Thursday, March 26, 2015

an email from a student

I've been asking my students to give me periodic feedback about the class during mandatory consultation sessions. I told them they had to do three consults with me: once during the Week 1-5 period, once during the Week 6-10 period, and once during the Week 10-15 period. At least one consult would have to be face-to-face; the others could be via text or email.

So here's part of an email I just received tonight:

At first, I was difficult this class because students should talk in English. So, I was nervous in class. But This class has different format with other class like Round-robin format, Team play style ,, Thus, I could participate in class more and more. And now I enjoy this class.*

Cut the girl some slack: she's a Level 1 student, so this wasn't a bad effort when put in perspective. I've once again got the students doing round-robin work (per what I did in Daegu, not what I did last semester at Dongguk's Seoul campus—last semester was primarily team teaching, with the round-robin format being used only twice the whole semester), and they all seem to be enjoying it. Time passes faster; the classes are noisy, and the kids are speaking nothing but English (barring a few exceptions) for 90 minutes straight. I'm still convinced this is an awesome method, and I'd be proud to let any colleague walk around my class, watching how on-task and focused my kids are.

I'm hoping that the mandatory consultations will alleviate some of the end-of-semester shock and bitterness when grades come out: students get upset, I think, because they're surprised at their own grades, and they're surprised at their own grades because they don't fucking bother to check on their grades throughout the semester. It's a mess of their own making, really, but we teachers pay the price in our evaluation scores. "Tanj," as Larry Niven's Known Space characters are given to saying: There Ain't No Justice.

This girl who wrote in isn't the only one to express pleasure at using the round-robin approach. All the students in all my classes were smiling and laughing and clapping: their energy was self-sustaining, and it all happened with little to no intervention from me. All I did was provide the format for the interaction.

I've got one more round-robin day planned for this semester, then two team-teaching days on the calendar (keep in mind that these are three-hour classes that meet only once per week, so I see the kids only sixteen times). I sort of wish I'd planned for more round-robin days, but the calendar is already set, like it or not.

*A cleaned-up version of the student's email might read as follows:

At first, this class was difficult for me because students had to talk in English, which made me nervous. But we also used different [learning] formats from [those in] other classes, with things like the round-robin method, team teaching, and so on. I found I could participate more and more, and now I enjoy the course.


heavy, the leader's burden

One of my female students wanted to talk to me about something that had been troubling her, so after class I sat down in our building's clean, streamlined second-floor lounge, which doubles as my "office," and we talked. I had divided all my classes into teams, and my student—we'll call her Daisy—was one of the team captains. According to Daisy, one of her team members isn't pulling his weight, and she wasn't sure how to handle the situation.

We talked a bit about leadership; I asked her whether she wanted to step down as captain, and she said no. I asked her how she had become the team leader; in many cases, with Korean students, it's often just a matter of who wins or who loses at rock-paper-scissors. In Daisy's case, she said her team had selected her. "And you said yes," I said. She nodded. "But you could've said no," I pointed out. She nodded again, now fully aware that she was responsible for her own situation. I wasn't about to let her off the hook.

I told Daisy that a good leader needs to communicate clearly with his or her team members, making expectations explicit from the beginning and not being satisfied with anything less. I said this might not make her many friends, but it's a risk you take when you manage people. I told her that she didn't need to be nasty when dealing with a slacker, but she would need to be firm. Lastly, I told her that, if the slacker kept giving her problems, she should tell me.

I was secretly worried, the entire time we were talking, that Daisy was going to break down and cry, but she turned out to be made of sterner stuff, which was a relief. I told her that she needed to get to know her team members—find out what each was good at and start to exploit those skills. At the same time, she needed to figure out who she was so she could come to know her own leadership style. Some leaders are loud and strong, I noted, while others are quiet and thoughtful. But all good leaders are decisive, have a plan or a vision, and act with confidence. Daisy looked down at her feet when I mentioned the confidence thing. She doesn't see herself as particularly charismatic, and I could see that, for her, growing a spine was going to be a painful process. I wanted to give the poor kid a hug, but that would have been patronizing.

In the end, the most practical advice I could give Daisy was "come see me" if her lazy team member kept slacking and/or giving her shit. I joked that she should think about asking some ajumma on the street for advice: Korean ajummas don't take crap from anyone, perhaps because they realize that life is short and one's precious moments shouldn't be wasted either being weak or dealing with the weak.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"The Grand Budapest Hotel": a very brief review

I'm going to keep this short because so much has already been said about "The Grand Budapest Hotel." Suffice it to say that I'm not a fan of Wes Anderson's over-quirky and affectless approach to movie comedy,* but various sources, including my friend Steve Honeywell, had described "Hotel" as the least Anderson-y of Anderson's films, which might make for tolerable viewing. I elected to take that bet. Long story short: I enjoyed "Hotel" and thought Ralph Fiennes gave a marvelous performance. The language of the script was charmingly anachronistic (phrases like "get it" and "fucking faggot" didn't strike me as particularly 1930s in tone); the use of F. Murray Abraham as the old narrator of the framing story recalled Salieri in "Amadeus"; Willem Dafoe's hilarious turn as a demented killer evoked his Bobby Peru from "Wild at Heart." And I think I've figured out what makes "Hotel" so much less Anderson-y than Anderson's other films: the man was channeling the Coen brothers. No other review has mentioned this, but I thought "Hotel" was thoroughly infused with a Coenesque sensibility redolent of the noir-zaniness of "Raising Arizona"—but with a painting instead of a baby as the object of desire. Anderson did something this time around that he's failed to do in his other comedies: he made his characters human. That was a relief.

*Anderson isn't alone in this: a lot of indie films these days seem to think there's something funny about having characters who deliver their lines in the plodding, emotionally detached, expressionless manner of not-yet-rotten zombies. It's a sad state of affairs when soporific performances take the place of actual verve and real wit. I blame German and East European cinema for exporting this aesthetic, and I blame stupid young American directors—as well as veteran American directors, like Anderson, who should know better—for seeing value in it.


Sorted Food sorts out a mystery

Behold, I shew you a mystery...
—I Corinthians 15:51

I've taken to watching the Sorted Food channel on YouTube. This is an online show involving a gaggle of twentysomething British guys who cook, do a lot of painfully corny ad lib, and interact with their viewers. The guys occasionally read viewer mail, which comes in via Twitter and other channels. In one episode, a fan wrote in to explain why, in a container of granular materials, the larger granules always end up on top. As it turns out, it's through a dynamic called granular convection, which partially solves the mystery I had encountered in this long-ago post I'd written about feta cheese. So happy to have that (partially) solved.


punctuating "I wonder"

When you start a sentence with "I wonder," you're making a declaration about your state of mind. Because it's a declaration, it's a not a question, so don't use a question mark.

WRONG: I wonder how he is?
RIGHT: I wonder how he is.

Think of it this way:

JACK: Is there a God?
JILL: I wonder.
JACK: You wonder what?
JILL: I wonder whether there's a God, silly.

Jill's just declaring her state of mind. It would have made no sense to punctuate either of her lines with a question mark.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Distressing news from one of my best friends means I'm not posting anything meaningful tonight. Sorry.


Monday, March 23, 2015

"The Overnighters": review


Commenter John from Daejeon thought I should see what he described as "my favorite film of 2014," a documentary titled "The Overnighters." John writes in the comments:

Kevin, if you get a chance, please watch my favorite film of 2014, "The Overnighters," especially as it deals with religion and religious hypocrisy. I'd like your take on this modern, real-life "Grapes of Wrath" movement to the oilfields of North Dakota and the impact on the local community as well as those trying to better their lots in life.

