Sunday, October 31, 2004

public service announcement

a message from... aaaaaaaaall of us


horrible birds

the warning

the reaction

Satan's little helper


the horror of syncretism: Greco-Buddhism

So I'm misusing the word "horror" to keep with the Halloween theme. Sue me.

Here's a great link to a very interesting Wikipedia article on Greco-Buddhism. It's going on my sidebar as another Buddhism must-have.


additional horror

Kevin of IA can't stay away from his blog. Like a serial groper with a fixation on a particular victim, he keeps tweaking its nipples. I'm putting his icon back on my sidebar because, dammit, we should all be witnesses to his groping.

Blog, goddammit! Blog!

(NB: You also may have noticed that I'm at my keyboard and not teaching French. Yes, sad but true. I decided to give my tired ass a rest, so at the last minute I called my student and told her I was cancelling. She said that was fine, since she had a sore throat, anyway. It's still gonna take a few hours to slap something up here, though, so veuillez patienter, s'il vous plaît.)


real horrorshow, droogies

Happy Halloween! I'm going to try to put up some sort of artwork later today, but bear with me: I'm also teaching French for a healthy chunk of the afternoon. Here's something to keep you busy in the meantime.

A great insight from the Infidel:

The Roh administration made it sound as if serving in Iraq was a quid pro quo, like a family member one really doesn't like but can't refuse just now, for Washington's deal on redeployment or a deal with Pyongyang. There was no intimation that Seoul had any reckoning of its national interest in the war on terror or as an ally of the United States. The younger generation is dissolving bonds of family and kinship, just when the middle-aged ones are breathing the last breath of their radical ideological youths. One generation is retiring into the sleep of the blessed, while the other is feeling the golden glories of a racial and cultural past.

In other horror news:

I finished work at 6:30PM on Saturday evening and went straight out to Chongno to meet my buddy Jang-woong, his sister, and her family. I hadn't seen them in a long time, and they'd been wanting to get together for a couple months. In typical Korean fashion, the evening was a rushed event: we were to meet at the Chongno TGI Friday's at 7:30PM, eat a quick dinner, then go see a movie.

Dinner wasn't the horrifying part: we finished eating around 8:30, then piled into Jang-woong's small car (there were six of us, four being adults) and rushed off to an 8:50PM movie in Ch'ungmuro, not far from the Chongno main drag.

The movie, my friends, provided more than enough horror to make up for a pleasant dinner. Apparently, movie selection was left to Hyon-ah, the younger daughter in the group (the group consisted of me, Jang-woong, his sister, her husband, and their two daughters).

We saw "Princess Diaries 2."

I had no idea that we Americans were capable of producing ball-shrinking rubbish on par with the emasculating nightmare of Hello Kitty. My sac spent almost two hours just screaming and screaming: the target market for this film is nine-year-old girls.

"Princess Diaries 2" features gowns, dresses, tiaras, poodles, slumber parties, and a wardrobe filled with shoes, jewels, and sunglasses. When two women, long apart, have the chance to reunite, they squeal that girlie squeal.* There's plenty of flouncing, preening, and weeping Because The World Can Be Tough Sometimes.

Every frame of this film was specifically designed to assault my testicles. Nay: to make me question their existence. Halfway through the viewing, I was convinced I was a she-male; by the end, I knew I'd been transgendered. I looked down at myself, at my glorious tits and voluptuous ass, and affirmed that I was, as Lorianne would say, fabulous.

Luckily, the film ended.

I was, just barely, restored to myself. As the lights came back on, I thought I caught Jang-woong surreptitiously checking that his dong was still in place; I wouldn't have been surprised to find out that it had slithered out of the theater to have a nerve-calming smoke outside. The evening was that traumatic.

*A cultural phenomenon, that: Korean chicas, thank God, don't squeal except during sex.


Saturday, October 30, 2004

imminent disaster

My mother has tough teeth. As is true with many Koreans, she has no trouble simply biting through a crab's shell to get at the tender meat. The whole notion of using a nutcracker is foreign to many Koreans, who in many cases also find such shell-biting quite entertaining. Mom-- and most other Koreans-- could probably chew through a car's roof to save an accident victim, if need be. Like I said, tough teeth.

Mom didn't get her first cavity until she was 40. I, on the other hand, appear not to have made it past the 35 mark. I haven't been to a dentist in a long, long time (not since, oh, 1992, when I had to get a checkup before starting two years of hell as a high school teacher), and two of my teeth are now showing their age. One in particular, my upper left wisdom tooth, has reached an almost hilarious state of decrepitude: a couple years ago, I noticed a small cavity had begun to form on its cheekward side; now, that cavity seems to have practically hollowed out the entire tooth, like a slow-motion sideways explosion. The tooth's exterior-- assuming my tongue probe isn't lying-- seems fine, but today, as I scratched the edge of the enormous cavity with a fingernail, I felt and heard a slight crack. The tooth didn't give, but I know it's been compromised. It won't be long before I'm blogging the loss of this tooth for your entertainment, but I'm wondering whether I shouldn't see a dentist before the inevitable happens. Do I put myself at the mercy of Korean dental care?

Stay tuned. I might even have photos later.


it's not Halloween without Osama

Via Drudge, we learn that Osama bin Laden is not, as many had hoped, a grease spot on a cave wall in Afghanistan. Osama appears on video and makes reference to 2004 events, as well as to Bush and Kerry-- an indication that he was alive after the Democratic primary had finished.

Here's a question for people who claim that capital punishment has a deterrent effect on other potential criminals: given the death threats under which we, as infidel Westerners, now live... do you feel deterred? Ready to abandon that Western way of living yet?


horrifying mutations

You may have noticed a change in the banner image, which contained an egregious erratum, now corrected. I also added the classic Tapeworm Story to the sidebar, in the humor section.

(Couldn't sleep, despite being dead tired.)


Friday, October 29, 2004

Halloween is upon us

My brother's been telling me to stick up a Halloween comic on Sunday. I'll try. I also need to slap up logos for the new blogs on my sidebar. If I have time on Sunday, I'll do that, too.


anthropomorphic? theomorphic?

Julie talks about anthropomorphizing God in this post. She can take heart: Dr. Vallicella writes on the notion of imago Dei (the image of God) here, and I think she'll find his view more sympathetic to her own.

While I'm not inclined to engage in serious speculation about a personal God in whom I don't believe (though I'm willing to accept John Hick's contention that the Real can be experienced as personae by different people*), I'll say this: there's no logical or scientific resolution to this question; there's only what thinker David Tracy would call "relative adequacy," i.e., you reach a point in your speculation where you're more or less satisfied with your answers to the Big Questions. Relative adequacy doesn't imply that you stop questioning, but it does mean that, as time goes by and wisdom accumulates, you'll naturally tend to settle into a groove. If, for example, you experience God as personal, and feel that events in your life confirm your belief in such a personal God, then you'll be satisfied that you're on the right track.

*Hick speaks of divine personae and impersonae, that is, of personal and nonpersonal conceptions of ultimate reality. Personae would include Yahweh, Allah, and the triune God of Christianity. Impersonae would include the advaitic Hindu notion of nirguna brahman (brahman without qualities), the Buddhist notion of emptiness (sunyata) and the Tao of philosophical Taoism.


Thursday, October 28, 2004

the continued need for catacombs

I can't think of a single artistic medium that holds up well over time. Even stone sculptures and headstones show their age after only a few centuries. As I pondered the question of preservation earlier this evening, it occurred to me that human artifacts are increasingly being made of fragile, disposable materials. I have no doubt, for example, that the Egyptian pyramids will outlast the Empire State Building, whose internal structure probably isn't anywhere near as robust as the low-tech edifices at Giza. And look at computers-- if you're planning to preserve computers for posterity, you've got your work cut out for you: computers are composed of all sorts of delicate materials.

This brings me to catacombs-- not for people so much as for objects. I suspect that museums of the future will be supermodern versions of catacombs-- great halls lined with chambers that are, perhaps, hermetically sealed, and filled with some inert gas that'll preserve whatever's stored inside them. As long as we keep moving toward nanotech (imagine trying to preserve a sopping wet, brain-shaped neural net), the need for extravagant preservative methods will only increase. The fortified ossuaries of the future will contain the delicate bones of our technological past.


God and foolishness

Julie the ImpQueen writes:

i'm wondering about the "foolishness of God" and how it fits in with your current views on theism.. explanation, perhaps, for the suspension of logic, or what?

My pat answer to your question, which risks being smart-allecky (so I apologize in advance), is that if I don't conceive of God anthropomorphically (or have at least put the question of God's who-ness aside), it follows that I won't give much credence to the notion of a "foolish" God, any more than I would to the notion of a "wise" God.

The more respectful response to your question is to ask for clarification. I wish I knew my Bible better, but are you alluding to the Bible verse that goes something like, "God's foolishness is greater than human wisdom"*? If so, then I'd say the traditional theological answer would be something like:

The image of "God's foolishness" isn't meant to imply that God has foolish moments. It's simply an image to show the unreachably infinite character of God's wisdom. Far from suggesting that "God has lapses in judgement," it's saying something more like, "IF God were ever to have a lapse in judgement, his error(s) would STILL be infinitely more exalted than the best human wisdom could ever muster."

