The Sounds that Transcend Culture

I just recently realized that there are probably only two sounds that everyone makes for the same reasons, no matter what culture: the sneeze and the cough. It doesn’t matter where you come from. If you have to sneeze, your sneeze is always going to be some variation of “achoo.” If you have to cough, your cough is always going to be some variation of “cough cough.” So if you ever want to break the language barrier between two cultures, just do a whole bunch of sneezing and coughing, and everyone will understand each other just fine!

International Music

I was recently thinking about how different cultures use different musical scales, yet the octave is always the same. An octave is basically when one note has a frequency that is double the frequency of the other note. So if a note has a frequency of 120 Hz, the octave up would have a frequency of 240 Hz. That definition is necessarily the same in every culture. But how you divide up the octave widely differs from culture to culture, and what “sounds good” with regard to combinations of notes also differs. For instance, Western and Middle Eastern music use two different scales (they divide the octave differently), and they also have two very different ideas about what intervals sound good. It is interesting how music can vary so much from culture to culture, but the octave will always mean the same thing. Some cultures might not consider the octave to sound good, but the octave is still always there. No matter what meaning people project onto the sounds, an octave will always exist. It is interesting how science is able to break the barriers of culture like that.

The Ebola Crisis in West Africa

I attended a lecture by Dr. Paul Richards called “Ebola in Sierra Leone: a Humanitarian Crisis in Historical Perspective.” I had actually read his book Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, so I already had pretty good idea of what he was talking about. He basically just discussed how the history of region had impacted the way the crisis was handled. The people from the inner part of the country did not tend to trust the government, so they were more inclined to try to contain the problem on their own and refuse outside help. There were also revolts at hospitals because people thought the disease was just a conspiracy to try to kill more people. He also talked about how people from central Africa already knew how to handle Ebola because they had already dealt with it on a large scale before, so once people started talking to African experts from that region, they were able to better treat the patients, and the death tolls declined significantly.

International Fall Festival (Again)

Like last year, I went to the international fall festival, and it was pretty much the same thing again. It was ridiculously cold and windy out, so I didn’t stay long. Plus there wasn’t much to do anyway. About the only thing really international-y about it is that a bunch of international people show up and the mini petting zoo is fairly exotic. I did get to pet a baby kangaroo, so that was pretty cool. Other than that there wasn’t much to do except drink lukewarm hot chocolate and stand around being cold… Unless I felt like getting my face painted, which I didn’t. I think it’s really geared more towards the children of the international people living in Kraettli than towards the college-age international students.

Le Club Français Existe!

C’est le premier semestre où nous avons eu des réunions régulières. Il y avait des heures de conversation qui était très utile. Je n’étudie plus le français avec les cours de l’universitie, mais j’utilise Duo Lingo. J’aime les heures de conversation parce que je peut encore pratiquer la langue et améliorer mes modes de communication.  J’ai parlé avec des personnes qui étaient de France, et je pouvais vraiment les comprendre, même quand ils parlaient vite. C’était très amusant.

Chinese Baptist Church Service

I went with my roommate to her church on Sunday, and it was quite a different experience. The congregation was not surprisingly mostly Chinese, but there were a few people of European decent as well. The worship at the beginning of the service was mostly in Chinese, but we sang a few verses in English as well. The songs were mostly English songs that had been translated into Chinese, but there were a few original Chinese hymns as well.

The pastor who runs the church is an elderly Caucasian man, but apparently he doesn’t actually do much of the preaching. My roommate said there is a rotation of pastors who come and preach instead. Last Sunday, the preacher was a very small, elderly man who did the sermon in English while a lady set beside him and translated. The translating was a bit annoying because it made the sermon difficult to follow. The preacher would say a sentence or so, then pause while the lady translated, then say another half a sentence and pause, and so on. As a result, the sermon was not really able to flow well. The service was pretty nice other than that though, and I really enjoyed my time there.

Nukes and North Korea

This was the final essay I wrote for my class.

