Saturday, September 30, 2006

the most awesomest news

This just in: my best Korean buddy Jang-woong is a dad. The baby remains unnamed, but indications are that the family is leaning toward "T'ae-rim," or "Great Forest." I like it. JW says part of the reason for choosing such a name was so that it would be easy to find a similar-sounding Western name-- in this case, Terry. A few alternative names are in the running; good luck to my buddy as he decides on the right one.

I'm going to train out to Inch'eon to see the baby and the happy couple late next week. As with my other friends, JW notes that the feeling of officially becoming a dad is indescribable. His poor wife, alas, went through 28 hours of labor. It's my understanding that this would be akin to being kicked in the balls for 28 hours, so hats off to Bo Hyun for her fortitude.


a gadfly's day

I spent most of today writing emails and comments on other people's sites. I even did something I normally don't do, and left three (count 'em-- THREE!) comments over at the Marmot's Hole in rapid succession, one comment of which was immediately pounced on by an apologist for the Japanese occupation of Korea who really ought to know better. The apologist's assumptions are those of a sloppy historian: anecdotes provided by the people (e.g., tortured Koreans, such as some of my mother's relatives) are "guilty until proven innocent" as opposed to being held in suspension until more data can be accumulated-- the latter being the attitude of a true scholar. All scholars have biases, to be sure, but no scholarship is trustworthy when not even a minimal effort toward fairness has been made.

I wrote another long comment over at Hojuin that I'll copy and paste here. This was in partial response to a question Hojuin asked re: whether it takes balls to create an image like the one found here. My response actually comes at the end of the comment; most of the comment is a rambling disquisition on my personal politics, which I now inflict on you.

Hojuin writes:

Does this indeed take a pair? none of my Muslim mates would give a shit.
(via: the Big Ho)

To be clear, I have no disagreement with Hojuin (his blog is quite interesting; check it out), and I hope my comment to his post reflected that. In fact, because Hojuin's post is short, it'd be insane for me to impute any position to his question and statement, other than some doubt about whether all Muslims would react badly to visual-media spoofs of Islam. I think Hojuin is right to point out that there are Muslims out there who don't give a shit. My comment, then:

re: your Muslim mates

I’m glad they wouldn’t give a shit, and it’s my hope that that’s how the majority of Muslims are. The Muslims I know in the States are kind, decent people, and they never once hit me over the head with the Koran, nor did they ever try to steer the conversation toward religion.

There’s a risk that the American right is overstating the case by implying-- as many righties unfortunately do-- that ALL of Islam is INHERENTLY pernicious. Just to be clear, that’s never been my position. My position is: there’re about 1.2 (or so) billion Muslims, and they’re not all out on the streets sawing heads off infidels. I suspect that most Muslims simply want to get through the day, like the rest of us.

However, I do worry about how the West reacts to the hardline, jihadi Muslims who view conciliation as weakness, and who are striving in the service of a greater vision-- be it the reestablishment of the Caliphate, the global dominance of the Dar al-Islam, or whatever utopian scheme motivates them. The cartoon flap is one case in point (I assume your mates don’t care about those cartoons, either-- to their great credit); the recent death threats against French and German professors who have written articles critical of jihadist Islam are another. If people in the West react by routinely cancelling potentially offensive performances, or by going into hiding instead of speaking out bravely, etc., then it’s Neville Chamberlain all over again. The bullies win.

I advocate a balanced approach: a more articulate PR campaign that makes CLEAR who the enemy is; a refusal to bow before any ideology that deplores freedom of expression; a refusal to demonize the entirety of Islam; and-- what’s probably most politically incorrect-- a very aggressive approach to handling those Muslims who (1) preach religious and cultural hatred from the mosque, (2) kill Western and non-Western citizens “in the name of Islam,” (3) jockey for Shari’a to take precedence over Western law within Western countries.

Islam in the West needs to concede to the ethos of Western secularism or there can be no peace within our borders. Many Western Muslims are already pretty secular, so I’m not referring to them. But throngs of Muslims in the West refuse to assimilate even to a small degree (France providing the best example if the French news be trusted), and that’s a problem.

I was against the Iraq war and still don’t see the utility of our campaign to impose democracy on the region. This is fundamentally a war of ideas and it won’t be won by attempting to kill the other side, especially when we haven’t quite defined who the other side is. Nevertheless, there do appear to be some clear-cut cases, such as these fuckheads who threaten the lives of newspaper reporters and editors who print anything even remotely critical of Islam. My sympathy for such folks is down to about zero now; the West can’t give in to them.