This film ought to be required viewing in my book as it would spark a lot of uncomfortable, but necessary, conversation that most religious people prefer to avoid while they act as if these problems don't exist which writes off huge segments of fallen people that no longer fit their definition of humanity.

Personally, I can't wait for a sequel now that Saudi Arabia has flooded the world with cheap oil and caused frackers to [lay off] much of their North Dakota work force in those holier than thou communities.

Anyway, don't let those 2-percenters on Rotten Tomatoes scare you off. It still scored 5% better than "Birdman's" 93%.

So I sat down and watched. The documentary is about one pastor's attempts to help the workers—mostly men—flooding into the town of Williston, North Dakota, in search of oil-related work after the news gets out that fracking has caused an oil boom there. Jay Reinke, late-50s husband and father, is the pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston, and he has opened his church's doors (not to mention its parking lot) to the neverending stream of people looking for a place to stay while they pursue what they hope will be a six-figure salary working out in the oil fields. Reinke sees himself as building a community, and he even gives this growing flock of possibly transient laborers a label: The Overnighters. As will become obvious, though, most of these folks won't be staying for only a single night.

Reinke's decision to help the newcomers causes strain on several fronts: his own congregation is upset at how these new arrivals are altering church life; the city is expressing concern as to whether safety codes are being violated by men sleeping on cots inside the church or in their cars in the church parking lot (and elsewhere in town); the arriving men, not all of whom are mentally stable, are themselves sources of conflict; the local journalists are hunting for any whiff of a scandal as they stoke the townspeople's fears that there are sex offenders among the laborers; Reinke's own family is given short shrift as the pastor feels obliged to spend more and more of his time managing his church and hosting these people, who would otherwise be homeless without him. Then suddenly, in the final quarter of the film, Reinke reveals something about himself that causes everything to collapse—right at the same time that the city decides to move against him.

It's a depressing movie, and it's bound to leave a person with very mixed feelings. Reinke himself comes off as human and horribly flawed. The men coming to town with dollar signs in their heads and fantasies about picking up high-paying work within 48 hours are quickly brought back to earth by the harsh reality of life in Williston: there's competition for those oil jobs, and all the employers are doing background checks, so not everyone can get the much-sought-after hookup. Several of the men that Reinke tries to help are former addicts and/or felons, and the documentary shows what happens to their relationship with Reinke when they either fall off the wagon (as happened with one of Reinke's closest assistants at the church) or fail to reveal certain facts about their legal history when applying for work (as happened with one gentleman that Reinke hosted in his own home). In such cases, Reinke has little choice but to cast such errant sheep out of the fold; this makes for very unpleasant viewing.

If we take the documentary as a character study about Reinke himself, it's fair to ask just how sympathetic a character he is. Director Jesse Moss manages to catch some uncomfortably private moments throughout the film, and it becomes obvious that not everyone around Reinke views him as a man of warmth, honesty, and integrity. Reinke himself, both at the very beginning of the movie and at its end, notes that there's a disparity between his public and private selves—something he attributes, at the start, to the demands of being a minister but which, by the end, may in reality be more a function of his own tendency to hide certain discomfiting truths from others.

The local church, Concordia Lutheran, doesn't come off looking all that compassionate, either. Its members' feathers are quickly ruffled by the presence of these big, burly guys sleeping in the sanctuary, in the hallways, and in the multipurpose rooms. Members are leaving as a result, and the next rung up in the local Lutheran hierarchy gets called in, at one point, to mediate the congregation's inner conflict. Complaints revolve around claims that the workers' cell phones go off during the services, that the workers themselves tend to slouch or otherwise act uncouth at worship time, and that their presence is a general nuisance that's causing the cohesiveness of the main congregation to fray. Pastor Reinke listens to these complaints with patience and aplomb, wondering aloud about what, exactly, is so provocative about granting mere floor space to those in need of a place to stay a while. "Who is my neighbor, and how can I serve him?" is Reinke's refrain.

In the end, several factors come together to undo the entire Overnighters program. One dogged journalist (or so it's implied) publicly reveals the fact that Reinke is hosting a known sex offender in his own home (Reinke and his family all claim to feel safe around this man); the city declares that Concordia Lutheran is in violation of certain safety codes even as Williston mulls a ban on RVs in various parts of town; Reinke's right-hand man falls off the wagon (meth), gets ejected from the flock, and declares himself Reinke's enemy from now on. On top of all that, as the film is about to draw to a close, Reinke confesses that he's been hiding his homosexuality for years. He expresses sadness about what all of this means for his family; we, as viewers, now perhaps shocked and flabbergasted, can't help but wonder what the past two years were all about after this glimpse into Reinke's deepest soul.

Thus does the world implode around Jay Reinke. The Overnighters is dead as a program, and the pastor himself has deeply wounded his family and lost his congregation (he ends up resigning his ministry). Reinke himself is no sex offender and no pervert: he's simply a closeted gay man who is finally outing himself. The moment he confesses all this to his wife is hard to watch, and I'm not sure whether to congratulate or excoriate the documentary's director for pointing his camera's unblinking eye right at that moment and not looking away. I can tell you that I sure as hell wanted to look away; Reinke's wife doubtless felt betrayed on multiple levels. (The film leaves unresolved the question of whether the Reinkes got divorced or chose to forge ahead as a family. We also don't have the chance to witness the children's reactions to Reinke's difficult confession.) I suppose cynics will claim to be unsurprised by Reinke's revelation; if you're already predisposed to seeing clergy as somehow sexually suspect, then I guess Reinke's self-outing merely confirms your prejudices.

The documentary provides us with no simple answers, which may be why dedicated commenter John from Daejeon liked this film as much as he did. What is the church? In Williston, is it a force for good or a source of contention and strife—a haven for sex offenders and other criminals? Who is Pastor Reinke? Is he a hero who tried to help his neighbor, or is he a glory-seeking, egomaniacal liar with a hidden agenda? I'm with John on this one: "The Overnighters" is an excellent, must-see documentary. It's hard to watch, hard to fathom, and it presents humanity in all of its bizarre, paradoxical, frustrating, noble, and base complexity.

According to Box Office Mojo, the documentary—which has won some prestigious awards—has made barely $110,000 in American theaters. It won't be seen by many. It won't have the impact that the director might have been seeking. Then again, with the movie's message so open to interpretation, it's hard to know what sort of impact the movie would have had if it had managed to garner a wider audience.

ADDENDUM: check out this Buzzfeed article as well; it gives more background on Moss, Reinke, and the movie. Justin Chang's perceptive review for Variety is here.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

on "Whiplash": two different takes

My friend Steve Honeywell reviewed "Whiplash" (JK Simmons, Miles Teller) not too long ago. Gord Sellar also wrote a review of the movie. Both reviews are definitely worth your while, especially because both Steve and Gord say that "Whiplash" is of personal relevance: in Steve's case, this is because he's a teacher who happens to have two daughters involved in the arts (as dancers); in Gord's case, this is because Gord is an experienced saxophonist who knows more than a thing or two about jazz. Neither review comes out particularly positive about the movie, but it's obvious that the movie elicited strong reactions in both cases, which means that it engaged both Steve and Gord on some level. I admit I'm curious and want to see the movie, but after reading both reviews, I consider myself to have been duly warned.


vocative or appositive?

English is wonderfully ambiguous at times. To wit:

This is my friend, Sherlock Holmes.

If I said the above line, would I be (1) introducing a friend named Sherlock Holmes to an unknown interlocutor, or (2) introducing Sherlock Holmes to an unknown interlocutor who is a friend? The first option is appositive; the second is vocative.

In all likelihood, (1) is the more probable option because, had I been addressing Sherlock directly, it's doubtful I would have called Sherlock by his full name: addressing someone by his or her full name sounds unnatural. But that unnaturalness aside, it's conceivable that I might address my friend as "Sherlock Holmes," and if it's conceivable, then the appositive/vocative ambiguity legitimately exists.

