The Miracle of Minneapolis – The Atlantic

I found The Miracle of Minneapolis at The Atlantic fascinating, and not just because I am fond of the Twin Cities after coming of age there. I’m far from an expert on urban planning but I’m interested in the problems associated with cities, including the social, economic, educational, and quality of life issues. The Twin Cities do suffer from the climate, but truthfully you adapt and the cold weather just isn’t that much of a burden for most folks. I had never heard of the story about the destruction and rebuilding of the St. Anthony Falls and was unaware of the redistributive tax policies that have succeeded in being the tide that raises all boats. It’s a nice example of how to transcend partisan theoretical arguments in order to accomplish something.

What grabbed me most, though, was the blurb at the end about Seoul’s importation of some of these tax policies. When I was doing visas, I saw several applicants employed by the state or city who were applying for professional visas to study and learn about urban planning in the U.S. I enjoy visa work in part because I know what an impact it can have on people lives, and I confess it was thrilling to see the effects of our nation’s visa policies working this way too.

The Great Tax Wars

I just finished “The Great Tax Wars” by Steven R. Weisman, a book that was given to me by a friend several years ago. I met this friend during the Foreign Service selection process and he mentioned how much he enjoyed reading tax history. I accepted his offer to send me a copy and have read it off and on over the last 4 years. Although it took me a long time to finish, that’s an indictment of my lifestyle rather than the book itself. It would get packed up in a move and end up deprioritized when unpacked. It’s an interesting read though and recommended for those interested in U.S. political history as much as tax junkies.

I enjoyed this book on several levels. The obvious history of U.S. federal taxation legislation is in and of itself interesting to me. The author succeeds at personalizing these “tax wars” through the politicians fighting them and setting a rich stage incorporating world events and social trends of each era. Conflict and war are at the root of tax policy and he demonstrates the effect warfare has on national finances, then the lesson legislators attempt to learn from each incident. It’s a fun ride through familiar history (Civil War, the Industrial Age, WWI, the depression) with so many familiar names (Lincoln, Roosevelt, Wilson, William Jennings Bryan) but the tax war focus reveals another facet of these events, tied together over time, that results in a particularly interesting and readable coherency.

I’ve collected another shelf of financial histories that I’ve resisted reading until I finish The Great Tax Wars. It isn’t hard to read, I just kept forgetting to pick it up. I’m excited to move on to some of these others now.

Phones in Korea

The transition to Korea went fairly easy but getting my iPhone hooked up was far more difficult than I was anticipating. I was foresighted enough to pay for unlocked iPhones last year when we moved to the U.S. and I’d hoped that it would be as easy as walking into a shop and signing up. I should have known that there would be more to it when I learned that it is more or less impossible to buy a SIM in Japan to put in your own phone. Thankfully it wasn’t that bad here but it took a few weeks to find the time to get everything worked out.

We had to first register our handsets physically with the networks in Korea. I can’t say I entirely understand what that means even though I was successful in getting a pre-paid card installed in mine before my family arrived. Of course, there are only certain shops that are capable of handling unlocking and registration and it just wasn’t easy to get there during working hours. My frustrations mounted when my first month of pre-paid expired and I went to the local phone shop to switch over to a monthly data plan. Apparently the network I was initially registered with was incompatible with the monthly data plan I intended to register for, so of course I had to get it reregistered. At this point, my wife had moved here and thankfully she was able to take care of getting our phones set up and ready.

I guess this is a pretty anti-climatic story but the long story short is that it IS possible to get a U.S. unlocked iPhone set up here, it just takes some time during normal business hours. Truth be told, if I wasn’t working, I’d have been able to get it straightened out a lot faster.

Status Quo October 4

Not a while lot going on, just same old, same old. Have moved out of training and am actually doing work in the new position which is a welcome change. Have been busy with some overtime the past couple weekends. We’ve got our first guests due to arrive in about 10 days so we’re rushing to get the final bits and pieces of the house put together. Have been riding my bike a bit more. Weather is cooling off and is fantastic biking weather, we’ll see how long it lasts until I’m whining about the tears caused by the brittle winter winds.

This post brought to you by a desire to avoid going long stretches without any activity. Salut!

Chuseok Ends

I’ve enjoyed the extra long Korean Thanksgiving holiday. Reduced our “stuff” in serious ways, both via a huge pile of trash and about 20 boxes of stuff (LOTS of books) for the garage sale coming up in a couple weeks. Took a couple bike rides and am ready for my first bike commute tomorrow. It’s getting cooler so we’ll see how well my natural insulation holds up. I’m very happy to be incorporating a 25 minute bike ride twice a day but I will miss the morning chats on the shuttle bus and the opportunity to catch up on some news podcasts. The sacrifices one must make.

The house is mostly unpacked and organized, I’d say it now looks more like a messy house than an un-unpacked one. Well there is the large exception of “my” room where I’ve got the computers and instruments. I promised to go through it during the holiday but somehow didn’t get to it. Maybe I can get it done by Saturday, otherwise it might not get done in time for the garage sale. It’s hard for me to give stuff up but I’m facing up to the reality that many of the projects I had planned just aren’t going to happen, especially in this lifestyle. And we have too much stuff to drag it all over the world every couple years. So I’m culling old computers and my academic library. There still are many activities that I’m struggling to let go of but it’s foolish, really, to keep clinging to the idea that I’ll devote the time to learning enough electronics to be able to tinker with stuff. It’s time to focus on the few things that I’m most interested in and let the rest go to someone who actually could make use of it.

In the meantime, I need sleep.

