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    Sunday, February 27, 2005

    Vietnamese English Class

    I just received an email from a good friend of mine, Ben Hamatake, aka Phuong, who lives down in Orange County, CA working as a Vietnamese interpreter.

    I served with Phuong as a volunteer missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from October 2000 to December of 2002. After that I returned back to school.

    Phuong sent me this link in the O.C. Register--second in circulation in SoCal behind the LA Times--talking about the ESL school the missionaries are running. (you need to register to view the article--registration's free--or comment and I'll put the text in the comments section).

    I can't begin to express how elated I feel. When I first went to Orange County, the Vietnamese didn't have a lot of options for English schools. THey could go to Coastline CC or some other places, but they always complained to me about the curriculum or the times the classes were offered. Good classes required money--something they didn't have--and teachers couldn't speak Vietnamese. So I spent the first six months of 2001 visiting ESL schools in the area, planning, and drawing up a curriculum. In September 2001, I enlisted the help of the other 11 Mormon missionaries called to serve the Vietnamese people and started "Lop Anh Ngu Mien Phi" (Free English Class). Yes, the name wasn't very original, but the blessing began. Sixty people showed up that first day. Things were hectic. I ran more laps around the church than ever before (we held it at the church).

    I have so many experiences from ESL class I wish I had time to share. Ultimately, before I left and handed over the job of principal to another missionary, we had three successful semesters, with over 250 active students per semester, teaching up to five classes on four different levels (ABC, Beginning, Intermediate, Advanced/Conversation). Our success caused people to open the door and greet us as "you're the guys who teach free english" when we proselyted rather than get the doors slammed in our faces.

    More importantly, I was able to bless the lives of countless Vietnamese-Americans. I made numerous friends who I still keep in contact with, worry about, visit, and chuckle when I receive a letter. I saw men and women, old and young, walk into our class knowing no english, and leave a year later with the ability to converse. I saw smiles on their faces as they told me of better jobs they wanted because of their new ability. When I left for Texas I cried as over 200 students surrounded me to thank me personally for what I and the other missionaries had done.

    Although I started this english school to bless the Vietnamese, it was they who blessed me with countless friends and aquaintences, experiences and memories, abilities to lead, organize, and speak Vietnamese, and most of all a deep and never-ending love for them, their families, and their culture. I changed more than they did, and I thank God every night for the opportunity I had in Southern California.

    Well, needless to say, it's three years later and the class is still going. I hear its a little smaller than it used to be because the missionary-teachers are not as numerous, but they're in the paper so things are going strong. We used to advertise on the radio, paper, and thousands of flyers across Westminster, Garden Grove, and Santa Ana. It looks like things paid off.

    If any readers are down in Little Saigon, drop on by and tell the teachers "hi" from Triet. And if you know someone that wants to learn english, take them too--it's free and its worth every minute.

    Saturday, February 26, 2005

    Yoco College Basketball

    just set up a link to a college bball blog. If you're like me, you probably like watching the pros for some amazing talent, but college bball is the real thing. anyway, the blog's good--check it out on my blogroll.

    Egypt and Democracy

    For awhile I've wondered how many democratic countries there really are in the world. I'm disturbed by all the democracies that have only one party. How do people really voice opinions when they cannot choose? Even North Korea has "democratic" in its name, and I don't think many people would try to argue its government is such a thing.

    so, when I read that Egypt is instituting some reforms, I said yea! Not only that, but egypt is an arab country in the middle east and undoubtably has pressure from islamic fundamentalists and other arab states not to democratize. Maybe this "police action" in Iraq (with which I have had issues) has started the ball rolling down the hill.

    Iraq has had democratic elections, Saudi Arabia has followed suit, Egypt is reforming, and Israel/Palestine are talking about peace. Call me optimistic, but things are looking good. Now if only Iran would follow suit.

    BTK arrested

    lets get things straight:

    1. all the info on Fox's webpage is still hearsay.
    2. innocent until proven guilty

    however, if this is the guy, I'm sighing a huge sigh of relief right now--and I'm not even in Wichita.

    VA approves gay marriage ban

    check this at yahoo! news.

    reminds me of the early 1800s. Studying the civil war has always been a hobby of mine, and I've been a proponent for the states' rights debate since I knew there was one (states' rights v. slavery for the cause of the war). Last year I took a class on the civil war taught from a slavery perspective, and things started to make more sense. I still believe the ultimate cause was states' rights, however, realistically the two go hand in hand because slavery was life for the south and the only thing they cared about enough to excercise the power of a state over the federal govt.