When we speak of appositives, we're talking about expressions—usually phrases—that serve an adjectival function: they add a bit of information to a statement or other locution. Sometimes appositives are accompanied by commas; sometimes they aren't.

My best friend Mike is a budding terrorist.

In the above sentence, Mike is an appositive that adds information to the subject, i.e., the noun phrase My best friend. However, I could just as easily have written:

My best friend is a budding terrorist.

—and you'd have understood pretty much everything you needed to know about me and my best friend. Upshot: the appositive Mike, in this case, adds little to nothing to the core content of the sentence, so there's no need for commas. Here's a slightly different case:

Coriolanus Snow, the president of Panem, stared at Katniss with his cold, dead eyes.

The power relationship between Snow and Katniss doesn't come out unless you somehow emphasize that Snow also happens to be the president of the land in which Katniss is a rebellious citizen. This makes the appositive the president of Panem mightily important, which is why we set it off with commas.

Sometimes the comma/no-comma choice comes down to a question of style and/or emphasis. Going back to the "Mike" example:

1. My best friend Mike is a budding terrorist.
2. My best friend, Mike, is a budding terrorist.

I've already affirmed the correctness of (1), but (2) is also arguably correct if you, as the writer, deem it important that the reader know your friend's name is Mike. The point here is that (1) is not incorrect, so don't let anyone tell you it is. By extension, the "Sherlock" sentence that began this post can be rewritten without any commas at all:

This is my friend Sherlock Holmes.

And that's clearly appositive.

So much for appositives, which sometimes use commas. By contrast, vocative expressions, which involve addressing or calling people (hence the voca), always take commas, and I've ranted on them before, so I won't go into them again here.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

one happy asshole

Fiber: FOUND! I thought about ordering fiber capsules from iHerb again, but the inconvenience of ordering overseas, coupled with how goddamn long iHerb took last time (over 20 days), made me think twice. During tonight's trip to the local Costco, however, I found the above Kirkland (Costco's house brand) fiber supplement. Having just tried a few spoonfuls of it, I have to say that it doesn't seem as good as Metamucil (psyllium fiber) going in, but the real proof is what happens when something is going out.

We'll know more tomorrow. Oh, yes, Precious. Yes, we will.


publiez ou périssez

People I know both well and marginally are publishing. Jeff Hodges will soon release his second novella (I learned my lesson after calling such a narrative a "short story" last time—never again!); my friend Young Jin Chun has published his autobiographical novel; Peter at Conscious Entities just announced the publication of his work on philosophy of mind, and one of Jeff Hodges's acquaintances, Mark Russell (whom I might know as well, if it's the same Mark Russell that I'm thinking of) has just published a young-adult fantasy-adventure story titled Young-hee and the Pullocho—not exactly a title that's going to grab an audience unacquainted with Korea and Korean culture ("What the hell is a pullocho and why should I care?"), but it might snag people with a measure of curiosity and a sense of mystery.

I read the first few pages of Russell's novel with keen interest because I've been thinking about writing something in a very similar vein. I might buy Russell's book—which is written in a fast-paced and engaging manner, as befits a children's story. Now if it turns out that Russell has written exactly the sort of story I've been wanting to write, well... then he'll have stolen my fire, and I'll have to think twice about writing. I'm already a little distressed to see that a possible villain in the story is a dokkaebi, a Korean goblin—the very creature that I had thought of making the villain in my own story. And in just a few pages, Russell also manages to show that he's very conversant with Korean mythology, ascribing powers and properties to supernatural folkloric beings that are consistent with Korean perceptions of those beings. It was an impressive, and intimidating, first fifteen pages, but those pages have almost inspired me to make the purchase. Frustratingly, Russell's book isn't available as an e-book.

Note to Charles: Young-hee might be a book you'd be interested in as well, given its ties to folklore and its casual mix—from the get-go—of modernity and the magical (if I recall correctly, you once said you enjoyed stories that combine the mythical and the modern). Russell has obviously made an effort to make this a very specifically Korean story, which I applaud, even though I'm still worried about how marketable that title is.

All these folks, with their stories and books, are lighting a fire under my ass and forcing me to consider focusing on writing the story I have in me. If I don't write my own story, I might wither and die, so it's publish or perish for sure.


multiple missions

When you suddenly have money, the desire to spend is overwhelming. I'm going to go about today's spending spree in as un-spree-like a manner as possible so as not to hemorrhage cash, but there are some essentials that I need to buy.

1. A trip to the local Daiso to buy a couple extra wastebaskets. This will make it easier for me to sort my recycling inside my studio so that, when I dump the recycling into the containers outside, they'll already be separated into their predetermined categories.

2. A trip to the local Home Plus to buy a memory-foam mattress pad. My bed is nice, but it's a little hard. It could stand a bit of softening, and memory foam strikes me as the way to go. Also, my elastic-banded mattress cover is loose right now, like a large condom on a small dick, so a little extra volume might make the bed feel better about itself.

3. A trip to Costco to grab some slabs of meat and other groceries for the coming week.

That's going to take a good part of my day. I've got prep to do after that, and if I have time, I might also go do some walking. (Or running.)


at least I made it look halfway pretty

Feast your eyes:

Alas, the dish looks better than it tasted. They say the key to good cooking is good ingredients, and that was certainly the case here. This was my first attempt at making an old favorite dish of mine, shrimp-and-chicken curry. The curry that I'd bought from the local grocer, though, turns out to be from New Jersey (Joizy!), and it sucks. I had to use dried basil because my own basil plants are growing so damn slowly that they won't be ready for weeks. So that sucked. The frozen shrimp that I used were the tiny, wimpy, flavorless kind; they also sucked. I used duyu (soy milk) instead of coconut milk, and that sucked... or at least it wasn't all that helpful. Oh, yeah—see those peas? They sucked as well. Those are typical Korean peas, which means they're hard as pebbles and just as flavorless.

I really need to get a sack of good old American-style frozen peas. Fresh basil, fresh ginger, real Indian curry, and a brace of well-hung shrimp would also be nice.


Friday, March 20, 2015

it's all coming together

As much as I rail against expats who come to Korea and refuse to make efforts to understand or involve themselves in Korean culture, I admit that I have my own ways of channeling America into my life in Korea—of constantly reaching back to the homeland when I get sentimental... which happens more often than I'd like to admit.

So today, I decided to attempt the not-so-reliable We Make Price once more to order myself a most coveted item: a slow cooker. I'd racked my brains trying to figure out how one says "slow cooker" in Korean, and my early attempts dug up the phrase "slow rice cooker," i.e., neurin bapsot (느린 밥솥). Go to Google Translate, and you'll see that "느린 밥솥" translates to "slow cooker." Look "느린 밥솥" up online, and you'll find that such an item is indeed listed in one dark corner of China's ginormous Alibaba website (Alibaba is several orders of magnitude more ponderous than; it's sometimes hard to wrap one's mind around how truly huge the Chinese market is, given its 1.4 billion potential customers). Granted, it's possible that the Korean title in that Alibaba entry may itself merely be a Google-ized translation of the term "slow cooker," but my point is that the term is out there and in use, like it or not.

However, a second foray into correct terminology netted me the Korean term seul-lo kukeo (슬로우 쿠커), which is merely the hangeul rendering of "slow cooker." A light went off in my head, and I typed "슬로우 쿠커" into We Make Price's search engine. Et voilà: where "느린 밥솥" had failed to produce search results on WMP, "슬로우 쿠커" succeeded, and the site showed me exactly the sort of slow cooker I've been wanting to buy. WMP is selling a tiny 6-liter cooker and a more impressive 8-liter one; I chose the bigger one, which was selling for a fairly reasonable price of thirty-something dollars.

