Thursday, September 30, 2004

yeah, buddy

My home state knows how to serve its students!

Gonna learn you right, boy!

(link via Drudge)


Dr. Vallicella versus Dr. Tannen

While I was at Georgetown, I was able to gloat in the knowledge that the noted linguist Dr. Deborah Tannen, whose populist works on discourse analysis were, at the time, best-sellers, had an office on campus (maybe she's still there...? can't say I've checked). In particular, I found her You Just Don't Understand to be a very insightful peek into the hairy world of male-female discourse.

Dr. Tannen's basic thesis is that men and women, even those who grow up as siblings in the same family environment*, are imbibing what are, effectively, different cultures. She doesn't try to resolve the nature/nurture question (such isn't her intent in the book), but she makes some very interesting claims.

Among these is the idea that men, who value status, tend toward a form of speech she styles "report talk." This is basically what I'm doing to you now: writing in a "report talk" tone of voice. I have the floor; you're reading (or listening to) me. This puts me temporarily "one up" on you. If you're a guy, and we're in a group, then at some point you'll have the floor and you'll be one up on me. This is how guys do things.

Women, who according to Dr. Tannen value connection as opposed to status, are more likely to engage in what she calls "rapport talk." Rapport talk isn't nearly as focused on content as it is on relationship-building and relationship-maintenance, as her term "rapport" implies. (Women are also prone to "onedownsmanship," the lowering of one's status in order not to break collective harmony.)

A great example of the male/female disconnect can be seen in the movie "White Men Can't Jump." Dr. Tannen notes that status-seeking men often think in terms of problem-solving, because to solve a problem is to put someone in your debt, thereby giving you that one-up status. This urge to solve problems can be at odds with a female's unstated intentions in mentioning a problem, however. At one point in "White Men Can't Jump," Rosie Perez's character mentions to her boyfriend, played by Woody Harrelson, that she's thirsty. Woody immediately gets her a drink, but Rosie rejects it, saying something like, "I just wanted you to share in my dry-mouthedness!" Woody, the male, is seeking status through problem-solving, whereas Rosie, the female, is engaging in rapport talk: the content of what she's saying isn't nearly as important as the relationship-building she's attempting. Later on, Woody woos Rosie by singing an impromptu song in which he declares his willingness to stand by his woman during her time of drymouthedness, and this bonding is exactly what Rosie's been looking for-- more important to her than a glass of water.

Dr. Vallicella recently wrote a post that expresses a typically male point of view about the uselessness of idle chatter. He quotes an amusing Kafka passage involving four characters: the narrator, his wife, and another couple. The narrator is away from the rest of the group, who are in "the next room," where they can be overheard. The group in the next room is therefore dominated by women: the narrator's wife plus the wife of "the L. couple"-- two women to one man. It goes without saying, then, that the dominant mode of discourse will be Tannen's rapport talk.

If I'm reading him correctly, Dr. Vallicella is dismissive:

I have read this [Kafka] passage many times, and what delights me each time is the droll understatement of it: "there is no real progress made in conversations of this sort." No indeed. There is no progress because the conversations are not seriously about anything worth talking about. There is no Verantwortlichkeit (responsibility): the talk does not answer (antworten) to anything real in the world or anything real in the interlocutors. It is jaw-flapping for its own sake, mere linguistic behavior which, if it conveys anything, conveys: 'I like you, you like me, and everything's fine.'

The interlocutors float along in the inauthenticity (Uneigentlichkeit) of what Heidegger calls das Man, the 'they self.' Compare Heidegger's analysis of idle talk (Gerede) in Sein und Zeit (1927), sec. 35.

I'm partial to Dr. Tannen's analysis of male-female discourse, and as a result I think that Dr. V is only partly right to contend that the desultory conversation is saying, "I like you, you like me, and everything's fine." This is female rapport-talk, so it's definitely about bonding and feelings. But the bonding is not, I think Dr. Tannen would contend, a superficial aspect of the proceedings. Quite the contrary: from the female perspective, the bonding, always unstated but always underlying interaction, is what the conversation is really all about. Being male or female can determine how and where we locate what is substantive in our daily exchanges. So I'll respectfully disagree with Dr. Vallicella that the above is an instance of "inauthenticity" à la Heidegger. Heidegger, after all, was a man. Of course he'd see things the way he did.

If you haven't read You Just Don't Understand, I heartily recommend it. It is, perhaps inadvertently, a much better source of wisdom on the differences between the sexes than any stupid pop psych Martian/Venusian guide out there.

*This phrase isn't as redundant as it might initially seem. Think about it.


Wednesday, September 29, 2004

one hour on Wolmido

...was more than enough for me.

I took the Line 1 subway over, then grabbed a taxi for the short ride to the shore.

Wolmido is supposedly an island, but I don't recall crossing a bridge over an expanse of water to reach it. It looked like I was passing over solid ground the entire time.

The trip had one frightening moment: about two or three stops away from Inchon Station, a teeny little girl, no more than four or five years old (Western age, not Korean), somehow managed to fall into that narrow space between the subway door and the platform edge while trying to exit the subway. I was out of my seat as soon as I saw the problem, but luckily, her father was right there and managed to extract her without difficulty. The incident reminded me of the old riddle from the Garfield comic strip: How many skinny people can you fit inside a bathtub? I don't know-- they keep slipping down the drain!

Wolmido-- or the part of it I saw during my brief stroll-- is as cheesy and tacky as any Jersey Shore boardwalk. You've got rickety carnival attractions, food stands (the usual Korean street fare), and tons of families walking up and down a boardwalk. You've also got boat tours and ferries; I opted against this. I didn't see any cotton candy vendors, but there were plenty of Frostie/Slurpee and ice cream purveyors. The boardwalk was also overstuffed with hwae (raw fish) restaurants, and all the prices-- from the smallest can of soda on up-- were inflated. The whole place screamed tourist trap.

I didn't see anything like a beach, however, so there was a saddening dearth of midriff, ass, and thigh. If people would like to recommend some quiet port towns to visit over the course of a weekend, please write in. Especially if the town features a lot of exposed flesh.

I doubt I'll ever head back to Wolmido, except maybe to hop on one of the boats. The boardwalk certainly isn't my thing. The whole place was too damn crowded today. Maybe it's nicer in the fall and winter, like a lot of beach towns in the States. I'm an off-season kind of guy: I like ski resorts in the summer (like Taos Ski Valley and that place I went to in Canada, if only I could remember its name) and beach towns in the winter. Both are usually cheaper off-season, too.

And that concludes this session of megablogging. We're back at work as of tomorrow, so once again, blogging output will revert from massively diarrhetic to Hershey Squirt-scale. In all, I have to say I enjoyed this time off. Maybe it's the over-full schedule I've been working; I'm learning to appreciate my free time more, taking time to smell the jjol-myeon (a red-pepper-sauce noodle dish I ate while on Wolmido).


theos rears its ugly head

[UPDATE: Major edits and additions to this post.]

What's up with Korean dudes with religious issues today? Something in the Chusok rice cakes?

Over at the Koram, Daehee is asking the Ultimate Question.

Over at Wooj's, the Pythi Master is talking about divine foreknowledge and human freedom.

I, of course, took it upon myself to add my own nonsense to the mix in their comments sections. I'll repeat my divine foreknowledge reply (in part and slightly edited) here:

I stopped believing in a literal, personalistic God precisely because of such logical conundrums.

For me, it works like this:

1. "Knowing" can be broken down into "the knower," "the act of knowing," and "the (thing) known."

2. It is axiomatic that a thing that isn't there can't be known. The act of knowing implicitly requires a knower and the thing known.

3. Consider the phrase "God knows every detail of the future." If God is the knower, then this means the future must already exist-- and in detail from God's point of view, because of (1) and (2) above.

4. The future is written, i.e., already actualized from God's point of view, which means possibilities are illusory.

5. On the assumption that one's freedom is tied to possibilities, it follows that zero possibilities = zero freedom.

Some people try to get around this by offering examples like the following:

My son loves chocolate chip cookies. I know that, if I place a plate of cookies on the table and leave them there, they'll be gone in ten minutes. I'm not omniscient, and my son is acting freely when he takes the cookies, but notice that my foreknowledge of his action in no way contradicts his free choice to take the cookies.

The above reasoning is specious, however, because the father hasn't really made the case that his son is acting freely. If anything, he's made a strong case about his son's lack of freedom, as the evidence of his son's cookie compulsion (and resultant predictability) would show.

There's a theological concept called "middle knowledge" that attempts to reconcile the foreknowledge/freedom issue. I've read only a little about it (and devoted a blog entry to it, basically quoting a letter from Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges), but it smells fishy to me-- a logical dodge more than anything. I need to read more about it, if for no other reason than to blast it later on.

Strangely enough, I think your alternative (3), if arrived at after lengthy and painful theological introspection, might be an honest answer: the notion that there are some things we simply can't explain is a very human insight. In the case of divine foreknowledge, I'd reject that insight, but I'd grant that the person who offered it was, at least, being sincere.

(Then again, plenty of people zip right to the "It's a holy mystery!" answer without any reflection at all, mainly because they're too lazy to give the problem much thought and actually wrestle with it.)

People who are basically saying, "God's knowing is nothing like human knowing" are arguing that God's knowing is unintelligible to us.* If this is so, on what grounds can it be called "knowing" at all? If it's like nothing we can relate to, how is it even relevant to us?