    Now I'm taking a course on slavery in America. Things make so much sense when you pay attention to the years left out of your history books. Like all those years between the constitution and the war of 1812, or between the war and the missouri comp of 1821. Slowly states outlawed slavery on many different bases, some trying gradual emancipation, etc. It went first in those states that didn't have a slave society. So it is now. State by state the union tries to deal with gay marriage. It starts first in those states that don't have many. Or maybe it starts first in those states that have a gay society? That one I haven't decided yet. All I know is I don't think this is going to end with the states. It mirrors the antebellum period of the Civil War too much...

    Wednesday, February 23, 2005

    Berlin Wall

    check out this post at Action-at-a-distance.

    Jacko's Jury

    So, they've found Jacko's jury. My question is this: Will any verdict this jury reaches be forever "asterisked" (to use a MLB term) because there are no african-americans on it?

    Since the premise of our jury system is a trial by our peers, it comes down to the definition of peer. If you mean fellow americans, then he's ok. But if you're going to make that argument, then I think the jury should be 6 men and 6 women, 4 caucasian, 3 african-american, 2 hispanic, and 1 asian, not 4 men and 8 women, and the racial makeup that it is. You should also have an openly gay person, and other minority groups represented.

    OR you go the other way, and he's tried by a jury of his peers--grown-up child stars who own million dollar ranches. That would be an interesting jury...

    I guess my point is that I smell an OJ trial coming on...crazy famous people and the press...

    The Dark Side...

    new galaxies? see Dark matter galaxies.

    Tuesday, February 22, 2005

    Bird Flu

    My wife's family doesn't eat chicken anymore, but properly cooked birds won't kill you. The reason Asia is again dealing with the Bird Flu is because ministries of health refuse to force changes in culture that allow individual families to breed chickens in close proximity to pigs.

    It's not as easy as it sounds, nor am I advocating full sale destruction of SE asian culture, but things need to be done. The flu pandemic of 1919 started in SE asia and killed millions of people. If another one starts...

    Short explanation. the flu comes in three types (A, B, and C). Typically, birds have an avian version of the flu that cannot make humans sick. However, it can make pigs sick. Pigs can get sick from the human flu also. Are you following me? So, A man and his chicken would (usually) never get each other sick. A man and his pig could get each other sick. A pig and his chicken friend could get each other sick. The problem comes when people raise chickens and pigs together. The human strain mixes with the bird strain and makes a new recombinant strain that can infect humans. Now the chicken's flu becomes our flu. So, the simplest way to stop the Asian flu is to stop raising chickens and pigs together. Asian culture doesn't allow that to stop.

    Everyone cross your fingers and hope it doesn't move out of Vietnam.


    Caught this at instapundit.com.

    Women of other universities...

    Well, I did a quick search of the first 100 sites listed on google. For your gee-wiz collection. The University of Miami used to have a swimsuit calendar in 1999, and this year the Oregon universities teamed up for one and two boys at Arizona State University are selling one they made of students. Interesting. I don't think women are meant to be objects, so I'm kinda glad not to many schools have such calendars, but I am surprised. I thought it would be far more prevalent.

    Women of KU

    Well, I was reading this article on Sports Illustrated.com about the top 20 college basketball teams and the writer made mention to the swimsuit issue when talking about Kansas.

    Well, every guy has picked up the magazine for the swimsuit issue--it's almost like a rite of passage for preteenage boys in junior high. Heck, they're supermodels.

    Well, my university doesn't have (and never had) anything like this, but I guess the student body at KU must be exceedingly blessed because they have the Women of KU.

    I put up this post for two reasons. 1) I wonder how many other universities have a similar calendar, and 2) if my school did, I feel confident my wife would be on the cover (yes, I am a lucky man).

    Religion in Vietnam 2

    I wrote the other day about the different sides of Vietnam's religious freedom record. Today my friend sent me this article from the Christian Post that shows more steps Vietnam's government is taking to guarantee religious freedom.

    Although good steps have been made recently, I fear it is "a day late and a dollar short." The Bush administration has a penchant for clamping down hard in the international arena, and is very cozy to the christian right--the group that is most vocal about freedom of religion in Vietnam. [The libertarian in me points out that this is undoubtably because the Protestant churches stand to gain the most in membership, wealth, and influence through a fully open Vietnam.] Both of these trends are bad for Vietnam, because it seems to me highly unlikely that Bush will allow Vietnam to go without sanctions. It's not his style.

    Reasons aside, I am heartened by the additional news that Vietnam is moving forward, but I don't think the US government will lift the CPC designation just yet. I hope that progress continues to be made because I continue to dream of one day returning to a Vietnam embraced fully by the international community.

    Monday, February 21, 2005

    Boy Scouts

    In Harris County, a judge is requesting minors (9-14 yrs old) who are convicted for non-violent misdemeanors, serve six months in the Boy Scouts, attain one rank, and have full support of parents (including taking the child to meetings on time, etc.).