As to your question: I’d say that it’s no big deal for someone like me to publish such a picture-- after all, I’m small potatoes in the blogosphere. But it’d take a huge set of balls for the editor of a large European daily to run such an image. The death threats would start up pretty quickly, and it doesn’t serve the Muslim cause for certain Muslims to claim “We are a religion of peace and so you must die for your insult to our honor!”

Islam-- like any religion-- is as it’s practiced. It’s peaceful if its practitioners are peaceful, warlike if its practitioners are warlike. Buddhism’s not inherently peaceful, either: look at Sri Lanka. So, trite as it may sound, this is ultimately about “increasing da peace.” The argument among Westerners seems largely to be about HOW this should be done.

OK… I’ve talked your ear off and will shut up now.


I'd add that I've written on this blog that we still have little idea as to how many Muslims count as "moderate" in the Western sense of the term. "Peaceful" and "peace-loving" and "moderate" are three different terms: the first simply means "non-violent" without necessarily implying pacifism. The second term might be taken to mean "pacifistic," while the third term might mean, for a Westerner, "able to accept the coexistence of a secular ethos alongside one's religious ethos." Many Muslims in the West do practice this acceptance, but it's an open question as to whether this is true in primarily Muslim countries.

On Dr. Hodges's blog, I also left a long comment. This was in response to his post titled "Why the Pope Quoted Emperor Paleologus." My comment didn't address the substance of his post, mainly because a large part of it deals in matters of Christian history with which I'm unfamiliar. Instead, I spent my time commenting on superficial items, such as German vocabulary and the byzantine mind of Benedict/Ratzinger.

My comment, then:

[WARNING: Looooong comment.]

I wish I knew more Christian history so I could comment more substantively on this post. I vaguely recall some textbook passages about Duns Scotus, but I can't say I ever dwelt on the man's thought.

My question, rather, is one of translation. While I don't speak German (unless we count two mostly-forgotten semesters of German as "speaking German"), I wanted to ask you about the ambiguity of the adjective "schlectes" based on what I know from English and French. Since you're able to translate French, we can use that language as a point of departure, move into English, and then I'll cede the floor to you re: German.

In French, the words "bien" and "mal" can be adverbs, nouns, or adjectves. If I ask someone, "Ça va bien?", I'm asking whether everything is going well. A reply of "Ça va mal" will mean that things are going badly. Obviously, then, in practical, everyday discourse, "bien" and "mal" just mean "well" and "badly/poorly."

In their nominal incarnations, i.e., "le bien" and "le mal" (especially when paired together in the phrase "le bien et le mal"), these words are more likely to be read as "good" and "evil." That much is clear. Baudelaire's Les fleurs du mal is therefore "the flowers of evil" or "evil's flowers" and not the more pedestrian "bad flowers."

This isn't to say, however, that there's a clear semantic demarcation between "mal" as "bad(ly)/poor(ly)" and "mal" as "evil." To be "malmené," for example, means something like "violently mistreated," quite a difference from an expression like "mal poli," which merely means "very impolite." Violent mistreatment contains something of the malefic, whereas mere rudeness doesn't necessarily connote evil. So "mal" obviously straddles semantic borders.

In English, too, the semantic fields of these words overlap. "This food is bad" has a pedestrian meaning: "This food is of poor quality [i.e., poorly prepared]." However, when someone asks during a movie, "Which one's the bad guy?", they're asking about who the evil party is (in French, this is usually marked by the ambiguous noun/adjective "méchant," which can mean [a] "naughty," "bad," or even "wicked" [person/animal]).

My question, then, is whether German also has this sort of ambiguity between, say, "gut" and "schlecht." If it does, then I want to know what makes you opt for the more pedestrian "bad" as opposed to "evil" in your translation of the German rendering of the Paleologus quotation. My instinct is to say that Paleologus, speaking about deep and serious matters, might well have intended the stronger "evil." But again, that's an intuition based on almost zero knowledge of German.

Ah-- come to think of it, I do have a more substantive comment!

You wrote:

Now, Ratzinger might also, secondarily, be asking Muslims, "Which sort of deity is Allah?" -- and if so, he has received a preliminary answer -- but he's more centrally concerned with what Westerners think about this.

