks; since Katrina, Chisom says, those problems have intensified.

This article is a perfect illustration of how external political, economic, and demographic issues are often at the heart of racial/ethnic tensions in a particular city. In other words, it is not necessarily the level of racial/ethnic diversity that is the problem per se.

Rather, as this article highlights, it is the frustrations people feel due to systematic political neglect and economic insecurity that often drive racial/ethnic tensions. In other words, this is the political climate and social framework that, I believe, eventually makes people turn against racial diversity as the most convenient scapegoat for their frustrations.

In that sense, New Orleans is just a microcosm of the American society and the multidimensional nature of American race relations.