    Although I'm not sure if this is blurring the line between state and private organizations too much, I like the premise. As a former scouter who obtained my eagle, I can attest to the benefits of activity in scouting. I was taught respect, friendship, hard work, love of the outdoors, the importance of service, the importance of mentoring and serving those who you have leadership over, and many other values in addition to what I was taught at home and in church. It served as another facet in molding me into (what I hope is) a responsible adult.

    So, although not everyone has to be a scout, if the BSA is ok with melding their outreach program to help convicted juveniles, then I am all for it. The children will not only be punished for their actions, but may have life changing experiences that will benefit them and their families.

    Saturday, February 19, 2005

    Religion in Vietnam

    Today I received a mass email requesting me to pressure Sec of State Condoleeza Rice to reaffirm the CPC tag on Vietnam.

    Here's what the email said:
    Dear friends,

    Please write Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to urge her to implement "Country of Particular Concern" actions regarding Vietnam. The CPC designation is given to countries that severely violate religious freedom. The Secretary has until March 15th to undertake action.

    For your convenience, following are:

    1/ Sample letter to Secretary Rice
    2/ Press releases from US Commission on International Religious Freedom for background on the issue.

    Thanks and please spread the word!

    This "Country of Particular Concern" is very interesting to me, because you don't here much out of the American government about this. I received the email via Southern California, which we all know is the hotbed for Vietnamese activism. The actual background on the CPC can be found at www.uscirf.gov and click on the press release entitled "Rice required to act..."

    However, on a personal note, my experience being in Vietnam was a very pleasant one. I found that the main Vietnamese religions (Buddhism and Catholicism) were practiced by the citizens. Now, obviously Vietnam has gone through some hard times since 1975 and civil liberties theory is nothing like the United States, but to be fair, I must praise the Vietnamese people and government for the strides they have made to make Vietnam into the jewel of Southeast Asia.

    One example, which can also be found on the uscirf website, is the announcement that Prime Minister Phan Van Khai urged the government to help protestant churches. Obviously Vietnam has many issues on its plate, and religion is one, but not always the most immediately pressing, so it is impressive to me that this statement was made.

    I hope Vietnam can be recognized for the great strides it has made, and supported with the friendship we should have shown it 30 years ago so that eventually more strides will be made in the future.

    Like the viets used to tell me when I was first learning Vietnamese, "tu tu..."

    Libel award

    Now, I don't know much about the intricacies of libel, but it isn't a charge I see prosecuted all that much. My layman's knowledge is that libel is the act of printing harmful things about a person which you know are untrue. Hopefully someone else can shed some light on that definition.

    Regardless, I found this trial in Boston interesting. Sometimes I feel like the media has the ability to say anything they want, lambast public figures, and then say "oops! we thought the letter was real, Mr. Bush!" have someone resign, and keep pushing the envelope. This tells me that maybe, maybe there are limits.

    Serial Rapist

    When reading about Brent J. Brents, I must wonder what this says about the repeat offender theories and our prison system.

    1. we hear that offenders who murder once, commit a sexual offense once, etc. will do it again.
    2. we hear constantly of prison overcrowdings.

    Texas trys to solve it by killing more inmates than any other state. Of course, this statistic is impossible to nail down and can be twisted a million different ways. Texas is the largest state among the lower 48, maybe we're meaner, who knows...

    but that's an aside. a tangent. truthfully, USA prisons are not "correction facilities." I don't see many criminals coming out "changed." Most people who break the law are repeat offenders. This seems to tell me that the system doesn't work.

    What do we do about it?

    In Hmong culture, nothing is worse than losing face. So, as Anne Fadiman says in her book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, if a man steals four bars of gold, the village would parade him through town, taunt him, and order him to repay five bars. This is a successful deterrent against new thefts, and sufficiently punishes and repays the theif and victim.

    I don't advocate doing the same thing in America, but can we learn from this? What is America's culture like? Is there aspects of it that can be used or emphasized to more successfully deter crime and punish a criminal? Let's brainstorm some ideas.

    "Undocumented immigrants"

    doesn't that mean illegal? i dunno. anyway, this looks like it's gonna get ugly. What does this mean for the national debate? Has Bush dropped that one all together? I would like to see some work done to investigate whether or not his promise of naturalizing illegal immigrants already in the US really garnered him the latino vote some pundents said he was looking for.

    Friday, February 18, 2005

    Mosque Bombing

    Today 20 people were killed in mosque bombings. I'm not Muslim, and though I have muslim friends, I don't pretend to understand everything about their religion or culture. Can anyone shed some light on this? According to my occidental values, churches, mosques, pagodas, etc. are sacred, holy places--havens from the fighting. I know the US refused to go into the mosque inhabited by Al Zarqawi last year. Do these bombings fit into the ethos of Islam? How do they relate to current muslim culture? Are suicide bombers in Iraq who bomb mosques viewed as martyrs or murderes by Iraqis? Thanks for any help.

