Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Spielberg trivia

The answers I have so far...

Jennifer V. wrote in quickest with:

The Color Purple

Yes, that's right! You win a large fleck of my dandruff!

Next up, Ribbit comes up with:

I believe "The Colo(u)r Purple" was a SS film not scored by John Williams.


Indeed! How about this freshly harvested colon polyp?

The Maven writes in third with:

I believe the movie "Always" was NOT scored by John Williams. The movie was a remake of "A Man Named Joe."

I hope this is what you are looking for.


Alas! According to Allmovie.com, John Williams did score "Always"!

I suppose this means my skidmarked underwear for you, fellow coprophile!

Andy R. then writes:

You wrote, "trivia The challenge! Name a Steven Spielberg film not scored by John Williams."

I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that John Williams passed on doing the score for "Joe versus the Volcano." Ditto for "Arachnophobia."

As it turns out, "Arachnophobia" was scored by Trevor Jones and directed by Frank Marshall, who produced many a Spielberg film. Spielberg himself is listed as one of two executive producers in the Allmovie.com entry.

"Joe Versus the Volcano" was directed by John Patrick Shanley and scored by Georges Delerue. Spielberg was executive producer.

I should have specified what I meant by "Spielberg film": a film directed by Spielberg. Since I can't decide whether Andy's answers are legitimate, I'll just offer him one dry and one wet booger.

Justin Yoshida writes:

> Name a Steven Spielberg film not scored by John Williams
"Alien vs. Predator," or that one with Steven Seagal as a Secret Service agent who gets sucked out of a special ops boarding tunnel to Air Force 1 at 35,000 feet ten minutes into the movie (his best role to date).

Smartass. No snot for you.


Monday, May 30, 2005

la France dit NON

Read all about it here. Holy shit.


taking a bigger Sith

Fine. Other bloggers are reacting to "Revenge of the Sith," so perhaps I should toss in more than a brief, vague review by Gollum.

Let's tackle various aspects of "Sith" then, shall we?


"Phantom Menace" conditioned me to expect only one good thing from the new batch of prequels: the lightsaber fights. George Lucas, from the 1970s to now, has never really understood the power of the story he was trying to tell, the import of the images he was slapping on the screen. As he famously said one time, the lightsaber fights were "just two guys waving sticks at each other," or something to that effect. Luckily, he chose fight choreographer Nick Gillard, whom I'd love to meet someday, to stage the fights for the three prequels. Gillard gets what Lucas doesn't: the fights matter, and they should look like they matter.

"Revenge of the Sith" features the following lightsaber duels:

1. Kenobi and Anakin vs. Count Dooku
2. Kenobi vs. General Grievous
3. Palpatine vs. Mace Windu
4. Palpatine vs. Yoda
5. Anakin vs. Kenobi

Yoda, alone, also gets his share of Kurasawa moments. I was especially fond of the double-beheading scene on Kashyyyk, where he dispatches the two clones just after they've been given Order 66, the order to kill all Jedi.

The Palpatine/Windu fight was stately and graceful compared to the other, more frenetic fights. The idea, I suppose, was to portray two accomplished masters going at it Old School. Unfortunately, I also thought this was the flattest of the encounters. Lucas, who writes regularly at Supershadow.com, promised that Palpatine would dispatch the Jedi accompanying Windu by using "a frightening technique," but there was nothing frightening about the so-called "Sith Thrust," in which Palpatine simply bunched up and then thrust savagely forward with his red lightsaber.

Here's how I would have staged that scene:

Palpatine rises from his seat, unignited lightsaber clutched in his right fist. With his left hand he reaches out and suddenly tightens his fingers in a clawing gesture. One of the Jedi next to Windu is wrenched into a full back-bend, his spine snapping, killing him instantly. Palpatine performs a slightly different clawing gesture, this time gruesomely snapping the neck of the second Jedi accompanying Windu. Both warriors have been killed so quickly that they drop to the floor at the same time, leaving Windu and one final Jedi.

Palpatine ignites his saber and attacks the remaining knights, but his movements are barely human. He moves as if possessed, his saber whirling in improbable arcs, now high, now low, his body spinning and torquing in ways that shouldn't be possible. Two quick slashes, and the third Jedi is chopped into three pieces that fall away from each other.

Palpatine comes eerily to rest two meters from Windu. Panting like a ghoul, bloodshot eyes aglow with infernal glee, the Dark Lord turns to face the last Jedi Master in the chamber. Windu readies himself for what he now knows to be his doom.

I have no idea why Palpatine's deflected Force-lightning would warp him into the Elephant Man, when no one else who suffered the same attack underwent similar changes (cf. Yoda, and Mace Windu himself-- but cf. especially Luke Skywalker, who withstood a sustained attack in "Return of the Jedi" without any expansion of his forehead).

For me, the best of the fights came at the beginning: the rematch between Dooku and the two Jedi Knights. It was intense; movements were spare and direct; it was a sword fight up to the very end, and the CGI was good enough for me to forgive the fact that Christopher Lee obviously wasn't doing his own fighting.

The Yoda/Palpatine fight, on the other hand, descended into a wizard's battle between Force masters, lightsabers forgotten. This was amusing at first but soon lost its appeal once Palpatine began tossing those huge, floating Senate seats-- as if they were monster truck tires-- at his "little green friend." Yoda didn't acquit himself nearly as well as he should have.

Pray tell, why can't Jedi use the Force to protect themselves from long falls? If you can use the Force to push a heavy object over, can't you use it to push against the earth, thereby stopping your fall?

The fight between Kenobi and Grievous had potential. An expert with four arms should have done somewhat better against Kenobi; perhaps it's a testament to Grievous's lameness (he was trained by loser Dooku, after all) that he was unable to score a single hit against Kenobi, while our hero methodically lopped off the cyborg's appendages. It didn't help matters that Grievous's voice sounded like a deeper version of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

[I'm not the only one to say this; check here, for example.]

Grievous gets points, though, for having a cool unicycle that works like a circular saw.

Anyone care to speculate on why the prequels feature so many wheels? Wheels were never part of the original Star Wars trilogy, but they make important appearances in both "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith." Was Lucas trying for a retro look?

The Anakin/Kenobi fight was also intense, but included a lot of fancy-pants moves that accomplished nothing. One blade-twirling scene in particular struck me as a waste. As a fight choreography junkie, I found the most interesting aspect of that fight (and it caught my attention in the Yoda/Palpatine fight as well) to be how Gillard handled close-in fighting with long blades. He kept the pace incredibly fast. Hats off to the actors, stuntpeople, and CGI crew who made it work. Alas, Kenobi's triple-amputation of Anakin was accomplished so quickly that I barely registered it.


The plot of "Revenge of the Sith" wraps up the loose ends from the two previous movies. Palpatine consolidates his power and the Empire is born. Anakin, who's been long primed for his turn to the dark side, finally goes over the edge. The stage is set for Luke's childhood on Tatooine, Leia's time on Alderaan, Yoda's exile on Dagobah, and Kenobi's ability to reappear as a ghost after death (it was interesting to see how Lucas wrote around the conspicuous absence of Liam Neeson's character, Qui-gon Jinn).

The plot was actually well-constructed, I thought. Good pace, just enough complexity to keep things interesting for the older crowd. Nice exploration of competing Force philosophies through the lens of Palpatine's Sith bias. What mucked the story up, though, was the limp acting and awful dialogue. Kenobi's "I can't watch any more" moment, where he's viewing the video of Anakin's slaughter of younglings at the Jedi temple, didn't sound particulary sincere, and I don't blame Ewan McGregor for that: Lucas isn't an actor's director. He doesn't push his stars to give it their all. Hayden Christensen, however, has only himself to blame for ruining such an important part: he failed to play Vader with the requisite gravitas, and on top of that, Lucas didn't make Vader's fall as jarring as he could have.

McGregor did the best he could with the lines he was given, and yes, Ian McDiarmid steals the show as Palpatine/Sidious. At one point I could have sworn he sounded like an evil Burgess Meredith.

Acting props go to the animators for making Yoda my favorite character in the film. He's both samurai and Taoist sage, the quintessence of the Jedi, settling most fights with a single gesture or a lightning slash of his deadly green lightsaber. I was disappointed with his WWF-scripted defeat at the hands of Sidious, but since I'd read the entire "Revenge of the Sith" screenplay a month or so before the movie's release, nothing I saw surprised me.

The story didn't choke me up, I'm afraid. Maybe that was because I was sitting with a Korean audience that didn't have anything like the warm feelings Americans have for the Star Wars story. No one seemed truly into the movie. There were no cheers when the Star Wars logo appeared on the screen. That detachment stayed with me throughout the film.


Contrary to what some reviewers have said, the special effects weren't all seamless. You knew when a human body had gone from live actor to CGI, and even a CGI character like Grievous had fake moments, such as when he dropped into a tunnel from a rooftop hatch near the beginning of the movie.

But I'm being picky. Overall, the film was an amazing technical achievement, and Lucas stuffed almost every frame full of detail and visual trivia. I get the feeling that Yoda received the most loving care from the CGI artists; his character is one-up on Gollum, because unlike Gollum, there was no Anthony Serkis around to model his movements. Animating Yoda's old Jedi robes must have been a real pain.

The space battle at the beginning of "Sith" was quite impressive, but I've been hard to please ever since seeing those beautiful space shots from 1997's "Starship Troopers," in which the Bugs are hurling their nuclear butt gas at the orbiting human fleet. The "Sith" battle was more complex (and had a wonderful beginning as we follow the Jedi fighters over a large ship and suddenly discover we're in the midst of heavy combat), but wasn't orders of magnitude better than the battle in "Troopers."