The North Korean nuclear standoff is a complex political situation made worse by distrust and deception. North Korea does not trust the western powers and is willing to do anything to protect its regime. China supports North Korea because it wishes to maintain its economic relations, but it does not trust North Korea with nuclear weapons. The western powers do not trust North Korea to uphold any nuclear agreements, and their concerns are further motivated by North Korea’s denial of its human rights violations. This situation is best described by two opposing views of international relations. While North Korea and China are operating out of self-interest and a desire for power, the western powers are striving to maintain world order. However, even China is beginning to recognize the necessity of working with other countries to maintain peace. Thus, although North Korea is acting from a realist view, the overall situation is best described from the liberalist view.

North Korea’s main concern is self-protection. It feels threatened by the other countries who consistently question and challenge its authority, so it feels justified in its retention of missiles and nuclear weapons. “Kim Jong-il is trying to maintain the existing order, to strengthen his regime based on personal authority, and consolidate control of military forces with the goal of preventing an overthrow of the state” (Vorontsov). The country is certainly not operating out of an interest for the greater good of the global community or even its own citizens, so its leaders must be operating with the sole interest of obtaining power. The western powers are concerned that this interest will lead to a dangerous imbalance of power that will allow North Korea to begin threatening and dominating other countries. However, the response by the west – and particularly by the United States – does not seem to be helping the situation. “The [U.S. war]ships’ deployment angered North Korea, which said it proved Pyongyang was right to develop nuclear weapons to defend itself or use in a pre-emptive strike” (“Xi-Trump”). This is a clear example of a security dilemma; North Korea’s desire for self-protection threatens the western powers, and their response to the threat further encourages North Korea to defend itself. Yet there is no way to know what havoc the volatile country would wreak if there was no response to its actions, so the West does not seem to have any other option except to react against the threat in order to maintain the balance of power. This clearly demonstrates that North Korea’s struggle for power in its realist view is met by a liberal response from the western powers who wish to maintain stability in global politics.

China’s position in the North Korean conflict is rather complicated. It has historically operated from the realist perspective of self-interest, but has recently began recognizing the necessity of working with other powers to maintain the stability of the region. “[China’s] support for North Korea ensures a friendly nation on its northeastern border and provides a buffer between China and the democratic South, [… so] Beijing has consistently urged world powers not to push Pyongyang too hard, for fear of precipitating regime collapse and triggering dangerous military action” (Albert). For many years, China refused to do anything to jeopardize its relationship with North Korea because of the two countries’ strong economic ties. However, as the situation becomes worse and tensions increase, China is beginning to recognize that this advantage will be lost if the region falls into turmoil. As a result, “China has proposed North Korea suspend tests of missile and nuclear technology to ‘defuse a looming crisis.’ Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that in exchange, the US and South Korea could halt annual joint military drills, which consistently infuriate the North” (“China Calls”). China’s attempt to moderate negotiations between North Korea and the other world powers demonstrates that it recognizes the value of cooperation between countries. Although China is clearly still operating out of self-interest, it recognizes that the situation is not a zero-sum game, so the best way to help itself is to help the other powers as well. In this way, China is upholding the liberalist view.

China is now willing to work with the western powers to limit the strength of North Korea, but it is still not entirely willing to lose its economic ties. “Though Beijing, Seoul, and Washington agree that a denuclearized North Korea is a top priority, differences remain over how best to strip the country of its nuclear threat” (Albert). The western powers want to punish North Korea by cutting off economic ties, but China is reluctant to do so. This is likely because although China is beginning to embrace the liberalist view, it is still reluctant to give up the realist view. It realizes that stopping North Korea is in the best long-term interest of all countries involved, but it still does not want to be the one to temporarily lose in the process.