    Thursday, February 17, 2005

    The thrill of the hunt

    I guess I came a day too late. Can anybody fill me in on all the ruckus?? Why the ban on fox hunting?

    Speaking of Diversity...

    Got to school today, went into work and started studying for the MCAT while waiting for my partner. When she showed up, she read me this editorial, from the editor of the student newspaper (not the administration) on BYU fans.

    First, while Brigham Young University is far more diverse than when I first started attending, no student I have ever met (including everyone at work today) argued that it is culturally diverse. The percentage of caucasians at BYU is far higher than any other school I visited before deciding on a college. More important than skin color (as I posted earlier today) is the observation that 90-95% of students are Mormon. This religion is a culture. Although students of other faiths are allowed and encouraged to attend BYU, to say the culture surrounding BYU isn't shaped ultimately by this religion would be wrong. In fact, I would say the BYU culture is extremely different from the rest of America because it is a conglomeration religiously conservative morals and extensive experience living abroad--both Americans living in other countries and international students at BYU. BYUs diversity comes from its international students, which make up a far larger % of other faiths and ethnicities in the student body than other campuses.

    Second, since when can "culturally diverse students" not be BYU sports fans? Last I checked, people outside of the US loved sports too. Especially soccer. And BYU's men's volleyball team, (The volleyball version of the New England Patriots) which has won the national championship 3 times in the last 6 years, is comprised mostly of international students.

    The editorial argues that "while a foreign student may have a love for soccer, for example, he or she loves the game itself and not so much the BYU team." That's absurd. Anybody with a love for the game and an appreciation for the school they attend can put the two together. The author doesn't mention American students that love soccer but don't show up to BYU soccer games. My wife is an international student, and I take offense personally.

    The author comments that
    "the problem is, because of its religious and educational standards, BYU doesn't bring in many Cougar sports loyalists" while "for Tennessee Volunteer fans, knowledge of past football heroes is more important than schoolwork. In Texas, rivalry week hovers on the brink of insanity as dueling Longhorn and Aggie fans taunt and tease back and forth."
    I see ... BYU's fans aren't loyal because they're international students, and those loyal to Cougar sports aren't allowed to enter BYU because they can't live BYU's moral code or meet it's academic standards. Either BYU's education is heads and shoulders above schools like Tennessee and Texas A&M or people who like BYU sports are too dumb to metriculate to college.

    All in all, I'm sick. I may agree that often die hard fans grow up around the college (I grew up in Houston, TX and all my friends were ready to die for either Texas A&M or UT), and that BYU's admissions criteria which gives preference to out-of-state students (Not just international students nor contains extremely high academic standards), may handicap the recruitment of life-long fans. I also know that many young kids are chaffed by BYU students' air of arrogance at their moral lifestyle, a holier-than-thou attitude, and feeling of educational superiority (like this article evinced). These kids choose voluntarily to go to the University of Utah (BYU's arch-rival) because of that.

    But to argue that it's the fault of international students, or BYU's amazing academic standards?? The author of that editorial is proof the second reason is incorrect, and he's disgusted me by arguing the first.


    I was also listening to NPR two days ago and they mentioned the Vioxx/Cox-2 debate again. I’ve already peripherally addressed the issue while talking about Zoloft. Here’s my thoughts on the show.

    Why does the FDA have to add another board to regulate drugs already on the market when there is a board that already does that? Why will we, as taxpayers, have to pay more, for more beauracracy? Why should we think that an agency that couldn’t adequately keep all its ducks in a row before, will now do so with more ducks?

    Drugs already take years to get to the market. Most Americans don’t understand that a drug released in 2005, probably started testing in the early 1980s. There are three phases of clinical trials that probably started about 1990. Testing costs companies like Phizer hundreds of millions of dollars. Cynics would argue that a company would want to hush bad trials so they can get their investment to market and make a killing (bad pun) on patients. However, scientists constantly review colleagues work. The scientific community would conduct their own clinical trials on drugs and realize what was hushed up. Therefore, it’s in a company’s best interest to do things right. They would lose far more money from bad name recognition than waiting awhile for a drug to be released.

    The "oversight" of stroke and heart attacks among users of Vioxx is bad, and things will be done about it. But this is the industry correcting itself, and I don't think we need to add to an already large and glutted government to do what we are doing anyway.

    Senator Robert Frisk

    Last Sunday I saw Sen Frisk interviewed on one of those Sunday-morning news shows. I think it was Meet the Press. Anyway, he said a couple things that interested me.

    1. Sen Frisk expects the Senate to approve Bush’s 2.5 trillion dollar budget, however, they will pick and choose which cuts to approve.
    2. He expects congress to take up the same sex marriage ban this congress—possibly this year if its still a firebrand
    3. He wants (obviously) to get bipartisan support for up or down votes. No more filibustering, no amendment to the constitution.