In the States, Costco sells gigantic packs of pork-sirloin tip roast. In the Korean Costco, this exact cut doesn't exist, but to my delight, I discovered that the local grocer's meat counter sells enormous hunks of deung-shim (등심), which is also sirloin, and just fatty enough to make the meat tastier at the tail end of the slow-cooking process. A single slab of that sirloin will set me back about W17,000, which isn't bad when you consider that galmaegi-sal (also a cut of solid, boneless pork) sells for W17,000 per 500 grams at the restaurant Seorae. The local grocer also, bizarrely enough, sells legitimate, American-style packs of full-size flour tortillas, so all the ingredients for a decent pulled-pork barbecue quesadilla are coming together. I can get the meat, tortillas, and jalapeños at the local store; I can buy the requisite cheddar or jack at Costco, along with a huge bottle of good ol' Amurrican barbecue sauce. (My own favorite brand is the luscious Sweet Baby Ray's, but I don't think that's on sale anywhere near me. Maybe I could find it in Itaewon...?)

None of this is good for the waistline, but it's all good for my sanity. So as much as I dump on expats who wall themselves off from Korean culture through their own food joneses, music, and general lack of curiosity about Korea's inner workings, I can at least understand the sanity thing. I'd go nuts if all I had to eat was Korean food.


"The Judge": review

I wanted to like "The Judge," which stars the great Robert Duvall alongside another capable Robert—Robert Downey, Jr. But at every turn the movie, like its eponymous main character, did its damnedest to make itself unlikable. Duvall plays hard-nosed veteran judge Joseph Palmer, and Downey plays his hotshot-lawyer son Hank. The two have had a stormy relationship since Hank's childhood, and now Hank's mother, the judge's wife, has just died and the judge has apparently gone out and hit someone with his old Cadillac. The movie's two major plots center on the elder Palmer's trial and on Hank's still-contentious relationship with his father. There's also Hank's relationships with his siblings, his ex-girlfriend, and his young daughter, who is caught in a custody battle involving Hank and Hank's soon-to-be-ex-wife.

There was enough grist here for a good family-cum-courtroom drama to justify the nearly 150-minute running time, but the movie waffled the dramatic possibilities that the story offered and came off as surpassingly strange: the music was too lighthearted (it often reminded me of the score for "Scent of a Woman," and sure enough, it turns out "The Judge" was indeed scored by the selfsame Thomas Newman); the editing was weirdly paced, and the tone wavered drunkenly between tearjerker and comedy (with a naughty whiff of incest thrown in for good measure). I know this has been said about many a mediocre film, but "The Judge" couldn't decide what sort of movie it wanted to be; it found its footing only in the last five minutes—by which point it was too late to salvage the narrative.

It's a shame to have that much raw acting talent on screen and to see it squandered by poor direction, editing, and scripting. I don't question the premise of the film, but "The Judge" felt like a textbook case of over-Hollywoodizing what must have been, originally, a fairly decent story. Sorry, but I can't recommend this movie, which was too long to boot.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

la faute

An error, spotted in this awesome article on a revolutionary new 3D-printing device:

To save your life, a surgeon will first insert a tube, and carefully guide it through the clog.

If you guessed that the error was the second comma, you'd be right. The rule is: don't use a comma in a compound predicate. Some people blithely believe you can put a comma just about anywhere because "a comma marks a pause," which is an odious—and often erroneous—intuition, given its dangerous fuzziness (as when people alter sentences because something "doesn't sound right").

SIMPLE PREDICATE: Johnny came in.

COMPOUND PREDICATE: Johnny came in and sat down.

The and signals the arrival of a second verb that is also linked to the sentence's subject. Both verbs operate with equal force; there's no need to introduce a comma, which inadvertently makes it looks as though you're trying to write a list of actions.

RIGHT: Johnny came in and sat down.
WRONG: Johnny came in, and sat down.

You might think the comma could somehow sneak in there to mark a dramatic pause, but if it's a dramatic pause you seek, go with an em dash or even an ellipsis:

Johnny came in—and stared in horror at the bloody corpse on the floor.

Johnny came in... and stared in horror at the bloody corpse on the floor.

Stylistically, both of these are superior to a comma. Now look at this:

Johnny came in, and he sat down.

The above isn't an example of a compound predicate. It's a compound sentence: two independent clauses joined, in this case, by a comma-and locution. Note that there are two subjects (Johnny and he), each with its corresponding verb (came and sat, respectively).

Let's stray a little bit further into comma-related murkiness. Normally, you use a semicolon to separate two independent clauses; mistakenly using a comma in such a situation results in the dreaded comma splice.

WRONG: Johnny came in, he sat down. (comma splice)
RIGHT: Johnny came in; he sat down.

Semicolons can also pop up when used as "supercommas" in lists where items in the list have commas embedded in them:

For the party, I'm inviting Jack, my boss; Tom, my best friend; Lucy, his wife; and Mary, her sister.

Were I to use nothing but commas, (1) there'd be a bit of grammatical awkwardness at the very end of the sentence, and (2) it would seem as though I were inviting twice as many people as I'm actually inviting to the party.

But sometimes a comma can be used instead of a semicolon to separate independent clauses, and this is the only such exception I can think of. It's a bit of a writerly trick:

We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!
—Bill Murray, "Ghostbusters" (1984)

Bill Murray's triumphant riff off Caesar's Veni, vidi, vici is an example of a technique called tricolon, in which a speaker speaks in threes ("of the people, by the people, and for the people"). Clauses in tricolon aren't bound by typical punctuation rules. What's more, because it lumps three independent clauses together with no coordinating conjunctions between them (and, but, or, etc.), Murray's utterance is also an example of asyndeton: a chain of related clauses with no conjunctions between the links of the chain.* Thus the clauses really do become mere items in a list, so using a comma is perfectly justifiable.

I could go on, but I think that's enough punctuation nonsense for today.

*From here: "Asyndeton uses no conjunctions and separates the terms of the list with commas. [It differs] from the conventional treatment of lists and series..."


prescriptivism/descriptivism: a warmup

My Aussie e-friend Rory Daly (follow him on Twitter here), long absent from the blogosphere after a recklessly awesome beginning years ago, is back in action with a new website called East Edit, one arm of which contains a blog wherein Rory and his lovely spouse Minnie dispense des perles de sagesse on writing. East Edit also happens to be Rory's company. Based in Brisbane, EE provides services in writing/editing, Web writing, copywriting, and "legalese to plain English." (That last service sounds rather dangerous, given that you never want to misinterpret the language of, say, an important contract.)

If you followed the comment thread of this recent post, you saw that Rory and I don't see eye-to-eye about certain linguistic matters, and he made reference to this disagreement on his own blog in a recent post of his own, writing:

I’ve been having a lively conversation with my friend Kevin, around the merits of certain grammatical rules. I seemed to have ended up in the descriptivist camp, while Kevin is representing the prescriptivists.

Of course, the delineation is never that simple. I think there’s more of a spectrum, with ‘do whatever you want’ at one end, and ‘thou shalt not’ at the other. Within that spectrum, I’m possibly more on the descriptivist side than Kevin, but will still venture deeply into prescriptivist territory, depending on the subject, the day of the week, and how much sleep I have had.

Based on Rory's description of his own position, I just don't see him as antipodal to me. So this is the comment that I wrote him in response to his post:

I've been accused of prescriptivism before, and it's a charge I deny. I'm a stickler, for sure, even a grammar Nazi—but if the descriptivist maintains, thanks to observation, that languages naturally change and evolve, well, I agree with that implicitly. In fact, I consider it trivially true. Of course languages change: all phenomena do. But does this mean there are no rules, or that "it's OK to ignore Rule X (because I say so while numerous experts around me disagree)"? No: I think a happy medium between the "de" and the "pre" is achievable, and I'd like to think that I inhabit that space.

