Metrics of Asian American Racial Progress

ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat is premiering in the New Year and it makes me think that mainstream media again is trying to figure out how to portray Asians not as sidekicks, comic relief, faceless hordes, sinister but emasculated male villains, or hyper-sexualized dragon ladies. It represents a reboot of this effort. The first time they tried almost a generation ago with Margaret Cho’s All American Girl. That show was broken by the network’s demands that Cho be more Asian doll sexy and the jokes more relatable (racist) to an audience not aware of Asian American culture. I propose the following metrics of Asian American racial progress.

1. The number of Asian American male leads in mainstream American television and cinema with top billing. Randall Park didn’t get equal billing as James Franco and Seth Rogen even though he had to carry the comedic load in much of the Interview. Selfie’s John Cho is one person, who I guess ironically is our Sidney Poitier, but the show got axed just as it was getting decent.

2. The amount of time it takes your Asian American child to face racism by one of his peers after day one of kindergarten.

3. The quality of the local Asian food -is it a world class eatery with an enigmatic monosyllabillic name or is it Chopstick Charlie’s. Are there authentic Asian items on the store shelves or just pale “Oriental” facsimiles? Are there bearded white hipsters non ironically crafting obscure regional kimchis?

4. The number of buildings at Harvard with Asian names. Famously, Harvard turned down the Wang family’s generous offer of a huge donation in exchange for renaming North House in the late 80’s, saying that North House -named for a compass direction, was to stay that way out of tradition. Less than ten years later it gets renamed Pforsheimer House. I guess it isn’t our turn.

5. The ratio of Asian men marrying non-Asian women in proportion to the Asian women marrying non-Asian men.

6. The frequency of having to school non-Asians in how to eat the food, in what the differences are between Asian countries, and why we can speak without chopsocky accents. And why we find “Oriental” to be mildly offensive.

7. The number of Asian Not Ready for Prime Time Players on Saturday Night Live. Yellowface is just as offensive as Blackface.

8. The number of times in a year when the politically correct social media rage machine eats a celebrity or politician for making a racist anti Asian comment with the same kind of vigor with which it destroys someone making a racist anti Black, anti Woman, or anti Semitic comment or joke.

9. The number of Asians shaping and directing mainstream American culture.

10. The number of Asian American Presidents of the United States.

An Inside Joke Inside The Interview?

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So I watched the Interview, the Seth Rogen – James Franco road film about assassinating Kim Jong Un played by Randall Park. Buried in the brouhaha is an interesting casting choice of Diana Bang, a clearly talented and very funny actress who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Chairwoman of Samsung’s entertainment division, Miky Lee. I can’t help thinking the money people at Sony Entertainment not getting a chuckle out of this. I have a bit of dyspepsia over Sony dissing Samsung and laughing at Koreans killing other Koreans. The movie is painful to watch because I don’t find North Korea too funny, but I think this movie needs to be available to be watched because it is the eye of a very strange and new kind of shit storm and because it is my right. Corea Libré!

Big Tablets Are the Next Big Thing

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Pictured above is the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2 in the 32gB flavor. It is swagged out with a Zagg keyboard case and a Samsung bluetooth mouse. The new Pro series of Galaxy tablets come with Retina level displays and this one just pops colors and details. What really wins me over is the speed which when you run single windowed apps, runs very well on the quad core chip this comes with. Several on line reviews snipe about lag when you run four windows simultaneously -this is a Samsung TapWhiz junky trick that is best avoided. With a keyboard and mouse, it turns the 12 inch tablet into a laptop replacement. Easily going over ten hours of battery time, you don’t have to worry about extra power when you travel internationally or go to work with no cable in your bag. It is pricey and won’t win over bargain hunters -the Google Nexus 7 fills this category, and I think that Google hasn’t released a Nexus 10 II or a Nexus 12, because it wants its clients to have a chance in this world. It kills iPad Air in the screen category -the 10 inch screen on the iPad seems listless and dull in comparison, and I am a certified Apple fan having read the Steve Jobs tome and bought every generation of iPad, including two when the first one came out. I fight daily with my 5 year old who is transfixed by the huge TV like screen. Plus, when I try to work on an iPad, I dream of having a mouse. In Android, when you pair a bluetooth mouse, you get a screen cursor. iOS 8 really really needs to support this. Where Android wins for me right now is it has an edge of future now that Apple is losing as it caters to the extremely young and extremely old and the bulge in the middle. Android, because of its near app parity, means for the most part I don’t have to be tethered to the Apple ecosystem. Even iTunes music can be worked around as your library will be sucked up by Google’s music player on your desktop and made available on Android devices and the Chrome browser. Sure, you can’t play your iTunes movie library, but Google is making that less important by offering the same movies, often for cheaper. Also, the Play app is nimble where the Video app on iPad is ponderous and constantly buffering -maybe Google’s pipes are fatter through some payola -who knows. It’s all good.