Sometimes, the b’ar eats you

Oh look at that, another post by me lamenting my abject failure to maintain any posting regularity and recommitting myself to posting more.

A few days after my last post here, the Eminent Spouse and Child arrived with the Eminent Feline. We had a whirlwind weekend of introductions and then they jetted back to Japan for the rest of the summer. I had high ambitions for the 10 weeks or so it was going to just be me and the pets. I was distracted with family, then with getting myself situated both in the house and at work and lost my focus on blogging here.

I was able to get off the base and into the city the first weekend to get my phone set up (we’ll return to this debacle later on) and took some pictures as part of the 100 Strangers project. I discovered 100 Strangers via my friend Tom Brouns, who incidentally has a phenomenal series of posts in his “found film” series about old film he bought that turned out to have been shot in South Korea soon after the war ended. I’ll put up these pictures as I can too.

But after that weekend, I took delivery of my stuff sent out of Nigeria and Japan, so spent a couple weekends unpacking and organizing that. Was nice to get my chair back! Then I was off to Japan after our National Day Celebration (I dressed up as Uncle Sam) for the weekend. I got back, got sick with an nasty office bug, and before I knew it, the family was returning and I’d barely explored the city. I did get out a couple times with friends for meals and whatnot but realized that you really can’t accomplish much during the week, so it’s essential to be effective and efficient on weekends.

A week before the girls were scheduled to arrive I was able to volunteer for a TDY assignment to the Solomon Islands, which was a terrific trip, both professionally as well as personally. It sucked that I missed their homecoming but as it turned out they got hit by typhoon and ended up delaying their their flight back by a couple days anyway. Right after they got back the rest of our stuff arrived from the US so we’ve been busting ass to get it all put away. The one possible complaint I could make about our house is that we don’t have much extra space, so we’re are aggressively reducing. It’s painful for me to admit defeat and get rid of many of the books I’ve long intended on reading, but its way past time to acknowledge the fact and stop dragging this stuff around.

So there’s lots to catch up on!

The Korean Adventure begins

So the Eminent Canine and I arrived in Seoul yesterday and made it through customs with only a minor hiccup. The vet didn’t include the official rabies titer results page (FAVN for those in the know) which caused a fair degree of consternation at the quarantine counter but they eventually relented based on the vet’s report which was based on the FAVN report. My fantastic social sponsors had the house reasonably stocked with food and snacks and they brought me a sausage pepperoni pizza to boot.  Stayed up late enough that I think I’ll able to avoid jet lag (although dodged a bullet after waking up at 3:00 AM; thankfully fell back asleep until 6:00 AM). Nice secluded house with a yard big enough to throw a ball around, yay!

Went to get my iPhone activated today but the office was closed, apparently in observance of Memorial Day here in Korea. Will have to wait until Monday to get my personal number set up.  I’d also hoped to get my badges for access on and off the base but that will have to wait until Monday as well since the Embassy was closed for Memorial Day. The Eminent Canine and I enjoyed just chilling out today, exploring the house and then taking a nice long walk through the housing neighborhood this evening. Ended up having American fast food today because I didn’t have any Korean won when I was at the food court at the shopping mall (the pajeon looked delicious!) and then the base tour of the food court coincided with lunch time, so that was that. Can’t wait to start eating off base though!

Not a whole lot to report otherwise. The Eminent family arrives next week with the Eminent Feline and then our stuff will be dribbling in from Africa, airfreight, and the rest over the next few weeks.  Hopefully I can keep any readers updated regularly, hopefully 2-3 times a week.

One nice thing about living in North Korea

You don’t have to put much effort into picking a hairstyle since the government has several pre-approved styles ready for you.

Happy, uh, New Year?

I blink and we’re two weeks into 2014 already!

The year has started out strong. The Eminent Spouse has settled in to teaching and I may have had a breakthrough with Korean. I’ve really struggled with language production even though I have very little issues with the conceptual side of the language. I think it is due to the similarities between Japanese and Korean and it’s proving extremely difficult to overcome my natural inclination to create high-level sentences.

Because the grammar is so similar, my brain wants to use Korean in the same way I use Japanese. In the long run this is going to be a big boon, I believe, but for the first few months its been excruciating. I just don’t (or didn’t) have the grammar currency in Korean to cash the checks my brain was writing. It’s getting easier as I’ve learned more of the essential grammar and now its a matter of learning sufficient vocabulary and getting the grammar tools down in rote memory so they can just pop out instead of being explicitly processed every time.  Last week I had a few class sessions where I felt that I was understanding the teacher’s side of things and producing my half of the conversation without too much delay or relying on help from the teacher. It was fun and hopefully portends well for my performance from here on out.

Other than school, the Eminent Child has been assigned as a Printer for their colonial life social science module. We had to go pick up some rubber stamps at the craft shop for her project demonstrating the work of colonial era newspaper printers.  Fun stuff.

Not much else of note, I suppose.  We did start watching Malcolm in the Middle on Netflix. Good stuff, but I had a parenting self-check when I realized that Netflix censors MitM from under-12 Kids’ accounts. I don’t know if our family enjoyment of the show makes me a good or bad parent.

Fascinating – and disturbing – look at the cosmetic surgery craze in South Korea

The K-Pop Plastic Surgery Obsession – Zara Stone – The Atlantic.

I wanted this job in part to get the Eminent Child out of Japan and give her a wider breadth of cultural experiences as part of her natural growth, development, and education.  We are thrilled to be going to South Korea, of course, and articles like this don’t concern me in as much as the effect it will have on her.  But I can’t imaging raising daughters in that kind of social environment.