As any Buddhist after Nagarjuna can tell you, there are two truths at work at the same time, in language and in everything else: there's Form (conventional truth) and there's Emptiness (ultimate truth), and you can't have one without the other. Emptiness, the formless, is knowable and deducible only through Form. Language evolves, and this is undeniable, but the other undeniable truth is that language is woven together with strong thews of structure, logic, and tradition, all of which contribute to any given language's robustness over time. A language's structure and its antistructure—its order and its chaos—operate simultaneously. Knowing this, I couldn't possibly be a full-on prescriptivist. Sure, I have prescriptivist sympathies, but I too believe that there are archaic rules that can be tossed. The difference between you and me, as far as I can tell, is that you're willing to toss some of those rules earlier than I am. So it's more a matter of timing than a question of deep differences in philosophy. I mean, hey: this website of yours purports to speak with some authority on English usage. That's a prescriptivist sentiment, however subtle and veiled. In the end, we're not so different, you and I. And you're right, in this blog post, to point out that the prescriptivist/descriptivist dichotomy hides a more complex reality.

Anyway, I'm still planning on writing that massive piece on this very topic, but I can't say when it'll be out. In my mind, the essay keeps growing and growing, which doesn't make starting it any easier.

As I wrote, all of this is prep for a large article I hope to excrete sometime soon, in which I tackle the whole prescriptivism/descriptivism issue with a thesis that you may or may not find surprising. Meanwhile, I'd like to remind the people who think I'm a prescriptivist that I've shown myself not to be such, even if the context wasn't explicitly language-related. Go back and read my repost on "The Christmas tree is a pagan symbol!" to see what I mean. In that debate, I take the "tree is pagan" people to be the stodgy prescriptivists, conflating current meaning with original meaning ("The tree was originally pagan, therefore it's currently pagan!"). I, by contrast, maintain that meanings change through such acts as appropriation (currently a swear word in modern liberal discourse, which goes to show how goofy some liberals can be—as if appropriation weren't always occurring everywhere). My position on the Christmas tree's significance aligns more closely to a descriptivist outlook than to a prescriptivist one. A different post of mine also highlights my descriptivist leanings as I discuss the word decimate, which originally meant "destroy the tenth part of," but which now means "utterly destroy." That same post talks about changes in the meaning of nice, and whether it's OK to say "Scotch-Irish" instead of "Scots-Irish."

I'm more complex than I appear at first blush: think of me as the original incarnation of Walt Whitman's "large and contain multitudes" guy. So, John Q. Public, don't paint me as a simple grammar Nazi, 'cause I ain't: I'm that and more.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

America's image abroad

Saw this via Drudge today:

In the background are the words "El Cascanueces," i.e., "The Nutcracker" ("le Casse-noix" in French). The article about Spain's spring Fallas festival in Valencia (pronounce fallas as "fah-yahss," not "phallus"), which apparently comes right before bullfighting season, is here. Obama and Putin are but one tableau among hundreds at the festival.

The displays are satirical, and supposedly all in good fun. But if satire, like stereotypes, contains a grain of truth in it, then America's image abroad is that of an emasculated weakling, lightly ballet-kicking (or foot-tickling?) the privates of Mother Russia. And from the look on Putin's face, there's no place he'd rather be.


Korea's inverted economics

I got paid! By both Dongguk and the Golden Goose! So for a few glorious hours, I get to marvel at having $5,000 in the bank, which is the most I've had in the bank in a long while. It's all going to disappear more or less instantly, I'm sad to say: W1.5 million will be going to my coworker to repay his generous loan. Another W1.5 million will be heading home to my US account. Another half-million won will go to studio rent early next month, and a goodly chunk of what's left will be stuck back in my secondary account for safe keeping. Whatever's left will be for shopping and other instances of random awesomeness.

But despite this straitlaced financial picture (oh, yeah: KMA texted to officially cancel this weekend's gig), I'm normally in the habit of celebrating payday in a modest manner—generally by ordering a larger-than-usual meal. I got home from the Golden Goose a little after 9PM, and I dithered until after 10PM before deciding I wanted a Saint Paddy's Day pizza from a local pizza joint. I knew there was a chance that I wouldn't be able to order anything after 9PM, so my Plan B was to hit the local galmaegi-sal place, which had caught my eye back when I had just moved into this neighborhood.

As I had feared, the pizza joints weren't picking up calls at 10:15PM, so I lumbered out in search of galmaegi. The local restaurant is called Mapo Galmaegi; I had already swung by a couple weeks earlier to stare at its menu and check prices. I could see right away that everything was more expensive than Seorae, the galmaegi-sal place in Jongno, downtown Seoul; and tonight, when I entered the restaurant, sat down, and grabbed the menu, my initial impressions were confirmed: Mapo was way the hell more expensive than Seorae.

At Seorae, you can get 500 grams of solid pork (the galmaegi-sal in question) for W17,000. Add the dwaenjang soup, the bottles of soda, and the bowls of rice (gonggi-bap), and the tab for two people is a little over $40. Not terrible, but not McDonald's, either. At Mapo, galmaegi is sold in ridiculously teensy portions of 150 grams; each portion is a whopping W8,000. So do the math: at Seorae, it's W17,000 for 500 grams of meat; at Mapo, it's W16,000 for 300 grams—a ripoff. But I was feeling spendy, so I sat down to a Mapo-style meal consisting of 300 grams of galmaegi-sal. The meal wasn't bad, but I couldn't help comparing what I was eating to what I'd gotten used to having at Seorae. I think of Seorae as "Tom's restaurant," since my buddy Tom is the one who introduced the place to me. Tom has a knack for finding good deals and good value; I don't have anything like his acumen. My finding Mapo merely reinforced that point: the place has inferior meat, skimpy portions, and exorbitant prices.

Which brings me to the subject of Korean economics. I now live in Goyang City, which is tiny compared to Seoul. As an American, I'm used to the notion that small towns and cities are generally cheaper, overall, than big cities. Having lived in Korea for a decade, however, I know this doesn't hold true here on the peninsula: in Korea, small-town food, transportation, and other conveniences tend to be more expensive. I'm no longer surprised by this fact, but I still have trouble wrapping my head around why this is so. Why, for example, were taxis more expensive in Hayang, back when I lived there? Why did Hayang restaurants generally serve stingier portions at elevated prices compared to what one can find in Seoul?

If there's a possible free-market reason for Seoul's cheaper prices, it may be this: competition naturally drives prices down, and Seoul's fractal layout—in which restaurants sit next to restaurants, and cafes sit next to cafes—ensures that there will always be heavy competition. Seorae wasn't the only galmaegi place in that part of Jongno; there were other grill-'em restaurants only a few yards away. You can't attract customers unless you lower your prices, so the presence of all those competitors much have some sort of depressing effect on prices. In Goyang City, by contrast, restaurants sit farther apart; there's less competition because there's less of a restaurant density, so to speak. As a result, prices are higher, and townies are a sort of captive audience who get screwed thanks to the lack of competition.

If that's the rationale behind higher prices in Korean small towns, then I have to wonder why I take it as a given that, in America, small towns tend to be cheaper. Why are small-town prices cheaper in the States? It's at times like these that I truly regret never having taken any economics classes.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ave, Young (#3)!

The hits keep rolling in for my friend Young, now that he's published his autobiographical novel, The Accidental Citizen-Soldier. Check out his press release here. His TBS eFM interview is linked here. And as always, I strongly recommend that you go buy his book and read his incredible story for yourself.


how to celebrate the day?