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Not like -Best Buy features a Samsung Experience store, where the even cooler penbased Galaxy Pro is displayed but available only by ordering and picking up a few days later. Also, the 64gB version of this tablet was unavailable for immediate pickup and walkout. I get that the iPad’s aren’t available in every flavor, but I don’t understand why every iteration of offered Samsung Tablet isn’t available for immediate pickup and walkout at these store within a stores. Being impatient, I went ahead and purchased with the plan to return if I was disappointed (I am not) and ordering the right tablet from Amazon. Worried -Samsung notoriously ditches its hardware after a year or two, offering maybe one long delayed upgrade in OS or a patch to its Samsung apps here or there (which I just don’t use). I have a bricked Samsung Tablet 2 7.0 in a drawer that won’t power up but I’m afraid of throwing out because of the data in its chips -it died after about three years of steady use. Not Like -while premium pricing implies premium materials, I just see a lot of shiny plastic. Aluminum may bring charges of Apple copying, but they could have gone for a real leather option instead of the plastic leather grain molded back with fake stitching.

The large tablet is a real thing and brings work productivity together with media and fun consumption in a way that Microsoft could only dream of. They so badly want this, but can’t seem to get their act together. My Windows 8.1 tablet from Dell lies unused and powered off because it has a crappy screen and has lost its ability to reset to factory condition which I had to do twice after it got junked up with usual Windows crap -detritus of hacky updater files, streamed media and who knows what rapidly filled up the 32gB SSD and made it unstable and unusable. Despite attractive offerings from ASUS and HP and Dell with super sized tablets -basically detachable 18-21 inch all in ones with 4 hour batteries, I ran away. Microsoft has been revealed for what it has long been apparent to me -an enabler of the “Help Desk” in corporate IT who must have problems arise in computers to exist, and a non-thinking agglomeration of hackers who jumble together whatever works -who uses all the features in Word? While I might use Office for Android when it inevitably limps in in 2015, I will still curse it for stupid things like selecting the whole word instead of part of a word without changing an setting.

The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad 2, iPad 3, iPad 4 Trumps the Microsoft Surface

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After sitting on the fence about purchasing a MacBook Air or an Ultrabook, I finally decided to pass on those items (no Retina display!) and equipped my current iPad 3 with a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Case. I had handed over my Macbook Air 2010 over to my son for school use (and Minecraft play), and was in need of some keyboarded mobile input device. This category used to be all about laptops and netbooks, but this past month Microsoft Surface was released and I did the due diligence of checking it out and rejecting it despite the fact I could have expensed it.

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Finding a Microsoft Surface to try out is a bit like trying to find authentic takeout Thai food or a Porsche dealership -it’s only available in a handful of places in the US. In the Cleveland area, it means going to the Microsoft kiosk at the Beechwood Mall next to the kiosks selling iPhone covers and fluffy slippers. I thought it was a bust because someone had messed up the Surfaces which were all rebooting. More recently, I got to try the Surface at the local Best Buy. Microsoft in their marketing wisdom decided to widen the release of the Surface in the few weeks before Christmas.

Despite the bad marketing, I was impressed by the beauty and speed of the Surface. The keyboard cover was nice and far more responsive than expected. Unfortunately, without the tactile feedback of keypresses it was only a little bit better than a virtual keyboard. I grew weary of it in the first few lines of typing.