Both Coruscant (the Trantor-like capital of the Republic) and Kashyyyk (the Wookiee planet) deserved more screen time. I enjoyed the nifty gadgets we saw on Kashyyyk, like those funky dragonfly helicopters. I also liked the winged creatures we saw during the battle on Utapau (where Kenobi fought Grievous), and enjoyed Kenobi's boga, the huge lizard he rode into battle.


Lucas, not one for subtlety, beats us over the head with signs that flesh will be fused to metal, and that lungs will be crushed and ruined.

General Grievous is a cyborg-- a biomechanoid. You can see he's got alien eyes and still retains many of his original internal organs. We can assume from his demeanor that he still retains his brain and much of his nervous system. Unlike other fans, I didn't mind his coughing at all; apparently, he suffered lung damage from a fight with a Jedi in one episode of that cartoon TV series I never saw. So Grievous is flesh and metal, and he wears a cape and has breathing problems. Sound familiar? He's One Big Foreshadowing of the mechanical Darth Vader we know and love.

Palpatine suffers from his own Force-lightning when Mace Windu manages to deflect a good chunk of it back at him. This alters the Chancellor irrevocably, and he, too, develops a wheeze. Maybe Lucas is saying that evil is emphysemic. I don't know. In any case, I took Palpatine's wheezing as yet another foreshadowing of the arrival of Mechanical Vader.

As Gollum mentioned, plenty of characters take long falls, and these falls fit into the overall theme of a "fall from grace." Neither Lucas nor Spielberg is particularly subtle when it comes to symbolism; Lucas's slyest move ever was the Jacob/Esau reference he claims to have snuck into the old trilogy (regarding the status of Luke and Leia). The multiple plunges, however, are pure Unsubtle Lucas.

As per usual in Lucas's world, evil wears black and carries a red lightsaber. The good guys wear lighter colors and and use blue or green sabers. Anakin gets to wield Dooku's own red saber against him at the beginning of the film, but in his fight against Kenobi, Anakin uses his blue saber. I took this as a symbol of brother pitted against brother, something Kenobi himself notes ("You were my brother!") after crippling Anakin.


(NB: Credit goes to my buddy Dave for the Frankenstein image.)

If you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about: this is when Anakin has been suited up as Mechanical Vader. He breaks free of the table, stumbles forward like the Frankenstein monster, learns about the death of Padme, and roars in agony, lurching all the while. What did you think of this scene?

Sorry, but it made me chuckle. You can blame Hayden Christensen for that, as well as George Lucas for his extremely poor choice of camera angle. Vader, whom we see at a distance, appears to be on a stage, roaring into the darkness. I found the effect distracting. Lucas should have done that scene with closeups. It would have given Vader more dignity. Instead, we get a staggering drunk guy at a costume party.


I was disappointed to see that Anakin doesn't fall directly into the lava. "No one could survive that," I hear you argue. But Lucas, writing at Supershadow.com, had made abundantly clear that he can do whatever he wants in his own films, including playing with the laws of physics. Fine, George. In that case, the better dramatic choice would have been to plunge Anakin directly into the molten lava, with only the power of his Force-fueled hatred to sustain him against instant, searing death while he scrabbled desperately to shore.

It could be that Lucas had wanted to do this, but decided against the ridiculous sight of a no-legged, one-armed Anakin trying desperately to "swim" to shore. A plunge in the lava would also have meant a crispy, naked Anakin-- not a pretty sight for anyone, and children watching the movie would have been left wondering, "What happened to his wee-wee, Daddy? Did it burn off, too?"

But I favor the lava plunge idea, because it would have driven the point home: Anakin has fallen directly into hell (obviously a Buddhist hell*, since he's redeemed in "Return of the Jedi").

I did, however, like the makeup work done on Anakin's face-- the scene where he's sliding toward the lava and staring hatefully up at Kenobi. Those red-rimmed eyes were impressive.


I'm not sure I feel like seeing this movie again. I had something of the same feeling after watching "The Matrix Revolutions." While "Revenge of the Sith" was easily better than its two predecessors, it still lacked something for me. Again, I think the problem lies in poor acting and bad dialogue. It's a shame, really; Lucas had a decent plot. The visuals worked well. The fights were excellently crafted, and the special effects were fantastic overall.

And yet... and yet...

*You don't go to Buddhist hell forever. You're there until the bad karma burns off, then you can move up to higher realms. You don't stay in Buddhist heaven forever, either, because heaven is also an impermanent state. In fact, some Buddhists reckon that it's possible to waste one's time enjoying the delights of heaven, only to boomerang down into one of the hells because one has spent no time seeking enlightenment. Nirvana is the goal; not heaven or hell.


Sunday, May 29, 2005


The challenge!

Name a Steven Spielberg film not scored by John Williams.


our freakward descent

Here's my theory: humanity is steadily becoming a collection of freaks. I'm not talking about a mere increase in the raw numbers of freaks in a given population; I'm talking about the percentage of freaks in a given population.

Perhaps you think I'm referring to the acceleration of culture-- a kind of behavioral freakishness that will accompany the eventual breakdown of morals-- but that's not what my theory focuses on. I'm talking about the biological problems related to technological enhancement.

As we continue to use technology retroactively to correct our genetic faults, we preserve people who, in a darker, bloodier age, would have been weeded out of the gene pool by clumsiness and stupidity, or by a large predator, or by someone more proficient with a longsword or battleaxe.

We're doing ourselves no favors with this techno-coddling. Asia, for example, has become the Land of Bad Eyes. If South Korea is any indication, the problem's only going to get worse. Eyewear shops are on nearly every street corner in most parts of Seoul. Lasik surgery is easily available. Asians who, in a different age, would have walked into open manholes or fatally attempted to have sex with a tiger are now leading happy, productive lives, and this is cause for alarm: bad-eyed people continue to breed like rabbits.

It's not merely an Asian problem, though. Look at the bizarre case of Stephen Hawking.

Hawking, known to the world as one of the most intelligent scientists in history, is arguably the most famous beneficiary of technological enhancements. Imprisoned in a body wracked with Lou Gehrig's disease (a.k.a. ALS), Hawking sits in a hi-tech chair and uses a voice synthesizer to communicate.

But Hawking is a divorcee, and that's because he's a horndog. The man cheated on his wife, somehow managing this feat without even being able to move. In another age, a randy-but-physically-helpless Hawking would have been torn apart by wild dogs for sport. Now, in the modern age, he can enjoy fame for his brilliance and chase skirts in his private time*. Should this be allowed to continue?

I foresee a world of freaks. People with bad eyes, their corneas shaved to perfection by Lasik, spreading their genes more and more broadly throughout the population. People with nasty, snaggle-toothed grins, passing their horrible teeth on to the next generation, dumping money into the surgeons' pockets to have their jawbones re-milled. I foresee a global gene pool filled with uneven breasts, mismatched testicles, shapeless buttocks, sloped shoulders, knock-knees, bizarre pattern baldness, rampant hirsutism, uncontrollable drooling and urination-- traits all held at bay by technology, only to be passed down to the next generation where they will have recombined into new and even more frightening types of freakishness.

If we don't start killing the freaks soon, they'll eventually take over. Mere centuries from now, humanity will be so tech-dependent that a woman could give birth to a quivering, retarded lump of flesh and have it converted into a passable human being through surgery, gene therapy, chemical enhancement, nanotech, and methods completely unknown to us now.

And the above applies to mental freaks, too. It's not hard to imagine a woman of the future giving birth to a quivering, retarded, psychotic lump of flesh-- teeth sprouting from its skull, hair on its tongue, chitinous body armor for skin, arms that look more like leathery tentacles, and a vast, unquenchable hatred of all living things.

God help us all.

Kill the freaks before it's too late.

Oh, wait... I've got bad eyes. Scratch that. Freaks rule!

*Yes, yes-- I know he wasn't eating out a supermodel or anything. Hawking cheated with his nurse, and married her in 1995. What's she been fucking, his wheelchair's handlebars?


hier stehe ich

The Political Compass has spoken! The Political Compass is always right!

where your dickhead stands

(Many thanks to Brian for the link to the questionnaire.)


Saturday, May 28, 2005

100 Below: Volume 8
Gollum reviews "Revenge of the Sith"

What's it got up its sleeve, Precious?
Ooh! A lightsaber! Naaaaassssssty, clever little Palpatine!

So many people and creatures falling to their doom!
Wretched, filthy fall-from-grace visual metaphors, Preciousssss!

Wait!! What has it got in its uterus, Precious?
Skywalker twins!?
Ach, we hates the foul little twinses!

Teensy little Jedi master moves quick-quick-quick!
Watch where you swing that green lightsaber!
Look! My Precious thinks it’s a lightsaber, too!

And what’s little Christensen holding?
No! Keep it away! The Bottle of Bad Acting!

Aaaaaaagggghhh! It burns! Oh, it burns!

The Precious is shriveling! Noooooo!


Friday, May 27, 2005

le dilemme français

Not sure whether to laugh or... laugh maniacally.

Let me declare it now, before the entire blogosphere:


I'm seeing "Revenge of the Sith" tonight, so don't expect much Friday blogging. Please chew on the above linked article and write me a 500-word essay on how Jacques Chirac's life as a soda jerk in America (not a fucking joke; he really did live in the US and work as a soda jerk) has shaped his Gaullist vision.

While you're at it, maybe you can settle the question of whether he jerked those sodas in New York or in South Carolina-- Google's mess of results is all over the place on the subject.