Saint Paddy's is upon us. I'm happy because I get paid by Dongguk on the 17th of the month. That's a good thing, this month, given that I'm running on fumes and still haven't been paid by the Golden Goose despite nearly three weeks of waiting. Seriously, I'm very unimpressed with the speed at which the GG's finance department processes payment. This would be a different story were I a full-time, salaried worker at the GG, but I'm not: I'm a freelancer, so I'm paid on a per-project basis, a fact that annoys my GG boss to no end as he hates filling out the payment paperwork. I've been expecting a three-million-won windfall for nearly a month, but the dough hasn't arrived because our finance department is on drugs, so once again, Dongguk beats GG to the punch.

I also haven't had a decent gig come down the pipe from KMA for either February or March, so that sucks. I might have a KMA gig this coming weekend, but I've been told that only one student has signed up for that course. There have to be at least two or three students for a course not to be canceled, so I once again sense a cancelation in my future. Still, my KMA supervisor is trying to find me things to do—other opportunities than just the ones already scheduled on the calendar. I give him props for trying. That said, good intentions don't fill a bank account, and some actual work would be nice. As Saint Anselm observed, a million won in the bank is greater than a million won in the imagination.

In any event, I get paid tomorrow (well, technically, today), so I can send most of that money over to my US account and have a tiny celebration with the rest while I wait for my other job to finally pay me. Since I have only a nodding acquaintance with beer, I doubt I'll be seeking out any green beer on Saint Paddy's, but I might indulge in some bad-for-you food.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Stark words

I've just finished A Clash of Kings, the second novel of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire pentalogy. I now understand just about every Martin reference I've ever heard, whether it's someone crying "Hodor!" in a silly voice, or someone else muttering darkly about Lannister-scale ambitiousness (not to mention the line, "A Lannister always pays his debts."). I know what wildfire is, as well as a godswood, a septon, a weirwood, and a kingsroad. I'm aware of the religious variety in this world: the old, nameless gods; the seven aspects of God as articulated by the (new) Faith; the worship of the Drowned God ("what is dead may never die"); and the various forms of black magic that we encounter from the likes of the priestess Melisandre and the Sorrowful Men who try to assassinate Danaerys Targaryen with a stinging manticore (essentially a human-faced scorpion) in the second book. I know that the regal families all have their "words" (i.e., their mottos). For the Starks, those words are "Winter is coming," a dictum that is always true in a "stopped clock is right twice a day" sort of way: as long as the seasons are cyclical, winter will always be coming.

I have a lot to say about the series as I've experienced it thus far. Fortunately or unfortunately for you, I can't help but see the series through the lens of my previous fantasy-novel reading, which began with the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson and then moved on, somewhat grudgingly, to Tolkien, who is in truth the font from which many of Donaldson's tropes come (Donaldson's other major source is CS Lewis—a fact that I didn't appreciate until I read all the Narnia books). So expect a lot of Martin/Donaldson comparisons that won't make sense to you unless you've actually read your Donaldson.

The most annoying aspect of Martin's series is that there are just too damn many characters, places, and subplots to keep track of. The constant shifting of the point of view borders on ADHD. James Clavell, the revered author of Shogun among other novels, was excellent at weaving multiple subplots together into a coherent story; in her own scaled-down way, JK Rowling showed a similar expertise in her Harry Potter heptalogy. Martin could use some lessons from these two, but I'll give him credit for keeping so much detail straight in his head. One doesn't get the sense, with Martin, that he had spent years and years crafting his alternate universe in quite the same way that Tolkien had: instead, one gets the impression that Martin blasted out all his details at once, liberally sprinkling his world with cities and rivers and people of a multitude of different cultures, geographies, and dispositions.

Martin is conscientious enough to slip in reminders of who certain characters are, what they've done, and how they relate to yet other characters, but it's not always easy for me to recollect who did what to whom, and where, at any given point in the story. Some subplots are easier to follow than others—like Danaerys/Dany's subplot, for instance. She's an outsider to most of what's happening in Westeros, but she represents a looming danger to all the warring, conniving families and kingdoms of that continent. Martin is also somewhat uneven in his characterizations: some characters are full of life and three-dimensional—like Tyrion Lannister, the crafty dwarf—but others barely register.

Anyway, the whole thing makes for an interesting ride. It reads like historical fiction by Tom Clancy, and while I've figured out where Martin's sympathies lie (it's not surprising to hear that Tyrion is, according to Martin in an interview, his favorite character), I find it difficult to suss out what his message might be, or what the major themes of these novels are. So in my fuller post on A Song of Ice and Fire, coming sometime soon, I'll attempt to think out loud about the deeper aspects of the series.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

alternate histories

My buddy Mike and I have known each other since the third grade. Almost exactly twenty years ago—right around the Ides of March—Mike was in Korea, visiting me, back when I was working at my very first job at Korea Foreign Language Institute. Mike's visit was a couple months before all the unpleasantness occurred, when I sued my stupid fuckhead of a boss for stiffing me of my final month of work and cheating me out of my retirement allowance (twaejik-geum). March 1995: it was the perfect time of year to come to Korea. The weather was warming up, but still cool; the spring flowers were just starting to bloom; the whole country was waking up from its winter slumber. We did parts of Seoul and even went down to Gyeongju (back then, I was spelling it "Kyungju," and Busan was spelled "Pusan"), visiting Bulguk-sa, Anapji Pond, the Gyeongju National Museum, and so on. Back in Seoul, we did a walking tour of Changdeok Palace with a guide who was about our age. Mike deemed her cute and wanted to get to know her better.

Anyway, Mike went back to the States, and I stayed in Korea, moving over to Campus Foreign Language Institute in Gangnam (we spelled it "Kangnam" back then). That proved to be a bust for me: I quit that school after four months of bullshit. I then worked a couple months for SsangYong Paper Company in Yeouido; it was a cushy corporate job, but rather mind-numbing, and the 7AM start time for my early-morning English classes meant waking up at 5AM every day to beat the traffic. That got old fast. Mike, meanwhile, found love. By October of 1995, while my suit against my first boss was in progress, Mike met the woman he would spend the rest of his life with, all thanks to a mutual acquaintance—someone Mike knew from university, but whom I knew from church. The Korean tour guide at Changdeok Palace had been long forgotten, and it was wedding bells for Mike the following year. I was his best man.

That period of my life saw me losing direction. I hadn't had the best time working in Korea, mainly because I'd made the classic mistake of sticking with hagweons. Mike landed temp work that became semipermanent, and I stayed in the States and landed temp work, too. My temp work eventually turned into a longer-term gig with a company called APIC, and I stayed there right up until the time I started graduate school in 1999. Grad school, and moving out of my parents' house, was prompted by a big fight I'd had with my mother in 1997, the same year my goddaughter, Mike's first child, was born. My goddaughter was born in September; my fight with Mom happened right around Thanksgiving, and that provided the impetus to move out. Mike had relocated to Virginia Beach; my goddaughter was christened at Star of the Sea Catholic Church, just a short stroll away from the ocean.

The years rolled on, and Mike and I lived very different lives. He and his wife had another daughter, followed by another son. They relocated to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where they still live today. I finished graduate school in 2002 and decided to give Korea another try. I freelanced to earn a little money while I took an intensive, Level 4 Korean course at Korea University, whose clean, no-nonsense campus I loved. Mike, meanwhile, began working for his brother-in-law. He now had several mouths to feed and a large suburban house to care for (not to mention a dog), so he was constantly busy, as was his wife, who is an elementary-school teacher in Stafford County, Virginia.