The main priority of the western countries involved is to prevent North Korea from doing anything brash. Their concerns are certainly justified based on the recent actions of the state. “North Korea’s government has continued its aggressive and erratic behavior, as demonstrated by recent military and cyber provocations, and continued efforts to develop nuclear weapons and long range missiles” (“Global Conflict”). Because of its refusal to work with other countries, world powers are reluctant to send aid to North Korea. “[T]he North’s provocative acts like the recent missile and nuclear tests are making it difficult for international aid groups to raise funds for the recovery” after a major flood (Cheol). The country will not allow workers to enter and offer their help, and there is a concern that any monetary aid given to the country will go to the government rather than the flood victims. As a solution, “The United States has pushed North Korea to irreversibly give up its nuclear weapons program in return for aid, diplomatic benefits, and normalization of relations” (Albert). However, it seems highly unlikely that the country will agree to such terms. North Korea clearly believes that the world operates on a zero-sum game, so it is not willing to do anything that might give another country an advantage and thereby diminish its own power.

North Korea’s strict adherence to the realist view of politics is arguably what has brought the other world powers together with a more liberalist view. Because of the horrific measures to which North Korea has gone to obtain its control, the other powers perhaps now realize that a selfish pursuit of power is not justifiable. North Korea has violated the international human rights law in numerous ways, and such actions are inexcusable. A report detailing North Korea’s human rights violations “documents ‘extermination,’ murder, enslavement, torture, rape and persecution on grounds of race, religion and gender [… and] also criticizes the political and security apparatus of the North Korean state, saying that it uses surveillance, fear, public executions and forced disappearances ‘to terrorize the population into submission’” (Mullany). To make matters worse, North Korea denies that these problems even exist, which stimulates further distrust in the country. When the country will not even admit to its internal atrocities, there is no way other countries can trust it to keep a promise to end all nuclear development. Then the only way to prevent a global disaster is for countries to band together against North Korea so that it does not dare to do anything brash.

Overall, the North Korean nuclear crisis is best understood through the liberalist view of politics. Although North Korea itself is operating from the realist view, the rest of the world powers have joined together in an effort to prevent North Korea from causing further damage. These countries are not fighting against each other for power; rather, they are working together in an effort to benefit the world community as a whole.

Works Cited

Albert, Eleanor. “The China–North Korea Relationship.” Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, 26 Apr. 2017. Web. 06 May 2017.

Cheol, Lee Yeon. “Amid Nuclear Tensions, North Korea Struggles to Secure Flood Aid.” VOA. VOA, 27 Sept. 2016. Web. 07 May 2017.

“China Calls on N Korea to Suspend Missile and Nuclear Tests.” BBC News. BBC, 08 Mar. 2017. Web. 06 May 2017.

“Global Conflict Tracker.” Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, 8 May 2017. Web. 08 May 2017.

Mullany, Gerry, and Nick Cumming-Bruce. “China Faults Report Blaming North Korean Leader for Atrocities.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Feb. 2014. Web. 06 May 2017.

Vorontsov, Alexander V. “North Korea’s Military-First Policy: A Curse or a Blessing?”     Brookings. Brookings, 28 July 2016. Web. 06 May 2017.

“Xi-Trump Call: China Urges ‘peaceful’ North Korea Solution.” BBC News. BBC, 12 Apr. 2017. Web. 06 May 2017.

Hope for Honduran Campesinos

Again, this was written for a class. We read the book “Don’t be Afraid Gringo” by Elvia Alvarado and were asked to determine whether Alvarado could make a difference in the lives of the campesinos.

In “Don’t be Afraid Gringo,” Elvia Alvarado describes her efforts to combat the unjust treatment of poor Hondurans through organization of her fellow campesinos. There are many factors opposing her success, ranging from a lack of education to the corruption of the Honduran government, but she also has many supporters who are more than willing help fight for her cause. While their opponents are many, Alvarado and her supporters are certainly capable of reducing the inequality in the lives of campesinos.