It gets worse. The Metro interface seems like a tacked on after thought. Launching Office apps caused the screen to jump back into the old Windows desktop screen which doesn’t work all that well with touch, but it keeps lurking in the background waiting to show its big fat corporate OS face whenever it gets the chance. Instead of the Start menu, you jump back into Metro, but how or when you did so was mysterious. I am sure that with use, I would be able to figure out how to turn off the Metro or stay out of the classic Windows desktop. As a casual shopper seeing Windows 8 for the first time, there is mystery involved, and that is not good.

I get why Microsoft put out the Surface RT. What Microsoft is battling is the constraints imposed by the demands of the consumer and corporate markets. It has designed Surface RT to the perceived needs of the consumer market. It is making the bet that Office is 90% of what people want on their computers. This is true of laptops and desktops, but not so much for tablets and smartphones.

For 90 percent of my work, content creation means translating ideas into text. Who really needs Word to record text? For example, I’m wrote this piece over a week at various intervals on my iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, and MacBook Pro using Ia Writer, a text processing app that stores the file in the cloud. I never have to press SAVE because there is no such button. When I am ready to make a formatted document, I can do so in any number of apps like Word, Pages, or Google Docs. The fact is, I am using Word less and less because it is unavailable on iOS devices and smartphones, and I think Microsoft is uncomfortable with this trend.

Surface is basically recapitulating the most useful configuration for a tablet that you can also do work on -something that the iPad has had since launch which is variations on the keyboard case. The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover greatly enhances the iPad as a productivity tool. It latches on like the original magnetic cover and when in laptop mode will prop the tablet with magnets in landscape orientation. The keyboard works perfectly and has many enhancements for iOS oriented shortcuts.

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When closed, it looks like a MacBook Air, being clad in aluminum all around, but of course it is thicker. It does offer laptop functionality with a 10 inch Retina display. The keyboard charges via a mini-USB port, and claims a 6 month battery life with two hours of use. It has been seamless and tenacious in gaining and holding a bluetooth link, something that is not always possible with other keyboards. I have been typing on it, and I like it. I can type at full speed. My only gripe is the half height number row which also has a truncated delete key. I still rip off the cover to use it as a tablet and find that the keyboard is on and prevents me from using the virtual keyboard -just remember to turn off the keyboard when not in use.

The Surface is a beautiful product but is an evolutionary dead end because its OS, Windows RT, has no past and an arguably a shaky future. Despite creating a product that integrates Office, and makes it basically the only compelling reason to buy a Surface, it does so by making you work in Office in a way that is no different from the 10 pound laptop that IT will give you for business trips. The moment Microsoft releases rumored Office for iOS with full implementation of touch interface, it will have killed any argument for Windows RT. We will see Office for iOS in the App Store one day, but we will have to see Surface die the same way as RIM’s Playbook -in about 8 months before we get to buy it for $129 for the Student and Home Edition.

RIP RIM

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The day has arrived when I get to swap out my Blackberry 9930 for an iPhone 5. I had given up using the Blackberry as anything but a text/phone device because getting on the Internet was tricky at best. The 9930 is a device conceived by a committee of people who don’t understand how people use technology. I used my iPod Touch as a daily communicator and Internet surfer over the BB 9930. Fact is I had high hopes over its beautiful screen and okay keyboard but these could not overwhelm sheer misery in the browser, email (yes email) and paucity of apps to get things done. Goodbye.

Milestones and Millstones

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The top ten list from iTunes shows Taylor, Kanye, and Bieber just who’s boss.

When I was a kid in the 70’s, mentioning that you were Korean-American got at best a shrug, maybe a laughing reference to the backdrop people on MASH, or a punch in the face. This began to change in the 80’s as more stuff started coming from Korea -people forget that for a time, Korea was to cheap stuff what China is now, but the first real milestone was the arrival of Hyundai automobiles in the mid eighties. No question, the car they sent over was a cheap POS, but it was a sign that we were arriving. The Olympics in ’88 in Seoul further confirmed this, and capped off a run that while sputtering in the late ’90s with a debt crisis, was balanced by real democratic transfers of power between competing parties, and the rise of Korean popular culture in the 00’s. K-POP, a genre that mixes commercialism (think Monkees perpetrated by a Zenith/IBM/NBC conglomerate if it had existed in the late 60’s) with world youth culture, has exploded first in Asia, then Europe, now the rest of the world. PSY’s viral Youtube video (http://youtu.be/9bZkp7q19f0) is just establishing a beachhead for the rest of KPOP which is already here in the US among pockets of youth who like to be different.