What Google lacks: a means for assessing the authoritativeness of linked sources. Maybe a wiki-style rating system can be installed...? Then again, Wikipedia's not exactly inspiring trust, what with frequent "editing wars" in controversial articles.


the almighty Z

Z and another student were absent from Thursday's drama class. Z's absence was bizarre, though. Here's what a Korean teacher, Mrs. Oh, told me: Z appeared in front of Room 105 around 1:00PM (my class begins at 1:10PM). She saw Mrs. Oh, then began timidly muttering (in Korean), "Class...? Class...? Class...?" She seemed unable to form a coherent sentence even in her native tongue. Mrs. Oh, understandably nonplussed, asked Z which class she was talking about, and Z managed to say, "Kevin seonsaeng-nim's class." Mrs. Oh told Z that I was probably going to be there any moment, and Z reportedly said, "OK," then left the building.

I showed up about thirty seconds after this exchange occurred. Mrs. Oh ran off to try and catch my student, but she was gone. I was sorry that Mrs. Oh had felt obliged to run after Z.

After class began, I tried calling Z twice, but she's a sly one: she now turns her phone off so that she's unreachable except through text or voicemail. Convenient.

And childish.

Z never did show up for class. I wonder if she'll be there on Tuesday next week. Good God.

Maybe Z's the local crack dealer, and she's started dipping into her own stuff. I truly wonder how she ever got into this university.


Thursday, May 26, 2005

postal scrotum: thank you, JESUS

An email NOT ABOUT PANTIES comes in from Matt. Instead, he takes issue with my rendition of the "dancing crap" line from "Fight Club":


I appreciate its presence*, but it's "the all singing, all dancing... crap of the world."

get it straight!


Busted, yo!

As a film geek, I have to accept this correction the way a Zen student must accept his thirty hits from the master (no bong jokes, s'il vous plaît), because it'd be dishonorable to do otherwise. I love quoting the movies I know well, and I admit I've seen "Fight Club" only a couple times, years ago. No excuse, though; the "all-dancing crap" line was one of the best ones in the film, along with the quip about selling the women back their own fat asses. I should have remembered.

*The quote's presence on my blog, I assume.


postal scrotum: more on panties!

Good Christ, you'd think that more people would react to my posts on interreligious issues, but no-- it's all about the goddamn panties. I'm beginning to wonder if my readers are, collectively, more fixated on this than I am!

Anyway, Max writes:

Kevin, don't take this badly, but really you are a little naive. People learn from a very young age what kind of clothes are considered proper or improper, according to the context. Any girl who is flashing her undies at you is fully cognizant of what she is doing. Women who dress ostentatiously are doing it on purpose. Women who expose themselves should not get angry at gawking men. We men are biologically hardwired to ogle. Though some may say the burka is morally indefensible, you can see the logic behind it.

It is my belief that women, who are on average physically weaker than men, relish their sexual power over men. The girl in your class, while maybe not wanting to sleep with you, is enjoying yanking your chain (or other phallic symbol of your choosing).

My goal is not to get mad, but to get even. I hope to get up to 200 lbs. of pure muscle and live in a place like Hawaii where I can wear a tight T-shirt 365 days a year. No joke.

Peace, Max

P.S. Another way you can get revenge is to pay more attention to the homelier girls in your classes, while giving less attention to the prettier ones (who you may unconsciously be favoring). This is a good thing to do anyway because the less attractive girls invariably get less attention in life. Princesses need to learn they ain't the center of the universe.

Dammit, I can't stand the "naive" thing. It seems to come from my married friends, who sometimes act like they've cornered the market on worldly wisdom. Just you wait-- your wife'll run away with another woman, too, and then where will you be, eh? EH??

Did I not write earlier, "I've been wondering whether she's unaware of her aura, but then again, girls who dress sexily often know what they're doing"? [emphasis added]

So it's not as though I'm unaware of these pleasant facts of life. However, not all girls do what they do consciously-- or even unconsciously. Sometimes they're just following the clique. So I'd dispute the idea that Sharon Stoning always happens on purpose, though in this case I'm inclined to believe that Miss Panties probably does know what she's doing.

As for paying attention to the homelier girls... I do that as a matter of policy, not because I feel they need a handout, but because it's true that prettier girls get an unfair amount of male (and often female) attention.

That's an interesting discussion in and of itself: what kind of women turn the Kevin on? Sometimes it's hard to say. I've been attracted to women whom other Koreans have labeled "ugly," and I'm not into quite the same types of women as my friends back home. My favorite female body part remains the calves, but I'm also a tits-and-ass man like any other guy. I also don't mind if a woman's a bit too fat or too thin as long as she's got a pretty face, and what constitutes "pretty" for me is a fairly wide range, I think. Women in general are works of art, even when they're being total fucking bitches. Men, on the other hand, are fleshy, loaded guns... with only one mission. We're Carlin's One-eyed Wonder Worms, barreling madly through the art museum, firing at everything in our path. (Mentally, if not physically. Ahem.)

Oh, I can hear the outcry from my philosophically inclined readership now: "Man is so much more!" I think the most profound wisdom about humanity comes from Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden in "Fight Club":

You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world!

[NB: The above quote has been corrected thanks to a timely public outcry. I originally (mis-)wrote "We are the dancing crap of the universe."]


postal scrotum: Neil on panties

Neil Barker writes:

Kevin Kim,

Hmm. That's a tough one. A while back in a former life I had a similar situation at Sejong University. I guess the best advice I ever heard was from that Seinfeld episode where George gets caught gawking at the network exec's daughter's cleavage. Jerry freaks out and says something about treating cleavage (or panties in this case) like the Sun...quick glance and turn away! Staring may be damaging to your health (in more ways than one no doubt)

Easier said than done I s'pose. Been caught a few times by the girlfriend staring at cleavage - legs and mini-skirts mostly - by my girlfriend. Now when I see some skin I'll distract myself by staring up at Korean signs, birds, clouds, you get the idea. Takes discipline. Haha.

P.S. - With the weather getting warmer, it's only going to get worse. Shorter and shorter skirts. Good luck at Smoo. Great blog by the way.


Jerry's right: "quick glance and turn away" is what I've had to do. No way in hell can I afford to stare in a class of only ten students. Nine are bound to notice something's up.

(Something's up-- get it? Oh, I kill myself.)

Today, Miss Panties was absent. The class proceeded... flaccidly.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

gi-hwae and wi-gi

Famous Chinese scholar Victor Mair (perhaps best known to the public for his excellent translation of the Te Tao Ching [sic] based on the Ma Wang Dui manuscripts) goes on a rampage about the repeated mistranslation of the Chinese character ji (pronounced "gi" in Korean), which many non-Chinese-speakers take to mean "opportunity." Mair is specifically railing against those inspirational business self-help books that claim the Chinese word for "crisis," wei-ji (Sino-Korean wi-gi) is composed of the characters for "danger" and "opportunity." Not so, he contends:

Many coinages that made it into twentieth-century báihuà (vernacular Mandarin) are based on traditional uses of words. That is to say, new compounds using ji draw on traditional uses of ji.

There is no traditional use of ji that means "opportunity" per se. Jihuì is a neologism coined to translate the English word "opportunity."

Out of curiosity, I went to the scholar on my shelf, Bruce K. Grant, to see what he had to say about the Sino-Korean character gi. Grant offers these meanings (meant to describe a semantic field, not present a precise definition of a character):

loom; mechanism, machine; opportunity; secret

This is why scholars are damn useless: they never agree on anything. Grant, himself a Chinese expert, lists "opportunity" as a possible translation of gi; Mair says such a translation is right out, or at best a modernization of the term.

My question for Mair (and for any Chinese scholars reading my blog) is this: how old is the Korean word gi-hwae ("opportunity," Chn. ji-hui)? If it's a neologism in Chinese... what exactly are we saying? How "neo" is this neo logos? Could it be that the Chinese (and, by extension, the Koreans and Japanese) had no notion of "opportunity" before encountering Western civilization? If they did have such a notion, what word(s) did they use? If I were to look at a Korean dictionary from two centuries ago, would I find a definition of gi-hwae that matches, more or less, our modern notion of "opportunity"?

This is a personal wi-gi (crisis) for me.

NB: The wi in wi-gi appears in the Sino-Korean word wi-heom, the actual term for "danger."

Maybe I'll run this question by Mark Miyake. For all I know, he's dealt with it already.


Afghanistan woes

John Gallagher visited Dr. Vallicella's blog and left a comment that included two links. One link was to this rather disturbing article about impending chaos in Afghanistan. I say "disturbing" because Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, was and remains a project that most of the (free) world agrees about. We can't afford to let this situation slide out of control.

I'm hoping the warbloggers will take close note of what's happening there. Will be checking Winds of Change every so often for more info.


belated chuckle

I think I'm a couple years late in finding this, but it gave me a chuckle.


postal scrotum: Panty Girl and John

Andy writes:

Re: Panty Girl
Wow, you have a conundrum on your hands. On the one-hand, you don't want to feed her ego TOO much (by staring at her crotch without speaking for 10 minutes, for example). If you do, she'll be proud of her power, then freak from the embarrassment.

On the other hand, you don't want to ignore or downplay her attempts at turning your crank. Because then you'd have a woman scorned to deal with. And that's just no good. Unless she turns up in your apartment naked arguing that bean paste makes for the best stew broth.

Re: "Ave, Dr. Hodges!"
You said, "Personally, I'm partial to the notion that the Fourth Gospel is shot through with Gnosticism, even if John's version of Jesus doesn't follow the Gnostic model in crucial ways. There's too much light/dark, spirit/flesh dualism to rule Gnosticism's presence out (not that your paper was doing that, though it seems to imply that scholars reach too quickly for the Gnostic interpretation)."