I'm banging my head against the wall here-- not because I disagree with your insight, but because Benedict, as Ratzinger, has gotten himself into trouble with other religions in precisely this manner before.

The 2000 CDF document Dominus Iesus (a document I regularly flog on my blog), spearheaded primarily by Ratzinger, ended up offending people of many religions, but especially Jews. In a sense, it was merely a reaffirmation of the Church's post-Vatican II stance toward other religions, but many non-Catholics saw the strident language-- and the more obvious exclusivism pervading it-- as a great leap backward from the 1965 Nostra Aetate document of Vatican II.

In its defense, the CDF said that Dominus Iesus wasn't intended for non-Catholics-- a defense I've always found disingenuous when we consider the hyper-connected, mediatized world in which we live. News of such a document can and will spread quickly. How can it possibly be "for Catholic eyes only"? Displays of surprise and professions of innocence are hard to trust. Even if such displays and professions are sincere, they still betray a great naiveté about the power of technology and global culture. Any document crafted for a community will inevitably have to take into account that the document's release will not occur in a vacuum. If the current pope is saying that his words weren't meant for Muslim ears, then... I'm not sure what to think.

There's a good deal of speculation going on right now as to whether the pope quoted Paleologus "with implicit approval." I suppose we'll never know the answer to that question. I agree with you that Benedict has "received a preliminary answer" from certain elements in Islam, but I'm still wary of fully exonerating him. He's a man who has put his foot in his mouth before.

Let me put it this way:

Suppose the KKK promulgates a document titled "Solving Our Black Problem." The document is uploaded to a public KKK website, where anyone in the world can see it. Public outcry is immediate, but the KKK's Grand Dragon, pleading wide-eyed innocence, calls a press conference and says, "This document is merely a statement of a position everyone is already aware of, and was never intended for anyone other than KKK members." This may be true, but because the document pertains to people outside the KKK, such a defense is untenable.

While I certainly don't equate the Catholic Church with the KKK (I have far too many Catholic friends and acquaintances to do something that silly), I hope my extreme example has made the point that a document (or speech) by a member of one religion cannot reasonably be construed to have coreligionists as its sole audience.

OK... I've gone on far too long. I've done more commenting than blogging today, and I might just copy and paste the day's comments on my own blog. Heh.

Apologies for length. Feel free to ignore.


I would add to the above comments that Arabic-language speeches and fatwas are given in the full awareness that people in the West will read and translate them. Public hate speech is very much intended for more than the believers. It has multiple goals, among them (1) reinforcement of faith among the faithful, (2) announcement of proud defiance of the Great Satan and the Little Satans, and (3) attempted persuasion of fence-sitting Muslims, whose hearts might resonate with the rhetoric.

And there we go. I was hoping to write something about Giuliani, but I might save that for later.



The new BigHominid gravatar-- soon to appear in comment threads near you:


the abstraction of shit

The protean character of shit makes it both the perfect sculpting medium and the perfect subject of sculpture. In 2004, a Koreablog called Xeniteia posted this most sublime image, the blog author having noted that, among the various works of art on display, this one (and its clones) was "much less defaced than the other public sculptures":

...meanwhile, Robert at the Marmot's Hole recently posted a link to a Korea Times article featuring what I can only take to be the Western interpretation of same:

You would think that the Korean reverence for shit (a pervasive motif in Korean pop culture) would translate to a warm welcome for the above sculpture, but such is not the case. One problem is that the above shit was not shat by any Korean: it was produced by a filthy American named Claes Oldenburg (which, to the American ear, makes the man sound like someone from Fargo, North Dakota; even Americans trust no one from Fargo, especially after that Coen Brothers' film revealed the fascination some Fargans have with the synthesis of wood chippers and body parts). The Korea Times article says Oldenburg is one of the founders of the "pop art movement," a phrase I find hilarious because it contains the word "movement" and because "pop" is probably missing a second "o." Koreans are understandably miffed that an American was paid to take a public shit in the middle of downtown Seoul.

But let's talk art. On the assumption that we are witnessing a trend toward the abstraction of shit, I'm curious to see what the next iteration of the work will be. I'm imagining a candy-striped cone. That, too, will be abstracted as three colors are fused into one brownish color, and the cone shape is rendered into something even simpler, like a stick... which point the move to abstraction will have taken us full circle, because shit in its natural state can often appear as a stick.


the mother of all must-reads

Check out Joshua's post about his testimony before the House International Relations Committee, and be sure to download and print out the meat of that post: the PDF of what he presented to elements of Congress.