Caveat: different theologians will argue differently, and I personally don't agree with the above interpretation of the verse since I'm a nontheist.

You're doubtless aware that the various major traditions all have some version of the "holy fool," who's usually a person that somehow manifests the divine in a very unconventional (but nevertheless profound) way. Hinduism also has the concept of "lila," or divine play(fulness), something seen in the dice-game episode in the Mahabharata (a huge epic that includes a few chapters collectively known as the Bhagavad Gita). The Greek pantheon is positively dripping with cosmic goofiness. Whether the holy fool is himself/herself a manifestation of godly foolishness-- or simply manifesting the holy through his own foolishness-- is something for the thinker to chew over.

*Found it: 1 Corinthians 1:25, NRSV: "For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength."



It's indecent for a 35-year-old man to be jumping up and down in anticipation of the arrival of "The Incredibles," Pixar's newest effort, starring Craig T. Nelson and Samuel L. Jackson. You lucky bastards in the States get to see it first.


Wednesday, October 27, 2004

the new banner

As I threatened to do a while ago, I've slapped up a new banner that uses the color scheme of the recent anti-censorship banner, but without a single mention of fuck, a word that made a few of my friends nervous for some reason. I hope now that my blog will be perfectly work-safe.


Alasdair MacIntyre agrees with me

Via Verbum Ipsum, I discover this essay on voting by eminent ethicist Alasdair MacIntyre (his book, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? was one of my required readings in a comparative ethics class I took at CUA). Note that his primary reason for not voting is exactly the same as what I laid out in my own essay on voting: it's an honest moral choice when faced with unpalatable alternatives.

There is, however, one major difference: in my argument, I say that not voting is part of how the system works. MacIntyre is saying that a considered refusal to vote is a rejection of the system. I disagree with him here. If Americans were obliged to vote, then yes, a refusal to vote would be an obvious rejection of the system. But in the US, non-voting is a live option and part of the process, not, as the misguided argue, opting out of the process.


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

why are these creatures smiling?

I think you can guess why.

The installation was successful. The road to pure evil lies before us.


the DSL cometh

I'll be getting DSL installed at my new place sometime in the next 48 hours. The installer dude is coming over between 1:30 and 5:30, today or tomorrow.

In other news: I'm beginning to cool down about the Saturday fiasco. What's the use in staying angry at Mr. J? He's being used as a tool by upper management, like the rest of us. My acceptance of (most of) the system makes me complicit in my own misfortune*, too.

Luckily, my mind has been distracted from its anger by one of the lovelier gifts to accompany cooler weather: static electricity. There's nothing quite like turning your pants into a Van de Graaff generator for your scrotum just by walking down the street. People see the blue glow emanating from my crotch and probably assume I'm suffering from DSB**; little do they know that the lambent, crackling phenomenon behind the zipper is much more glorious.

Heh. Ball lightning.

*Back in the late 1960s, Peter Berger published his classic work, The Sacred Canopy, a book that tackles religion from a sociological point of view. Perhaps the most disturbing chapter in the work is Chapter 3, on theodicy. Berger defines theodicy loosely enough to include more than theistic attempts at resolving the problem of evil. For Berger, any complex rationalization of our suffering is a form of theodicy-- anything that both puts suffering in cosmic perspective and makes it somehow seem either "right and proper" or "understandable." Berger's conclusion is that the various theodicies are all a type of sickness in the human condition. The image he uses is that of the abuse dynamic, in which the abused party comes to reconcile himself/herself with the abuser, perhaps even coming to love the abuser. Humanity, faced with the mysterium tremendum of the divine, learns simply to cope with suffering rather than attempting to eliminate it. Maybe in a later blog post, I'll relate how I've dealt with Berger's perspective, with which I only partially agree.

**Deadly Sperm Buildup, a term coined (as far as I know) by a college buddy back in undergrad.


Monday, October 25, 2004

a quickie

I remember once being asked (by a church member in Northern Virginia) whether South Korea had running water. I should have said, “No; they wait for the rainy season, then rush out in crowds to shake the collected water out of tree branches. The water falls onto the ground; they get down on hands and knees and stuff fistfuls of dirt into their mouths in a desperate attempt to claim the precious moisture before it recedes into the water table. Only the fastest dirt-eaters survive through the ensuing drought.”

The above with a straight face, of course. Stupid answers for stupid questions.

[The above is recycled from a comment I left at Daehee's blog.]


Sunday, October 24, 2004

Landover Baptist strikes again

Landover Baptist provides us with this insight into John Kerry:

Mother Night!  Fold your dark arms about me!  Protect me in your black embrace...

Supplement this with a visit to Kirk's blog, where he expresses some doubts about JFK, and your journey toward the dark side will be complete.

Fafblog, however, notes that the real problem won't be Kerry or Bush, but Giblets. And the only way to protect yourself from the impending Gibletsian onslaught is to elect the only leader with even a chance to stop Giblets:



straining to be holy

Via Andrew Sullivan, this perhaps unintentionally funny article about Martin Luther's toilet. Choice quote:

Luther left a candid catalogue of his battle with constipation but despite this wealth of information, certain key details remain obscure - such as what the great reformer may have used in place of toilet paper.

"We still don't know what was used for wiping in those days," says Dr Treu. The paper of the time, he says, would have been too expensive and critically, "too stiff" for the purpose.

And while it is probable that the inspiration that led to Luther's reforms occurred on this toilet, it is impossible to prove it beyond doubt, Dr Treu says.


leaving theism

So last night, I wrote a post titled "the thinks I think," which included the following question, here slightly edited:

Why do we feel free to speak of the mind, hand(s), and eye(s) of God, but not of the nervous ganglia, tentacles, and eyestalks of God?

Over at AnalPhilosopher, Dr. KBJ's been talking about (and blasted for his opinion of) theism.

Over at Maverick Philosopher, Dr. Vallicella's been exploring philosophical problems with Augustine's notion of divine incarnation.

Dr. KBJ claims:

Nor... have I known anyone who became an atheist as a result of the argument from evil...

Theism is in the air, so I thought I'd talk a little about my own strange path away from a literalist vision of God.

Long ago, in a mental galaxy far, far away, I used to be a creationist. Not a very strong one, mind you, but I shared my father's belief that the world is an amazingly complex place for which terms like "randomness" and "coincidence" seemed extremely unsatisfactory. As many other theists do, I therefore felt there had to be a "bottom" to things, some ultimate explanatory factor, something that started the ball rolling. And not only that, but when this thing, God, started the ball rolling, the event was somehow documented in a writ we call the Bible. I believed in miracles. I believed in a literal resurrection. If the Bible said Jesus walked on water and multiplied a few loaves and fishes to feed five thousand people, then it must have happened.

But I'm also a reasonable person, or so I like to think during my more self-deluded moments. Two events occurred, both education-related, to push me and my sense of reason away from creationism, and, eventually, from theism.

The first was a creationism-vs.-evolutionism debate we had in biology class during my sophomore year in high school. I and some classmates were going to bat for the creationists, and I had a bundle of notes. But not long before the debate was to take place, something occurred to me and I decided to pull out. I'm still not sure how to describe the switch in thinking. Maybe it's the closest thing I'll ever have to a "conversion" experience. What occurred to me was that the debate itself was pointless. I also realized that the evolutionist team's arguments for the imperfection of God made a lot of sense to my reasonable mind.

The second event was during a Problem of God course my freshman year at Georgetown University. All GU students, regardless of major, are required to take two philo and two theo courses. Most freshmen pick Problem of God as one of their two theo courses. It's essentially a philosophy of religion curriculum. If you want to know what our class talked about, pick up John Hick's excellent primer, Philosophy of Religion, 4th edition (non-pluralists needn't worry: Hick doesn't use the book as an excuse to push his pluralist agenda).

The Problem of God dealt mainly with arguments for and against the existence of God, as well as arguments for and against different concepts of God. The stats for the course were interesting: I'd heard that, at GU, around 25% of students who finished the course ended up either losing or changing their faith.

I was and remain Presbyterian. But the POG course effectively knocked God off his pedestal for me. I was surprised and ashamed to realize how little of a critical thinker I'd been up to that point, and I think that, even to this day, that shame is what motivates me to be so critical of thinkers and thought-systems. I'm making up for lost time.

I might just be one of those people who listened to the argument from evil (and other arguments as well) and took a conscious step away from classical theism as a result. I wouldn't call myself an atheist; if my position has a label, I'd prefer to be known as a nontheist (cf. the difference between irrational and nonrational).

Traditional conceptions of God are crippling in two ways: (1) they create too many logical contradictions, and/or (2) they demand that people simply suspend their critical faculties in order to embrace what is, quite possibly, nonsense.

