Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Myopia in two forms

This week’s issue of Time magazine has a shocking but revealing look at how cultural norms in East Asia are creating major problems of short-sightedness and present-orientation in the form of a stingy materialism that in intensity rivals the more “showy” materialism of Scandinavia, New Zealand or the Pacific Northwest.

The revelation that, because they spend so much time in the quest of academic achievement, Asian children – not only East Asians, but also South and Southeast Asians - spend very little time outside and thus cannot adjust their eyes to the correct distance for more distant viewing. Pressure for high education achievement in Asia is very strong owing to those nations’ desire to rise as far as possible from poverty. The revelation of Time really does suggest that they are overdoing it just as much as the extremely low fertility rates of East Asian nations. However, Time does not consider whether the degree of government control over education – a facet I have never researched but which I suspect to be very high – does a great deal to encourage this tendency and whether it suppresses incentives to think beyond one’s own interest and “doing the right thing” which is so crucial in East Asia for gaining the status so many people seek.

In a sense, status is to East Asians what comfort is to Europeans, Canadians and New Zealanders: something their poverty in lithophile minerals would not naturally give them in a post-agricultural economy, but something which the mere observance of their own ruling classes and people moving to Australia and occasionally even other much less developed nations has over many generations taught them to want at any cost. That this cultural attitude is unsustainable there is no doubt when one looks at the financial plight of so many Enriched World nations today, a plight seldom taken seriously outside the US.

The recession, poverty, and rhinos

A few months ago, the first significant social study of South Africa's rhinoceros poaching epidemic that has already claimed about 5 percent of all rhinoceroses in the world. It argues that amounts of 200,000 rand or about 25,130 Australian dollars are an irresistible lure to poor people in rural South Africa, who will willingly risk their lives to move out of poverty even if only in the short term. Most “collaborators” in the rhino poaching epidemic are from the Mozambique border and have no work apart from seasonal agriculture. With 210 rhinoceroses killed according to the latest statistics, there is a major problem with simply enforcing laws against poaching, which recent evidence suggests is being largely done by a number of gangs fro South East and East Asia. Whilst it might be thought that if gangs are an issue then poverty amelioration by whatever means is no solution to poaching of rhinoceroses, there is no doubt that when agricultural work is not possible due to being out of season, or if drought or flood affects crop productivity, these poor Mozambicans will have no alternative but to look to criminal syndicates who can offer them better jobs than local businessmen or the government. these syndicates, it is apparent, come from one nation which has recently lost its entire rhino population: Vietnam, with very few from any other nation. Nonetheless, even if foreign governments become brave enough to attack the Vietnamese government for its role in rhinoceros poaching, there is no certainty that rhinoceros poaching syndicates will crop up to serve people in Southern Africa who are too poor to have any other job. Given the fact that the region has a unique combination of extremely high conservation value and iconic wildlife, tourism in southern Africa has more potential than just about anywhere in the world if well-managed. Rhinoceroses are most definitely a part of this, and need to be seen as a job opportunity when alive ratehr than when dead if poverty and ecology are not to compete with each other.

The mystique of professional athletes on two levels

For many years I have long been suspicious of the adoration professional athletes receives, and the huge salaries they receive as a result of the enormous television revenues from sport. Even the Politically Incorrect Guides, who say the professional sports salaries are fair because there are so few people capable of performing at this high level, are very suspicious of the way in which the public adores professional athletes - at least judging by what is said in the introduction to the forthcoming Politically Incorrect Guide to Real American Heroes. I too can relate to the notion that professional athletes are not admirable role models: they get cushy conditions to play under as well as enormous TV-driven salaries, and these can certainly spoil their skill level even though they undergo much better training than they did before television.

If Wisden’s 1985 and 2001 lamentations on the terrible technique of English batsmen since pitches became fully covered is even partly correct, today’s cricketers are so spoilt that they would be all out for a duck facing such bowlers as Schofield Haigh on the sticky pitches of 100 years ago, and in football it is hard to imagine how today’s teams would score on the waterlogged grounds of even twenty years ago with their repeated short kicking and marking style.

However, Denver Westword today has developed a list of The Five Worst Albums of All Time by Professional Athletes. I am well aware of professional atheletes - including the then-VFL’s Mark Jackson - moving into the world of entertainment for commercial gain - but I did not know most of this list:
  1. Deion Sanders: Prime Time
  2. Macho Man Randy Savage: Be A Man
  3. Muhammad Ali: Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay
  4. Roy Jones Junior: Round One: The Album
  5. Shaquille O‘Neal: Shaq Diesel
Having a brief listen to Shaq Diesel, I can only call it awful even by the standards of pop-rap of the 1990s, and Round One: The Album and Mark Jackson’s “I’m an Individual” are equally atrocious. It shows the lack of practice and more importantly, natural ability for music in these professional athletes. They are simply trying to make their careers higher in profile than they would be without the aid of these songs being heard on radio by people who do not watch sports on television. However, there is little likelihood doing this will ever help music listeners become more passionate or discriminating.