I blogged Dr. Hodges's thoughtful email on middle knowledge here. Dr. Hodges rose marvelously to my challenge to provide a brief explanation of the term. I take it on faith that Dr. Hodges was also clear, but my puny brain can't seem to process what he wrote, even after several re-readings. Maybe I'll print his email out and try again tonight. I certainly don't blame Dr. Hodges for my own failings on this score; my brain was never wired for logic.

*I don't buy the Thomistic argument from analogy, because:

1. People are moving straight to the acceptance of paradox when they make their typical move (i.e., positing the unfathomable nature of God's knowing). All bets are off at that point. If God's style of knowing can't be made relevant and intelligible to the human experience (which is what is implied when people insist on the radical otherness of God's knowledge), then it's unintelligible, meaningless, and therefore irrelevant-- period.

2. The argument from analogy is itself flawed. The analogical leap from "how a dog knows" to "how a human knows" is a much, much shorter one than the galactic leap from "how a human knows" to "how God knows." Think about it: we can assume a lot of common ground when forming an analogy about dog/human epistemology: material bodies, brains, nervous systems, sense organs, feelings, and perhaps even a certain amount of intellection. But what common ground does a human/divine analogy stand on? Say too much about the mind of God and you're blaspheming! Whereas I can empirically verify that a dog has all the corresponding parts to make an analogy I can easily relate to, I have to posit the divine attributes (a risky business)! No, sorry, Aquinas: the divine/human epistemological analogy has too little going for it to be workable. It has to take far too much on faith. If you tell me God wills, wishes, plans, emotes, etc., you can't support your claim by putting God on a lab table (as you could a dog) and showing me the features in God's makeup that are obviously analogous to our own.

And as I said in (1) above, people claiming that God's ways aren't our ways are trying to establish the radical otherness of divine knowledge, effectively stamping out any effort at argument.

Beware the Dodging Theist, who moves suddenly from "it's analogical!" to "it's unknowable!"-- or who confuses the two arguments. If the theist was arguing logically for the reconcilability of divine foreknowledge and human freedom, then any sudden "move to mystery" entails a switch over to the unassailable realm of the paradoxical. I'm comfortable with people whose faith-positions rest on the paradoxical, but if the same person is trying to argue both logically and illogically for the harmony of divine omniscience and human freedom, then I'd submit that that person has to pick a stance and stick to it. Otherwise, s/he is cheating.

One thing I've never understood about so much Christian theology is the driving need to prove logically that the theist's theology is sensible. Considering how uncompelling the logical cases have been over the centuries, you'd think these folks would get a clue and quit trying. Something I've noticed about recent attempts in this direction is how abstruse they are. A compelling logical case should, in my opinion, possess a certain formal elegance. The increasing complexity and unwieldiness of modern theological arguments smacks of desperation. A couple years ago, I watched a debate about Intelligent Design Theory unfold online; the ID advocate went through some amazing mental gymnastics to support his case. It was kind of sad, really. By the end, he'd thoroughly convinced himself he was right. In that sense, I guess he won his argument.

And finally, a post scriptum:

I wouldn't trust a theological argument that failed to use scripture as evidence for God's attributes. Any sufficiently imaginative schmo on a desert island can form some conception of the divine/numinous/whatever; scripture, at least, provides more or less consistently consultable grounds for making claims about God's nature (whereas a stranded Tom Hanks can only make claims about the numinous realm based on his experience of it through Wilson the Volleyball and other phenomena).

But here's the problem with employing analogy in theological arguments: scripture is of two minds about whether it's even possible to think analogically about God. There's implied analogy at work in every scriptural passage where God is portrayed anthropomorphically: God's acting, but he's obviously not a human-- just analogous to one in his actions. At the same time, scripture unsubtly hints at the awesome otherness and unknowability of God-- see especially Isaiah 55:8, where God says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways." (NRSV) The entire book of Job leaves open the question of whether the divine is comprehensible, as does the whole tradition of trinitarian theology, especially christology in its various forms. Untouchable mysteries abound. Claims about God are always made at the risk of theological inconsistency. If scripture, then, is the source from which to derive premises for a logical theological argument, is it any wonder that many Christians themselves are unpersuaded by such arguments?


the postal scrotum swings mightily in the breeze

Gord of Eclexys writes to tell me my blog is fugly:

...there's some kind of formatting problem between your sidebar and main section on your page. Often I can scroll down as far as the end of your sidebar, and though the page continues on (I can see as the text is literally cut in half at the bottom of the page), I can't scroll down to it. It could be thought to make a hell of a statement, but I get the feeling it's a bug and not purposeful. I'm getting that error in IE6.0, but not in Mozilla Firefox. So it could be that your code is totally fine and it's one of IE's weird problems. But I thought you may want to know since most people are using Internet Explorer.

If you're seeing this problem (and using the same browser as Gord), please write in. Also: if you're a techie who thinks s/he can fix this problem, please be sure to include suggestions. From where I sit at this PC-bahng, I'm not seeing anything wrong, but given the nature of blogging/OS/browser quirks, I know that anything's possible: I've seen such quirks before.

The Lost Nomad writes in with a list he found. It's right up my alley:


We've all been there but don't like to admit it. We've all kicked back in our cubicles and suddenly felt something brew down below. As much as we try to convince ourselves otherwise, the WORK POOP is inevitable. For those who hate pooping at work, following is the Survival Guide for taking a dump at work. Memorize these definitions and pooping at work will become a pure pleasure.

Definition: a fart that slips out while taking a leak at the urinal or forcing a poop in a stall. This is usually accompanied by a sudden wave of panic embarrassment. This is similar to the hot flash you receive when passing an unseen police car and speeding. If you release an escapee, do not acknowledge it. Pretend it did not happen. If you are standing next to the farter in the urinal, pretend you did not hear it. No one likes an escapee, it is uncomfortable for all involved. Making a joke or laughing makes both parties feel uneasy.

JAILBREAK (Used in conjunction with ESCAPEE)
Definition: When forcing poop, several farts slip out at a machine gun pace. This is usually a side effect of diarrhea or a hangover. If this should happen, do not panic. Remain in the stall until everyone has left the bathroom so to spare everyone the awkwardness of what just occurred.

Definition: The act of flushing the toilet the instant the nose cone of the poop log hits the water and the poop is whisked away to an undisclosed location. This reduces the amount of air time the poop has to stink up the bathroom. This can help you avoid being caught doing the WALK OF SHAME.

Definition: Walking from the stall, to the sink, to the door after you have just stunk up the bathroom. This can be a very uncomfortable moment if someone walks in and busts you. As with all farts, it is best to pretend that the smell does not exist. Can be avoided with the use of the COURTESY FLUSH.

Definition: A colleague who poops at work and damn proud of it. You will often see an Out Of The Closet Pooper enter the bathroom with a newspaper or magazine under their arm. Always look around the office for the Out Of The Closet Pooper before entering the bathroom.

Definition: A group of coworkers who band together to ensure emergency pooping goes off without incident. This group can help you to monitor the whereabouts of Out Of The Closet Poopers, and identify SAFE HAVENS.

Definition: A seldom used bathroom somewhere in the building where you can least expect visitors. Try floors that are predominantly of the opposite sex. This will reduce the odds of a pooper of your sex entering the bathroom.

Definition: A pooper who does not realize that you are in the stall and tries to force the door open. This is one of the most shocking and vulnerable moments that can occur when taking a dump at work. If this occurs, remain in the stall until the Turd Burglar leaves. This way you will avoid all uncomfortable eye contact.

Definition: A phony cough that alerts all new entrants into the bathroom that you are in a stall. This can be used to cover-up a WATERMELON, or to alert potential Turd Burglars. Very effective when used in conjunction with an ASTAIRE.

Definition: A subtle toe-tap that is used to alert potential Turd Burglars that you are occupying a stall. This will remove all doubt that the stall is occupied. If you hear an Astaire, leave the bathroom immediately so the pooper can poop in peace.

Definition: A turd that creates a loud splash when hitting the toilet water. This is also an embarrassing incident. If you feel a Watermelon coming on, create a diversion. See CAMO-COUGH.

Definition: A load of diarrhea that creates a series of loud splashes in the toilet water. Often accompanied by an Escapee. Try using a Camo-Cough with an Astaire.

Definition: A bathroom user who seems to linger around forever. Could spend extended lengths of time in front of the mirror or sitting on the pot. An Uncle Ted makes it difficult to relax while on the crapper, as you should always wait to drop your load when the bathroom is empty. This benefits you as well as the other bathroom attendees.

Definition: The act of scouting out a bathroom before pooping. Walk in and check for other poopers. If there are others in the bathroom, leave and come back again. Be careful not to become a FREQUENT FLYER. People may become suspicious if they catch you constantly going into the bathroom.

The Nomad also sent me a link to this feces quiz.

You've doubtless heard the term "to pop a turtle head" to describe teaser shitting. Thanks to the movie "Rat Race," I learned the synonym, "to prairie-dog." The Maximum Leader has also introduced me to the term "Empty Promises" to signal the ultimate frustration of any guy: when you feel like you have to take a shit, get all the way to the toilet and sit your ass over the bowl, and then... nothing. My term for that is usually "FUCK!", but the Maximum Leader is a more refined individual than I am.

Ah, there's no end to the creativity of the anglophone mind.


the evil returns

I was on my way out the door when I saw it:

A centipede. Young and fast.

So you know what I did?

I caught it. As the saying goes, youth and speed are no match for age and cleverness.