Although I'm not rigorous in this regard, I consider myself a scientific skeptic. I appreciate the empirical. If you read my arguments on this blog, you'll notice that most of the important ones have an empirical point of departure. I believe there is a such thing as an objective reality, and that that reality exhibits behaviors we can label as regular-- regular enough that we can even predict what will happen in many cases. I believe that the physical reality with which we're becoming increasingly acquainted has been behaving this way since the beginning of the cosmos (assuming the cosmos has a beginning, of course). This is important because it serves to undermine biblical claims that are treated by scriptural literalists as scientific fact-- the Bible as journalism or science report. I believe, therefore, that scriptural literalists are making a genre mistake.

Dr. Tony Tambasco at Georgetown University is an excellent lecturer. In the late 90s, long after I'd graduated from undergrad, I found myself taking two night courses with him, one on the Old Testament and another on the New Testament. Dr. Tambasco talked about the problem of genre confusion. The example he gave was this:

Suppose it's the year 3000 and archeologists dig down through the sedimentary layers of civilization and find literature from circa 2000. Specifically, they happen upon the "Peanuts" comic strip. A naive archeologist might take the "Peanuts" imagery literally and conclude that people in the year 2000 were eternally seven years old, had huge heads and tiny bodies, and owned talking pets that had rich inner lives marked by philosophy and romantic, WWI-era fantasy. The conclusions drawn by such an archeologist would, of course, be wrong.

But a more sophisticated archeologist would note first the genre of the literature. "Peanuts," he'd realize, was a comic strip. If he was up on his literary history, he'd further realize that many mainstream comics dealt with existential issues in a whimsical, metaphorical manner. With this as his point of departure, his reading of the strip would uncover truths about Y2K society that would be unavailable to the naive archeologist.

To me, a literalistic view of scripture is a guaranteed dead end in terms of religious practice. An overly literal view simply produces contradictions, which you must then reject, accept, or attempt to ignore (at your peril, in my opinion). Many believers never even note the contradictions in their beliefs; to have them pointed out (as happened to me in the Problem of God class) can be extremely discomfiting.

I was only half-joking when I wrote my question about the eyestalks and tentacles of God. My point was to highlight the fact that, as human beings, we arrogantly anthropomorphize anything and everything (a point made extremely well by Scott McCloud in his book, Understanding Comics). The brain is wired to find patterns in the phenomena around us, and if no pattern is there to be found, the brain has little trouble simply making one up.

People are also gullible when it comes to the supernatural. We like magic; we want to believe-- to be, as Carl Sagan wrote in his The Demon-haunted World, bamboozled. When someone decides to investigate a seemingly miraculous occurrence, we get upset. "You're taking the magic away! Why can't you just leave the event alone? It's not harming anyone!"

And that, right there, is my ethical beef with religious superstition. Personally, I feel that religion is cluttered with an amazing amount of nonsense that is, in fact, harmful to oneself and others. I respect the counter-argument that scientists and philosophers are often guilty of their own hubris, but in reality, this isn't a counter-argument: it's an agreement that we're staring at the same human problem, which crops up in all pursuits, but most conspicuously in religion.

This, in turn, is why I remain sympathetic to John Hick's approach to the question of religious pluralism despite the crucial flaws in his paradigm. Hick is demanding that we actively work to unplug the harmful elements in religious belief. He fully understands that we haven't arrived at an agreed-upon standard for determining what's harmful, but he feels the effort should proceed all the same. I agree.

To speak of God as One who wills, plans, punishes, forms covenants, makes commandments, destroys armies, etc., is to anthropomorphize reality, to make reality human, to put the cart before the horse and ignore what science tells us: people are newcomers to the cosmic story. The cosmos was "cosmos-ing" billions of years before we arrived and retroactively humanized it. Far from being the center of the universe, we're tiny, fragile beings who live on a wee speck of dirt in an incomprehensibly huge, silent vastness.

Some will be depressed by such a vision of things, but I don't see why they should be. Like Carl Sagan, I think the universe, just as it is and without our unnecessary, superstitious, overly pious imputations, provides enough material to feed a proper sense of awe, and even reverence. As Zen master Robert Aitken said to Brother David Steindl-Rast in The Ground We Share, one doesn't have to be thankful to someone to experience a sense of gratitude for this moment.


emotional status update

Still fucking pissed. Still a mass of aching blubber. Gotta iron my clothes. I read that the Maximum Leader has been worried about me. No need-- this'll pan out one way or another. Just angry for the moment; will be back to normal (whatever qualifies as normal) soon. Maybe writing a short piece on religion will be therapeutic. Yeah; let's try that.


the magic of Google

This picture seems to be giving me quite a few Google hits:

Some of us act like dicks... some of us ARE dicks...

(I'm at a PC-bahng, simply recycling an old image by re-pasting HTML. Just in case you're wondering how I put the image up.)


the thinks I think

You should be happy and proud: I think about stuff so you don't have to. Consider-- have you ever had to think about any of the following?

1. How to re-tool cow hooves so that cows can hold and operate shotguns.
2. Whether a woman can stun sperm by punching you in the groin.
3. The refractory period of mice.
4. Why we feel free to speak of the mind, hand(s), and eye(s) of God, but not of the nervous ganglia, tentacles, and eyestalks of God. Or the balls of God, for that matter, given the role they played in Jesus' conception.*
5. The sound of one tit flapping.
6. How long it would take to chew through the bars of a typical jail cell to effect an escape... or simply to impress your cellmates.
7. Fart dialects.
8. Whether we'll use genetic engineering to combine our genes with horned toad DNA so we can squirt blood from our eyes.
9. What life would be like with a three-lobed brain... each lobe housed in its own protective buttock.
10. Whether we'll use genetic engineering to combine our genes with octopus DNA so men can change the color, length, and texture of their schlongs according to mood. Squirting spoo with enough force to propel ourselves backward and out of danger might be even cooler, though.

*I think I just lost all my Christian readers. The ones with no sense of humor, anyway. Heh.


Saturday, October 23, 2004

insert swear word here

It's Saturday night, and I'm moved in. Now it's time to vent. If I can't vent on my fuckin' blog, then where the fuck can I vent?

A few thoughts:

Goddamn motherfucking shit.

A few more thoughts:

EC can chew my leathery scroties, hair and all.

Now that I have your attention, here's why I'm fucking pissed off:

Today was the best argument for just walking out of EC. Up to now, things haven't been great, but they haven't been miserable: the split shift is killing me, but the students and co-workers are reasons to keep on coming.

But today was move-in day, and I'd been promised help from the EC staff. Specifically, a Mr. J (Korean guy) told me he was coming around 1 or 2PM to help me with the move.

He showed up close to 3PM.

If EC is going to hold us to the standard of being rigidly on time for class, then I expect the same of them when they've promised to help a staffer. I'd finished packing in the morning, with little left to do but wait and whack off for the next couple hours.

Around 2:30PM, fed up with waiting, I took a stroll outside and spoke with my (now-former) landlady. I thanked her and her husband for their kindness, then decided to wander over to my new building to see if I could peek inside. I didn't have a key to the new residence, and this building has a security keypad on the main door, so there was no way I was getting inside.

But right as I wandered close to the new building's front door, the landlady popped up. A plump, cheerful-looking woman, she stared at me and seemed at a loss for words. I invited her to speak to me ("mal-sseum hashipshiyo!"), and she burst out in Korean, "Oh, you speak Korean! Wonderful!"

I found out that she had actually been on her way to my place to tell me she was sick of waiting for me to come: she had pressing business and needed to go somewhere. Good thing she found me. I told her that I, too, had been waiting a few hours for Mr. J and his promised posse to show up. The landlady gave me my key, explained the code thingie, and told me I could start moving. That was all I needed to know.

When I was about a third of the way done, Mr. J showed up. He'd been out hiking with other EC staffers at Buk-han Mountain. I knew about the hike. When I asked Mr. J on Friday evening whether it would be possible to move early on Saturday morning, he said no: he was required to attend the company hike (we teachers had been invited as well, but if you think I'm going to spend time at a company event after spending most of my waking hours at the company, you're nuts). This is why I was expecting him between 1 and 2PM.

Mr. J apologized profusely both for being late and for having kept me in temporary housing for three months. I was in no mood for apologies, though, and a lot of anger I'd kept under control bubbled to the surface today, especially after I saw my new place.

It's almost twice as big as what I'd been crammed into.

I don't resent my now-former landlord and landlady for the minuscule digs: it was EC that placed me in their building, and they were unfailingly nice to me. But for three months, I've been living in a goddamn shoebox with no idea how large my "permanent" residence was going to be. The knowledge that I'd been denied much nicer digs for three fucking months didn't improve my mood. Yes, it's petty; I should be better than this. But it sticks in my craw that this is how EC treats its teachers. Or more precisely: this is how EC has chosen to treat me.

The move is finished and my computer is set up. I'm a mass of aches: a sedentary lifestyle followed by sudden exertion will cause the muscles to protest, and they're puking lactic acid now. I've unpacked all the important stuff; the only thing left is for me to get my DSL service back. I hope to get it installed sometime this week.