On July 4, 2003, I started blogging. My friends and I were having intense email exchanges about the Gulf War, which was in progress at the time. I was the lone voice against the war; my friends, by contrast, were very gung-ho. I took the long view, and none of what's happened since—to Iraq, to our troops, and to our economy—has been much of a surprise.

In 2004, I stupidly bit the bullet and signed on with another hagweon, English Channel. That gig lasted seven months before I started going nuts. I jumped ship to what was to be one of the very best periods in my working life: Sookmyung Women's University. English Channel's grueling hagweon schedule had us proles all working split shifts, averaging 44 hours a week (we worked 8-hour Saturdays every other week). As for vacation—ha! What vacation? We had national holidays; I don't recall having much of an extended break while working there; maybe we had time off for Chuseok or something (it's all on the blog, so I can go back and check what 2004-05 was like). Coming to Sookmyung was like entering a new world: we had two whole months of vacation every year: July and December. Our teaching schedule was 18 hours a week, which didn't include prep, but prep was a damn pleasure. My students were generally great; I had stellar evals every semester; life was good. I could even afford a trip to Europe, which I did in December of 2007. I lived in a campus studio that was roomier than anything I'd had in the past; I had no complaints, and I stayed with Sookmyung for three full years.

Mike's life, during this time, was fairly stable, at least in terms of work: he was still with his brother-in-law (as he is to this day), and his kids kept growing and growing. My goddaughter is now just about to shove off to college; she's chosen to attend an in-state school, where she wants to pursue a science-related career. Good for her. She's turned into a very talented young lady, and before we know it, she'll be followed into college by her driven little sister, and finally by her little brother, who's currently in elementary school.

In 2008, I decided to leave Sookmyung—not because I hated it, but because I had hoped to do a walk-across-the-country project before I turned 40 the following year. Call it my midlife crisis. I had saved up quite a lot of money by that time, and because I'd worked at Sookmyung from 2005 to 2008, I had built up a few thousand dollars' pension. I set up a blog, Kevin's Walk, came home to Virginia in 2008, trained by doing 10- and 20-mile walks for a month, then set out for the Pacific Northwest to begin my journey. I covered about 600 miles in three months, which is a snail's pace. I also ended up injuring my knee around Mile 150, and the pain of that injury only got worse over the subsequent 450 miles. I eventually gave up, came back home to Virginia in September of 2008 to recuperate, and had intended to pick up where I'd left off come spring of 2009.

That's when life went to hell. Mom was diagnosed with brain cancer in mid-April; there was no way I could abandon her, so I stayed by her side almost every day for the next nine months. The cancer eventually rode her into the ground, as every doctor had told us it likely would. Throughout all this, Mike would visit as often as he could, and sometimes he'd bring his family. His life, as different as it had been, was woven into mine. Mom died in early January, 2010. Of my circle of friends, I was the first to lose a parent.

It took me a while to get back on my feet. By the time I had gotten a semi-steady job, I was no longer on speaking terms with my father, and I moved out to Front Royal, Virginia, to the foothills of the Shenandoahs, in search of peace and healing. My job with ETS didn't work out because it was too unstable: the work was too infrequent. I then hooked up with YB (not the company's real name), and working there, with kids of all ages, proved to be therapeutic. After two-and-a-half years there, from early 2011 to mid-2013, I had rejoined the human race, and it was time to think about going back to Korea. YB was good work, but it didn't pay enough to cover my debts. University work in Korea, plus some side work, would cover my debts a lot better. Such was my reasoning, anyway, so in August of 2013, I headed back to Korea—to Daegu this time, instead of to Seoul. Mike, meanwhile, kept plugging away with his brother-in-law, living a lively suburban existence with his wife and kids and dog.

So here we are now, twenty years after Mike's visit to Seoul. What different lives we've led, Mike and I. I'm still single and still struggling to make ends meet. Mike's pulling in a comfortable salary that, coupled with his wife's income, allows him to take his kids on trips and to hockey games. I envy Mike sometimes, but I know he's worked hard to get where he is, and I don't begrudge him a single thing. For myself, once I switch over to the Golden Goose this coming August, I'll finally have a taste of what it means to live comfortably—to be able to pay down debts while also having the means to take, oh, the occasional trip to Europe or to the States. I won't be in a free-standing house with a yard—such animals are rare in Seoul—but I'll have room to breathe, both physically and financially. And once my debt is paid down, I'll be able to look out to the horizon and tackle whatever's coming my way next.


third time may be a bust

Dammit. Tried to reach the third mountain today, but once again, there was a military base right next to it, and no public access roads or trails leading to the top—at least, not on the side of the mountain that I walked along (the south side, to be precise).

The mountain itself didn't look all that promising, either; it's obviously not a park the way Namsan is; the foot of the mountain is ringed with all sorts of shops, lots, and storage facilities, all of which have a definite "No Trespassing" vibe to them, and no public road leading up the mountain's slope. If there's an actual hiking trail that goes to the top, I didn't find it today. I might try again with a cabbie next time, but I'm not that hopeful. Something tells me that the mountain's northern flank is just as forbidding as the southern flank.

I did, however, discover a nice, smooth, and fairly short running path that might come in handy for when I start running. So at least there's that.


mountain redux

I'm doing today what I failed to do yesterday: hitting the third mountain. Yesterday turned out to be a very lazy Saturday; I'd felt cheated by the fact that I had to be at KMA on Friday—which was supposed to be my extra day off—and took yesterday off instead. So—a march up to the last mountain to see whether any of it is accessible, and if it turns out that I can't climb it, well... I can always do a connect-the-dots of the three mountains in the area, walking a rough triangle from one to the next, then going back home again. That ought to be plenty of steps.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

your obligatory Pi Day post

The history of π here. Perhaps most interesting to me was the East Asian contribution to π:

In Fifth Century A.D. China, the mathematician Tsu Chung-Chi established that 3.1415926 < pi < 3.1415927[,] an accuracy that was not attained in Europe until the 16th Century. The Chinese, like Archimedes[,] could calculate pi to any degree of accuracy desired.


love it

Hillary Clinton is the gift that keeps on giving.

Rightie Dr. Vallicella gloomily predicts that the current email scandal will blow over long before election time, and Hillary will come out of this mess even stronger—which strikes me as Dr. V's oblique commentary on the mental state of the American public at large.

I predict that the current controversy will soon be forgotten and Hillary will bounce back more formidable than ever. She looks tired, but she is as hungry as ever. She has Ambition written all over her. Do not underestimate her. The rumors of her imminent political demise are greatly exaggerated. Mark my words! I hope to hell and Hillary that I am wrong.

I think the current controversy will blow over, as Dr. V predicts, but I also think there are plenty more scandals where this one came from. Mrs. Clinton's colon is huge and holds many a fetid treasure. Some scandal will doubtless be plaguing her come late 2016. (Of course, the same holds true for the Republican candidates. As an Aussie colleague of mine once grated, "They're all dirty bastards.")

Thus do we suffer under the "Chinese" curse, for we live in interesting times.

ADDENDUM: Friend Malcolm Pollack links to and quotes an excerpt from a Jonah Goldberg article about Hillary's email scandal that begins satirically and notes that, in a crisis, Hillary brings in all the old loyalists of the ancien régime. I have to wonder whether Goldberg is reading too much into the situation, but his satire is, I admit, hilarious. Frankly speaking, I didn't know Goldberg had it in him to write with such wit.


when "me" is OK in front of an "-ing" word

Here's a sentence:

My girlfriend walked into the bedroom and caught me m__________ating.*

After all the previous ruction (see the ever-growing comment thread under that post) over "me" versus "my," you might wonder whether the above sentence should be changed to "caught my m__________ating."