    Who will win the RACE?

    Besides the reference to Cake's Fashion Nugget album, I liked MGO's comments about "inclusion."

    I have mulled over this question a lot recently. When I applied to universities, I couldn't decide what to do. My neighborhood, in suburban Houston, and the schools I went to, were diverse. Many of my friends came from other ethnic backgrounds. Honestly, when asked the question of race, my first response (if allowed) would have been Texan, and second, American (yes, that's a typical Texan).

    Now life is more muddy. I am applying to medical school, and every school wants my race. Does this mean that if I score a 35 on the MCAT, and someone else scores a 30, we are equal because of our heritage? What does this say in my case, where I don't know what group to put myself in? My skin color is white, but I hate checking that box, because many of my international friends from Spain, Italy, and other parts of Europe have the same white skin I have. My grandmother came over from Denmark when she was 18, learned English, and had a successful carreer in the fashion industry. I consider myself ethnically Danish. I am 25%. People who are 25% hispanic or american indian qualify for scholarships at my university and I don't.

    Don't get me wrong. I am not arguing about their scholarships. My argument is this: I am a second generation immigrant but I don't see scholarships because of my skin color.

    Now I'm even more confused. I have lived for a couple years among the Vietnamese population in Orange County, CA. Before returning to school two years ago, I honestly felt Vietnamese. I lived with them, ate their food, understood their culture. I lived as a Vietnamese-American. I just happened to look Danish. It made me feel odd when Viets would point me out as white. I didn't think of myself this way.

    This makes it harder for my children. My wife is Vietnamese. My kids will be Vietnamese-Danish-Americans. Or is it Danish-Vietnamese-Americans? Do I want them to get into a good college because that school needs to fill a quota, or on their own merit? Does labeling my children Vietnamese-American take away from their rich cultural heritage found on my side of the family or vice versa?

    Sometimes I wish they would stop asking this question all together. After all, my answer is simple: I'm Texan.

    Wednesday, February 16, 2005

    Zoloft doesn't kill grandparents

    I'm supposed to be writing a proposal for my senior thesis, but some articles I need are taking their time reaching my inbox, hence, I am here.

    I am relieved that Americans did the right thing this time. A jury found Chris Pittman guilty of murder for the shooting of his grandparents with a shotgun while they slept. He then burned down their house to cover his crime and stole their car to get away.

    It is hard for a populace that uses drugs so often, yet knows so little about them, to discern what they truly do. Probably all of us have used drugs within the last week, definitely within the last month. We pop a painkiller like acetamenaphin for a headache, take sudafed for congestion and allergies, or bigger things such as zoloft for depression. We are not a society dependant on pills, but one that has integrated them seamlessly into our way of life.

    Even with all this exposure to medicine (the western kind. I could go into a whole other post about non-western medicine and its efficacy) very little of us actually understand what they do. I would venture to say under 5% of people in America knew what a Cox-2 inhibitor was before Vioxx was recalled. Now, probably 1 in 3 adults will recognize Cox-2, more Vioxx, less will know what the problem is. However, the amount of adults that know why a Cox-2 is different than tylenol, i.e. what it really does, is probably still around that 5% mark.

    Nota Bene: For those of you reading this post, I will make you part of that 5%. Cox-2 inhibitors are painkillers designed to block the Cox-2 enzyme. This inhibits the release of prostaglandins that cause pain and swelling--why these are so prescribed for arthritis. This is a crucial enzyme on the pain pathway that allows pain blockage without the detrimental side effects of aspirin (blood thinning, etc.). Other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like acetaminaphen (tylenol), Aspirin, indomethacin (Indocin), ibuprofen (Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) work by inhibiting the Cox-1 enzyme. However, inhibition of this enzyme, like I said earlier with aspirin, may cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, heartburn, blood thinning, and upset stomach in 10-50% of patients.

    The point is that people make a conscious decision to take a medication, and are all too often guilty of not knowing what they take. These medications can alter physiological pathways in the body, even to the point of causing hallucinations, but the onus lies on the taker, who never (except in rare circumstances) relinquishes his or her ability to choose his or her own actions. Anti-depressants like zoloft work in various ways to alter seratonin levels in the brain. This allows the brain to filter out the "bad" instances in life more often (people selectively remember the good times more often) and people are happier. It does not affect the decision making ability of the brain. Chris Pittman may have been a sad, troubled teenager, but the decisions he made that day were entirely his own. Now he will have 30 years to think them over.