In the meantime, I think I'm going to start scanning the want ads. Fuck me over once, shame on you. Fuck me over twice, shame on me.

EPILOGUE: I mentioned Mr. J's "posse." The posse consisted of one receptionist who came too late to lift a single goddamn thing. Her job, apparently, was to give me a residence checklist to sign after I verified that everything in the new place was OK. I ended up checking "good" for everything without even looking at the apartment: I was shuttling my final boxes over and hadn't had time to examine anything in detail. Turns out my air conditioner doesn't work (the remote control, anyway), and the place is filled with fucking mosquitoes despite the cooling weather. I've shut the windows and turned on the AC with the manual switch hidden inside the machine.

Oh, yeah-- almost forgot: I met a white girl named T who is, I gather, part of the management over at EC's Yeoksam branch. T arrived before Mr. J did and offered to help, but I curtly told her I didn't need any help. She was earlier than Mr. J, but still late. As I did with Mr. J, I didn't offer her any real eye contact. I'm sure she thinks I'm a dick given how I treated her. Not like I'm in a mood to care. Fuck 'em all.


and you thought he was GONE

Check it, baseball fans. Kevin of IA is back. At least for a bit.


self-righteous bastards

Check out this email sent to Dr. Keith Burgess-Jackson, longtime atheist and conservative, and blogger at AnalPhilosopher. The letter was written by a Christian who has trouble with KBJ's atheism.

You can't make this shit up.


absolute Buddhist must-have

If you'll forgive the Buddhist irony of declaring anything a must-have, I want to point out a link I found through Ryan's excellent site:

The Korean Buddhist Canon: A Descriptive Catalogue

The catalogue's been put together by Lewis Lancaster and Sung-bae Park (whom I met at SUNY Stony Brook in 2002 before coming to Korea). I'll be hitting this reference often.



It's 11AM as I write this, and I'm about three-quarters packed. The EC staffers are coming around 1 or 2PM today; there's little left to do except box up a few more things, vacuum all the pubic and armpit hair off the floor (I already cleaned the shower drain in the bathroom... that was pretty fuckin' foul), and move everything across the street to my new digs, which I still haven't seen.

I wish I could have stayed where I was, but alas, it was not to be. I'm taking a short break, then going back to my hovel to finish packing. I expect to be done long before anyone from EC comes over, so maybe I'll sneak in a nap, too.

Go hit Naked Villainy for an ongoing discussion about the Electoral College. Me, I think we should abandon it and go for direct democracy, but I know the thought scares people who forget that we've invented computers able to crunch numbers larger than 1000.


Friday, October 22, 2004

should Bill Clinton head up the UN?

Via Drudge, this lovely article about Bill Clinton's latest political ambitions. There are good and bad points to having WJC as UN Secretary General.


1. A large podium can hide several women at once for those mid-speech blowjobs.

2. The General Assembly's main hall will always smell like fried chicken and hamburger.

3. Clinton, like it or not, is an American, and therefore One of Ours. We need One of Ours to infiltrate the UN as deeply-- no, deeper! DEEPER!-- as possible.

4. A golden chance for Clinton to feel the world's pain... or at least squeeze its tits.

5. We might finally see devout Muslims drinking beer in public. While ogling centerfolds.


1. Concern for his own legacy will drive Clinton to declare himself Eternal Grand All-Bubba.

2. Clinton will make visionary pronouncements, and then fail to act properly on them. (As Republicans routinely point out, Clinton was remarkably prescient about Saddam.)

3. More meaningless treaties, agreements, and compromises.

4. Postmodernists will rejoice while the rest of us weep: Clinton will insist that the word "is" has no place in the English language.

5. The prospect, post-Bill, of a UN under Hillary.


the movement

My fat ass moves across the street sometime tomorrow morning (Saturday). Tonight and early tomorrow, I have to get my crap ready to go. Shouldn't be too difficult; although I've got plenty of stuff to haul over, it's not that much. So: sometime next week, I'll be blogging from home again. The scanner'll be set up, my digicam will be out and about, and once more you'll be assaulted by the sights and smells of life in Seoul.


oooooh, my

Conrad's got one of the best Girl Friday pics I've seen on his blog. Hey, Mike-- she even looks a wee bit like your love goddess.

In other OooooohMyNews, the Lost Nomad has a link buffet for the biggest news item of the day: the capital of South Korea won't be moving, after all! While not quite as interesting (or tasty) as Conrad's latest muff buffet, the Nomad's post covers a topic of longer-lasting significance. But to his credit, the Nomad did bring us this lovely lady.

UPDATE: Whoops. According to the Marmot, the fight for capital relocation is only beginning. While you're surfing, check out the Infidel's recent post on Korean culture.


Thursday, October 21, 2004

pretty bad typhoon in Japan

Justin at Cosmic Buddha has the lowdown on the damage done by Typhoon Tokage, the twenty-third typhoon to hit Japan this year. Check out his stormblogging on the sidebar, too.



re: John Kerry's morals, religion, and politics

Bill has comments over at Bill's Comments. Here's a quote from his recent post:

So how does this apply to today? The key is Lee's statement about moral vs. sectarian positions. A legislator should express his moral beliefs in his work. Keeping in mind the distinction, he could work to outlaw abortion, but not outlaw the teaching of evolution or demand the teaching of creationism. The first is a moral issue both inside and outside of religion though his basis may be religious. The second is sectarian in its origins. If a legislator has a set of moral beliefs but does not legislate based on them, he has become a hypocrite.


But what about the reaction of the Roman Catholic Church (or any church for that matter) to some politicians that claim to be RC but vote against RC doctrine? These people (regardless of party or political persuasion) were RC before they were elected. They either had to run on their beliefs or deny them. At the point at which they denied them they should have left the church, otherwise they are hypocrites and liars. As I pointed out above, there is no real issue if they want to legislate their morality. Those things that have a common moral basis will be converted into law. But if they legislate contrary to their churches’ teachings yet try to remain members of their churches, then they have placed the desire for secular power above religious belief, and deserve whatever the church determines should happen to them.

This is becoming a fascinating discussion. Bill and I obviously agree that Kerry should accept whatever punishment the Roman Church decides to mete out, but Bill is more in line with the Smallholder on the question of whether Kerry is being principled. Me, I'm not sure that there are clear guidelines for determining "moral" versus "sectarian," especially when we start to examine particular motives for a political stance.

At the same time, when Bill writes, "If a legislator has a set of moral beliefs but does not legislate based on them, he has become a hypocrite," I can see where he's coing from. The notion that "you cannot legislate morality" is false: the purpose of legislation is moral, because it's geared toward fostering peaceful coexistence and, we hope, the maximizing of that lovely abstract notion, human flourishing. If we refine the phrase to read, "you cannot legislate the morality of a specific religion," that gets us a bit closer to how things are-- or at least how things should be in a secular/pluralist environment.

Just in case you were wondering: Bill leans rightward; the Smallholder is, near as I can figure, somewhat left of center but pretty centrist; Your Humble Narrator is all over the map-- slightly right on foreign policy, somewhat left in terms of social policy, right in terms of the role of government, and loony-left in terms of religious sensibilities (assuming that American evangelical and fundamentalist Protestantisms represent the loony-right end of the religious spectrum). I haven't read Verbum Ipsum long enough to know where Lee stands.

The miracle in all this? A civil discussion is possible, all without a hint of John Derbyshire-style arrogance and dismissiveness. For people interested in dialogue, interreligious or otherwise, this is a crucial point.


"Team America" not coming to Korea?!?

From a tragic post I saw over at The Lost Nomad:

LOS ANGELES ( - The marionette action spoof "Team America: World Police" doesn't have global appeal. Although the film is notoriously offensive and mocks North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, South Koreans aren't put off due to bruised sensibilities or politics. Instead, its the country's highly competitive film market that has squeezed out the American movie by the creators of "South Park," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

South Korea still has a quota system, which is a ridiculous holdover of an insecure past. Korean films seem to be improving in overall quality; many recent films have gained an almost pan-Asian following, and some have been recognized at top-tier film festivals in France and Germany.

The Zap2it article also says:

Even if "Team America" did get screened, it's not likely it would perform well. Besides the very specific American references, South Korea doesn't necessarily support overt criticism of North Korea even though they are technically at war. (NB: emphasis added)

I found the above hilarious. Do you really think Koreans won't be offended by the marionette Kim Jong Il? Does anyone remember the James Bond controversy?

The Korean quota system is in the news again (Korea Herald; link will disappear soon, so the article is quoted in its entirety, despite risk to blogger's life and limb):

The dispute on Korea's screen quota system is flaring up again, with government officials squaring off against the local movie industry over whether the "protectionist" measure should be scrapped.

Thanks to the dramatic growth of the local industry over the past years, Korean movies are thriving, accounting for more than 50 percent of the domestic market.