Friday, September 29, 2006

postal scrotum: two emails fo' yo' ass

Damn-- I haven't even gotten down to exploring the Giuliani issue yet and I've already received two reactions!

GK Davis writes:

I haven't read Giuliani's book, but it seems to me that he's just saying that we should be civil about this. Clinton did what he could in the context of the political situation at the time. That's all he seems to be saying to me.

As for the context, I just read an Orson Scott Card book written between lobbing missiles into Sudan/Afghanistan and 9/11. He states unequivocally that we had no justification for doing so and that these actions just point out that we are a country in decline. I don't think Card is some kind of raving leftist (in fact, he's a devout Mormon, one of the most loyal Republican demographics around.) I see Giuliani's comments as way to head off revisionist history without pissing off the religious wackos he's going to need to get the GOP nomination.

Oh, if you have the time, I started a blog: I'm a half-Korean guy like you, but live stateside in California. I'm a bit of a foodie, though not so much into cream and butter as you. I've also been exploring Korean Buddhism with some real depth lately. When I was in the army, my tags said I was a Buddhist, but that was more to make sure that if I ate it, I wouldn't be interred with Christian rites.

-GK Davis

Nathan also writes in [email edited for privacy]:

Hi Kevin,

The pages touch on your questions regarding both Rudy and the Mozart opera. According to James Taranto, Rudy is trying to appear like a statesman in order to strengthen his run for the presidency. I agree with that. I'd vote for Rudy in a heartbeat, too--if I were an American!

Also... I don't terribly mind the Mozart opera not being shown. According to the article by Roger Kimball on this subject, at the same website, it wasn't the opera itself that was cancelled; it was just a modern interpretation whose offensive ending, featuring Mohammed, Poseidon, Jesus and the rest, wasn't in the original Mozart. It was just another one of these crazy post-modernist types, trying to deconstruct everything as usual. I'm out of sympathy for such types, frankly. In that sense, I think that Kimball's point is perhaps overstated. On the other hand, I share his worries about where this is heading. After all, Dante himself has a special place in hell for Mohammed--are we to refrain from celebrating Dante? A worrying thought.



I think Rudy is indeed starting to formulate a foreign policy stance in preparation for a presidential run. This site claims that Giuliani has "no [foreign policy] stance on record." I assume the site will be updated soon. Prediction: Rudy will not shun diplomacy, but he'll take a largely hard-line, pro-Israel stance. I'd be extremely curious to know his position on East Asian foreign policy. I can guess what he has to say about North Korea, but I'm more interested in his opinion on China, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea.

More on this later.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

will the real Rudy please stand up?

I'm a big fan of Rudy Giuliani. And I've decided: if he were to clinch the GOP nomination for president, I'd vote for him. It was heartening to see that Rudy came to Bill Clinton's defense in the wake of Clinton's contentious Fox News interview, but Rudy's defense strikes me as being at odds with some things he says about Clinton in his book Leadership.

I'm about to hit the sack now (after which I shall go to bed), but I want to delve into this matter soon. While I'm a fan of Rudy, I have no desire to be blindly loyal to anyone, and this is a potential inconsistency worth examining.



The fates of Your Humble Narrator and Le Cordon Bleu seem to be on a collision course (ha-- course! get it?).

I was told by Madame H, a Korean lady who works as a French/Korean interpreter for Le Cordon Bleu a couple floors upstairs from where I teach, that a Frenchman (et oui-- un Français, bon sang!) was looking to take English classes and that he would probably want to start at Level 1, the level I currently teach.

I met this request with some befuddlement: most of the French people I know speak anywhere from passable to excellent English (my expat colleagues all agreed on this point). I seriously doubted this guy was a Level 1, so I told Madame H that I wanted to interview him to be sure of his level.

I met J-P and Madame H on the second floor, and we began chatting in French right away. J-P wasn't what I expected: having seen a few of the Cordon Bleu chefs hanging outside our building for a smoke break, I was sure that J-P would turn out to be a 20-something horndog looking for an excuse to scope the chicks. Not so: J-P's either in his late 40s or early 50s; he sports a mustache, beefy hands, and a rather large gut. He's also pretty short. Given what I know about Korean women, this combination of unsavory traits will likely be a turn-on for many of them: I've seen far too many gorgeous Korean girls on the arms of fugly-ass Western guys to believe otherwise. Not being totally Korean myself, I didn't ask J-P whether he was married and what his ulterior motives for taking the class were. Besides, Madame H was right there with us, and her French is quite good. I doubt I could have slipped the question past her.