    Monday, February 14, 2005

    Sister Dantzel Nelson passes away

    On 12 February 2005, Sister Dantzel Nelson, wife of Elder Russel M. Nelson, passed away unexpectedly in Salt Lake City Utah. Elder Nelson is a world-renowned heart surgeon who pioneered a medical procedure reducing the size of malformed valves thereby restoring efficiency and saving the lives of many people born with the congenital defect. He is know a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    Sister Nelson played the often unrecognized or unappreciated role of wife and mother. She supported him and raised children while he went through medical school, and served in the community on PTA boards and in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

    Elder Nelson said it best just six days earlier, when he said "I have been inspired well by this woman of faith who stood beside me all these years. Blessings that mean the most to me have come because of her." ("FAITH AND FAMILIES," Elder Russell M. Nelson, CES Fireside for Young Adults, 6 February 2005, Brigham Young University

    I think this is a time to remember not only Sister Nelson, but all the women who so often stand silently to the side of their husbands, supporting them and making it possible for great things to come to pass.

    Valentine's Day

    I just want to take a little blogging space today and tell the whole world how much I love my wife. I feel lucky to have known her for two years now--and the last four months (we got married in October) have been the happiest of my life. So, for all y'all out there trying to decide on whether to take the plunge or not, I say find that special someone who is your best friend, who you want to do everything with, and who you'd give up everything for, and go for it. It'll be the best decision you ever make.

    Em oi, anh yeu em mai mai.

    Saturday, February 12, 2005

    Chuc Mung Nam Moi

    Chuc mung nam moi to you too Matt, and all who stumble upon my rants! The BYU VSA party was a great hit last night. We had over 40 people, sang karaoke, ate lots of viet food (banh tet, banh chung, vit quay, v.v.), and played traditional card games like tien len. Wish all y'all could have made it.

    Important: What better way to start out the new year than help a fellow human being. I am leading a project in conjunction with Community Health Connect, a nonprofit organization here in Provo, UT, to create a diabetes awareness program for the Vietnamese. This involves translating manuals, organizing a one-day-a-month education seminar, and advertising. Anyone who would like to help, please contact me. Go to BYU VSA webpage and look up the officers. I am the Service Committee Chair.

    Again, Happy New Year!

    Love in the Philippines

    Knowing the culture, I expected this:
    Valentine's Day Tradition

    however, I was semi-surprised that it's now sponsored by Unilever.

    Happy Valentine's Day!

    Thursday, February 10, 2005

    Vietnamese Student Association

    I'm applying to medical school committee right now, so things are a little hectic.

    However, here's a little update:

    Have a BYU Vietnamese Student Association presidency meeting tonight, 7:45pm MST. Tomorrow, from 6:00pm to 11:30pm is the Tet Festival celebrating Chinese New Year which happened on 9 Feb 05. Chuc mung nam moi!!

    Everyone is invited, bring friends, party hard. We will have lots of food and traditional games. It will be held in room 3328, Wilkinson Center, Brigham Young University. See y'all there!

    Saturday, February 05, 2005


    I hope not....

    Discarded Embryo brings wrongful death lawsuit.

    The Morality of the Vietnam War

    Sorry, Matt's post and my response has got me thinking.

    I am currently writing my thesis on the image of Ho Chi Minh in the American media and how it changed from 1945-1975. It's safe to say I've read a lot about the war, the man, and all the debate that's gone on ever since.

    It is interesting that Roger L. Simon was anti-war and now is not. Over the course of reading possibly hundreds of books and articles on the war, I find myself feeling stronger and stronger that America was in the wrong. The more I read, the more American sins I see. My wife, from Saigon, who came to America five years ago, feels strongly that if Ho Chi Minh would have lived through the war, he would have forgotten communism in return for saving his country from economic ruin.

    I agree. Ho Chi Minh was far and away a nationalist. He admired the American government (even by admissions of government published biographies of the leader during the 1960s) during the 1940s as he fought the Japanese (with CIA help). After declaring independence in 1945, help from America dried up as American leaders started to see him in league with Moscow. Although Ho Chi Minh never advocated requesting Soviet or Chinese help, the political arena became increasingly cold.

    The snubbing of Ho was only the first of many mistakes. Next, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. This should have marked the end of European colonialism in Southeast Asia, but America decided to jump in and support the French. Third, America backed out of the treaty that partitioned Vietnam into North and South entities at the 17th parallel. This basically forced Ho to go to war to unify the country, because when elections were supposed to be held, the US didn't ratify them saying that they could not be fair. It was then and is now generally believed that Ho Chi Minh would have won the elections by a landslide in both North and South Vietnam.

    Once war started, the US backed Ngo Dinh Diem, a former French provincial governor whom the french called "insane" and advised us against backing him. That was mistake four. This split the south into two groups never to be repaired. Ho was now communist, and many brave ARVN and USA soldiers were dying for freedom. Another large portion of the south backed Ho and a unified Vietnam over the atrocities that Diem committed. By the time he was dead, political turmoil was the state of affairs, and Viet Cong resistance in the south was powerful.