Perhaps the greatest opposition Alvarado faces is the corrupt Honduran government. The Agrarian Reform Law was passed in order to return unused land to the campesinos. However, according to Alvarado, “The National Agrarian Institute, INA, is supposed to uphold the law… But that’s not what actually happens. While the 1975 law is a good law on paper, it’s not being put into practice” (68). As a result, the campesinos must take the law into their own hands. Rather than the government identifying unused land and turning it over to the campesinos, the people must find unused land themselves and make an appeal, which involves going through a lengthy legal process that usually results in years of delayed paperwork. When this happens, campesinos resort to performing “land recoveries,” which are always met with brutality from the landowners, who have the advantage of having the military on their side and being able to afford expensive lawyers (82). However, campesinos have strength in numbers. Although they must face military guns with just their machetes, are frequently jailed, and occasionally lose a comrade in the struggle, almost nothing can deter them from the fight. By banding together and refusing to back down, they are frequently able to obtain the land despite the vast odds against them.

Another major factor hindering the success of the campesinos is their lack of education. Whether or not they attend school, they are kept ignorant about their rights. Alvarado laments that even after obtaining a university education, “I’ve had students come to my house to ask me what the Agrarian Reform Law is all about, because they didn’t learn about it in school” (61). Furthermore, the government refuses to provide the campesinos with the proper technical assistance promised by the Agrarian Reform Law so they can farm their own land (77). The major companies insist that campesinos are not intelligent enough to manage a major farming business, yet the only reason why the they cannot manage on their own is because the government impedes any attempt for them to do so. Even if they do finally win land, the campesinos are often unable to farm it because they do not have any information about the land they are farming or the crop they are supposed to be raising. As a result, the land becomes nearly useless, and the campesinos simply go into more debt.

Fortunately, the campesinos do have support from some groups. One supporter of the campesino unions is the Christian Democratic Party, which offers courses that educate the campesinos about how to organize and fight against inequality (61). Some international groups also support the campesino movement, typically by sending boxes of food or clothing. Although Alvarado is insistent that this type of aid will not solve the problem, it does provide temporary relief while the campesinos fight for a more permanent solution. There are also many professionals such as lawyers and doctors who are willing to stand up for the campesinos, to defend and protect them despite the inevitable persecution they will suffer as a result. When this support is coupled with the organization of the campesino unions (at least, the ones that have not been bought out by the government), the campesinos have a force that can truly make a change.

The church is another source of both suppression and support for the campesinos. They were the first ones to begin organizing women, and they provided relatively safe places to meet and organize. For Alvarado, church was where she was taught to stand up for her rights and do something about her problems, and it encouraged her to become a leader and organize other campesinos as well (13). However, the church eventually stopped supporting the groups. Now many of the priests in the Catholic church do not care about the poor and teach that they should simply accept their lot in life, and many Evangelicals preach that it is a sin for campesinos to organize and fight against their oppressors (32). Yet despite such prevalence of false teaching in the church, not all church leaders have been corrupted; some continue to offer their support despite harsh consequences from the government. Furthermore, Alvarado believes that “the story of Christ proves we can make change if we fight hard enough and if we never lose faith in what we’re fighting for” (30). Jesus provides an example to the campesinos of how to fight for the rights of the poor, so they have a constant reminder that no matter what happens to them, they are suffering for a righteous cause, just as Jesus did. This gives the campesinos – and especially Alvarado – an incomparable amount of endurance, which in turn significantly increases their chance of success.

A different aspect of inequality in Alvarado’s life is that of gender inequality. For the most part, women are expected to stay in the house all day grinding corn and caring for children. They are generally viewed as unintelligent and only good for having babies, and men have the right to do anything they want to them. Furthermore, because there are so few jobs, men cannot find work and resort to drinking instead. Any money they might manage to make is squandered with drinks, then they frequently beat their wives when they return home (52). Unfortunately, this is the socially accepted standard way of life, so these problems are typically ignored. One of the greatest challenges Alvarado has with the male union leaders is that “they often don’t want their own wives to participate. They talk a good line about ‘the role of women,’ but when it comes to their women – well, that’s a different story” (90). However, the fact that these same men have great respect for Alvarado and are willing to work with her demonstrates that the situation is gradually beginning to change. With more and more women like Alvarado rising into leadership positions in the campesino unions, men are beginning gain a respect for women. And as men begin to have more respect for women, they will begin to treat women with more respect as well.