Is it possible that John was using the repeated, stark contrasts of light/dark to emphasize the Christ duality? I mean, in my Lutheran Confirmation classes, the duality of Christ (Human and God) was a main emphasis (as I recall). I know Gnosticism is a good fit as a duality explanation, but wouldn't Occam's Razor better explain the dual-nature bit?

You also said, "I also tend to think that Jewish thinkers have always been adept at taking surrounding cultural tropes and subverting them-- witness how the Hebrews took Canaanite deities and demonized then, or how Jesus-- very much a Jew-- subverted prevalent Jewish preconceptions about purity, morality, etc. to make his points."

Is it 'subverting the points' the right description? Or is it better said, 'speaking to people in a way they understand'? Lots of folks try to 'learn the lingo' when working in a sales job, or when talking to rabid Star Trek fans - wouldn't delivering a sermon fall into the same category? I mean, if I was delivering something like the sermon on the mount, I think using cultural references the locals knew well would be a good (and easy) way to do that.

Again, just an Occam's Razor look at things. The engineer in me really want to boil the explanation down to a one-line (and hopefully simple) cause


I don't think Panty Girl is going to be a problem. The term's almost over and I'm not about to be a horndog.

As for the Gospel of John...

Yes, I suppose it's possible that Christ's dual nature was being emphasized; I'm no Bible scholar and am out of the loop on the most recent research and discussion. I think my query to Dr. Hodges should have been clearer. For me, there's a real question as to what constitutes Gnosticism. I'd have to do a lot more reading, but my superficial impression is that Gnosticism might be something of a scholarly construction in the same way that Hinduism is. (Wikipedia's entry on the subject seems to be missing some crucial information. The entry is thorough, but doesn't seem complete.)

Hinduism is an umbrella term for a whole network of beliefs and traditions that share quite a bit of overlap on certain basic metaphysical and cosmological points, but vary widely once you move from general to specific. (In modern India, the notion of "the Hindu" has more of a political resonance than a religious one, and is rooted in feelings of independence from the British Raj and the definition of a people in contradistinction to Islam.)

I don't think any scholar would argue that Gnosticism is a single -ism, but I'm curious to read more about what exactly a Gnostic worship service would have been like, and whether so-called "Gnostic texts" present a coherent body of belief, or are more of a patchwork.

If they are a patchwork, this proves nothing about the nature of Gnosticism: the Christian scriptures had patchwork origins as well, undergoing plenty of cullings and redactions. This applies to the more widely-known Hindu scriptures, too (cf. Rg Veda 10.129; the final line-- "or perhaps he knows not"-- is likely an addition to the original text, which alters the theology immensely), and to just about any other set of scriptures: even something as short as the Tao Te Ching was heavily redacted and represents several points of view.

But Gnosticism is often mentioned as growing up in parallel with (or outright piggybacking on) other traditions. One can speak of Gnostic Judaism and Gnostic Christianity; one can also speak of Gnosticism that borrows Judeo-Christian tropes, but it's devilishly hard to point to stand-alone Gnosticism. It's in that spirit that I asked Dr. Hodges my question: if Gnosticism is less a solid movement and more a cluster of free-floating memes, would it be wrong to label as "Gnostic" those elements of John's gospel that correspond to the scholarly construction we call Gnosticism?

Again, I'd have to read more. Maybe I'm way off base to look at Gnosticism as a scholarly construction. Gnosticism does have a pretty distinct cosmology, and it's unrealistic to expect it to be totally different from competing thought-systems in the Middle East. Ethical dualism as articulated in philosophy and religion is arguably pancultural, and dualism-- the realm of this/that, yes/no, matter/spirit, etc.-- is simply a function of the human mind. Whether the mind's functions reflect an objective dualism in reality or are merely a subjective construct is a discussion for another time.


are we on?

Many thanks to Seth for his behind-the-scenes work. My blog was down for a good chunk of time; I don't know why. The problem doesn't seem to have affected all Blogspot blogs.


test post.

trying to fix blogger problem. Please ignore this post.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

subterranean silence

While walking from Smoo to the Sookdae-ipgu subway station, I encountered two of my students, one of whom I don't know very well because she's been skipping so much. We chatted a bit and parted ways after a hundred meters.

The next student was none other than Z.

Z's English needs a hell of a lot of help, and it's going to take far more than six weeks of drama class to do the trick. I tried making small talk with her, but we didn't get very far. Every time I asked her even the simplest of questions, she would smile and then either mumble or go silent. This was frustrating as hell.

It turned out we were headed the same way on Line 4, so we spent ten minutes saying little to each other during the subway ride. Again, I tried some small talk, but Z didn't seem to understand what I was saying. I gave up and accepted the inevitable silence.

Earlier that day, Z was in drama class. We were practicing a few rudimentary stage combat techniques like how to throw a stage punch, fake a slap to the face, and even launch a roundhouse kick to the stomach. I'd select a student, demonstrate the technique, and then pair everyone off and have them practice the moves. It was great fun, but Z wouldn't come out of her shell enough to do any of the moves with conviction. Her training partner was having trouble containing her exasperation.

I'm trying to adjust my expectations downward when it comes to Z. It's obvious she's not going to change anytime soon, and maybe this is because of poor English skills, strangely dissociative wiring in her head, or any number of factors beyond my ken. Why stress? It's too late in the term to hope for a miracle.

But still, it pains me. Z's acting remains wooden. It doesn't matter what direction I give her; she's a zombified version of Hayden Christensen. Her delivery's a monotone; she's incapable of varying her facial expressions... about the only time she seemed right for a role was when she played the robot daughter in a robot family (long story; don't ask). On top of this, she was the only one who hadn't memorized her lines for today, and she didn't deliver any of those lines without significant prompting. Everything Z does is on time-delay. I challenge anyone to show her the patience I've shown.

One bizarre note from drama class today: one of my other students looked genuinely afraid of me when I got into character and stage-slapped her with a vicious expression. I tried to laugh it off ("It's only acting, guys!"), but I think she was still somewhat frightened*.

I've been trying to encourage the students to act as a team, and they do seem to be getting closer to each other, at least in class. We're not there yet, though: when I tried the "trust" exercise again-- the one where a student in the middle of a tight circle of people allows herself to fall in any direction-- the students all seemed a bit wary, unable to loosen up and allow themselves to fall toward their classmates. I suspect part of the problem here was Z, whose reaction time for everything in life is abysmally slow. No one wanted to fall toward Z, because she'd never push back in time. When it was her turn inside the circle, Z herself wouldn't open up enough to do the exercise correctly. I got in the middle for my own turn, and even I felt more tense than before. Z let me fall two or three times. She did the same to the other students, too.

I've been asking myself what I'd do if Z decided to sign up for a second go-around in drama class. It'd be an understatement to say I have mixed feelings about the prospect.

*Stage slapping generally involves no contact between slapper and slappee. Some brave souls will engage in actual slapping, but that sort of acting is usually reserved for the movies. I personally have a hard time watching movie scenes in which actual slapping occurs. Those scenes stick in my mind pretty vividly. Two occur to me right now: (1) Jack Nicholson slapping the hell out of Faye Dunaway in "Chinatown," and (2) Ed Harris powerfully slapping Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's face twice in "The Abyss." I'm talking about the resuscitation scene. MEM actually breaks character-- she's supposed to be unreactive because she's nearly dead, but she squeezes her eyes shut in anticipation of Harris's blows. Very painful to sit through.


a Frenchman speaks re: the European constitution

Damn... write a brief query and get an encyclopedic reply! Reminds me of me.

All I wrote to my French buddy Dominique was:

Ça va, toi et le reste de la famille?

Dis-moi-- vas-tu voter oui ou non à la constitution européenne?

And this is what he wrote back (in part; personal bits left out):

Nous (Véro et moi) voterons oui évidemment.

Il n'y a en fait aucune raison de voter non (sauf être français!).

La France veut toujours plus de social, d'aide aux plus faibles et le résultat c'est que nous avons plus de chômage qu'en Angleterre ou en Allemagne ou dans les pays nordiques et des salaires inférieurs.

La constitution est faite pour 25 pays et pas pour la France seulement. L'Europe sera enfin mieux gérée et le pouvoir enfin aux députés européens et plus à la seule commission européenne.

Ceux qui refusent cette constitution, refuseraient de toute façon tout autre texte.

Il faut savoir que c'est en grande partie la France qui a inspiré cette constitution et aujourd'hui on nous dit que cette constitution n'est pas bonne! Les hommes politiques français sont vraiment minables!

En 2007 l'élection présidentielle impose aux hommes politiques d'aujourdhui, d'apparaître comme préoccupés par les problèmes sociaux, donc la constitution est une bonne occasion pour se montrer aux Français comme le défenseur des plus faibles. On nous prend pour des idiots, surtout Fabius, homme politique de gauche qui a des ambitions présidentielles mais que la gauche trouve trop à droite, alors c'est une belle occasion de montrer qu'il est de gauche!!!!

La France n'avancera jamais! (Merci à tous les syndicats et les conservateurs de tous poils!)

Voilà mon point de vue sur la question.

The exchange in English:

ME: How're you and the rest of the family? Tell me-- you going to vote yes or no to the European constitution?

DOMI: We (Vero and I) will obviously vote yes.

In truth, there's no reason to vote no (except being French!).

France wants more social security, more help for the weak, and the result is that we have more unemployment and lower salaries than in England or Germany or the Nordic countries.

The constitution was made for 25 countries and not solely for France. Europe will finally be better managed and the power finally in the hands of European delegates (Ed: or "deputies")-- no longer in a single European commission.