I used two things in the catch: a plastic jar and the book I happened to be holding: The Myth of Christian Uniqueness. (Bad title, by the way; interreligious discussions have never centered on the issue of Christian uniqueness, but on that of normativity.) Slammed the jar over the centipede, slipped the thin paperback cover under the opening, then lifted and flipped the bottle. I rock.

The centipede is pissed. It looks like a contender. With the proper training, I'll have it whipping the ass of Jeff's lizard on a daily basis. A daily diet of torture, death metal, and porn will drive it to the brink of madness. By the time it finishes its sessions with Pai Mei and the reprogrammers from A Clockwork Orange, my new centipede'll be able to burn holes into new monuments on the Washington, DC Mall with just its stare.

Off to Wolmido. Then: laundry. Maybe I'll order a pizza, assuming the pizza place is open. An exciting finish to what's turned out to be a very restful vacation.


Tuesday, September 28, 2004

vacation winds down

One more day of vacation, then it's back to the grind. I work three Saturdays in October. What's worse, my morning partner and I will be acquiring two new students who already have a bad reputation among other EC teachers. Apparently, these students tend to complain a lot and are moving around from teacher to teacher-- an obvious case of dumbassitude. Bad students tend to project their badness onto everyone around them. I remember this from my days as a high school French teacher in Virginia: the students who grumbled, "This is so stupid!" were, without fail, the stupidest students. Obviously this is true cross-culturally (another reason to be wary of PoMo's attempts at anti-totalization; there is a such thing as human psychology-- the unity that's in bed with diversity).

I'm thinking about heading out to Wolmido, an island not far from Inchon. My students recommended it to me, but with the caveat that there's little else to see but the sunset. Inchon itself is a port city, and an old one at that; there's very little in the way of natural wonders in that region, from what I've heard. Most of the nature is long gone. All the same, it'll be nice to skip out of Seoul and see something a bit different, even if only for a few hours.


ah to' it up!

[Warning: this post is all over the place.]

It's something my little brothers (bruvvaz?) say to describe someone who's thoroughly slaughtered his dinner.

"He tore it up" becomes, in faux-African-American idiom, "He to' it up!"

Yes, as Darth Vader said, "This will be a day long remembered." I went to Outback Steakhouse and hit that Alice Springs Chicken hard. It didn't know what was coming. I was on it like a 350-pound prisoner on his newest D-block bitch. Smacked its skank ass, squeezed dem chicky-cheeks, stuffed a rag in its beak, and ate dat fucka' raw.

Now, like Jeff's lizard, I strike my Dominance Pose.

Dr. Vallicella wrote a congratulatory post to commemorate Dr. KBJ's rise to stardom (he's been blogrolled by right-wing überbabe Michelle Malkin; now we find out whether Dr. KBJ "has a thing for Asian women"). Let me add to Dr. V's comments by saying:

You animal-hugger! You vegetarian wuss-boy! I ate chicken and pig this evening and would gladly-- GLADLY-- go back for seconds!

OK... now that we've got that congratulatory note out of the way, I should also offer congratulations to the winner of Annika's haiku contest, a certain gcotharn. To you, gcotharn, I say:

I hope you wake up to find your scrotum filled with satanic fire-maggots, you fucking hack!

By which I simply mean:

Congratulations and best of luck in the next contest.

In the meantime, Vegetarian Dr. Keith, I'm happy to report that Chicken and Pig are digesting nicely as I type this, their cries long having been extinguished by my ravening stomach acids.

Your defense of these lesser beings is puzzling. You've asserted that animals enjoy some sort of moral status. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that we live in a theistic cosmos. I ask you: what sort of just and Republican God would allow pathetic creatures so obviously cowed by the victim ideology of the Left (bovine pun intended) into that great Animal Farm in the sky?

Are these little retards in heaven? Assuming a theistic universe, I say Hell, no! These digustingly helpless bastards, droolers and shitters all, unable even to tie their own shoes or wear a decent fucking pair of underwear, are charring into Twice-Cooked Pork on the Devil's gas range for the sin of complacency!

Dr. Keith, you call yourself a conservative? I laugh at your pitiful self-delusion! What real conservative would fail to point out that farm animals, by refusing to fight for their own rights and constantly relying on the handouts and compassion of humans, are the authors of their own destruction and therefore richly deserving of their crispy, cheese-slathered fate? Accept the truth: animals don't deserve the time of day. The proper treatment of animals, cruel as it may sound, has been and always will be the simple, three-step procedure practiced since the days when enormous brow ridges were in fashion: stun, fuck, eat.

You're no conservative, Dr. K; the pink thong of your latent bleeding-heart liberalism is peeking through the Spandex biker pants of your supposed conservatism.

And somehow, you've managed to fool Michelle Malkin into thinking you two are in the same camp. I have to admire the way you work. Slick. Very slick. Congratulations on your slickness.


chew and suck

Happy Chuseok! The glorious day has arrived, my relatives never called (I escaped them for the first Chuseok in three years), and I spent a goodly part of today on a walking tour. I started from my residence near Nakseongdae Station, lumber-waddled all the way to Seoul National University, then schlepped around the university's lovely perimeter road and gamboled all the way back to my place again. In all, a healthy, sweaty, hilly, three-hour walk, and a light workout to boot. I should do that more often.

My traveling companions today were dragonflies (thousands of them buzzing low over the grassy areas of SNU) for the first half of the perimeter road, and a lost little dog for the second half. The dog liked following me at some distance, but stopped short every time I turned in my tracks to beckon it over. It exhibited the canny caution of a stray, but it also seemed to know the extent of its territory: it didn't follow me off campus when I left.

As I was passing out of the main gate on my way back to my place, two cackling old ladies waylaid me and asked, in slow, exaggerated Korean, "Is this Seoul National University?" They were, as the Brits say, "taking the mickey." Hey, let's have some fun with the stupid foreigner!

"Yes, it is!" I boomed in response, and they cackled even more, convinced they'd had their joke on me, but ignorant of the fact that I'd just had mine on them.

I'm not about to let two hags spoil my fun. It's Chuseok, you old biddies-- THE HARVEST MOON FESTIVAL! If you're not careful, I'll fuckin' harvest your little walnut brains and eat 'em under the light of the full moon!

Calming down now... moving on to nicer thoughts... more civilized thoughts...

Tonight, my love... ah, tonight: we go in search of the mythical Alice Springs Chicken over at the local Outback Steakhouse. Tis the perfect night to enter a normally-crowded restaurant, for almost no one will be there. Yes, tonight, my sweet... we dine on the quivering flesh of freshly slaughtered poultry, slathered in silky cheese, robed carefully in pigflesh, and dunked with love in that exquisitely sweet dipping sauce-- the secret of Outback Steakhouse's otherwise-unfathomable popularity both here and in the States.

Australians will laugh, of course: there's nothing truly Australian about Outback Steakhouse except the fakey Aussie slang that peppers the menu.

Well, whether you're Australian or not, whether you've got a walnut-sized brain or not, I wish you and yours a disgustingly happy Chuseok. May it include much food and drink, some card-playing, and the death-by-TNT-enema of at least one cute animal before the moon goes down.

[NB: "Chew-suck" is the pronunciation for "Chuseok" suggested by the indomitable Shawn over at Korea Life Blog. I'm sure his Korean readership will appreciate the Freudian spin. Visit Wooj's blog and learn about Chuseok, American-style. Oh, by the way, Shawn-- will you be seeing "Shaun of the Dead" (viewing requires Quicktime) when it comes out in Korea? I've heard great things about this British flick.]


Monday, September 27, 2004

the return of the postal scrotum!

Yes, it's time to dip into the old mailbag.

Scott writes:

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for pointing out the PoMo article, it was pretty good. It reinforced my notion of PoMo: it's a convenient label for folks to use when they don't want to commit to/for something. It's for folks who never grew out of defying their parents/The Man, and want an 'adult' label for not taking a stand. Forgive my cynicism, I'm from Portland, Oregon, and too many stinkin' hippies do that.

Re: "war of the mind", the predictable pattern of "Islam is peaceful and we'll kill you to prove it" almost gets to be too much. If it wasn't so serious it would be Mel Brooks laughable (circa "Blazing Saddles"). But in this case, the hardcore Islamic folks are copying an unsuccessful page from the hardcore Christians - when confronted with 'art' you don't like (say, "Last Temptation of Christ") the LAST thing to do is draw attention to it. And whining about outspoken women has never gotten anyone anywhere they want to go.

Oh well. I hope your vacation is/went well.

You asked if Japan has an autumn festival. It does and here's a quick anecdote from last year...

As for autumn festivals in Japan, yes, they have them. Last year I was suffering under the humidity & heat of summertime. With Monday's autumn festival for my small town approaching, I asked the locals, "When does the summer heat actually go away?" "Summer ends on Monday," they replied. "No...the ''End Of Summer" festival is on Monday, but it's still freaking hot - when will the heat begin to decrease?" The locals looked at me, puzzled.

The Monday festival came, with the heat and humidity being the same as it had been for the previous 4 weeks. I woke up Tuesday morning and the temperature had dropped 8-degrees-Celcius. Seriously. Summer ended when the local calendar said it would.

After that weather experience, I began to realize that even in the ultra-urban country of Japan, the locals were in touch with the environment in a serious, heartfelt way.

Have a good one.


HK writes (in part):

a couple quick notes...

* im very sure shabushabu is a japanese thing.
* if i (a gyopo) gave receptionists roses and didnt give any to my boss, and my boss pouted (jokingly or not), i would not break down and give any to my boss. im definitely with you on that.


take care and see youse around.