On her own, there is almost nothing Alvarado can do to lessen the inequality in her life. There are simply too many forces against her – the government, the landowners, and even the fact that she is a woman. However, this does not mean that there cannot be change. Elvia Alvarado is not alone in her struggle. She is united with her fellow campesinos through the unions, and their strength in numbers is powerful. The campesinos are anxious for change, and they are willing to work together to make it happen. They have nothing to lose, so there is nothing stopping them from fighting for their rights until they have finally won.

Another (Very) Belated Chinese New Year

I attended this at the beginning of the semester with my roommate, who is the only non-Chinese singer in the last video. It’s always an adventure to try to guess what’s going on when I don’t know what people are saying. I figured me writing about everything like last time wouldn’t be very interesting, so this time I figured out how to upload the videos. The image quality isn’t great, but all the dancing and singing is.

Refugee Crisis in Europe

I also wrote this one for a class.

I attended “Journey to Europe: Perspectives on the Refugee Crisis,” which included a screening of the movie “4.1 miles” and a presentation by Dr. Smith, Dr. Raymond, and Stefanie Neumeier. The movie is a documentary that focuses on the struggles of one man to help safely bring families across the sea to the island of Lesbos. Even though the island is small and relatively poor, the native inhabitants still generally feel it is their responsibility to give aid to the desperate refugees who continue to arrive in vast amounts every day.

The main purpose of the presentation was to show that the vast majority of people seeking refuge in Europe are truly desperate victims of the tragedies of war. They are not lazy people who simply want to enjoy the pleasures of Europe, and they are not terrorists looking for an excuse to cross borders. These people risk their lives to escape their native countries, and none of the journey is easy. Furthermore, becoming an official refugee is not nearly as easy as it is popularly described. An individual must be outside his own country and be unable to return, and the country in which he seeks refuge must accept his refugee claim, which often does not actually happen. Surprisingly, the countries who accept the most refugees are not the rich and prosperous ones, but the poor, fragile ones who are at risk of falling into political and economic turmoil themselves. This situation may be caused in part by the citizens of the rich countries who fear that accepting refugees will downgrade their high society. However, this fear is in no way supported by the numerous studies which test it. In fact, the main source of violence is from natives against refugees and from refugees who are not well integrated into society. Thus, it is not the refugees who are the problem, but the natives who refuse to accept them.

The greatest insight I gained from the presentation was realizing the shear mass of the people who are trying to escape the violence of their home countries. It was also very interesting to hear a different perspective of the crisis from the one usually heard from the media. Although I do not follow the crisis regularly, the information I had generally heard previously mostly expressed the concerns of the Europeans who did not want to have to manage the arrival of so many refugees. Realizing that poorer countries – even those that can barely support their own native population – are forced to accept the refugees simply because the prosperous countries do not want to deal with them certainly offers a different view of the situation.

This problem clearly relates to power and inequality. The countries that have more power are able to refuse to accept the refugees because there are enough powerful people in the countries to keep it from happening. These powerful individuals likely believe that they are in some way better than the poor refugees who cannot seem to do anything for themselves. To them, the refugees are clearly coming to Europe to beg for help simply because they are too lazy to solve their problems on their own. The burden is then passed on to the “lesser” countries who accept the refugees either because the people can relate to their struggles and truly wish to help, or simply because they do not have the resources to keep the refugees from coming. Thus, there is a clear inequality between the refugees and the natives, and also between the rich and poor countries accepting refugees.

I cannot say that I entirely agree with all the points made by the presenters, but I certainly do not disagree with them either. There are always two sides to a debate, and it is generally impossible to know which side is actually correct. Certainly, it does not seem right that refugees are being stereotyped as lazy terrorists, and it does not seem right that the poorer countries are the ones who are forced to handle the burden when the richer ones clearly have better and more plentiful resources to share. However, if I were to attend a different presentation supporting the opposite position, they would likely have a plausible argument as well. Perhaps there really are instances where refugees are cheating the system for personal gain, and that is certainly a valid concern that needs to be considered. At the bottom line, the situation is not nearly as simple as either side would like it to be, so the problem can only be solved if both views are equally addressed.