The people rejecting this constitution would reject all other drafts, anyway.

You should know that it was France who in large part inspired this constitution, and today they're telling us the constitution's no good! French politicians are truly pathetic.

The 2007 presidential election is pushing today's politicians to look preoccupied with social problems, and the constitution provides a good opportunity for them to portray themselves to the French as defenders of the weak. They take us for idiots, especially Fabius, a leftist politician who's got presidential ambitions but whom the Left finds too "Right," so this is a great chance for him to prove he's a Lefty!!!!

France will never move forward! (Thanks to all the unions and to conservatives of all stripes!)

That's my take on the question.


Monday, May 23, 2005

official welcome for Dr. Hodges

I usually show off the new sidebar image when I welcome someone to the blogroll. Here's the new image for Gypsy Scholar, the excellent blog by Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges:

Gypsy Scholar

I've given St. John some powers of levitation, bathed him in God's heavenly glow, and now have him Force-juggling little Korean t'aegeuk symbols.

Welcome to the ninth circle, Dr. Hodges!



On Star Wars Day, Annika expressed her rage at Indra Nooyi, president and CEO of PepsiCo, in a singular fashion: by photoblogging a Giving of the Finger (see here). Nooyi made some remarks that rubbed Annika and many others the wrong way by employing a strange but evocative "America-as-middle-finger" analogy to describe America's place in world affairs. Personally, I found the analogy more humorous than offensive, but Annika's provided me with a ready-made excuse to do some bird-flipping of my own, so...

This is for you, Annie.

haiku in photo

hiding subtly in plain sight


whoa-- a second one!

this time lauding Annie's man

yes:  Joe Don Baker



what can 12,000 won get you?

The correct answer is not "Laid."

No-- the answer is: A pretty damn good meal for two (or for one big hominid) from the local Chinese delivery place for W12,000, or about $12.


Look what those bastards did to Patches!  Speak to me, Kitty!  Oh, Jesus Christ, NOOOOOOOO!

Above, you see two bowls of jjajang-myeon (Chinese pasta in black bean sauce), a large plate of t'ang-su-yuk (pieces of batter-fried meat) a large bowl of sweet-and-sour sauce, and some sundries like extra black bean dipping sauce, Korean sweet-pickled daikon radish (formerly known as ddak-gwang in Japano-Korean, but now known as danmuji, the original Korean name), onions (which I never eat), and a completely unnecessary saucer of spiced soy sauce. The latter would have made sense had there been any mandu (a.k.a. Chinese dumplings, potstickers, or gyoza).

The above meal compares reasonably well to the Chinese places I used to order from in northern Virginia. I got this wonderful spread over a week ago, and am only now blogging it.

The cell phone charger didn't come with the meal.


thanks, Justin

Justin has now given me something to do at the office other than write up lesson plans.

All bow down to...


Kickin' it Art School.



Lorianne writes, with regard to a sample sentence ("Adverse weather conditions forced Emily to bite down during fellatio on Ben's yacht.") in my recent mini-rant:

Egads...how large is Emily's mouth that she could fit an entire yacht inside?

This had me rolling. Little did I know, however, that I had been targeted for termination. In a subsequent email, the Dharma Mistress wrote:

Actually, my online Grammar class has been talking about ambiguously placed prepositional phrases, and this is a great example...but I don't have a big enough Yacht to share a fellatio reference with my students!

I'd argue that ambiguity in this case is possible only if a penis can be confused with a boat.

Do such confused women exist?

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Perhaps they do. Perhaps they do. I grudgingly concede Lorianne's point. A better sentence might be:

Adverse weather conditions forced Emily to bite down while fellating Ben aboard his yacht.

(The above photo reminds me of something out of The Odyssey. Abandon ship, Odysseus! Flee for your life!)


Sunday, May 22, 2005

Ave, Maven!

Some stellar foodblogging over at the Maven's place. Gotta go out and find something to eat now.


more intolerable confusions and misspellings

tenet vs. tenant

A tenet is a foundational principle or article of belief. A tenant is someone who lives in an apartment, is a resident, holds property temporarily/permanently, pays rent, etc.


Our church had an unusual tenant: a white rat that liked to crawl out every Sunday morning just before worship service and perform 108 bows to the cross mounted high on our sanctuary wall.

The rat appeared to be unaware of our church's basic tenets, as we were Christians and not Buddhists. It continued its weekly bowing quite unfazed by our stares.

Which reminds me...

It's "unfazed," not "unphased."

Moving on...

adverse vs. averse

Adverse means "untoward, harmful, hostile." Averse describes the attitude of being against something.


Adverse weather conditions forced Emily to bite down during fellatio on Ben's yacht.

Ben, staring at the blood gushing from his stump, declared himself averse to this new state of affairs.

NB: Some will argue that "adverse" also works in the second example, but in cases where "adverse" means "hostile," we aren't talking about a person's attitude, but about objective conditions such as weather, etc.

definite vs. definate

Christ, get it right. Definite. There's no "a" there, just as there's no "a" in existence.

The above mini-rant is dedicated to people claiming to be English teachers. I offer this rant in the hope that they can be cured of their strange affliction.


Ave, Pooper!

The Pooper plops a post "outing" us Koreabloggers. I loved his analysis (anal-ysis?) of my writing.


wedding message

To my longtime friend Steve,

As I type this, it's a little after 2AM on Sunday here in Seoul, and a little after 1PM on Saturday in Pennsylvania. You're probably busy getting married right now.

Congratulations on your wedding. I wish you and Erangee all the best. May your marriage be filled with love, mindfulness, compassion, and passion. May your sad and angry moments find calm, mature resolutions. May your hearts take refuge in each other.

In honor of Steve's Catholicism, here is the priestly blessing from the Old Testament:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.

In honor of Erangee's Buddhism, this prayer from Lama Thubten Yeshe (1979):

Today we promise to dedicate ourselves completely to each other, with body, speech, and mind.

In this life, in every situation, in wealth or poverty, in health or sickness, in happiness or difficulty, we will work to help each other perfectly.

The purpose of our relationship will be to attain enlightenment by perfecting our kindness and compassion toward all sentient beings.

I wish I could be there now.


Saturday, May 21, 2005

gracias, amigos

Many thanks to my buddy Matt B. for forcing me to climb the Namsan steps today faster than I've ever done them. The enormous post-hike pizza made it all worth it. Heh.

(I'm pretty sure that was my first time in a Pizza Hut in Korea. Quite cool.)

Also, have a look at my friend Dave's take on "Revenge of the Sith" here.

NB: I stand corrected: "Sith" comes out in Korea on Thursday, May 26th.

And then there's this eerie/humorous "100 Below" entry by my buddy Mike. It had me rolling, though I'm not sure why. I'm guessing that the protag blew Ethel's rotten head off, and somehow that pleases me.


Ave, Dr. Hodges!

Dr. Hodges, whom I've just blogrolled to replace the departing Neil Barker, has a link on his site to a paper he wrote regarding the role of food in the Gospel of John. Excellent, excellent paper. Highly recommended if you're into biblical or religious studies.

A few paragraphs into Dr. Hodges's work, which spends some time focusing on the symbolism of the vinegar given to Jesus on the cross, I started wondering whether he'd hit on the Seder symbolism of vinegar-as-bitterness, and sure enough, he did. That was enough to win me over; I'm easy to please.

Question for the good doctor: Could it be that the writer(s)/redactor(s) of the Fourth Gospel were appropriating Gnostic symbolism and fusing it with Jewish tropes? Maybe I've been reading too much Elaine Pagels, but Gnosticism, it seems, is hard to pin down as an easily definable "-ism." Free-floating Gnostic memes wafting about the Mediterranean could have been picked up by Jewish writers and incorporated into the scriptures. Personally, I'm partial to the notion that the Fourth Gospel is shot through with Gnosticism, even if John's version of Jesus doesn't follow the Gnostic model in crucial ways. There's too much light/dark, spirit/flesh dualism to rule Gnosticism's presence out (not that your paper was doing that, though it seems to imply that scholars reach too quickly for the Gnostic interpretation).

I also tend to think that Jewish thinkers have always been adept at taking surrounding cultural tropes and subverting them-- witness how the Hebrews took Canaanite deities and demonized then, or how Jesus-- very much a Jew-- subverted prevalent Jewish preconceptions about purity, morality, etc. to make his points. I wouldn't put it past a Jewish writer to lift a trope and rework it. My point is that the Gnosticism we might be seeing in the Fourth Gospel is really there, but it's been reappropriated: Judaicized Gnosticism...?


some Star Wars links

Courtesy of the Foreign Minister comes this fan film about... the Way of the Farm.

And then there's this hilarious sendup, courtesy of the Reverend.


the gorilla's profound poetic thought


is not dung
it is flung


postal scrotum: about Miss Panties

The Maven writes:

I doubt if panty girl doesn't know what she's doing. Wearing skirts that short? She'd have to be a total social dolt not to realize what she's doing. I think this transcends culture; it's generally accepted as a BAD THING to be givin' someone the bird's eye view of the cotton crotch panel of da panteez:)

And Andrew R. writes:

Hi Kevin,

Re: Friday panties

Yeah, that sucks she's trying to turn your crank. It's bad enough when the still-awkward & illegal high-school students practicing their budding charm on the "can't touch me" foreign teacher. But dealing with non-stop college co-eds must be tough.

Good luck hanging in there. Or taking pictures....


Both of you seem to agree she's doing this on purpose. She's a very good student-- maybe one of the best in the class. She's also quite a sweet person, not giving off a "bad girl" vibe. I've been wondering whether she's unaware of her aura, but then again, girls who dress sexily often know what they're doing. In any case, she's too young for me, and more important, she's my student, so I guess I'll just enjoy the show until she decides to wear pants.