Frank writes:


The shabu-shabu I’ve eaten was more mushroom centered than what both you and the ML wrote about, so there must be different variations, depending on restaurant or location. I’ve had it both up in Seoul and here locally, and each time the main ingredients were different types of mushrooms and beef, with the noodles and veggies added almost as an afterthought. The broth had a sweetish taste and reminded me of the way some folks prepare bulgogi at home. Alas, my resource on all things Korean is off to Seoul for Chusok and won’t return till Tuesday. If I remember, I’ll ask her.


And that's all, folks. Beautiful day today. Had myself a nice stroll. More strolling tomorrow-- and maybe some brush art, which I haven't done in a while. If I produce anything decent, I'll be sure to scan it and blog it once I'm hooked back up to the world from my residence.

DAMMIT, THE UPDATE: I couldn't leave without linking to Conrad's recent post about the most shameless pussy-eating strategy I've ever heard of.


wrestling with S. Mark Heim

S. Mark Heim's Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion should be required reading for people desirous of a critical survey of efforts by pluralistic thinkers. Heim, an evangelical Protestant, is a religious conservative who advocates a form of pluralism based on Nicholas Rescher's notion of "orientational pluralism."

[NB: Visit the "recurrent terms" links near the bottom my sidebar for some background on Heim and his paradigm. That section of the sidebar also has plenty more links to pieces I've written on the issue of religious pluralism, including a review of Salvations.]

I've been wrestling with Heim for a while now, because my own sympathies are generally in line with John Hick's more classically convergent pluralist project.

Heim breaks with Hick because he feels that Hick's pluralism isn't pluralistic enough; indeed, Heim feels Hick is promoting a false pluralism-- a kind of crypto-inclusivism: Hick's notion of the Real, and his conception of "salvation/liberation" are devoid of any meaningful content, desiccated notions with no actual appeal to religious adherents of any tradition. Hick's paradigm is a metatheory into which the other religions must be fitted, which is the same move made by inclusivists in the specific religious traditions.

A while ago, I realized that Heim's conservative response to the religiously liberal Hick has analogues in the political realm. Just as political conservatives are wary of utopianism and other forms of institutionalized idealism (e.g., transnational progressivism, a kind of nation-superseding globalism that envisions all nations under a single, globally approved authority), Heim is pointing out that convergent pluralistic paradigms lose touch with reality by attempting to foist a new meta-paradigm onto everyone, often at the expense of the appreciation of real difference.

Heim critiques three major pluralistic thinkers in his book: John Hick, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, and Paul Knitter. He accuses all three of creating paradigms that are dishonest because they fail to acknowledge their origins, i.e, that they arise from and are informed by the world of Western liberal thought. Somewhat ironically for a conservative, Heim relies on a postmodernist argument to make his point, which is essentially that there can be no neutral standpoint from which to create the paradigms these pluralists have created.

It's fortunate that I can tie my previous post on PoMo (Zen and Postmodernism) to this one, because Heim's postmodernist move is itself subject to critique.

As I noted in that post, PoMo contends that all sweeping claims originate from specific historical contexts. PoMo declares that there are no totalizing metanarratives: the formation and dissemination of such narratives, which arise from specific cultural historical/contexts, is oppressive. There is some truth to this, but the PoMoer's dramatic insistence on their non-totalizing claim is itself a totalizing metanarrative, which makes the PoMo stance more than a little hypocritical. What's worse: Heim, a religious conservative, is making convenient use of a PoMo argument to preserve his own ability to remain religiously conservative. While I've gradually come to agree with much of what Heim writes in Salvations, I think that, overall, his tactics stink.

Having been a regular reader of Dr. Vallicella's blog for some time now, I've become aware that Western philosophy speaks of something called the genetic fallacy. The term "genetic" refers to the genesis, i.e., the origin, of something. The basic idea is that a claim is not logically linked to where the claim came from. For example: if a crazy person says, "The sun is shining right now!", the fact that he's crazy doesn't automatically make him wrong. If I look up at the sky and see that the sun is in fact shining, then the claim is correct, whether the crazy man is aware of this or not. The claim isn't linked to where it came from. To say otherwise is to commit the genetic fallacy.

Heim's move-- consistent in this case with his PoMo bedfellows-- is, I think, to commit a grandiose version of the genetic fallacy: pluralistic hypotheses arise from Western liberal academe, and therefore are wrong because linked to a certain historico-cultural situation. Also, like his PoMo bedfellows, Heim can't avoid making his own totalizing claims. Here he is in his own words:

An overworked image in discussion of religious pluralism is that of several blind persons examining an elephant. One, feeling the trunk, believes it to be a snake. Another, feeling the leg, believes it to be a tree. Yet another, touching the elephant's flank, insists it is a wall. The story classically illustrates the way apparently conflicting solutions stem from various limited perspectives on the same reality. The story of course is told from the point of view of the sighted person among the blind. But that assumed perspective is plainly untenable. The claim to be sighted in the world of the religiously blind cannot be rationally confirmed; there is no perspective "above" the faiths and unfaiths in that sense.

We are all in a similar position. Here there is a very real parity among the adherents of all faiths and none. We each have our own religious experience, which is continuous for us with the media of that experience. We are also each able to conceive and even to stress the distinction between that which we encounter in our religious experience and the means through which we come to the encounter or interpret it....

The parable's choice of an elephant as the object makes it laughably obvious that the blind persons could dispel their naive dogmas in a few moments, quickly accumulating all of each other's relevant experience of trunk, legs, and side, and then assimilating them to the same description. But the world is not an elephant. The parable would be more apt if we supposed we were speaking of a continent or a city, if we supposed that the blind persons themselves all came from continents and cultures of radically different types and times, and if we put ourselves not in the place of an omniscient observer but among the seekers. Exchange of experience is much more difficult in this context; a single life can gather only one very small thread of the whole. How one spends that life, in what modes of seeking, will inevitably affect what one finds and will shape how all other information is construed to form some integral version of the whole. We are not in the place of the sighted observer in the parable of the elephant. We cannot claim a "God's-eye view." We may, indeed we should, seek the most adequate reading of the world we can attain, based on the orientation through which we see it, our direct experience, and the most extensive integration possible of the warranted claims of others.

[emphasis added]

In the above quote*, I've highlighted Heim's totalizing claims, which run counter to the postmodernist move he's trying to make. While I would agree that we aren't privy to a God's-eye view of the world, I'd like to note a couple things.

1. The elephant analogy doesn't ascribe omniscience to the sighted person. Heim wants to claim that the meta-theoretical paradigms of religious pluralists are arrogating to themselves a God's-eye view. I don't believe this to be the case at all. They are, like the sighted man in the elephant analogy, simply at a remove from the immediate situation, and this is sufficient to provide superior insight. The sighted man is merely sighted, not all-seeing. His integrated perspective is objectively less blinkered than that of the blind men, which is the real point of the story.

2. Heim's attempt to link religious claims to historico-cultural circumstance, i.e., his advocacy of radical contextualization, neatly avoids the issue of the hegemonic truth claims that already emanate from the various religions. This is something I discussed in my very first major essay on religious pluralism on this blog:

As things stand, just about every "great" tradition pretends to some kind of universality. Most also include normative elements. Hick's personal battles, apart from the pluralism issue, revolve around stripping Christ of his normativity, because it's Christ's normativity-- "no man cometh before the Father but by me"-- that causes so much suffering on the interreligious level.


But in Pure Land Buddhism the name of the game is to get everyone motoring toward Sukhavati (and beyond, since Sukhavati isn't nirvana); in Mahayana thought, the bodhisattva is supposed to "save all beings from suffering." These are universalist ideas. That the nature of being is sunyatic, anityic, and dukkhic is indicative of Buddhism's own tendency toward normativity, because if you fail to see reality this way then you're simply delusional, chained to the Wheel. Every religion contains its own imperialism; adherents often cast aside humility and, even if they don't publicly acknowledge this, they think to themselves, "What a pity the other doesn't see the truth." It's what separates the ass from the cattle, the sheep from the goats. Kate McCarthy notes that many sympathetic non-Buddhists view Buddhism as being very open and inclusivistic, but she also notes wryly that "Buddhists don't budge on metaphysics."

I'm not sure that Heim has successfully reconciled the hegemonic claims of conservative (usually exclusivistic) religiosity with his orientational pluralistic paradigm. I don't see how he can have it both ways. Heim is a committed conservative Christian; as such, he must believe that the trinitarian filter through which he sees other faiths is normative. He must also believe that other, non-Christian religions are in error and that their members have to be brought into the Christian fold. I don't see how he can simultaneously claim that "no one has a God's-eye perspective," because certainly, this is not what any given religion claims: each claims to have grasped the ultimate truth about ultimate reality. As long as a committed Christian believes he's in the right and others are wrong, it matters little that he can recognize the possibility of a multiplicity of salvations. In actual practice-- in thought, word, and deed-- such a Christian is committed to rejecting this possibility.

Heim wants to discredit convergent pluralistic paradigms by declaring them merely perspectival and relative, but he simultaneously asserts that no objective judgements about such paradigms are possible. What if it's possible to develop a paradigm that does, in fact, reflect a greater religious truth than one known previously? I'm not suggesting that this is what pluralists like John Hick have actually done (in my opinion, they haven't), but what if? Can we flatly declare such an achievement to be impossible? Ironically, Heim employs a totalizing metanarrative to drive his anti-totalizing point home, thereby undermining his entire argument.