J-P was unable to answer many basic questions in English; in fact, he preferred to revert to French to express himself during our interview. All the same, I had the impression that his English was higher than Level 1, and I told him so. He politely insisted on starting at Level 1, citing a reason similar to my own reason for wanting to restart my Korean language education at a low level: he was keen to patch up the holes in his knowledge and acquire a decent English base before moving on to the more challenging levels. I couldn't argue with that. He is, however, going to start in Week 5, which means he'll need to do quite a bit of catch-up work.

In describing the paltry level of his English, J-P startled me by using a phrase I hadn't heard in a while: "c'est du petit-nègre," which as you might guess is a racist term that originally referred to the "imperfect" French spoken by black people in places like Haiti or other French colonies. Apparently, many French folks (including black French folks) no longer find the term that racist, and an online reference I just consulted claims that the word nègre can even be a term of pride, especially when used by French-speaking black folks (cf. la négritude). I suppose that's similar to an English phrase like "'Sup, nigga" --which I could never say to a black man, but which black folks can freely use on each other. In any case, I was startled by J-P's utterance, but he never blinked.

[Aside: it's interesting to think about the racial politics involved when a lily-white guy like Quentin Tarantino, who has a marvelous ear for black dialogue, writes a script like "Pulp Fiction," which is shot through with epithets meant to be uttered by black actors. Samuel Jackson apparently had no trouble with saying his lines, and neither did the tremendous Ving Rhames. Spike Lee, on the other hand, has publicly frowned upon Tarantino's liberal use of the N-word in his movie scripts.]

Questions of dicey colloquialisms aside, I'm hoping that J-P's presence in the 7:50am class will cause a stir. One of the girls in that class is a French major; she and her friend sit with me on Tuesdays for an hour-long French free-talk session. I hope this girl realizes that the gods have plopped a rotund, middle-aged opportunity in her lap: the chance to speak French with an honest-to-Cthulu Frenchman! J-P's a Cordon Bleu chef and therefore busy as hell, but if I were that student, I'd want to carpe this diem. (Apologies to all the Latin scholars out there.)

The upshot for me-- what I'm hoping for, anyway-- is a chance at getting some free Cordon Bleu food out of all this. And that, I think, is why the cosmos placed me at Smoo.


eh wot? the US hindered unification??

That's the provocative charge uncovered by Dr. Hodges. Policy wonks, history buffs, and politics junkies take note!



If you haven't done so yet, maybe think about visiting Rory and leaving your condolences. He just lost a good friend.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ave, Arn!

Are you a Trek fan? Are you also, perchance, a Monty Python fan? Then you'd better check out this "Python Trek" YouTube video, featuring the crew of the Enterprise doing the "Knights of the Round Table" number from "Monty Python's The Holy Grail." Other "Python Trek" vids are appearing on YouTube as you read this.

(Thanks for the laughs, Arn.)


Ave, Mike!

Mike, the captain of Naked Villainy, has offered up his thoughts on the recent Clinton interview. I agree with everything he says, and further note that Mike is the only blogger I know who strikes a perfect balance between jovial understatement and shrewd astuteness in his political commentary. This opener cracked me up:

The Russert [Meet the Press] interview is the type of interview the former president wants, nay expects. The Wallace [Fox News] interview, well... It should suffice to say that President Clinton doesn't like that type of interview at all.


Timothy Garton Ash needs a trip to the woodshed

Following a link I found on Dr. Hodges's fine blog, I read Timothy Garton Ash's article in the New York Review of Books titled "Islam in Europe." Dr. Hodges rightly commends Ash for taking a pro-free speech stance. I, however, couldn't get past Ash's tone, especially regarding his snooty attitude toward feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali (for the record, Dr. Hodges's post on Ash isn't a ringing endorsement of the man, either).