Friday, May 20, 2005

back from the mountain... no stone tablets

I broke my record of 44 minutes tonight: 41 minutes is the new record. I'm very close to reaching 40 minutes without having to run.

Full disclosure: traffic was particularly light tonight, so I didn't have to wait at the usual red lights, instead crossing illegally when all was clear. That probably helped my time a lot.


pre-Namsanic profundity

Just finished with my first-ever Smoo faculty meeting, which went pleasantly. I'm about to step out for an evening hike up Namsan, and thought I'd leave you with this kernel of wisdom from religious studies guru Wilfred Cantwell Smith. This comes from the introductory section of his classic work, The Meaning and End of Religion:

Neither religion in general nor any one of the religions... is in itself an intelligible entity, a valid object of inquiry or of concern either for the scholar or for the man of faith.

Kinda runs against the grain of the book's ambitious title, doesn't it? Gotta love it. Meditate on that until I get back.


the budae-jjigae dispute

Sometimes friends argue about the important things in life; sometimes they argue about the inane.

Last night featured a swim in the deep end of the inanity pool as my buddy Jang-woong and I discussed how to make budae-jjigae, a stew I've made many times.

I mentioned that budae-jjigae is fairly easy to make, but Jang-woong begged to differ, claiming that legitimate budae-jjigae requires the perfect broth, which is made by boiling a certain type of ground bean. I'd never heard of this before; the various budae-jjigae restos I've been to all use water as the basic broth (or so it seems). Jang-woong called the server over and asked her opinion. He was very leading, mentioning the bean-thing first and smugly waiting for her confirmation. She happily obliged-- "Oh, yes, of course we use that bean paste!"-- and my buddy enjoyed his moral victory.

Budae-jjigae comes in many forms, as is true of most Korean (and worldwide) stews. So I decided to ask some students today whether they've ever made budae-jjigae, and how they handle the broth issue. "Water," they said unanimously.

I'll have to present Jang-woong with this testimony when next I see him, though I doubt it'll shake his faith.


Friday panties

Dear So-and-so,

You know who you are, and you know which class you're in.

Please stop wearing micro-miniskirts to class, sitting directly across from me, and not closing your knees. You've been flashing your panties at me for nearly two weeks now, and I'm beginning to wonder whether I should be saying anything to you. I'm sure you don't mean to do what you're doing, and I'm trying my best not to stare, but your inviting little crotch with that sly little line of sight isn't making things easy.

Back, woman! Back!

The power of Christ compels you!
The panties-- uh, the power of Christ compels you!


Your Teacher Kevin


Thursday, May 19, 2005

wee language rant

Please do not confuse "prophecy" and "prophesy." The first rhymes with "sea" and is a noun; the second rhymes with "sigh" and is a verb.

There is no verb "prophesize," despite what Morpheus says in the "The Matrix."


Buddhism: the scholarly angle

Courtesy of the KimcheeGI, who's now kickin' it back in the States, comes this link to lectures by Dr. Robert Buswell, one of my idols in the world of religious studies. Dr. Buswell is very active in the area of East Asian religion, especially Korean Buddhism. He heads up UCLA's Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, and is himself a former Buddhist monk (twice-ordained: both Thai Theravada and Korean Seon) who spent five years at Songgwang-sa in the southern part of the Korean peninsula.

Go to this page and scroll down to the section titled "The Nature of Korean Buddhism" for your dose of Buswellian wisdom.


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

postal scrotum: hedonism vs. asceticism

"A reader" writes (email has been slightly edited for privacy's sake):

Dear Kevin,

I thought I'd write in about an issue that has begun to coalesce in my mind. I decided to write to you because, as a student of religion, I think you, out of most people I know, would most likely be able to appreciate what I want to discuss. This issue is really important to me at this stage of my life; I've been in this train of thought for a while and probably will be for some time. This is kind of rambling, but it's straight from a heated brain. I'd appreciate it if you published it.

Human beings are built to seek pleasure. Eating feels good. So does sleeping, shitting, pissing, having sex, and so on. It seems to me, though, that when it comes to sensual pleasures, there are two main strands in society: the hedonistic approach and the ascetic approach.

My problem is, I don't know where I should be. On one side, on the other side, or in the middle? I don't know what's right for me or what I want.

Everyone can't just follow their desires, because that would lead to social anarchy. At least one reason why monogamy exists is to enforce a social structure that is conducive to raising children. In theory, it would be wonderful if we could have sex with whoever we wanted, but you probably wouldn't want to raise your wife's child if she had been inseminated by another man.

I see the hedonists in action. The guys who go clubbing and have to have a different girl every night. They don't seem very happy, though. The people who seem most connected to their physical desires seem the least happy. Is this what Buddhism means when it talks about how your desires are like a prison? (Does Buddhism even say that?)

You lauded me once by e-mail, telling me it was good that I did my best to be faithful to my wife. But I felt a streak of guilt when you said that, because I am far from faithful--at least mentally and emotionally speaking. The sex instinct is overpowering.

One part of me tells me to seek out as many new sexual adventures as possible. That part says that sex is only natural, that it feels great, and that the monogamy I impose upon myself is only due to the cultural restrictions I face in this part of the world. In the Middle East for example, men can have multiple wives. As you wrote when you talked about absolutes, there is no universal morality. Why should I be monogamous when I don't have to be, one part of me asks. All those sexual experiences I am missing out on. And yet, sex with another woman would feel empty. I love my wife, and it's best with her and only her. The worst part of it is, I know it's only my biology (the sex instinct that tells men to "conquer") that makes me so sex crazed. You see a beautiful girl in the street and you automatically want her, despite yourself. That the other part of me says it's OK to be sex crazed, and that the only reason I don't cheat is fear of getting a disease or impregnating someone else. So around we go in a circle.

Where should I stand? The thought of a vow of celibacy, like that taken by priests, fills me with a feeling of hollowness. Some of the early Christians castrated themselves--ouch!--but they found to their chagrin that they still had the desire. St. Augustine pleaded with God to stop him from having wet dreams. I won't have any of that. "Sex is natural, sex is fun," as George Michael sang.

I recently gave up drinking, because I don't like the way it makes my thoughts clouded. I like to be in control. I don't like feeling confused. But I don't want to be an ascetic Buddhist monk, cutting myself off from tasty spicy meat dishes. I want to enjoy physical pleasures. (Then again, something about a hallowed life of peaceful aceticism on a mountaintop appeals to me.)

Back to my first point. When I think about the human project, I wonder where we should stand. A lot of the arguments against hedonism stem from the harm they cause the world. If you indulge in sex, you may get a disease or make a child out of wedlock. Pot can impinge on your mental skills. Booze is bad for your organs, and tobacco, as we all know, is a killer. What will happen in the future when we begin to find the technology to disconnect the pleasure from the unfortunate consequences? I really wonder about that.

I'm still young, and I anticipate a lot of years ahead of me. But sometimes I feel as confused as a hormonal teenager. I still can't think about where I want to stand while the world goes on around me. Where do ascetism and hedonism fit into the human endeavor? Could you shed some light on my confusion?


a reader

One side, the other side, or the middle? I'm a big advocate of the middle way, especially when it comes to behaviors/practices like hedonism and asceticism. I think that hedonism and asceticism represent extremes of human behavior and experience; they're like the endpoints of a spectrum, and most of us cluster somewhere in the middle.

I don't think there's any reason to feel guilty about having sexual thoughts. In keeping with the middle-way theme, I'd be suspicious of people whose minds are so thoroughly disciplined that the sex urge is entirely absent. I'd be equally suspicious of people who reduce everything in life to sex and the pursuit of sex.

You're married, and happily so, which means you attach great value to your marriage. It also means that, whatever your religious convictions, you and the wife entered into something very much like a contractual relationship. "Contract" is a rude term to use for marriage, I admit; I don't mean to imply anything businesslike or legalistic; instead, I use the word to signify something more like a "covenant"-- a deep mutual promise that both of you have sworn to keep. Marriage entails commitment. Commitment entails sacrifice. As you know from your own personal pursuits, anything worthwhile requires that other things be given up.

Behavior that begins to stray from the path of moderation will rapidly become unhealthy. A husband who surfs too much porn might be a good 21st-century example of this. I'm not against porn, but there are men who take their desires to an extreme, often compromising important aspects of family life by spending too much time at the keyboard staring at 2-D images and not enough time with the living, breathing people who matter.

The reason so many hedonists don't seem deeply happy is that they've mistakenly reduced life to pleasure (which, as any philosopher worth his salt will note, is not the same thing as happiness). Life isn't synonymous with pleasure. In fact, I'd argue that life isn't reducible to any one thing. Life is pleasure, but it's also hardship. Life is rest, but it's also work. Your body's systems rely on the dynamic tension between these extremes. You need rest; you need work. You need pleasure; you also need some hardship. Those extremes find their harmony inside you.

Perhaps you're wondering about what it means to live a middle way. There's no single description of what such a path looks like. I think that's a good thing. It's a sign of spiritual immaturity to desire a ready-made map complete with answers to all life's questions. The map needs to be drawn and redrawn as the terrain changes. No single prescription fits all possible situations. "Follow your situation," as the Korean Seon Buddhists say.

Since we're doing metaphors, I'll note a well-used one. Love is like a garden: beautiful, but always requiring maintenance. The gardening tools for this maintenance are many-- things like care, warmth, openness, giving of one's time, compromise, and communication. Unlike actual garden tools, the metaphorical ones are protean: they can change over time and according to the situation. What, for example, is loving action when it's your anniversary? What is loving action when you have to discipline your child?