Hollywood movies, controling about 85 percent of the global film market, are now scrambling to get due respect - and ticket revenues - in Korea, which was just a small East Asian market several years ago.

To recover their lost market share, Hollywood continues to mount pressure on U.S. trade negotiators, who are now refusing to cut a bilateral investment treaty with Korea unless the quota system is abolished, movie officials here said.

On Sunday, the Fair Trade Commission called for the scrapping of the quota system that requires local cinemas to show Korean flicks for at least 146 days a year.

"The domestic film industry has markedly improved, and homegrown movies need to start competing with Hollywood films (by fully opening up the market)," the FTC said in a report to Rep. Moon Hak-jin of the ruling Uri Party.

Easing or abolishing the quota is part of a long-term strategy to develop local movies, the FTC said, adding that the quota regime is now "counterproductive."

The FTC stressed the need to protect the rights of moviegoers to choose what they want to see and to allow cinemas to select what they want to screen. "Filmmakers have churned out low-quality productions to meet the quota, leading to a waste of money and human resources."

Indeed, some poorly made Korean films are said to have secured slots in theaters with the help of the quota system. Yet it remains controversial whether the quota is stifling competition and diversity for moviegoers as the FTC claims.

According to the Korean and U.S. government logic, the quota system is essentially flawed in terms of free trade principles. The market should be open to unlimited competition as with other trade goods and services, even though such move is bound to help the share of Hollywood films shoot up rapidly and dampen the investment sentiment for fledgling Korean film productions.

But the deep-rooted fear among Korean movie industry people is that if the system is lifted, the portion of Hollywood movies will jump to 90 percent or higher in a couple of years, a scenario that will definitely delight U.S. film distributors and yet deal a fatal blow to the fast-evolving but still fragile Korean film industry.

Another underlying issue is whether movies are different from other goods like mobile phones and flat-screen TVs. Korean filmmakers and production staff said they believe so.

As cinematic artworks usually represent mainstream culture and trends of a country, they said the government's role should be to protect the film industry from being drowned out by Hollywood flicks.

"The United States should bring the issue to the World Trade Organization if it believes the Korean film industry is overly protected in violation of fair trade rules. But it can't because movies are cultural products and regarded as exceptions to such trade rules," said Yang Gi-hwan, general director of the Coalition for Cultural Diversity in Moving Images, an organization keen to preserve the quota system.

"Instead, they are pressuring the Korean government officials, mostly pro-American people, to do the job," Yang said.

The longstanding dispute traces back to 1998 when a top government official in charge of international trade claimed that the quota system should be scrapped immediately. At the time, the government's position was that the quota system does more harm than good to the local movie industry. "The government then claimed that Korean films' negligent market share of 15 percent was largely due to the quota system," Yang said.

Korean directors, actors and production staff took to the streets and vehemently blocked the government from abolishing the system. But the government resumed its attack on the quotas in 2000, saying that it is time to change the system. The reason: Korean films make up more than 40 percent of the domestic box office revenue, which means they are competitive enough to wean off the protectionist measure.

The movie industry, which is often deemed "militant" by observers, responded with a resounding "never." In May 2003, Kim Jin-pyo, then finance minister, took aim at the issue, arguing that the quota is a major stumbling block for the BIT.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade threw its weight behind the argument against the quota in October that year, saying that Korea's trade with the United States is so important and the quota should be sacrificed for greater benefits that will come from the BIT.

"Do we have any viable alternative to the screen quota in order to help the local movie industry secure a sustainable growth? Unfortunately, I think there's no alternative yet," Yang said.

The bigger - and often neglected - question surrounding the quota dispute is the sheer power of U.S. movie distributors in Korea, Yang said. "U.S. distributors are already wielding enormous power over local theaters here, and once the ban is lifted, it will be a matter of time before most screens will be filled with American flicks not because they're good but because theaters have no power to reject demands from the powerful distributors," he said.

Meanwhile, Korean movie industry people express worry over the latest developments. "The FTC argument doesn't have any merit. But what's important is that some free trade advocates here portray local moviemakers as greedy and selfish, interested in protecting their vested interests only, creating a false perception," said Kim Bong-seok, a movie critic.

"The domestic movie industry should come up with a persuasive logic for protecting the system, or offer at least some concessions. Inside the movie circles, some alternative measures are being discussed, but the problem is that nobody wants to propose such possible solutions openly for fear of enraging some anti-quota people," Kim said.


By Yang Sung-jin

As you see, not all Korean movies can boast an improvement in quality. That's what market competition is good for: you weed out the crap a lot faster than through artificial means, while simultaneously stimulating debate over what exactly constitutes crap.


postal scrotum

Scott writes in re: Richard's Peking Duck post on the "end of democracy."

Hi Kevin,

Re: "Peking Duck has a worrying post about "the end of democracy." Take special note of the "update" section. That's the part that disturbed me."

Spoken like a true outsider (no offense, man, but you haven't seen the damage done by some Oregon (Democrat-voting) protestors). Keeping folks who make a spectacle of themselves out of the venue was the prudent thing to do. Maybe not the nicest, but then, that's why decent people dress appropriately for the event they will be attending.

The Left (especially in Portland, Oregon) loves to whine when people don't like them. But since they turn simple 15-block parades into store-window-smashing adventures requiring tear-gas... discretion is in order.

Make no mistake, there is a good chance (despite what they say) that the women involved would have been causing a commotion at the event if given a chance. Even if they didn't (or weren't going to) the choice to remove them was made by security (read: the police), and in the interest in public safety the women were removed. Period. Nothing scary/draconian/Orwellian to see...despite what the big, bad newspaper reporter told you.

If it was really about the First Amendment - then the rights of the majority of the audience (Bush backers) would have taken precedence. That's the way the majority rules, right? But it's not really about the First Amendment, or the Leftist idea of Democracy/Majority-Rule/Mob-Rule.

The issue is inappropriate behavior. It's Bush's event and his time. If he (or more correctly, the police) think someone will be trouble then they are removed. It's not about the guests' Constitutional's about not acting ape-shit crazy in a large crowd around a heavily-guarded man. A man who DOESN'T HAVE TO STOP AND LISTEN TO EVERY LEFTIST RETARD WHO SHOWS UP.

The Left in Oregon has a poor record of keeping their child-like emotions in check. When The Right protested Clinton, not much happened: small crowd, some signs, and a couple police cars outside the speaking venue (which was closed-off anyway).

But when The Left protests Bush, dangerous mob-behavior rules. The last protest I got stuck in involved stopping all traffic downtown. When the police correctly beat a few protestors... you should have heard the mis-placed outrage.

I should have been this eloquent a few days ago. It was discussed a little bit on a Portland, Oregon blog. Here's a link if you want to follow that discussion:



Kangmi writes in about Kerry and morals:

Dear Kevin,

Your recent posts on John Kerry and moral mandates have addressed a dilemma I am experiencing. Through a nosy pollster, I recently learned that my state is one of those with a defense of marriage proposition on the ballot. She asked me in five different ways how I was going to vote on the measure; five different times, I told her, "I don't know."

If I weren't a Christian who occasionally has ideas about homosexuals and homosexual behavior, I wouldn't be in this dilemma. On the one hand, I believe that homosexual behavior is wrong for a Christian (as are other behaviors, but that's the one I'm talking about here. We could gossip about others later). On the other, I don't think that the government has any business denying homosexuals certain rights. And if I had a third hand, I'd say that the government cannot force Christian institutions to hire practicing homosexuals (unless those institutions are agreeable to such hiring).

Unfortunately, Christians often have a way of talking about homosexuals and homosexuality that includes no nuances. And in a year of high political heat, nuances aren't nearly as popular as good old black and white.



Wednesday, October 20, 2004

some links fo' yo' big ass

Lee at Verbum Ipsum has an excellent post riffing off my first Kerry post, but which is also relevant to my response to the Smallholder. Lee lays out the issues more clearly and concisely than I do; I suggest you give his post a read, then try muddling through both of mine again. I might make more sense after you visit Lee.

Conrad links to a chunk of John Kerry's, uh, record.

Fan-damn-tastic fisking by the Party Pooper of some anti-American lyrics (dating back to 2002) from a song called "Fucking USA."

Peking Duck has a worrying post about "the end of democracy." Take special note of the "update" section. That's the part that disturbed me.

Justin Yoshida finds humor in Japan's 23rd typhoon. He also points to some of the weirdest alternative sushi you'll ever see: Twinkie sushi.

Annika is back, but I'm finding that all MuNu blogs (not just SimonWorld, as originally thought) are taking a million years to open, no matter which PC I'm sitting at. HEY! MuNu managers! What's up wid dat!?

Alas, I did delete another lady from my blogroll. She just wasn't posting frequently enough, and hasn't claimed she's on hiatus. It's with deep regret that I nix her. Sadness. To her credit, her continued cyber-absence must mean she has a far more evolved social life than I do.

Julie manages to wedge a dog between her ass cheeks. I assume this is part of a project that will involve progressively larger dogs. When she finally posts the Great Dane photo, I'll link to it.