No. The above sentence is perfectly correct. Why? Because the word m__________ating, in the above context, is a participle, not a gerund. M__________ating is short for in the process of m__________ating. (And may that be the only thing that's short.)

Participles are interesting in that they can also function as adjectives and adverbs.

Greg's hapkido move sent Rick flying.
          (participial adverb: how was Rick sent?)

The blubbering gladiator shouted for his puppy.
         (participial adjective describing man)

So be careful. Make sure you're dealing with a gerund before you stick a possessive in front of it. If it's a participle, you might be safe using an object pronoun in the accusative (direct-object) or dative (indirect-object) case.

Noticed the hyphens inside the parentheticals? As a rule of thumb, you hyphenate phrasal adjectives when they precede the nouns they modify. This isn't always the case, however, if leaving out the hyphen creates no ambiguity. If a hyphenless locution is clear in its meaning, don't hyphenate.

Regarding ambiguity and hyphenation, here's the classic example:

(a) a violent weather seminar
(b) a violent-weather seminar

If you're talking about a seminar on violent weather, then (b) is what you write. If you're talking about a weather-related seminar that turned into a brawl, then (a) is potentially better, bt keep in mind that leaving out the hyphen creates an ambiguity as to which seminar you're talking about—one that was about storms or one that turned violent.

Another interesting example of hyphenation with phrasal adjectives comes from how to handle ethnicity: it's "African-American studies," not "African American studies," consistent with the aforementioned rule. From Wikipedia, this inspiring 1915 speech by Teddy Roosevelt:

There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all … The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality, than with the other citizens of the American Republic … There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.

Note, though, that ethnicity tends not to be hyphenated when it's nominal (i.e., being used as a noun or noun phrase), so the writer of the above words was hyphenating incorrectly.

Trivia: Theodore Roosevelt has the bizarre distinction of proudly wearing two seemingly contradictory (to modern eyes) political labels: "Republican" and "Progressive." I guess that's evidence that language does change over time, eh? (Cf. the use of the terms "public school" and "private school" in UK versus US English. Sometimes it's not so much diachronic change as it is synchronic change.)

*For all you know, "m__________ating" might refer to

1. masturbating (if you have a dirty mind)
2. masticating (chewing)
3. meditating
4. medicating (i.e., self-medicating)
5. micturating (urinating)

—or any of these other words:

maneating, manhating, manipulating, marinating, mating, matriculating, meateating, mediating, migrating, misallocating, misappropriating, misdating, misstating, mistreating, mitigating, moderating, modulating, motivating, motorboating, mutating, mutilating

I like the idea that my girlfriend caught me mutating.


that third mountain

I've got stuff to do on campus today—things I can't do on my own computer at home because they require that damn .exe electronic certificate—but after I'm done with those tasks, I'm going to take a hike over to the third mountain I mentioned in my "frank" post from a couple days ago (reference here). The second mountain proved to be a bust; the first mountain is half covered by a military base (and thus only half accessible), and this third mountain is the only other potentially hikable mountain that's visible from my neighborhood. There might be other local mountains, but (1) they're not immediately visible, and (2) if they're not visible, it's unlikely that I can just walk to them. I'm looking for something that's foot-accessible, so here's hoping that the third time's a charm.

Shirt update: No word from my supervisor. Going to venture that no news is good news.


Friday, March 13, 2015

intellectual sloppiness: PoMo caught with its britches down again

I have to thank fellow Twit @Neuroskeptic for this.

The article at Retraction Watch begins:

The world, it seems, cannot get enough of Sokal-type hoaxes.

Damn straight it can't. PoMo is the gateway to sloppy thinking and has made a mush of Western academe. It deserves every bit of mockery that comes at it.

A French journal, Sociétés, has retracted an article allegedly penned by one Jean-Marc Tremblay but actually written by two sociologists, Manuel Quinon and Arnaud Saint-Martin, who spoofed the work of the journal’s editor, Michel Maffesoli.

As the Crooked Timber blog explains, the article, “Automobilités postmodernes: quand l’Autolib fait sensation à Paris,”
is about the Autolib, an electric car rental service available on a subscription basis in Paris.

In the article, the “transgender” Autolib is described as the turning point for the modern episteme, as the return to the protection of the primordial matrix, and so on. Being well-versed in maffesolese, they know that “modern” is bad, faustian, promethean, and that “postmodern” is good, comforting and dyonisian. In less than 10 pages, they use half a dozen languages: French, English, German, Latin, Greek (in Greek and Latin alphabets), and various typographic affectations (italics, parentheses, slashes in the middle of words). The vocabulary is often complex—”glyschomorphous”, “phallogocentric”, “diairetico-schizomorphous”—but lacking any particular definition. At the center of the article lies a pun. “Essence”, in French, is both essence (as in essential), and gasoline (as in oil). Thus our fictional author writes that the Autolib is “an open car, but not in essence because it is an electric car”. They also insist that postmodernity is “gaseous”, because Zygmunt Bauman’s modernity is “liquid”. The Autolib reveals itself in conclusion as the origin of a “new directing myth for a new epoch (postmodernity)”.

A month later, on March 7, the two authors, who were former students of Maffesoli’s, disclosed their hoax, and an embarrassed Maffesoli retracted the paper, apologizing to the journal’s readers and citing Descartes. Apparently, one of the peer reviewers had said the paper was “a bit on the jargon-y side,” according to the notice.

The point of these Sokal-type hoaxes is to show how little actual intellectual rigor exists in postmodernist circles, where traditional analytical methods are rejected for superficial ideological reasons as somehow oppressive. This sort of thing happens again and again because of the relentless credulity and outright stupidity that PoMo thought inculcates, cultivates, and encourages. It's as if postmodern thought were Douglas Adams's prophecy come to fruition: humankind will eventually prove black is white and then destroy itself.

For me, this hoax never gets old. What keeps it funny is that the hoax's victims never fucking learn from their mistakes.


nailed it! but...

The good news: for the video shoot I did in Yeouido this morning for KMA, I was in the zone and nailed both of my segments in single takes: badabing, badaboom, baby. No mistakes, no miscues: the video director said "action," I rattled off my teaching content, the director nodded in satisfaction after each take, and I didn't even have to stick around to do a photo session: they're going to pull their stills straight from the video. Sometimes I think it's good to have a theater background.

The bad news is that I didn't realize that the tech who wired me up with a mike had forgotten to re-button my shirt near the belt line after he'd threaded the microphone up inside my shirt, to the top of my necktie. My supervisor, reassuringly, thinks my tie covered the sartorial faux pas, but there's a chance that the mistake is visible on camera. If it is... I may have to go back to Yeouido and redo the video from scratch. So right now, I'm dreading the arrival of a text message from my supervisor saying, "Kevin... sorry, man, but your tee shirt is showing. Gotta redo. Can you come back tomorrow?"


videos... blech

I need to go to sleep and wake up in four hours so I can make the trip down to Yeouido, where I'll be working at KMA, making promo videos for the courses I'm teaching (Persuasive Writing and Persuading with Evidence, i.e., online research).

Can't say I'm looking forward to making the videos, but they're a necessary marketing evil: the videos allow prospective students to see us teachers in action, thus humanizing the courses and making them less abstract than they would otherwise be.

My supervisor tells me I'll be filmed while "teaching" the "most interesting parts" of my courses. By "teaching," he really means "pretending to teach to an invisible audience." An added layer of awkwardness is that I've designed both of my courses to be student-centered, which means I don't actually spend much time lecturing (lecturing is a teacher-centered activity). The sample videos that my supervisor showed me, however, all show various KMA teachers lecturing. So I'm going to have to improvise.

We'll see how it goes. If the promo video comes out well, you can be sure that I won't be linking it for you. Sorry.