And that's why, despite my having edged closer to Heim on certain matters, I can't stand shoulder to shoulder with him. He's ably pointed out the very deep flaws in John Hick's more openly liberal Christian pluralistic paradigm, but he hasn't demonstrated that a conservative pluralistic solution to the problem is any more workable. I therefore continue to advocate a "groundless pluralism" that expresses itself-- however paradoxically-- as a nonphilosophical mutual inclusivism: a pluralism that's lived.

*With all due respect to Dr. Vallicella's recent post on the subject, the word "quote" can serve as a noun. Yes, I'm a barbarian. What's more, "to reference" is a legitimate verb! There, I said it. And now we all know: Kevin's going to hell.


blogroll surgery

There are a few blogs I've been wanting to add to my sidebar. I didn't want to add them until I had proper sidebar images crafted for them, but today I decided to slap them on, anyway. Check the sidebar out. If you're one of the people to whom I've written re: adding you to my sidebar, and you don't see your blog there, give me a holler and I'll rectumify the situation.

My policy remains: you're on my sidebar because I read you, not because I'm into mutual blogrolling. I see no purpose in adding you to my sidebar if I don't read you regularly. My judgement here is obviously subjective; a perfectly likable blog might not make it onto my sidebar for reasons that have nothing to do with nebulous concepts like "quality." Non-listing is NOT an indictment against you. For all I know, I might be blogrolling you later. There are unblogrolled people who read my blog; there are blogs I read whose owners haven't blogrolled me. No skin off my balls.

Adding blogs to the blogroll gets more difficult as time goes on, because I make an effort to read my blogroll regularly. I used to be able to get through them all on a daily basis; that's no longer possible. As with anything that starts to grow too big, clumping (in the form of blog classification) begins to occur. The Koreablogs now are divided into Old Tigers and Noble Hwarang. The distinction doesn't necessarily reflect how old the blogs are; it's more a reflection of how long I've been reading them, or more precisely, how recently they've impinged on my consciousness.

By adding links without sidebar pics, I've given myself another art project. Over the next couple of months, once I'm established in my "permanent" apartment, I'll be crafting sidebar pics & you'll notice how the look changes over time.


how to conduct a war of the mind

Maybe my pacifist readership will shrink at my use of the word "war," but I think it's appropriate because it signals something very real, very pragmatic.

In my previous post on Islam, I made reference to the need for a larger feminist voice within the religion.

Today I happened upon this article (link via Drudge):

I won't be intimidated for expressing my views.

The woman in question, Hirsi Ali, has made a movie titled "Submission" that is provoking outrage among Muslims. A snippet of the article:

Somali-born Hirsi Ali, 34, is herself a former Muslim and an outspoken critic of Islam's treatment of women. Her film 'Submission' which depicts the text of the Koran on the naked flesh of Muslim women, is provoking a furore in the Netherlands.


But Hirsi Ali is undaunted: "Reactions to my film have been varied and I accept some people are offended, that's legitimate, but in a democracy it is not legitimate to intimidate and threaten someone for expressing her views. I made the film to publicise an injustice that is being ignored not only in Holland but throughout the world."

Hirsi Ali reflects the spirit of today's Dutch society with her conviction that 'tolerance' means Muslims in the Netherlands – almost one million in a total population of 16 million – must accept Western values.

"That means people from non-Western countries need to be educated about democratic values which include the freedom of expression," said Hirsi Ali. If people feel she has gone too far with her film they must take her to court and not take the law into their own hands, she said defiantly. "Otherwise the rule of the jungle will prevail," she added.

If you're a non-American still laboring under the delusion that only Americans feel this way about the necessary role of secularism, I hope Ali serves to remind you that others outside America feel this way, too.

The article goes on to talk about the scandalous sensuality of Ali's film, which portrays Muslim women naked-- and abused. Feminism at its best is body-centered, however, and this might be just what the Muslim world needs to see.


belated Yom Kippur wishes

I'm late with this and apologize, but please accept my belated wishes for a humble and mindful Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. If it's any consolation, I think that any day in which we're conscious of the wrong we do can serve as Yom Kippur.

It may sound corny, but one of my favorite moments in the otherwise-goofy "The Thirteenth Warrior" was the prayer uttered by Antonio Banderas's character, Ibn Fadlan:

For all we ought to have thought
but have not thought
For all we ought to have said
but have not said
For all we ought to have done
but have not done
I pray thee, God, for forgiveness


Sunday, September 26, 2004

Shyabu-shyabu Redux

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader feels that the good ole Big Hominid's co-worker is displaying a little ethnic pride concerning the dish called, in Korean, Shyabu-Shyabu. Upon hearing the name, the Big Ho' mentioned that the name sounded Japanese. The Big Ho's co-worker stated the dish was Korean.

Well, your Maximum Leader started reading the Big Hominid's description of the dish and thought immediately, "Ah! Shabu-shabu!" Shabu-shabu is, to the best of your Maximum Leader's knowledge, a traditional Japanese dish. The name "Shabu-Shabu" coming from the swishing noise made by your chopsticks while cooking the beef.

Of course, the true historical antecedents of this dish are rather hard to pin down. Most "traditional" dishes of one asian nation have close counterparts in most other Asian nations. So, this dish may be rightfully claimed by either Korea or Japan. Insofar as most non-asian nations are concerned, this dish is typically identified with Japan.

A quick search of the Food Network's web page resulted in finding an Emeril Lagasse variation on this rather common recipe. A quick Google search renders this as the first match.

Your Maximum Leader has prepared Shabu-Shabu himself. Here is his take on it:

Shabu-Shabu (Maximum Leader style)
For 3 women, 2 men, or 1 Big Hominid.

1.5 lbs of beef (sliced paper-thin, with little marbling)
4 large leaves of Chinese cabbage
2 Leeks
8-10 Shiitake mushrooms
1 small package (7-8oz) of Watercress
3.5 oz of rice noodles (the thin transparent type)
Sesame sauce
3-4 cups of distilled water or clear chicken/beef stock

FYI the Sesame Sauce for dipping consists of: sesame paste mixed with sugar, miso, saké, rice vinegar, sesame oil and soy sauce. A few (2-3) tablespoons of each mixed together to taste. Your Maximum Leader likes to add a little more rice vinegar (4-6 tbs) to get the taste he likes.

Step 1) Cut your cabbage and leeks into small thin strips of roughly equal length. (Your Maximum Leader generally goes about 2 inches long by .25 inches wide by .5 inches thick.)

Step 2) Cut watercress into 2 inch lengths.

Step 3) Remove stems from Shiitake and clean the caps.

Step 4) Soak rice noodles in cold water until they become translucent and soft.

Step 5) Arrange the veggies and beef on plates. Place dipping sauce in bowls. Your Maximum Leader generally arranges all of the veggies and sauces on plates on a per person dining basis, but puts the beef on a separate plate or plates. (To keep contamination down.) But your Maximum Leader has seen all the elements arranged together on single plates.

Step 6) Bring your water/broth/stock to boil over table-top burner. If you have a nice earthenware pot, use it. Otherwise a wide mouthed fondue pot will work. If you are doing this in the comfort of your own home without guests to impress use a regular thin metal saucepan.

Step 7) At the table, individually take slices of the meat with chopsticks and swish them back and forth in the boiling liquid a few times. As soon as the meat turns colour, remove it, dip into sauce, and eat/plate it. Remove any scum that may appear on the liquid periodically. After the meat is cooked, add the veggies in small batches and bring to boil. Add rice noodles. Then dish out the soup into bowls and eat.

Aside: As for the water/broth/stock choice. If you have access to really high quality beef (like Kobe, Mishima, or a particularly fine and tender USDA Prime Angus) your Maximum Leader will recommend distilled water. The water is without chemicals which, if they were present, would disturb the flavour of the meat. If you are using a regular beef, you may want to go with beef/chicken stock/broth. This will add a little flavour to the meat and soup as they cook. Be careful that the stock/broth is not too salty.

So there you have it. Shabu-shabu, Maximum Leader style.

Carry on.


BigHo's ADDENDUM: Just to clarify: my companion didn't say the dish was Korean; in fact, she didn't know where it came from. But "shyabu-shyabu" doesn't sound like a typically Korean phrase, which is why I asked her about the dish's provenance. It's also interesting to note that the Korean version I ate didn't include any dipping, and the noodles weren't transparent: they were closer to the noodles found in Korean-style Chinese food like jjajang-myeon, but thinner and yummier.


kamja-t'ang and shyabu-shyabu

I spent a good portion of today doing fun things like taking care of my laundry, teaching French to a co-worker of mine, and enjoying an early dinner of kamja-t'ang, or potato stew. The name is somewhat misleading: arguably, the stew's main ingredient is beef: huge hunks of it boiled to luscious tenderness and flaking off the bones.

The stew's color reminded me of boshin-t'ang, but the taste was nothing like dog stew. While slurping away, I was reminded of a restaurant in Youido that serves an incredible beef-and-noodle dish, so I asked my dinner companion if she knew the name of what I was talking about. "Shyabu-shyabu," she said.

I'd had this dish only once, in 1996, but it remains one of the high points of my time in Korea. I was sitting at a typical, Korean-style, four-seater table with a burner set into its center. The burner was lit; a huge metal bowl with a flat bottom was placed atop the burner. A clear but beefy soup stock was poured in and allowed to warm up, and this was followed by fresh-made noodles (they smelled wonderful in their raw state) and rich, red beef sliced in wide, paper-thin strips. If I remember correctly, there were also some vegetables, but it was the beef and noodles that stuck in my memory.