    There are numerous more instances where the US bungled things. For this reason, I say we were in the wrong. Not the soldiers, US or ARVN, for they fought for freedom and democracy--just the American government. We had too many chances to get it right and we failed. Looking at the state of affairs after 1975, hyperinflation, reeducation camps, etc., and comparing them to the state of South Korea today, it is easy to see the consequences of our failings. Simon could have a point that we were right in going in to Vietnam. My point is that we could have had a unified democratic Vietnam in 1945, or at least a free South Vietnam in 1975, if we hadn't made so many unexcusable errors.

    It is also worth pointing out, that for most people in the North and South, they just wanted the war to end. Whichever side won was great, if it meant no more death and agent orange. The heartache I have seen in people's eyes as they retell stories of the monstrocities of war is burned into my memory. The children of rice farmers, now grown and begging on the streets because of horrific physical deformities from agent orange and other defoliants are everywhere in Vietnam--visual signs of why we must never let it happen again.

    Truthfully, the debate over culpability in the Vietnam war is irrelevant. What we need to talk about now is how can we take the beautiful country of Vietnam and its great people and heal, rebuild, and envelop in the arms of brotherhood and the international family. We need to talk about the great strides Vietnam has made already--70% of GDP is now from private enterprise since opening the economy in 1997. Vietnam has all the raw materials to be the jewel of Southeast Asia. I hope it does so, for the Viets there and those all around the world.

    Nota Bene: I am currently reading The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. I highly recommend it. It tells the story of a Hmong family in Merced, CA who had an epileptic daughter and the colission of two medical cultures. The Hmong live in the mountains of Lao and Vietnam (I have some good Hmong friends in Sapa, Vietnam), and came to America as refugees like the Vietnamese. Fadiman does a great job at explaining the history of the war, Hmong involvement, the ordeal of trekking from Laos to Thailand to America, and the struggle to adapt once here.

    Vietnamese in Southern California

    Do you know what an almost perfect day could be?? Try waking up in the summer, looking out your window, and seeing Saigon before your eyes. Then you go downstairs and have a large bowl of pho for breakfast. The rest of the day is spent talking to Vietnamese people.

    Ok, so it's vague and you might have a better day, but trust me, that's a great one. I know from experience.

    Matt linked to VietPundit, a new blog by a Vietnamese-American in Little Saigon, Orange County. The Vietnamese in America obviously come in all shapes and sizes. To make a blanket generalization is just that--a stereotype. However, from years of experience talking to thousands of Viets, mostly vets from the war, I find their demeanor quite similar to Vietpundit. Those in the ARVN fought hard for their country, their ideals, and they don't hate the Americans for it. They might regret things, or wish things turned out differently, but we all do that when things don't go our way (I'm doing that about the basketball game I played this morning). I never felt malice or anger in any way, shape, or form geared towards the American soldier from the Viets in So Cal.

    I can't answer for the American Vets. The father of my best friend Dennis Mathews, CEO of Revelation-Interactive, continues to avoid parties on July 4th and New Years Eve. The fireworks don't sit well with him. He never talked to me about his feelings on the war, but my quick five minute summary of walking through the imperial citadel in Hue brought tears to his eyes. I am sure they came from memories too personal to share.

    The anti-war faction in America has always intrigued me. Hence my blog on Thursday, Feb 3rd, from Tran Hung Dao. I have no experience or clue on whether many or most anti-war demonstrators from the time have now reversed their positions.

    I will say this: Every Vietnamese person I met in Vietnam last summer bore NO hard feelings for the American involvement in the war. To a person, they were all incredibly open hearted, generous, and supportive. The "American War," as it's called over there, has left many scars on the land and bodies of its people, but by-and-large their hearts are already healed. I wish we could take a lesson from that.

    Colorado justice system...

    It's things like this that give me contempt for morons in this country and the justice system that all too often allows them to stay morons. Two teenage girls in Colorado decided that instead of going to a dance one weekend, they wanted to bake cookies for their neighbors.

    Two things about this case piss me off.

    First, this woman files the lawsuit. Ok, so the girls were out "late" on the weekend, but since when did 10:30 pm become too late?? Tell that to all the people I met at Raul's last night latin dancing. Or the group of 10 or so of us that watched The Grudge before going latin dancing at 1:00am. Living in a college town, I can assure you our actions were not out of the ordinary nor incredibly late. I pose this question: If instead, one of these girls had gone to the dance, and on the way home was beaten, raped and left for dead, and then crawled to this neighbor's door for help, would this neighbor have filed suit for the shock and possible heart attach she would suffer at seeing a young, 17 year old girl lying bloody and naked on her front porch??