A psychotherapist I quote often on this blog, M. Scott Peck, wrote that love is primarily an action, not a feeling. I think this is important because feelings come and go, but loving actions can become good habits, and habits can sustain us through those times when we'd rather scream at our spouse or banish the kids to the cellar forever. As with all important things in life, love is something demonstrated and proven over time.

Getting back to your particular situation: when you say the sex urge is "overpowering" and that you're "sex crazed," should I assume you mean that this is an abnormally difficult moral struggle? If so, this may be something serious, and you'd need to talk with someone about it. If, however, your desire for sex seems to be no greater than the typical man's, perhaps you simply need to find your own middle-way solution. Asceticism is obviously out: you're married, and I don't think your wife would appreciate it if you closed off sexual options. And given your marital commitments, running around is also out, unless you and your wife agree to an "open" marriage, which seems to fit only a limited group of people in Western society.

Commitment means sacrifice. Yes, you're a taken man, so you'll be missing out on piles of tight little East Asian booty. But thinking of it as "missing out" is too negative. Consider what you have: a wonderful wife, the chance to build a family, the chance to know someone in depth and to watch that relationship grow and deepen through your loving actions.

Many would argue that, especially in this day and age, maintaining a good marriage and fostering a healthy, nurturing family environment are among the noblest of human undertakings. There's nothing wrong with appreciating a fine ass, but unless you've decided your marital commitment is no longer sacred to you, you should keep those urges where they belong: inside your head. You're a principled guy; I trust that you'll do the right thing.


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

playing chicken

There's an old guy who lives on the street just around the corner from where I live. His domicile has a garage; the garage has an electric door made of wood and metal. The guy apparently has to hit a switch inside the garage, then quickly dash out before the door closes. The door is large and solid-- unlike many garage doors in the US, it's not composed of segments. The entire thing moves quickly (but ponderously) down to close. I think the old guy has about two to three seconds to run out the side before that door slams shut.

I'm fully expecting to see the dude trapped in his own door one day, squirming like bait half-swallowed by a giant brick fish.

When that day comes, I will laugh.

And only after that will I dial the emergency number.


Monday, May 16, 2005

I doubt I'm the first to do this...

it's against my programming to impersonate a deity


French joke

Half-remembered, retold from the pictures in a French comic (one of those hardback thingies published by Fluide Glacial):

...c'est comme le couple qui vient de se marier. Ils sont en train de rouler à leur hôtel, et la femme (qui n'a qu'une vingtaine d'ans) demande à son mari:

-Chéri, qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un pénis?

Le type en souriant lui dit:

-Ce soir, ma biche, tu vas voir.

Ils arrivent à l'hôtel, prennent la clé, et se précipitent à la chambre. Ils se déshabillent, et le mari montre sa verge à sa femme.

-Et... voilà! dit-il.

-Oho! s'écria-t-elle. Je comprends maintenant! C'est comme une quéquette, mais c'est plus petit!

[Yeah, OK, fine... it's an ancient joke and we have the same one in English. Note to non-francophones: "ma biche" does not mean "my bitch."]



I blogged yesterday about my little cash windfall, which I thought might have been a terrible mistake.

Turns out everything's mine.

The good news: Nothing got deducted, and I've been paid for 5 weeks' worth of work (i.e., the payment includes the work I will do).

The bad news: Nothing was deducted because my alien residence card hasn't processed through yet. Next payday, I get hit with a double-whammy: two months' worth of insurance, rent, and other assorted fees.

So today I went to the bank and e-transferred money to an office worker who helped me out, as well as to my K'eun Adjoshi, to whom I can now, slowly but surely, start repaying my rental debt.

I'm still having to send home roughly $1200-1400 a month, which leaves me with peanuts here. Lack of money means lack of certain freedoms. Luckily, I'm socially retarded, which means I never spend a lot of money on partying with friends; and I'm working out by using Mother Nature as my gym. In theory, I don't have to spend a lot of money on things I won't be needing. Internet usage costs me nothing-- it's part of my Smoo package, and I spend a lot of time online writing. So we're good. It promises to be rough until about Thanksgiving, then things will smooth out.

I'm not looking forward to next month's hit, though: they'll be taking out two months' rent, tax, plus all that insurance and other crap. I'll be lucky to come away with anything.


Sunday, May 15, 2005

postal scrotum: mindfulness and compassion

Lorianne writes with reference to my other recent post:

The fruit of mindfulness is compassion. If you pay attention, you'll realize all things are connected; when you realize all things are connected, you'll love your neighbor as yourself because your neighbor IS yourself.

This isn't a do-good prescription; it's an empirical description. If you pay attention, the way you interact with the world will change, guaranteed. It's a natural evolution: "Spring comes, grass grows."

Your comments on "bi-shim" remind me of my favorite phrase of the Homage to the Three Jewels, where the Bodhisattva way is described as "dae ja dae bi." Typically this is translated as "great love, great compassion," but it's just as accurate to translate it "great love, great sadness." If you pay attention, you'll realize the world's great suffering, and that too is the seed of compassion.

I hope you're doing well!


This sounds a bit like mindfulness being logically prior to compassion if compassion is the "fruit" of mindfulness. I'm OK with that, though I suspect that this, too, isn't meant to be a schematic rendition of How It Works. I told Lorianne privately that this discussion reminds me a bit of theological discussions of the trinity-- what emanates from what? What causes what?

I should also note something before the philosophers jump down my throat: I'm aware that my previous "transitive property" ditty isn't the whole story. The copula "is" doesn't always mean "is identical to."

For example:

1. Kevin is a mammal.
2. Pamela Anderson is a mammal.

THEREFORE, Kevin is Pamela Anderson.

The reason the above doesn't work is that the copula "is" doesn't represent identity. The "is" simply means, "falls into category X" or "has the property of X."


1. The half-Korean fat person who works at Smoo in the mornings is identical to Kevin.

2. The half-Korean fat person who blogs on BigHominid's Hairy Chasms is identical to Kevin.

THEREFORE, the half-Korean fat person who works at Smoo in the mornings is identical to the half-Korean fat person who blogs on BigHominid's Hairy Chasms.

With linguistic precision comes clarity.

(And dryness.)

So if I say:

1. Mindfulness is attentiveness, and
2. Compassion is attentiveness,

I'm not necessarily saying, "Mindfulness is identical to compassion."

I have no clue why I'm exploring this issue so minutely. I can't imagine that it's of interest to anyone. Philosophers will yawn at the 101-level insights. Zen masters will yawn at the triviality of applying strict logic to everyday living. I lose either way, and end up getting flak from all sides.

Damn, I'm good! I revel in my multivalent wrongness!

I'm going to reprint something I wrote privately to another friend re: Buddhism. I'll catch hell for doing this, but it contains a fundamental disagreement I have with Buddhists, and it's TIME FOR THE TRUTH TO COME OUT (said he dramatically).

FRIEND: Life is not simply the pursuit of happiness and I think it sophistry to tie all human motivation to the pursuit of this as a fundamental root. I do not seek enlightenment by escape from the cycle of hunger and suffering- I seek my path through it instead.

ME: It's a hard topic to discuss because I doubt we're all on the same page about what constitutes happiness. It's easy to present happiness in the abstract, but the moment you begin to examine it, you realize that people differ widely in the details. Is happiness the equivalent of physical pleasure? Is it a deep satisfaction resulting from painful effort? Is it a quiet, serene contentment underlying our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions? Is it a combination of these things? Something else entirely?

I don't think a Buddhist, especially a Mahayana Buddhist, would disagree with the idea that one seeks a path through hunger and suffering. From this perspective, the transcendence of suffering isn't done through avoidance, shunning, or escape: it's done by confronting the basic facts of the human condition-- and of reality-- and seeing those facts truly, seeing everything in its suchness.

If, however, you're saying that you disagree with the very notion of trying to transcend suffering, then yeah, that's not merely a cosmetic disagreement with Andi's post but a deep and substantive one.

My own quibble with the First Noble Truth is that it strikes me as far too gloomy an assessment of things. Life doesn't reduce to suffering for me. In this case, I side more with philosophical Taoists than with Indian Buddhists. Taoism tends to be more world-affirming whereas the trend in Indian thought tends to be world-denying. Zen Buddhism, which probably harbors the truest spirit of philosophical Taoism, doesn't focus on world-avoidance, preferring instead to train the mind to be a mirror-- not holding on to anything that passes in front of it. Ostensibly, this is to relieve suffering, but the overall thrust of Zen isn't consistent, to my mind, with the original spirit of Indian Buddhism.

[I imagine scholars would quibble with the idea that Indian thought is pessimistic. I admit I'm making a value judgement here by spinning Indian philo negatively, but the phrases "world-denying" and "world-affirming" are used by some scholars of Indian and Chinese philo and religion, so I feel I'm on solid ground to take those terms and run with them.]

It should be noted, though, that the Sanskrit term "dukkha" doesn't imply just the melodramatic notion of suffering, like Christ on the cross. Even something as simple as wishing for an extra package of ketchup is included in the semantic field of "dukkha." And the Buddha tried to make his case for the human condition airtight by noting that all humans experience old age, sickness, and death. I sympathize with his argument and see a lot of merit in it, but the deepest part of me isn't convinced that the argument's reductionism is justified. Why is it that many people can, on their deathbeds, proclaim themselves happy to have lived the lives they did?* I don't think the First Noble Truth addresses this very well.

FRIEND: My role is to experience life- to try to see each experience with new eyes, as if I were a child or a fool.