There were four of us at the table, and the lady who prepared the soup ladled equal amounts into our bowls. We chowed down; there was enough left over for seconds. The remaining broth served as the starter for the next course: rice, egg, and some sort of oil were added to the main bowl and stirred around to form a beefy, eggy, vegetable-y porridge, and this, too, was ladled into our individual bowls. The whole experience was amazing, from start to finish. I've wanted to go back to that restaurant ever since.

Shyabu-shyabu. I told my companion that this sounded Japanese, but she said it wasn't. She also said that there was a shyabu-shyabu place not far from the kamja-t'ang restaurant we were in.

Mmmm. I think I've found something else to do while on vacation.


(Darth Vader's breathing)

OK, I'm convinced.

Jen Chaney's Washington Post review of the newly released Star Wars Trilogy DVD set has persuaded me to buy it (probably sometime in 2005, when I'm back in the States). True, the movies in this set have all been tinkered with by The Flanneled One (as George Lucas is known), and Lucas isn't planning to release the original, unretouched movies, but Chaney's unabashed drooling over the DVD features has gotten me pumped.

By the way, the same DVD set reduced Wooj to incoherence. In this blog post, he gleefully shows off pics of his newly acquired DVD set while screaming vowels.


pardon my rudeness

Ryan Overbey, back to blogging and very much en forme, recently attended a Harvard Divinity School orientation panel titled "The Study of Religion in a Time of War." He took some notes of the discussion and posted a list of some of the salient issues. I wanted to address a couple of them here.

1. How does a modern scholar of religion answer the allegation, often made in Muslim intellectual circles, that the Global War on Terror is nothing more than a War on Islam?

I think this is how Muslims themselves choose to view the issue. From their point of view, it's Dar al Islam (the House of Islam, or House of Submission) versus Dar al Harb (the House of War/Chaos). It is Islam, both in its moderate and extreme forms, that continues to advocate a nonsecularist viewpoint admitting no possibility of a healthy religious pluralism-- something Muslim societies desperately need, in my untutored, un-PC opinion.

Muslims aren't automata: moderate Muslims can choose to help the global situation by loudly decrying the sins of their terrorist brothers. And beyond simply deploring these sins, moderates can begin to reform their educational systems to reflect the actual realities around them. For starters, textbooks highlighting the fruits of Muslim-Christian dialogue would be nice: Muslims have for centuries promulgated deep misconceptions about Christians and Christianity, mainly for Muslim audiences. While it's true that Western Christians labor under their own delusions about Islam, international violence statistics these days tend to support the Christians' side. From what religion do most international terrorists hail? In almost all cases, they're Muslim. If this fact can't be openly acknowledged by Muslims themselves, we won't get anywhere anytime soon.

I won't accept a culturally relativistic answer to this challenge. The stats don't lie. While Christianity has had plenty of its own sins to answer for over the centuries, the modern situation is one in which Islam stands implicated and culpable. The sick irony is that so much of modern Islam, through its silent complicity with the terrorists, seems more like the House of War than any house of peaceful submission to God. Where are the moderate voices?

2. Scholars of Islam are in a bind: they are simultaneously compelled to condemn the terrorists, and to defend the tradition.

I think that whichever scholar said this must have been lying. Scholars of Islam in American academe are in the world's friendliest environment to make whatever claims they like about Jews and the West, and they'll find sympathetic non-Muslim hearers at almost every campus. I don't believe for a moment that scholars of Islam who reside in America are being "compelled" to condemn the terrorists. It would be nice if said scholars were impelled to condemn the terrorists, though. So much of the current Muslim problem stems from pious nonsense generated in Muslim intellectual circles; an effective solution can only arise from those same circles.

3. Why is there such a profound requirement to publicly condemn the actions of Muslim co-religionists, especially when a similar burden of public condemnation is not placed on Christians or Jews whose co-religionists commit atrocities?

I have to answer this as both a Westerner and a Christian: the requirement comes from a basic notion of common decency. Is the complainant in question (3) demanding parity? Is s/he demanding that Christians (Jews, etc.) accompany Muslims to the confessional for simultaneous expiation? Nonsense.

As for whether Christians (Jews, etc.) don't deplore Christian (Jewish, etc.) injustice: you've got to be kidding me. The news media do indeed show the intrareligious debates among liberal and conservative Christians regarding a whole host of topics ranging from abortion to gay marriage to just war. One doesn't have to look hard to find these debates occurring in cyberspace, on TV, and in print. Today's Western Christianity is intensely self-critical, to the point that Christians at the liberal end of the spectrum are willing to unplug almost all of the exclusivism from Christian theology, christology, and pneumatology by deconstructing-- some might say defanging-- core notions like God, Christ, and trinity.

At the risk of sounding self-righteous: it's Christians who have been at the forefront of efforts at interreligious dialogue, and Christians who have been most affected by their encounter with other religions. While the profound theological/spiritual changes might be happening only in the more liberal wing of Christendom, these changes have the potential to spread into greater Christendom as years go by. Theologies change; this is inevitable. Arrogant as it may sound, Islam needs to follow a similar path. Perhaps it needs to have more peaceful Koranic narratives brought to the fore, or it needs a dramatic reinterpretation of the violent elements in its scripture, much as Gandhi reinterpreted the Bhagavad Gita as a tract advocating internal and external peace.

The charge that modern Christians and Jews display no self-criticality (or an insufficient level of it) is absolutely false. If there is no "burden of public condemnation" on today's Christians and Jews, it's because they're already about the business of intrareligious critique.

4. In political science, why do so many analyses of politics in the Muslim world use circumstances of seventh-century Arabia or the irrationality of fundamentalist Muslims as the prime motivating factor for action? Why ignore other conditions such as poverty, colonialism, &c?

Maybe it's because we have the dubious privilege of living in a time when we can document Muslim irrationality as atrocities occur one after another.

Also-- oppressed people have not always chosen to react to oppression with the kind of violence we see coming from Muslim quarters today. Here again, the example of Gandhi shames all adherents of all religions who too quickly choose the violent route in response to oppression. Gandhi's satyagraha project was an amazing example of the power of nonviolent action to change a regime and reclaim a society. The project is by no means finished, of course; today's Hindus are scattered all along the violence/pacifism spectrum. But Gandhi's case is paradigmatic, as is that of the European Jews who refused to respond with violence to Hitler's oppression and systematic massacre of them. Does Islam have any such paradigmatic cases? If it does, why aren't they front and center?

The other problem-- and this was pointed out well before Gulf War 2-- is that the Muslims who spearheaded the 9/11 attack and who lead the various terrorist groups still fighting today are not from the ranks of the poor, uneducated, and physically/psychically oppressed. These are largely educated people of means, inculcated in an ideology. They have a plan. The bin Ladenic vision is much more grandiose than a mere response to perceived oppression: it aims for the reestablishment of the Dar al Islam, a restoration of former Muslim glory on an immense scale. Al Qaeda is not striving for a merely proportionate response to the West: this isn't simply a battle to preserve Islam (which, having a membership of around 1.3 billion, isn't in danger of disappearing anytime soon), but a war to convert the world. Or so these Muslims would say.

On a more conciliatory note, I'll observe that 1.3 billion Muslims are not all taking up arms and chopping up every infidel they see. Most of these folks are average Joes and Janes who want to live their lives and practice their faith in peace. For the conservatives who assume that Islam is somehow inherently warlike, I present the nonviolent Muslim majority as evidence against that argument.

At the same time, I can't back down from my belief that now is the time for Muslim mea culpas-- not Christian, not Jewish. The perceptive will have noted that Pope John Paul II, known derisively to some Catholics as The Pope of Apologies, has been a fervent advocate of interreligious dialogue. Under him, the Roman Church has recanted its position on many subjects, most notably its position re: Galileo. It's true that the Roman Church's stance on other matters, such as homosexuality, remains (in my opinion) antediluvian, but it's changing. The same goes for many Protestant churches in the West. This modernization (the famous term from Vatican 2 is aggiornamento), when it happens, is all to Christianity's credit. Muslims must make a similar move.

I've spoken often on this blog about the need for Islam to acquire a secularist element, though I know this is next to impossible, especially in the current climate. I hope that Muslims who live in America, far from becoming insular and feeling beleaguered, participate in the larger, secular, pluralistic world of American culture and then somehow export this pluralism, in disjointed fragments if need be, back to the Old Countries. I was never convinced that a democratizing project would work if violence were the primary instrument-- that's one of the reasons why I was against the war. But if this is truly a war of the mind, then we need to concentrate on the generation and propagation of the appropriate memes to aid us in that war.

I also think American Muslims and non-Muslims have a stake in cultivating a much stronger feminist sensibility in American Islam. This sensibility desperately needs to be exported.

Do I stand in judgement of Islam as a Westerner, and particularly as an American Christian? Of course! In this case, I'll fall back on S. Mark Heim's orientational pluralistic paradigm and assert that, yes, I'm doing exactly that while acknowledging that other people with different points of view can and will do the same to me. Angry Muslims currently stand in judgement of my culture; they should expect that I do the same of theirs. But unlike Muslim extremists, I don't advocate going about matters by sawing off people's heads. And unlike Muslim moderates, I won't keep silent if I think my Christian co-religionists are in the wrong (as they too often are).