If you check out other KPOP groups like 2NE1 or BigBang, you’ll see that it’s only a matter of time -a few months I bet, before their supermegahits from Asia/Europe/Latin America will hit the US with English lyrics which these groups sing without an accent. The difference between now and the 1970’s when Pink Lady showed up on US airwaves with a variety show (with Jeff!) is the weight of social media which clearly outweighs the effect of traditional media which would never have seen/featured/mentioned/played PSY.

What does it mean to have PSY dancing with Al Roker on the Today Show at 30 Rock? What does it mean to have a Korean-American Jersey Shore-type reality show (Ktown – http://youtu.be/2rhDjxDLyjk)? What does it mean to have K-Drama and K-Movies on Hulu and Netflix? Not a clue, but the sudden urge to get my weight down to 150lbs, bleach my hair platinum blond, and go and wear Prada has hit me because I want some of that Gangnam style, and that is the real deal -getting into my head and programming me is something The Killers, Jay-Z, Eminem, Coldplay, Lady Gaga, and Nicky Minaj haven’t been able to do as well as PSY has with the opening scene of his music video (is that a short person or a really talented toddler?).

Now, I must go and dance.

The Millstone:

The Metro Municipal -Highland Park GC

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One of the things about the USGA and GHIN is that you have to be part of a club to register your golf scores. I could join the several Northeast Ohio based golf associations, but it would be nice to just join a club. The problem is that a private club is a considerable commitment of time and money.Image So it was with some joy that I found Highland GC, which is a large 36 hole municipal course. The Red Course is two traditional nine holes that go out and back into the clubhouse, while the Blue Course is an 18 hole track that does not come back for a breather between nines. They are about ten minutes from my driveway, and there is hardly ever a line.

That kind of convenience comes with some compromises. There is no pro shop. There is no driving range. And finally, there is no club for affiliation and registering of scores. It is a municipal golf course and there is a golf egalitarianism that is lost in the rarefied districts of private club golf. In the parking lot, there is an eclectic mix of luxury sedans, beaters, and even a loaded pickup truck. At one time in America, all the different classes mixed in the public sphere, at school, work, and play. This has eroded and you can see it in the economic gerrymandering of neighborhoods and suburbs reflected in their anchor malls and grocery stores. The municipal golf course is the last preserve of the public commons. On the first tee this morning, I saw three groups lined up, Asians, African-Americans, and whites.

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Sadly, they were segregated and rather prickly, being all men of a certain age. If you are in the late fifties and are playing golf on a municipal course with swings that could be good for tree chopping, you worked hard all your life, never got handed anything, and have generally skeptical view of the world. On line, the reviews complain of lack of services, poor conditions, and discrimination (both forward and reverse). Yet even with the apparent race relations of a prison yard, and stiff necked, flinty eyed glare of blue collar pride, golf etiquette prevailed and all the groups let me play through with courtesy and even a little banter about the good weather. And that is the lesson for us all. In golf there is hope.

The African American twosome were the first to let me through. Both had the mien of philosopher kings, ancient wise men, spiritual healers. They clearly enjoyed each other’s company and were in no hurray, and shooed me onwards. The Caucasian twosome were clearly betting on everything that could be bet upon during a round of golf, and seemed to be making bets about me as I played through. They were congenial and courteous. The foursome of Koreans were the most fearsome. They didn’t smile at me when I asked to play through, and I held off speaking in Korean because I thought it might trigger some kind of outburst that could only come from 4 Korean dads, but I overheard them their captain say, let him through in Korean. They watched me tee off in silence and I bid them adieu.

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On the fairway!

The course had its problems -I suspect from lean budgets and a very hot and dry summer. There were dead patches on the greens and fairways, and uneven mowing on both. That said, from the tips, the course was a lot more fun than I could usually expect to get for 35 bucks.

Addendum: found out they mow on Monday. Once mowed, the fairways and greens are very nice. This place is growing on me. Plus, the starter asked me if I was a golf pro or golf writer, which really made my day.