Arn writes a brief-but-lusty post on my favorite subject.

Wooj also demonstrates a deep understanding of my favorite subject. He obviously gets what I was trying to say in my earlier shit post, because he writes:

I just came home, because I had to take a dump, and I wanted to take a dump under optimal conditions with maximum comfort. The dump was beautiful. Not just the process of taking it, but the shit itself. Beautiful. It was the crowning act of a day of hard work. Always remember: When you have to take a shit, don't just try to get rid of it using whatever means available. Have respect for the shit. Damnit, it's a part of you too. Shitting is just as important for survival as eating. If you value your food and treat it with proper manners, then also value your shit and treat it with proper manners. Be food-smart, but also be shit-smart. Your shit is a reflection of you and your body. In essence, your shit is you, and you are your shit. Hence, I am my shit, but your shit is not mine, so you are not me, our shit is not ours, and therefore we are not us.



Finally, we've got co-blogger Ariel (temporarily replacing Andi) over at Ditch the Raft. Ariel writes an excellent post on the role of meditation in her life. I'm still hoping Dr. Vallicella will write about his own meditative practice; I still don't know whether it's a Buddhist, Taoist, Christian, or Hindu technique... or something else entirely.


attack of the Vallicella!

REVISION WARNING: This post started off short... then, horribly, it began to grow.

The good Dr. Vallicella zaps me again about doctrine and practice in a recent post. He writes:

...the content of doctrines as opposed to their promulgating, propagating, interpreting, and the like, is irreducible to any form of human practice, religious or non-religious. The doctrines in their propositional content cannot be reduced to practice, and practice cannot be reduced to doctrine.

It's possible I'm misreading this, but it seems the phrase "doctrines in their propositional content" is an unnecessary conflation of issues. To me, there's a very clear distinction between doctrine and the referent of doctrine. More on this in a moment.

Dr. Vallicella writes further:

...although it is true that religious teachings are promulgated and propagated by human beings, they express a content that is either true or false. Thus a distinction is needed between doctrines as human artifacts, for which Kim's "No people, no doctrine" dictum holds, and doctrines as expressing a content that is either true or false.

I'm not sure such a distinction is meaningful. If we accept Dr. Vallicella's typology, we have:

1. doctrines as human artifacts
2. doctrines expressing content (that is true or false)

I'm not clear on whether the above refers to two different types of doctrine, or two ways of looking at doctrine in general, and to be honest, I don't think it matters. In (2) above, the word "expressing" indicates that (2) is clearly a subset of (1), because expressions are human artifacts. I submit that my own schema still stands: there's doctrine, and there's the referent of doctrine.

Whether the referent of doctrine is real determines the doctrine's truth or falsity. But this is neither here nor there for my own purposes: to define doctrine as "teaching" or as "expressing content" is still to talk about a phenomenon tied specifically to the existence of humanity.

My claim about doctrine is unrelated to doctrine's referent. In my original post on the subject, I addressed this issue:

Of course doctrines are essential, but in a real sense, practice and doctrine are not-two. If anything, the formulation of doctrine can itself be seen as a form of religious practice: it is the doing of religion. It requires people in order to exist in any meaningful way.

Both doctrine and practice-- however we parse those terms-- are human phenomena, as is religion itself. This is my point of departure. No people, no religion. No people, no doctrine. No people, no practice. So I disagree with the notion that doctrine exists independent of people. Doctrine exists inside one's head. There need to be human brains and bodies for there to be doctrine. A bunch of scriptures blowing around in the wake of a nuclear holocaust do not a doctrine make.

Please note that my stance says nothing with regard to the referent of doctrine. I'm not addressing any questions about the religious realities doctrines supposedly delineate. There may be a God, but if there are no people, then there's no Christianity, no Christian practice, no Christian doctrine.

The final paragraph, above, still serves as my reply to Dr. Vallicella's latest.

I'll risk an analogy:

The act of seeing requires both a seer and the thing seen. Dr. Vallicella rightly claims that doctrines arise in relation to their referents when he says: " is the nature of reality that makes it so, and not anything that human beings make or do." In the same way, when a sane person looks at a flower, the image of a flower is what the brain processes, not the image of an elephant or a battleship. Sight is, in this sense, very much a function of the thing seen.

But sight (at least for us mortal beings) requires organs of sight. It further presupposes seeing beings,* natural or artificial, that can process the images impacting the sense organs. The notion of sight has no meaning without those beings. While the flower will exist with or without my presence, the sight of the flower is a reality tied to my (or any sighted being's) seeing. There is no seeing without seers, irrespective of the objective referents of sight.

In the same way, the question of doctrine is a question of human thought and behavior, which is why, in my original post, I deliberately bracketed the issue of the objective referent of doctrine, be it God or sunyata or Tao. Whether there are humans or no humans, the objective referent of doctrine (whatever it may be) will continue to exist (if "exist" is the proper term).

It is impossible to talk about doctrine (or practice, for that matter) without talking about people. People do. The doing of religion is practice, and I respectfully continue to maintain that the formulation of doctrine is a subset of practice.

SOMEWHAT UNRELATED PERSONAL NOTE: Dr. Vallicella gave me high praise when he wrote:

As I would put it, entry into the Big Ho's site requires proper accoutrement: gas mask on face, shovel in hand.

*By which I mean, "beings that can see."


Smallholder on Kerry's morals

Over at Naked Villainy, the Smallholder writes a post in response to my previous post on John Kerry (see below). His basic argument is this:

I strongly suspect that Kerry's stand is anything but principled. I would even posit that it cannot be principled. As I have argued previously, if one believes that life begins at conception, one is morally mandated to oppose abortion. Genuflecting before America's public secularity isn't principled: it is calculated.

I'll grant the possibility that Kerry is pandering; it wouldn't surprise me to discover that he's testing the political winds. But the question of a "moral mandate" becomes complex in politics: if you're a Christian, then you have a "moral mandate" to spread the gospel. What prevents George Bush from coming right out and doing this? I'd say it's the culture of secularism.

I think the whole notion of "separation of church and state" is by no means a settled issue in American culture. This is one of the reasons I asked question #2 yesterday: if the religious life is coextensive with all aspects of my life, then in my personal Venn diagram, politics must be a smaller circle inside the bigger circle. To that extent, Smallholder's argument makes perfect sense.

But in the practical realm, I think secularism calls for precisely the sort of compromise John Kerry is making. I'm not talking about Kerry's particular position here; I'm talking about compromises in general, be they political or moral (I can already hear the outcry from people who despise the phrase "moral compromise"). Such compromises are necessary to foster secularism and pluralism, which I would argue are the deeper values underlying public discussions of major issues like abortion or war or racism. It's possible for a Christian, as a Christian, to conclude that attention to those deeper values is more moral than black-and-white adherence to other values.

The Smallholder points out:

In 1855, many Northern Protestants had reached the conclusion that slavery was incompatible with Christianity. Even though their agitation to end the peculiar institution was religiously based, it would have been immoral of them to say: "Well, my reading of the Bible leads me to believe that slavery is wrong, but since America is publicly secular, I won't try to impose my religious beliefs on other people."

I agree with the rightness of the motivation of those Northern Protestants, but I disagree that an across-the-board argument can be made in favor of such agitation. I think the Smallholder recognizes this because in the following paragraph he writes:

It would be wrong for Christians to try to force Muslims to say a Christian prayer in schools. It would be wrong for Christians to mandate public schools teach the doctrine of Creation (Anything but) Science. Those are issues of faith. But if one believes that murder is occurring, one is morally bound to oppose it, with NO exceptions (er - only one exception - the Maximum Leader has made a good case for situations in which the life of the mother is endangered).

Since the abortion debate centers on the very question of whether abortion even qualifies as murder, the accompanying question of whether to impose one's morality on the larger populace is absolutely relevant. It isn't at all clear that one can act so cavalierly on one's personal convictions in a secular pluralist environment. What's more, it isn't clear that issues can be so neatly divided between "issues of faith" and "issues not of faith." Here again, my question #2 is relevant: what, for the believer, isn't an issue of faith?

I believe American neo-Nazis espouse one of the vilest ideologies known to man. By rights, I should be out there in the streets agitating against them, because I'm morally obliged to do so. I have similar issues with extremist Islam and a goodly number of other beliefs and practices I find abhorrent. But in my practical life, I have to make compromises and deal with these issues as someone who has both a public and private self. This goes doubly for politicians, where compromises are the norm. It can't be easy.

On a personal note, I never thought I'd be so sympathetic to a politician's lot, particularly Kerry's.


Tuesday, October 19, 2004

John Kerry to be excommunicated from the RC?

The Vatican is preparing for the death of the current pope. This preparation has been going on for several years now, much of it out of sight of the general public. I happened to be attending grad school at The Catholic University of America from 1999 to 2002, so I heard some scuttlebutt and caught a fleeting glimpse of the inner workings of the Roman Church. The Vatican, contrary to many people's impression of it, doesn't move in total synch with itself: it's of several minds, being an enormous bureaucracy composed of offices that occasionally find themselves at odds with each other.