Sorry, but these questions pissed me off. Many thanks to Ryan for his intrepid note-taking.


Zen and postmodernism

The KimcheeGI sends me some links related to that book reviewer, Jin Y. Park.

Link 1

Link 2

Link 3

Charlie writes: seems like she's trying to deconstruct Son and leans towards Won buddhism, but judging by titles, of course, is a dangerous supposition when dealing with anyone who claims the post-modern school.

[What follows is the text, slightly edited, of my emailed reply to Charlie. I thought it worth blogging, so voilà.]

PoMo on my monitor!

Augh! My eyes! My EYES!

The Derridean wing of PoMo makes claims that are to some degree consistent with Buddhist nonessentialistic thinking (e.g., the idea that, in the world of semiotics, there's no "transcendental signified"-- i.e., no foundation of meaning), but I'm wary of drawing too many Zen/PoMo parallels. I guess I'd have to (gag) read Park's work before I can judge her arguments, but if you're right that her project is deconstructive of Son, then one thing I'd look out for is whether she misses the brute fact that Derrida's differential PoMo schema is still, at its heart, dualistic. Zen isn't. Derrida is content to paint a picture of the eternal (inter)play of signifiers; he and many of his fellow PoMoers aren't too keen on moving out of the sandbox to deal directly with questions of process nondualistic ontology.

I think PoMo probably does have something to say, sociologically, about the role of power, gender, etc., in Buddhism as it's lived, but PoMo isn't a rigorously developed philosophical system. Rather, it's a label for a jumble of thematically related thought-streams, which limits its ability to make coherent critiques of... well, anything. PoMo puts a huge focus on things like "particularity" and "alterity," often presuming "irreducible diversity" in an attempt to prove that, when it comes to human phenomena, it's simply impossible to generalize. Two problems immediately arise, though:

1. PoMoers themselves end up making general claims, which is blatantly hypocritical.

2. Much PoMo thought is (deliberately) self-deconstructing, which means that after the chunk of PoMo reasoning dissolves in your mouth to a tasteless mush, you're left wondering what you just ate. In academic terms, it's almost impossible to know whether the PoMo writer herself believes the claims she's making-- i.e., is her goal to make the claims "stick," or is everything she's saying merely provisional and loaded with qualifiers?

To some extent, all academe demands qualifications. You can't just make a brute, bumper-sticker-style claim and expect to be taken seriously. Facile generalizations usually indicate a simpleminded approach to theory and research. But PoMo's absolute insistence on irreducible diversity, alterity, pluralism, etc. is unbalanced: if we assume, blindly and from the outset, that it's impossible to make any general claims about human phenomena, then we're basically attacking one of the most important human faculties we have: the ability to construct theories and discern patterns. PoMo, in the French tradition from which it largely springs, worships cosmic absurdity and resists cosmic intelligibility.

PoMo is also, in the main, fighting so-called "totalizing metanarratives," i.e., grand theories that attempt to explain complex phenomena very simply. It's at war against "ahistoricality," i.e., claims that supposedly apply eternally to the human condition, regardless of historical period. There's some truth to the idea that we've leaned heavily on ahistorical claims in our theory-making over the centuries, but as someone like Dr. Vallicella would point out, there are entire classes of ahistorical things-- among them, mathematical truths like 2+2=4, which remain true regardless of time and place.

To put this in terms of the Heart Sutra: PoMo swings toward form (i.e., particularity and diversity); totalizing metanarratives swing toward emptiness (i.e., generality and unity). Neither approach is a balanced one. If anything, each needs the other.

PoMo is Yang taking out a knife and trying to amputate Yin.


Saturday, September 25, 2004


Dogs can apparently smell cancer. Or so it's said.

...And that's it for this Saturday edition of the Hairy Chasms. I got a note from the Maximum Leader asking me to change my blog's banner back to the old, innocuous image, but the blog ban is still going on. The usual suspects remain banned from the office at EC (they were tantalizingly available for a short time one day last week); sorry, my friend, but the banner stays. Not to worry, though: to reflect the situation more accurately (i.e., the fact that the ban has largely been lifted), I might create a sidebar image to serve as a constant reminder of the lingering ban, and change the blog banner to something a bit more... palatable.

Probably a drawing featuring lots of snot.

I leave you with this link: Crapwoman, a parody of Halle Berry's "Catwoman." Watch out for pop-up ads, though. Maybe you're safe in the States, but here in Seoul, I was assaulted by five or six of them before I could see the animation.


language: the mini-rant

I'm peeved by what appears to be a growing trend in contemporary American (and possibly British) English: using the French word sans to mean "except (for)." For years, speakers of American English have used this word properly; sans is the French way to say "without." This has been true since the dawn of the universe. It is a truth inscribed in every atom, in every subatomic particle. Right after the Good Lord said, "Let there be light," he declared that sans means "without."

Lately, however, I've seen more and more online writings that misuse the word. The trend is growing; it's part of the rapid deterioration of English, a phenomenon abetted by the proliferation of sloppy Net-isms such as yanno and nevermind and yea (instead of "yeah"). Whenever sans is misused, it feels like my cat is swatting at my balls the way a boxer goes after his speed bag: ba-dubbada-scratch, ba-dubbada-scratch, ba-dubbada-scratch.

Leave my testicles alone. Use sans correctly. Don't write sentences like, "All the coalition members sans Australia were in agreement."

Want to know how the French say "except (for)"?

They say excepté. Or sauf.

Watch your language.


Buddhism notes

Charlie the KimcheeGI sent me a great link to a book review written by Jin Y. Park. The book in question is called Being Buddhist in a Christian World by Sharon Suh.

The review itself is very thorough and makes me want to buy the book. I do, however, have one disagreement with Park, who writes:

...the author [Suh] argues that, unlike the overemphasis on selflessness as the core of Buddhism seen in western introductory courses on the religion, "discourse on selflessness was historically aimed at the most highly trained of monastic Buddhist scholars interested in questions of ontology and was not a concern of the ordinary lay Buddhist" (p. 5). This is a strong claim which requires some scholarly buttressing, but which the book does not provide.

I disagree that this is a "strong claim." It's not radical at all: any Religion 101 student can tell you that religion, as a sociological phenomenon, divides itself up into "classes" and "groups" much the same way any other human phenomenon will. Robert Buswell makes this point very well about the Korean monastic community in his The Zen Monastic Experience: there are monks who are more philosophical and scholarship-oriented, monks who are less intellectually inclined and more action-oriented, etc. Buswell also notes that only a small percentage of monks devote their careers to hard-driving meditation.

When you move outside of the monastic community proper to look at temple-lay sangha relationships, the sociology still applies: the lay folks who receive the monks' teachings come in all shapes and sizes, i.e., some are more prone to live their Buddhism in a folkloric (read: superstitious) manner; others will approach it with more intellectual rigor and be less magically inclined, etc. Since the laypeople don't undergo anything like the scholarly training most monks receive, it should be obvious that lay Buddhism will be a lot less philosophically/metaphysically oriented.

Many lay Buddhists have little notion of the philosophical underpinnings of Buddhism, just as most lay Christians aren't equipped to discuss the subtleties of trinitarian theology. This doesn't make lay Buddhists any "less Buddhist"; on the contrary, this serves as a reminder that overly reductive definitions of "Buddhism" (or "Christianity," or "Islam") tend to disclude huge numbers of adherents, producing a distorted picture of the tradition in question while claiming to provide a more accurate account of "what Religion X really is."

UPDATE: I missed the fact that Ryan Overbey is back to blogging again. Go give his blog a visit if you're interested in religious issues.


yeah, right, Jeff

Jeff thinks his lizard kicks ass (read his hilarious post here), but if my centipede were alive, we both know who'd come out on top in a fight.

Jeff, your lizard is nothing. When I look at it, I see an effete, whiny little bitch-boy waiting to be slapped around for pay. You might as well just spray paint PUSSY in huge letters on its back. Sure, your lizard can pose like a fashion model, but can it defend against a lightning-fast, 28-leg kick attack? I didn't fucking think so.

My centipede was able to explode an elephant's heart with a look. What does your lizard do, eh? I bet it spends most of its time reading Danielle Steel novels and drinking martinis with one clawed pinky permanently raised in that universally understood "Beat me now!" gesture.

Give it up, Jeff. Centipedes will be ruling this planet in a few decades' time. You've put your money on the wrong horse.

If I ever manage to resurrect my centipede, you'll see what I mean.

NB: read about the centipenis here. And lest we forget: my centipede ran a phone sex hotline.


Hominid beat-down

I've gotten three reproachful emails about my handling of the woman situation now. I've quoted the relevant parts here.

Arn, emailing from hurricane-battered Florida, writes:

One last thing. Kevin, a woman is a woman is a woman. The boss, whatever her diesel-dyke exterior, is in constant competition with all other women in the organization for male attention. Get a bonsai tree and present it to her one day. Trust me on this.

Regards and rearguards,

Scott, who wrote in a few days ago, says the following:

The weirdness of your situation (for you) is that you actually hit your boss on a very deep emotional level. Unintended or not, her womanly side was crushed to not get flowers. For some reason, girls LOVE getting them. And by her being the only one to not get any further re-enforced her internalized notion of being the Cold Chief Bitch of the office.

Once (Once!) I sent my girlfriend a dozen roses for Valentine's Day - to her office. The female co-workers and her female boss got snippy about it because *they* didn't receive any flowers. The co-workers didn't go apeshit about it, but the flowers were rubbing the other girls' noses into the fact that THEIR LIFE SUCKS (or similar message).