ME: Here, too, there's a lot in common with Zen seeing. Direct seeing involves the stripping away of preconceptions and judgements, allowing the mind to be totally immersed in the moment.

As for mind-altering substances... yeah, I agree that many artists take this path as a further step on the road to deepened or expanded perception/insight, but I can't relate to it. Maybe it's because I'm too much of a control freak, but I have real issues with the belief that those substances bring a person closer to true perception, especially because the taking of a chemical substance doesn't include much in the way of sweat and effort. This is what separates meditative discipline from drug-taking, in my mind, and gives the former more moral value.

I don't therefore condemn drug-users, though, and I'm agnostic about the "artistic value" of drug use. Some drug-inspired art is quite fun to look at and contemplate, after all, so it'd be hypocritical of me to disparage the art's origins.

FRIEND: To follow the buddhist way seems valid to me, but not valid for me. For this reason, it seems that the path is, at best, only ONE path and not THE path.

ME: Yeah, and here, too, many Buddhists would agree. Buddhism contains the notion of "upaya," or "skillful means." You do what works for you. And besides, Buddhism itself is a label for many, many paths.

[end exchange]

*I don't think my email made clear what I meant. The assessment "life is suffering" strikes me as reductionist, insofar as suffering is "privileged" over happiness in the Buddhist ethical schema. Happiness isn't a pressing problem. If anything, it's more like a goal, though "goal" may be the wrong term to use here. Suffering, on the other hand, is viewed as our "default condition." Happy moments come... then we return to suffering. I disagree with that assessment. My point about the deathbed avowal is that, at the end of a person's life, if that life truly did boil down to suffering, then an honest person would have no choice but to characterize his life as having been one of suffering. To do otherwise would be to lie optimistically for the sake of the loved ones. "Focusing on the positive" isn't the same as "telling the truth."

I tend to think, though, that such people aren't lying. They've sincerely weighed the events in their lives and come to a positive conclusion: my happiness outweighed my suffering. Suffering wasn't my default condition.

I also tend to think that Zen masters, who in general strike me as an extremely jolly lot, know this truth: life isn't suffering; life is life. It is what it is, not-good, not-bad. Rare indeed is the funereal, lugubrious Zen master.

It's been said that the major religious traditions share a conviction that there is something fundamentally "not right" about the human condition. We live in a state of sinfulness, or a state of ignorance (avidya). Do you agree with this conviction? Do you believe this is humanity's default condition? Why?


Happy Buddha's Birfday!

How could I forget to mention that we're celebrating the Buddha's birthday today?

Quite by accident, I've eaten almost no meat all day, except for a few small pieces of ham inside some kim-bap. Surely the vegetarian gods won't punish me for nibbling a pig's ass, right?

To celebrate the Buddha's birthday, I'll refer you to this explosive comic strip I drew last year.


search for pissoir leads to windfall

Ever had one of those days where it seems like the weirdest shit is happening to you? I dug my spoon into some ice cream the other day, and the damn thing farted. That's right: the pressure of my spoon caused a buried air pocket to rush to the surface with a distinct farting noise, and I found myself lightly spattered by chocolate ice cream. Fuck you, asshole ice cream!

Today's incident trumps that.


Interlaken, Switzerland, 1991.

I'm hiking with my brother David around the perimeter of the Brienzersee (Lac Brienz in French). As usual, I'm sweating buckets. We started our hike at the Interlaken Ost train station, went uphill a bit, then walked parallel to the lakeshore. At some point hours later, we noticed the clouds rolling in, marking a storm system about to be channelled and magnified inside the valley. We needed to reach our campsite quickly, so we started downhill at a steady clip to the lakeshore.

It dawned on me, as I was hiking, that I hadn't had the urge to take a piss all day, despite having drunk a couple liters of water. After a few moments of thought, I realized why this was the case: I had been sweating so profusely that there was nothing for my kidneys to do.

Lesson learned: If the activity is intense enough, you can sweat the piss out of yourself.


Here in Seoul, it's a bright, pleasantly warm Sunday. Forsaking my usual nocturnal hike, I decided to tromp up the mountain in broad daylight, knowing full well I'd be a conversation piece in someone's "damn sweaty foreigners" narrative. I'd taken along my t'ong-jang, or bankbook, because I was hoping to swing by an ATM and check one of my accounts to see whether a transaction had processed through yesterday. No such luck, as it turned out. I pocketed my bankbook and started on my hike.

About ten minutes into the hike, I realized I needed to piss like a racehorse. Remembering Interlaken, I thought that I might be able to sweat everything out, thereby diminishing the urge.

This was, as you can imagine, one of mankind's most retarded thoughts.

Lesson learned: Once the piss has formed in the bladder, it's highly unlikely to be sweated out, no matter how hard your fat ass walks.

What started off as a hike had quickly morphed into "Raiders of the Lost Ark," starring My Piss as Indiana Jones, and Bladder as the Well of Souls. The urine wanted out, and it was fighting hard with my autonomic nervous system for control of crucial sphincters.

God, the divine author of Murphy's Law, usually gets comical at this point. I needed a bathroom, so the Good Lord made every potential bathroom in my path disappear. Many Korean buildings have bathrooms located between floors in their stairwells; I checked three buildings-- nothing. As I got close to Sookdae-ipgu Station, I thought, "All subway stations have bathrooms," and went underground.

The bathroom was located 75 meters away. Beyond the turnstiles. I'd have to get a ticket to use the shortcut over.


With my bladder now pulsating and writhing like a trapped devil, I made my way back toward Smoo's campus. Within a minute, I'd found a lovely young urinal, and I poured my warm affection gratefully into it, gasping and whispering post-coital promises I had no intention of keeping.

On the way out, I was struck by a strange thought, and I hurried over to a Joheung Bank ATM. Joheung (a.k.a. CHB) is where I keep my second bank account. I have two bank accounts only because EC had set me up with Ki-eop Bank (a.k.a. Finebank in English) last year. I wanted to withdraw some money, so I took out my Joheung ATM card and hit "check balance." These days, I'm pretty poor as I wait for my first real payday, so I check my balance a lot.

The balance read over 2.5 million won.

That's not normal.

I was expecting to have only a few dollars in my account, not $2500. I'm beginning to think someone made a colossal mistake. Either that, or I haven't completely understood how Smoo pays us.

This is what I understood when I signed my contract:

1. Payday is the 15th of the month unless that day falls on a weekend, then it's the first available business day after.

2. My gross salary is 1.9 million won. My net salary is 1.7 million won.

3. Payment is always for the previous calendar month's work. This is May. I began my tenure at Smoo in the final week of April. By all rights, my May payment should be less than a fourth of 1.7 million.

Today is the 15th, but it's Sunday. I have no fucking idea why I have 2.5 million won in the bank. At most, I should've had only about 600,000 won in there. I'm going to have to talk to the Smoo office tomorrow, and will probably talk to Joheung Bank as well. I'm convinced this is a big mistake. If it's not-- cool.

Shit that I am, and fully aware I might be doing something illegal, I ended up withdrawing W50,000. Whether I use it is another matter. If the whole thing turns out to be a huge snafu, of course I'll give the money back to the bank. But right now, my wallet's happier than it's been in a long time.

I still haven't gone to Namsan. Will go now.


postal scrotum: the Zen teacher speaks

Lorianne writes, with reference to my recent post:

Paying attention IS compassion. Any questions? :-)


Yeah, that's kind of what I was trying to get at re: core terms overlapping and interpenetrating. Paying attention is mindfulness (by definition), but you could just as easily say it's compassion.

However-- is mindfulness identical to compassion? I somehow don't think we're doing logic here, where

A = C (and)
B = C, therefore
A = B by transitive property.

Is it really a matter of

mindfulness = paying attention (Thich Nhat Hanh, thesaurus, millions of Buddhists)
compassion = paying attention (Lorianne, Sperwer(?), millions of Buddhists)
mindfulness = compassion (transitively)


I doubt the question is of much import to Zen teachers, but it's interesting philosophically. If compassion and mindfulness are absolutely interchangeable terms, why have both?

I tend to think they're not absolutely the same, but they do overlap to a great extent, à la Wittgenstein's notion of "family resemblances."

Anyway, I agree with you: paying attention is compassion. But again, simple formulations obscure as much as they reveal. The trouble with words, eh?

NB: The Sino-Korean Buddhist term for "mindfulness" is yeom or nyeom (in which the "eo" is pronounced somewhere between "aw" and "uh"). It's formed from two other characters, stacked one on the other. The top character is geum, which means "now," as in the Korean word ji-geum, meaning "now." The bottom character is shim, meaning "mind" or "heart." Because the character conflates concepts that are largely separate in the West, I see nyeom as both "mindfulness" and "heartfulness." See this hoary old post of mine here.

The character for "compassion" is bi, or the phrase bi-shim. The character bi means, according to Bruce K. Grant's A Guide to Korean Characters, "sad, sorry, grieved, lament." The character is composed of two characters, stacked on each other. The top one is also named bi, and means "not be; be without; wrong; bad." The bottom character is shim (heart/mind).

So notionally, compassion is bereavement-heart or bereavement-mind. This puts the word in roughly the same semantic field as the English "compassion," which from the Latin would translate roughly as "with/together + suffering" (Ltn. passio, "suffering"). My point is that bi and yeom have plenty of overlap (in Chinese, they both share the mind/heart character), but aren't totally synonymous. A Zen monk might roll his eyes and say that they're interchangeable, but he'd be speaking as a man of the cloth (justifiably) impatient with my academic focus, not as a fellow intellectual who's curious about philosophical issues of language, thought, and ultimate reality.