    Second, the court put its "seal of approval" that this type of lawsuit is ok to file by ruling in favor of the plaintiff. The two girls, obviously not acting maliciously, paid the fine and walked off. If it was I, there would be an appeal and countersuit for legal fees. But then, I wasn't nice enough to bake cookies for my neighbors last night. Now nobody in Durango, CO will ever have anything good done for them again. You never know when a surprise washing the neighbor's car will result in $1000 in fines and legal fees. Goodbye to the good ole' fashioned neighborhood where people looked out for each other. A real community.

    Props to the two girls, who should hold their heads up high for doing a good thing and proving to me that they are the more mature of the two parties. I will make a note to never allow my children to do anything nice for our neighbors.

    N.B. fyi, I do have real experience on the service issue. As a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serving the Vietnamese population in Orange County, I would participate in surprise service acts for church members and other aquaintences on a daily basis. The missionary who thought up the idea, Benjamin Hamatake, coined it SWAT: Service Without A Trace. Every time, in two years of serving the Vietnamese, a SWAT was rewarded with a smile, thank you, and stronger bond of love and friendship. Wouldn't it be a great day when Ben's brainchild became commonplace??

    Friday, February 04, 2005

    Ernst Mayr Dies at 100

    So I hear some people have issues with Darwin. His theory of natural selection never said humans came from monkeys (fyi). But he did develop a groundbreaking theory on the rise of species through selection of advantageous character traits. Why this can't mesh with creationism...I dunno...but it's always been my take--call it logical--that an omniscient, omnipotent God could do pretty much anything he feels like. If that's creating the natural laws that govern this world and letting species arise by evolution or selection, so be it. In my opinion he still created them. And if it means he just created them out of thin air, "poof!" then so be that too. I seem to think he mixed both ways--for us microbiologists it's not that far fetched to see God in a white lab coat mixing together dna in a petri dish and waiting for "1000 years" until he opens the incubator and out pops man. Faniciful? yes. But I like the image...

    Anyway, Ernst Mayr was a big man in the field. Read about him here.

    Thursday, February 03, 2005

    We must weaken [the enemy]

    "We must weaken [the enemy] by drawing him into protracted campaigns. When the enemy is away from home for a long time and produces no victories and families learn of their dead, then the enemy population becomes dissatisfied and considers it a Mandate from Heaven that their armies be recalled. Time is always in our favor. Our climate, mountains, and jungles discourage the enemy; but for us they offer sanctuary and a place from which to attack."
    --Tran Hung Dao, 1284

    from Moss, George D. Vietnam: An American Ordeal, 4ed (NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2002), p. 1).

    Tuesday, February 01, 2005

    Teen and Zoloft

    Why is it, that people need an excuse to kill someone around here? Whatever happened to the thousands of years of people killing others because they got angry, or they envied them, or they just plain liked to see them scream? Do psychotics need to be licensed these days?

    In South Carolina a teen is accused of killing his two grandparents with a shotgun. His defense? He was on zoloft. As the resident microbiologist, I will disect for you why this makes my ears bleed when I hear it.

    First, this denotes that Zoloft caused the boy to murder. Drugs act in vary different ways on different people, but leading them by the hand to pull a trigger is not one of them. Some drugs decrease the body's ability to recognize pain (Cox-2 inhibitors, aspirin, acetomeniphen, etc.) and some change serotonin levels. Drugs do this by unpreferrentially targeting a receptor or other molecule and changing the way it is produced, functions, or broken down.

    Second, Zoloft has been shown (like other antidepressants) linked to increased instances of attempted suicide in adolescents. Now, I have always been an advocate for decreased prescription of anti-depressant medication. I feel it has a place in treating disorders, but it is far over used. This plays no role here. Although Zoloft has been linked to increased instances of attempted suicide, the studies are far from conclusive, and while I take it as vindiction on my long-held belief, it is true that the correlation could be highly influenced by something the study did not adjust for--a commonality among depressed children on medication.

    Third, or 2b, suicide, by definition, is the act of killing oneself. Killing oneself is not killing another person as can plainly be seen, so why are we so quick to assume suicidal tendancies, whether drug-induced or not, are equivalent to murderous tendancies? From my experience, everyone I know who deals with depression and has suicidal thoughts or attempts has not made the attempt to murder. Any with that wish or prediliction acknowledge that it comes from other feelings than their depression. And does this mean that every young child who gets angry and says "I'm gonna kill you!" is really struggling with depression??

    Fourth, the accused had a history of mental illness, including being put on suicide watch before taking medication. If we make the logical jump that suicide and murder go hand in hand (which I said they don't), then obviously this kid was contemplating murder far before the effects of zoloft entered his body. If we accept my previous arguments, than we see that his suicide watch indicates already fluctuating temperament and his fighting on the bus evinces a pugilistic attitude inherent in the teens nature.

    Sounds to me like this teen, with a combination of anger issues and immaturity, just made a stupid mistake, and now he will pay for it.