Via Drudge, I found this article about John Kerry. It appears that some elements in Rome, at the behest of an American canon lawyer based in Los Angeles, are thinking of excommunicating Kerry for his stance on abortion. Kerry himself is pro-life, but in keeping with the cherished American tradition of the separation of church and state (at least in principle) and his own liberalism, Kerry refuses to impose Catholic morality on the populace. As a politician, then, he affirms a woman's right to choose. As a Catholic, he denies this.

Even if you know nothing else about American culture or John Kerry, you can already see from the above that there are many religious, cultural, and political issues at play. Kerry is banking on the idea that modern American Christians will accept that religion is essentially a private affair. This harks back to the First Amendment's "establishment clause," and has roots even deeper than that: Bernard Lewis, in his Islam and the West, is able to find scriptural justification for the secularism of Western culture: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." (Mt. 22:22, KJV; I'm fully aware this verse can be interpreted in different ways. I'm sure Lewis is, too.) Jesus himself, or the gospel writer who put words in Jesus' mouth, seems to be advocating a church/state dichotomy.

As anyone who's followed the life and times of John F. Kennedy knows, Catholic politicians are often suspect because of their ties to the Roman hierarchy. There is always a lingering question of divided loyalties: whose will does one obey in the end, that of the American people, or that of Rome? Kennedy worked hard to dispel the notion that he would sell the country to Rome; as far as I can tell, Kerry has also made some efforts in that direction.

I admire the fact that Kerry is taking a principled stand. Maybe some will disagree: "By publicly affirming and privately denying a woman's right to choose, Kerry merely confirms that he's a flip-flopper," they'll say. But I'm not sure what else Kerry can do. Something has to give. The question is whether Rome will indeed push ahead with excommunication. I'd be interested to see how Kerry would react to that.

Kerry may be Catholic, but he's acting according to his conscience-- something we Protestants can appreciate, given the crucial role we ascribe to conscience regarding matters of faith. While I couldn't bring myself to vote for Kerry (or Bush, for that matter), and while I disagree with many of Kerry's convictions (such as they are), I appreciate the courage it takes to stand against one's own church with regard to an important issue. But because Kerry's Catholic, he has to know that, if Rome decides to excommunicate him, he must abide by its decision to do so.

Some questions to chew on:

1. Is religion essentially a private affair? Should it be?

2. If a religious tradition contains claims about the nature of people and of reality at large, how is it possible for a person to treat politics as something completely separate from that person's own religious life? In other words: can/should a Christian put aside the dictates of his/her Christian conscience when trying to decide how to vote on an issue?

To put it yet another way: my Christianity isn't supposed to be something I "turn on" and "turn off." The same could be said for the people of other religions: a mindful Buddhist always tries to live mindfully, not merely when it's convenient to do so; a devout Muslim lives in acute consciousness of God's presence, etc. By separating church and state as we do, and thereby creating a neutral public space (i.e., secularism) allowing for many religious and nonreligious practices, are we asking people to engage in this "turning on" and "turning off"?

3. What does the privatization of religion (if that's in fact what's been going on) imply about the nature of American secularism?

4. Is America a religious country? If yes, what is the role of the "establishment clause" in fostering or repressing American religious life?


6:28AM collapse

This morning on the subway, I was witness to another collapse (read about the first one, a seizure, here). Trundling along from Nakseongdae Station to Kangnam Station on subway Line 2, I saw a forty-something gentleman in front of me walk toward the subway doors as if to exit. His knees suddenly folded, and he fell face-first to the floor of the subway car. Something didn't seem right about the way he fell, though, so I simply stared at him and waited.* A young guy standing right next to the fallen gentleman bent over and began trying to tap/nudge him awake. As I watched, I saw the gent open up one eye and peek. Then he opened up his other eye, righted himself without help, and stepped out of the subway. The doors closed. Before we pulled away, I saw he'd collapsed again on the subway platform-- but as before, he'd collapsed into a rather comfortable position, the way an actor might feign death on the stage. I suspect I was witnessing a cry for attention.

The guy's acting was worthy of Shatner. No Olivier, he.

*One thing that's been draining away during my time here is any do-gooder impulse I might have had. I don't say this proudly; I note it with some sadness.


Monday, October 18, 2004

JP2 and the Grim Reaper

Having successfully outlived Jacques Derrida ("My plan all along!"), His Holiness has begun raving about his own impending demise.


all hail the female form!

Of all the female flesh currently being featured on the Marmot's site, I like the picture in this post the yummiest-- uh, I mean the best.


Scott on politics and crazies

Scott comments on my election-as-train-wreck post:

re: "Are we, the American public, like people watching a train wreck about to happen?"

Have you read "The Fourth Turning" by Neil Howe and William Strauss? It's the rarest of books from academics - it's actually got a point. It explains the cyclic nature of humanity that you alluded to above: things happen in cycles, and now is the time for the train wreck. The research kicks ass in thoroughness and the presentation is consistent and interesting.

But back to your questions. Yes. The streets will burn if Bush gets re-elected. Some of The Left in the USA lack the decency to allow Bush to visit a town without a traffic-stopping protest involving WTO-meeting style violence. And that's just for a visit. Given the amount of mental-retardation of folks who couldn't handle the ballots in Florida* (so confusing, being designed by a Democrat and all), this election is gonna be nuts.

Look at me, for crying out loud. I was politically hands off before this year. But all of the lying and vocal hand-wringing by the left (e.g. Michael Moore) became too much for me to stand. And if a guy as mellow as me has had it with the hippies in the USA... be glad you are in Korea.

As for your comment about being passengers on a train, Fred (i.e., Fred Reed of Fred On Everything) writes well, and often about the same topic. I believe his current column is a good intro into his thinking. He's retired but still writes semi-weekly - and it's all good. For fun, check out the columns he wrote when he was a reporter who rode along with police officers in Washington, DC.

I saw the movie "Team America" today. Pretty good, a bit over the top at the end. Big South Park fans will feel that they are watching a great deal of recycled material (a song, the foreign characters are all recycled, etc). My overall sentiment of the film was summarized by the song, "America, Fuck Yeah!"


[*I'm sure he doesn't mean you, Arn.]

I don't know if the streets will burn, but there seem to be some worrisome trends. As an example: political polarization happened fast in the blogosphere, where time is highly accelerated in the race to keep up with, or even anticipate, news topicality. Almost everyone has zipped straight into a distinct camp, with Glenn Reynolds and Bill Whittle on one side, and Kos and Atrios on the other. Scary self-organization, and a sad justification of what I'm becoming convinced is a huge liability: America's fixation on two-party politics.

If the streets do burn, this won't bode well for liberal prospects in upcoming elections. I have to hope that people will keep their cool, though I expect there to be lawsuits.

It's amazing to see how we've undermined basic notions of trustworthiness in society. This is related in no small way to the effects of postmodernist thought in culture: it seems nowadays that many people feel free to believe whatever they want about human nature and society. While I personally take a nonessentialist view of all phenomena (cultural and physical), I don't for a moment believe this means we throw principle (and history) out the window and embrace an "anything goes" ethic. It's important to restore a sense of trustworthiness and yes, groundedness to public action and rhetoric. It's also important to promote a value I've picked up from reading the philobloggers: interpretive charity. People on opposite sides of the aisle tend to assume the worst about the other; they shouldn't. Instead, they should stop, listen, reflect, and only then reply-- strongly if necessary, but civilly in all cases. What I don't want to see in America is the charade that's played itself out in the Korean National Assembly and in Taiwan as well: fistfights and mayhem, politics reduced to violence.

Scott also writes in about the loony bin (see recent post):


Re: "I'm beginning to wonder whether my language school, EC, is a magnet for crazy people."

ALL language schools are magnets for crazy people. Every single one. Language schools are like strip clubs for girls to patronize. The crazy folks come out of the woodwork at language schools, and they end up taking my class. Sure, many students come to learn something, but all too many (it seems) have had an extra cup of crazy with their cereal during breakfast.

At my school the craziest folks liked me a lot because I didn't get weirded out around them. I viewed the crazy as my misunderstood brethren. They may have been born in the country, but they were as foreign as I was, in some ways. Some even requested that I be their sole teacher. Private lessons with me was their granted request. And what were they looking for? A place to hang out and a familiar, non-threatening face to talk to. Kinda like the bar 'Cheers', without Cliff Claven.

As for the kids needing behavior modification... ouch. I got lucky and only had a couple of boys who needed physical coercion. And since those boys took a swipe at me, their attitude got corrected REALLY fast. The surprisingly thing is - no one else had even tried that. I'm not talking about a hard-swing, just a little love-tap upside the head of an 8-year-old who needs it. You know what? It adjusted their attitude. Kinda like Fred Reed's take on Marine Corps philosophy.

