12 August 2015

The Bookseller of Kabul

I just finished reading The Bookseller of Kabul, a biography of an Afghan family that was produced as a work of fiction. It's a well-written rather depressing account of life in Afghanistan. The story of the book and author are interesting. The author donated $300,000 of her royalties to helping Afghan educational and health initiatives. She was later sued by a member of the family (who's seeking asylum) for defamation. The suit was originally successful but was later overturned on appeal.

11 August 2015

10 August 2015

The Secret Life of Bees: The movie

Having read the book, I watched the movie The Secret Life of Bees last night. The movie actually follows the book very closely, deviating only in the part where Zach gets arrested. (In the movie, it's because Zach and Lily sat together in a movie theater instead of sitting separately in the black and white sections of the theater. In the book, Zach is arrested simply because he refuses to tell the police that his friend [who had been provoked] threw a bottle, hitting a man.) Another minor difference--actually important to the plot--was that in the book, Lily runs up to her dad at the end as he's leaving and asks him if she really shot her mother as a toddler. Her father confirms that she did (putting a bit of a damper on the fairy tale ending.) For some reason, the movie omits this. The acting's good, and I felt like the second part of the movie was very well done.

8 August 2015

7 August 2015

Republican debate: The questions that went unasked

Bernie Sanders had a good summary of the debates, saying that it was essentially all about (1) tax breaks for the rich, (2) more people losing health insurance, and (3) more talk about war."  Thinking back on it, what was really remarkable was the questions not being asked. Where were the questions about income inequality, the cost of education, and so on? Instead of letting candidates drone on about the evils of healthcare, why didn't the moderators ask them how, in concrete terms, they planned to achieve the low cost and high (generally universal) access to healthcare found in most other advanced economies?

Thoughts on the first Republican debate

Having watched the first part of the Republican debate, I'm underwhelmed. A couple of observations:

1. I can see why Trump's appealing to many people. It is a breath of fresh air to simply hear someone depart from the tired old Republican talking points. His comments on donating to numerous politicians as a way to buy favors were very candid--not something anyone else on the stage would want to dwell on. The Fox News moderators appeared openly hostile to him, particularly on those points where he diverged from the typical Republican line. His prophecy of immediate gloom and doom gets a bit old. Of course, I don't think he believes any of it. My gut feeling is that he's a very intelligent person with much more moderate views on many issues, trying to run in a party that he doesn't really agree with.

2. Bush and Rubio come across as quite reasonable in terms of their style. Since most people vote for people based on immediate impressions--primarily their looks--this is important.

3. Kasich comes across as a very likable person, expressing concern for the downtrodden--not a traditional Republican sentiment. I don't think he stands a chance in a Republican primary since there's a sizable group of the party faithful that's mesmerized by an image of the president as a middle-aged version of Rambo on steroids--an American bare-chested counterpart to Putin.

4. Walker, Huckabee and Carson come across as very fanatical in some of their positions. (Carson, at least, has a very calm and appealing speaking style.) I'm surprised that Walker has such major financial backing. I can't imagine him doing well in the general election.

5. Except for Bush and Rubio, none of the group look like they'd have a sliver of a chance in the general election. Hillary, for her campaign ads, could simply play clips of their statements during the debate and Republican primary campaigning, statements that are out of line with most people in the country at this point.

6 August 2015

We who kiss are the odd ones.

This surprises me. A recent academic article "Is the romantic-sexual kiss a near human universal?" concludes that kissing is found in less than half of the cultures they sampled.


Scholars from a wide range of human social and behavioral sciences have become interested in the romantic–sexual kiss. This research, and its public dissemination, often includes statements about the ubiquity of kissing, particularly romantic–sexual kissing, across cultures. Yet, to date there is no evidence to support or reject this claim. Employing standard cross-cultural methods, this research report is the first attempt to use a large sample set (eHRAF World Cultures, SCCS, and a selective ethnographer survey) to document the presence or absence of the romantic–sexual kiss (n = 168 cultures). We defined romantic–sexual kissing as lip-to-lip contact that may or may not be prolonged. Despite frequent depictions of kissing in a wide range of material culture, we found no evidence that the romantic–sexual kiss is a human universal or even a near universal. The romantic–sexual kiss was present in a minority of cultures sampled (46%). Moreover, there is a strong correlation between the frequency of the romantic–sexual kiss and a society's relative social complexity: the more socially complex the culture, the higher frequency of romantic–sexual kissing.

4 August 2015

The Secret Life of Bees

I recently read The Secret Life of Bees. It occurs to me that I read far too little fiction. I was further reminded of this fact when I looked at some poetry that I translated over two decades ago from Korean. Going through my English versions of the poems, I felt like I was rediscovering a lost part of myself.