In the end, I don't think it helps. And at this point it's much too late to give the boss some flowers. But just keep in mind that the next time you give any of the secretaries a treat (flowers, chocolate, etc) be sure to do two things - give something to the boss, and give the boss the best item of the lot. She's the boss and needs to have that re-enforced.

It sucks to have to do it, but it can help smooth things out later on.

Hope this helps.


And finally, Charlie writes:

I'd have thought that you of all people would have known to steer clear of feminine office politics, esp with Korean women involved...

Cold Chief Bitch? Diesel Dyke?

One thing I'll say in my defense: I can't and won't kiss the boss's ass. I have no plans to go out of my way to keep her happy. It might get me fired, but being a fired expat in Korea isn't exactly a tragic state of affairs. Besides, the way things are looking now, I don't think any more bad karma will be heading my way. But maybe you should ask me again in a few weeks. I might be singing a different tune by then.

Full disclosure (some of my co-workers read this blog, so I'd better cover my ass now): The Boss hasn't been visibly nasty to me or, to my knowledge, to any of my expat colleagues. She may be aware that most expats won't put up with that shit, whereas ethnic Koreans, gyopo or not, will tolerate being pushed around because they're more plugged into the Korean way of doing things.

But the reports I get from my Korean colleagues are downright depressing. The Boss asks them pointed questions about how she's perceived. She wants to know what people have discussed when they get together for dinner or drinks. She wants to hear about any complaints about the system. She wants to know whether the students are complaining about the expats. And it's not just The Boss who's acting like the Eye of Sauron: it's also The Founder over in the head office, who keeps tabs on his Korean workers and holds them unfairly responsible for things they can't control.

Our Korean teachers aren't on salary. Their pay is a function of several interrelated factors: student registration, re-registration, absenteeism, and cancellation. Students range in age from, roughly, middle school to almost-retiree. Their lives are extremely busy: along with business, school, and family commitments, many students are also taking classes at other institutes, and if they're "salarymen," they're often expected to go out on obligatory drinking sessions with their bosses.

If one of my partner teachers has five students during her shift, and one of them suddenly calls in to say she can't make it, this pegs my partner's absenteeism rate at 20% for the day. The cumulative effect of an absence here and an absence there can be devastating to my partner's monthly pay. The hell of it is that, in most cases, students are absent for reasons we at EC can't control. It's ridiculous to hold the teachers-- the Korean teachers in particular-- responsible for this. My feeling is that, if a student has registered for X months of classes with us, then any absences during that time period shouldn't count against the teacher: after all, the student's already paid for the classes: the hagwon has its money.

The poisonous dynamic is this: we expats cheer each absence because, obviously, this means less work for us. Our Korean colleagues, however, bemoan each absence because this means a potential pay cut as well as A Talk With The Boss. It also means that The Boss will openly muse about firing So-and-So, sometimes not telling So-and-So directly. The Boss knows how to work the grapevine-- yet another reason for me not to want to kiss her ass. The end result is that the "teamwork ethic" is a sham: expat and Korean teachers are differently motivated. We expats have little reason to fear an absence because we're on salary. It's only if we go below a certain minimum that our pay will be cut.

To make matters worse, the Korean teachers are asked to evaluate the performance of the partner teachers, which forces the Korean teachers to act, periodically, as an arm of management-- something the Korean teachers themselves find distasteful, because they like working with their expat partners (that's my impression, at least!).

The upshot is that I'm happy to be on vacation, and I won't be thinking about giving anyone roses anytime soon.



A very interesting website featuring a Moroccan artist, Ahmed Laarissa, currently in Korea and married to a Canadian, who works in a traditional style called zouaq. I noticed his site counter showed not even 300 visitors as of today, so I thought I'd try to help send some traffic his way. If you see something you like (whether you're in Korea or elsewhere), think about helping the artist out. His work is gorgeous. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to catch the Korean eye-- I heard from one Korean co-worker that zouaq looks "too busy." This struck me as strange, since Korean Buddhist t'aeng-hwa (you probably know it by the Sino-Tibetan designation tanka or thangka) are pretty busy, too. Laarissa has, in fact, been doing some painting inside Buddhist temples-- the kind of interreligious effort that gives me a bit more faith in humanity.


indomitable blubber

Here is your two-day progress check: so far, no repercussions from the War of the Roses (scroll down to the post of that name). If The Boss is planning something, she's keeping a poker face about it. I might have gotten away unscathed. This time.

The roses, last I checked, were still wrapped in their plastic sheaths, recumbent atop the receptionists' flat-screen monitors, inadvertently mocking The Boss.

I got my gift of tuna regardless. At least I'll be eating some sort of tuna during my vacation.


death tastes like chicken

"As possible as I can" is one of those classic Konglish phrases you hear at the hagwon almost every day. Another good one is the question, "Do you eat dog food?" --which means, "Have you ever eaten dog meat?" Dog meat is mighty tasty, even though it's prepared in a revolting manner. The whole business of meat-eating isn't pretty; you either reconcile yourself with this fact or you don't.

After writing the previous post about terrorism, I started to wonder-- as I think most of us do these days-- about what it'd be like to be in an orange jumpsuit awaiting the bite of the terrorist's knife into my neck. And then a distracting question suddenly popped into my brain: "What does death taste like?"

Near as I can figure, death-- by which I really mean the afterlife and our view of it-- tastes like chicken.

Chicken is extremely popular throughout much of the world, and statistically speaking, all chickens die. Of the chickens that die (no reported cases of "bodily chicken ascension" so far), many, if not most, are eaten. Some chickens, still alive, are actually eaten to death. Most, however, are eaten soon after death (often involving beheading, strangely enough). My point is that there seems to be a very high correlation between chickens, death, and eating. It therefore seems only fair to theorize that, to the extent that death has a gustatory aspect, this aspect is, for lack of a better word, "poultronic."

It's interesting that we tend to visualize death (i.e., the afterlife) but don't think to perceive it with our other senses. I'm not even sure what fancy verbs we'd use to denote such sensory outreach.

see --> visualize (from visual faculties)
hear --> auditize? (from auditory faculties)
smell --> olfactorize? (from olfactory faculties)
taste --> gustatize? (from gustatory faculties)
feel --> tactize? (from tactile faculties)

So what would death/afterlife smell like? Sound like? Feel like? I don't have any faith that death's poultronic taste will be accompanied by a correspondingly poultronic smell, sound, and feel. Besides, when I check out, I don't want to be greeted by the odor of musty feathers, a chorus of mad clucking, and the ripping of ghostly fighting-cock claws into my immortal soul. Here's hoping that death smells like roses, sounds like Satchmo, and feels like something hot, wet, and pink.

O Jesus, My Sweet Jesus H. Christ
Send not Thy Deathchickens to claim my soul
O Jesus who Doth Get His Holy Freak On
Send Thine Angel of Mercy
Not the Poulet Sans Pitié
And let me enter the exalted gates of the Kingdom of Madness
Borne aloft by my bright shining Scrotum of Glory
In Your Most Holy Name, Amen

UPDATE: In keeping with the above theological shenanigans, I hereby present you a link just emailed to me from a friend at CUA: Republicans admit sending around flyers claiming that liberals plan on banning the Bible. Heh. NB: the article notes that VP candidate John Edwards has called on President Bush to condemn the flyer campaign. In other words, the article isn't implying that Bush is behind this latest piece of political goofiness. I also think that most moderate Republicans would themselves have a good laugh at this campaign. There might be religious conservatives who are, in fact, stupid enough to believe that the Good Book will end up banned under a Democratic presidency. Let these folk squawk and flap and join the ranks of the chorusing Deathchickens. Hell needs and welcomes theological cluckers of all religious persuasions.

UPDATE 2: Damn. A Google search of the string "death tastes like chicken" reveals how unoriginal my sentiment is.


Friday, September 24, 2004

al Qaeda terrorism in Korea against US citizens?

Jeff posts an official announcement from the US Embassy about the possibility of Islamic terrorist activity and potentially violent anti-American demonstrations in Korea.

As I remarked long ago, I doubt Korean society will show the same tolerance we show in America should a terrorist act occur on Korean soil. This may be more true if it's Koreans who are attacked, but I suspect Korea would show plenty of outrage even if the terrorists went for foreigners in Korea.

The announcement gave me a bit of pause, but it's too early to analyze the situation. Plenty of Koreabloggers have already predicted that Korea will be in a huge uproar as soon as the first Korean troops are killed in Iraq. Much of this uproar will be directed, rightly or wrongly (mostly wrongly) against America, but a good measure of it will be directed at Korea's burgeoning expat Muslim population, which hails from all over the world.

While the US announcement makes me a bit more wary than usual, I think it's highly unlikely that terrorists will be able to conduct a successful operation in Seoul or elsewhere. Why?

1. Very strict control of guns and the like. South Korea's borders aren't sealed by any means, but they're a lot tighter, on this score, than America's are.

2. The fact that Muslims represent such a small minority here (as opposed to, say, the 8-10% percent of the French population who are Muslim). Arab Muslims in particular have nowhere to hide in Korea. They simply don't look Korean. Sorry, but someone's gotta say the obvious.

3. A serious attack on Korean soil would likely swing the tide of opinion heavily in favor of a Korean troop presence in Iraq, and if the "insurgents" are going to whine about the supposed brutality of American troops, wait'll they get a taste of Korean Special Forces.

As Forrest said: "And that's all I have to say about that."