The lab-coat situation sucks for everyone, and I think the manager is on your side about things. But she's stuck having to enforce the rule. I think you hit it right with your stance: do it your way, but avoid a verbal confrontation.


One of my students had an obsession with callus-picking. After he left class one day, I looked down at his chair and saw a huge, disgustingly translucent hunk of finger skin sitting there, almost as if it were a gift shyly given. Tricorder readings seemed to indicate it was pretty damn skanky. Mr. Spock wasn't available to remove the foulness from my chair, so I got a tissue and took care of it myself.

The adorability of crazy people has limits. With Alien Miss Bae, I initially had a great deal of compassion, but she was an arrogant cow as well as an erratic student, so I was happy to be rid of her. I conclude from this that there are species of crazy. There's cute-crazy (think: Amélie or any character played by actor Christopher Lloyd), and there's ugly-crazy (think: people in their 40s who fling their dung at McDonald's workers if they don't get enough ketchup bags). I'd rather have the cute-crazies in class, but they're few and far between.


Sunday, October 17, 2004

gnome redux

Destined to become a blogosphere classic is this moving tribute (cough) to the now-deconstructing Jacques Derrida.

(found through Andrew Sullivan)

UPDATE: Check out Dr. Vallicella's gratifying takedown of another Derridean tribute here.

Oxymoron for the day: Derrida the misunderstood.


EC and crazy people

I'm beginning to wonder whether my language school, EC, is a magnet for crazy people. Not the teachers, mind you: I'm talking about the students. I already wrote about that nut, Miss Bae (see here), but she's not the only alien to materialize at our foyer. There's a fat little kid who's either deranged or retarded or severely jazzed on sugar: he's loud, he's fidgety, he's inattentive, and he makes me want to smack the shit out of him (no, I don't generally want to smack the shit out of retarded people, goddammit, so stop misinterpreting me). On Saturday, this little mutant was practically screaming into his cell phone, apparently talking to either his mother or his sister. Something is definitely wrong with him. He's going to grow up to be an inhibition-free bum who whacks off in the subway while everyone either looks away or moves to another car. I hereby dub him Ritalin Boy. Ritalin Boy doesn't respond well to correction, and I have a feeling he'd like being beaten.

So the crazies are coming our way. EC markets itself as a clinic, and I wonder whether some prospective customers aren't taking the marketing a bit too seriously (you'll recall that staffers have to wear lab coats... and no, I'm still not wearing mine*). Call it the Private School Syndrome-- the idea that one-on-one sessions at a language "clinic" can somehow work psychotherapeutic voodoo on people who've proven to be basket cases at other language schools. I saw this mentality while teaching at a private Catholic school in Arlington, Virginia: desperate parents think the stricter, God-oriented climate of a private Catholic school can straighten their kids out. Little do they know what a joke this is, and the same joke applies to EC. Ritalin Boy has been taking classes at our school for a while now; I can't say I've noticed much improvement in his language skills or behavior, and I certainly don't blame the monster's teachers for that. The fault lies entirely with Ritalin Boy and his adult enablers.

Some of my other students often appear on edge, too. When I try to offer several examples of how to use a new vocabulary word, many of them cut me off after the first example: "I know, I know, I know. Yes, I understand," they say, as if to tell me they don't need to learn a word's semantic field. I suspect my colleagues experience the same problem with some of their students. It goes to show that, despite Confucianistic claims to the contrary, many people here don't actually respect teachers all that much-- especially not in ritzy Kangnam, where, as is true with American private schools, students (or their parents) consider themselves paying customers, and the customer is always right.

Anything goes at EC. I wonder who'll be wandering in next. Perhaps I, the religion student, will soon find myself giving one-on-one sessions to the demonically possessed.

"What an excellent day for an English lesson," my leering demon-student will croak in a multi-throated voice as she sits her pretty self down, eyes yellow and bloodshot.

"Repeat after me," I'll say as the demon begins to cackle and the lights over my head start to flicker.

"What if I don't want to?" she'll challenge.

"You'll do it if you know what's good for you. Now, repeat: This, that, these, those, either, neither."

"No. That'd be much too vulgar a display of English prowess."

"Repeat it!"

"Fuck off, half-breed bitch-boy!"

"The sixth's sick sheik's sixth sheep's sick!" I'll say in a booming voice.

"It buuuurrrrrns!" my demon will yell, writhing in her chair and spewing warm gouts of pus from every orifice.

"Repeat it!" I'll say.

"La plume de ma tante!" she'll rage.

"Then about repeating this-- THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU!"

"Aaaaauuuuuuggggghhh!! Unfair! Unfair! Teresa Heinz Kerry sucks cocks in hell!"

"Dude, she's not dead yet."

The demon will pause.

"Oh, yeah."

It all makes me wonder whether there's a such thing as a programmed exorcism, one done over several days or weeks, at twenty-five minutes a session. Could EC be part of some cosmic Flypaper Strategy, attracting demons in order to destroy or banish them? Stay tuned. We'll all find out soon enough.

*I wussed out and wore the lab coat one evening when K, the founder, visited our branch. When he left about an hour later, I took it right off again. There were witnesses to my lab-coatedness, but no photos were taken. (Expect photos soon enough.) My manager, to her credit, hasn't badgered me about the coat. I don't know how much it bothers her, but I remain wary: it's my third month on split shift and I'm being evaluated.

EPILOGUE: The alien Miss Bae left EC, never to return (I hope), a couple weeks back.


anal wormhole leads to alternate political universe

Today's head trip is brought to you by this hilarious post over at Reverend Jim's House of Pain and Redemption.


ImpQueen and Buttsauce

Damn-- Persephone's Synaptic Misfire got itself a new blogskin. Nice one, too. Here's a quote from a recent post (I'd give you the permalink, but I can't find it!):

I'm a mother (yes, i know, i'm much too young to have borne children.). Should one of my children turn out to be gay, that will not negate my love or support for that child. Should someone else feel the need to mention that they respect or love my child more than I do, I will probably feel the need to bash that person in the head with a large rock. What John Kerry did was wrong, because he used Mary's gayness as a shiny lure, as a holographic decoy card, if you will.

"Look over here!" he gestured, hands a'wavin'. "See? The Cheney's daughter is gay, but they don't treat her as well as I will! Of course, she won't be able to get married under my administration either, but that's beside the point, and we don't talk about that now. See? Over here! Next to the gay Republican! They have gays too, because the Vice President and his wife carry the anti-straight mutated genital-preference gene! Defective, yes, but I'll respect your defects too, if you'll vote for me!"

No wonder Mary's mother was about to blow her stack.

Over in the land of Arn, we've got a heartfelt post about the overcoming of personal trials. If I may be so bold as to quote a slice:

I wasn't given this life to piss it away in self-indulgent self-pity. Now, finally, it has to stop. I have to get back to someplace where I like living, where I like other people, where I like ME again.

Somewhere in this mess, I have to be a pretty good person. How do I know? Mainly because some of the finest, most decent people I know care very deeply about me, and aren't afraid to show it.

Kick ass, Arn.


Saturday, October 16, 2004

good essay

I'm not a regular reader of National Review Online; it's too far to the right for my milquetoast tastes. But this essay by Victor Davis Hanson, a thinker and essayist I admire, is worth your while. (link found through KBJ)

Speaking of conservatives, where's Annika? I haven't been able to access her blog for the past couple days. Is anyone Stateside having this trouble? What's up?



Are we, the American public, like people watching a train wreck about to happen?

It's a feeling I've increasingly had of late as the election nears: the rapidfire commentaries and meta-commentaries, the journalistic/Big Media manipulation (both rightward and leftward), the writhings and cawings of the different blogospheric camps... and beneath it all, a whiff of something like morbid curiosity, like we're all on the train, barrelling down the tracks, watching the other train head toward us, too fascinated by the thought of impact to consider jumping off into the tall green grass whipping by.


Buddhism notes and pungent foreign policy

Try this on for size: right now, right behind me in this high-class Kangnam PC-bahng, there's a Buddhist monk, in his robes, playing online go-stop (a Korean card game). This PC-bahng isn't cheap; I wonder whether his temple knows what he's up to.

In other news: from Corporate Motherfucker's review of "Team America: World Police" (warning: review contains spoilers), here's all you need to know about foreign policy and America's role:

"There are three kinds of people in this world," Johnston says. "Dicks, assholes and pussies. We're dicks, and the rest of the world are pussies. But sometimes an asshole comes along and wants to shit all over everyone, and the only kind of person who can fuck an asshole is a dick, because pussies are just an inch away from being assholes themselves." (Diplomatically, Johnston concedes, "Sometimes dicks fuck assholes at inappropriate times, and they need pussies to guide them in the right direction.")

Other notes:

My morning partner, J, told me that my move-in day is Saturday, the 23rd. I'm hoping to be re-armed with a DSL connection before the end of the month.

Today kicked my ass. All of my students came except for one no-show; I taught the better part of eight hours straight. I despise working Saturdays. Tonight or tomorrow, I've got laundry to look forward to. Joy.