Ash spends time noting the many horrors Ali has gone through, including the barbaric ritual of clitoral circumcision ("genital mutilation" according to Ali). After duly acknowledging Ali's many travails (including currently living under threat of death for having made the film "Submission" with Theo van Gogh, who was killed by a Muslim named Mohammed Bouyeri in 2004), Ash makes this condescending assessment:

Having in her youth been tempted by Islamist fundamentalism, under the influence of an inspiring schoolteacher, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is now a brave, outspoken, slightly simplistic Enlightenment fundamentalist. In a pattern familiar to historians of political intellectuals, she has gone from one extreme to the other, with an emotional energy perfectly summed up by Shakespeare: "As the heresies that men do leave/are hated most of those they did deceive." This is precisely why she is a heroine to many secular European intellectuals, who are themselves Enlightenment fundamentalists. They believe that not just Islam but all religion is insulting to the intelligence and crippling to the human spirit. Most of them believe that a Europe based entirely on secular humanism would be a better Europe. Maybe they are right. (Some of my best friends are Enlightenment fundamentalists.) Maybe they are wrong. But let's not pretend this is anything other than a frontal challenge to Islam. In his crazed diatribe, Mohammed Bouyeri was not altogether mistaken to identify as his generic European enemy the "unbelieving fundamentalist."

Mr. Ash: fuck you for looking down your nose at someone like Ali. I have a feeling that if a guy dipped a baseball bat in a vat of glue, then rolled the bat in broken glass, then smacked your crotch with it a few times, your worldview after such an experience might strike others as a bit simplistic, too. You've got a lot in common with the lefty college students in Korea who shamelessly hound defector Kang Chol Hwan (author of The Aquariums of Pyongyang) with their heedless marxism.


how far can appeasement go?

How far will people go to appease a certain angry demographic?

At least this far, apparently:

German politicians condemned on Tuesday a decision by a Berlin opera house to cancel performances of Mozart's "Idomeneo" over concerns they could enrage Muslims and pose a security risk.

The Deutsche Oper in west Berlin announced on Monday it was replacing four performances of "Idomeneo" scheduled for November with "The Marriage of Figaro" and "La Traviata."

The decision was taken after Berlin security officials warned that putting on the opera as planned would present an "incalculable security risk" for the establishment.

In the production, directed by Hans Neuenfels, King Idomeneo is shown staggering on stage next to the severed heads of Buddha, Jesus, Poseidon and the Prophet Mohammad, which sit on chairs.

To be clear, I'm not merely pissed off at the intimidators: I'm equally mad at the craven Deutsche Oper and all those who reason as they do.

Here's a fitting response to current Western nonsense.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

complaints and the whore

I love to hear this complaint from my students: "We want to talk even more in class!" Sometimes the complaint expresses a misguided desire for "free talking," a teaching "technique" of dubious utility. Free talking is more beneficial for students in advanced levels: they have most of the basic problems out of the way and can set about finding ways to express complex ideas. Short, directed talking sessions are better for the lower levels, and it's my 9am Level 1 class that wants to talk more. That's fine: I'm glad they told me now rather than waiting until Week 12. Thanks to their heads-up, I'll be incorporating some short, directed talking sessions into my Level 1 lessons. This will be on top of the talking the students already do. What I won't do is give in to one student's suggestion that we devote about twenty minutes to a "talk with Kevin" session.

Let me back up and explain what that's all about. Monday was quiz day for the Level 1s. On quiz day, I'm usually nice and let the students go early after we're finished with the quizzing. During the quiz, students visit me in pairs and work their way through the quiz problems, which cover anything from question formation to tense grammar to a one-minute directed talk that's more about ideas than mechanics. The students awaiting their turn are given something else to do, and aren't allowed to open their books or look at their notes. On Monday, my 7:50am class finished the quizzing with about twenty minutes to spare, so I told the students they could either go home or sit around and just chat. The students, bizarrely, opted to stay, so we chatted, and apparently word got out that this was much more entertaining than what we normally do (textbook, handouts, you know the rest). So that's what I mean when I say that some students in the 9am class now want a "talk with Kevin" session.

From my point of view, however, the Monday chat was basically 15 minutes of me talking and only 5 minutes of short, scattered student utterances. It was a great opportunity for me to give in to my inner ham and put on The Kevin Show, but that's not what the students need. What they need is time to talk, and to talk in a directed manner, doing dialogues with a purpose that apply the skills they've been learning.

The best way to realize this goal when you've got eight to ten people in a class is not to put on The Kevin Show: it's to get students in pairs or groups and have them talk for five to ten minutes at a time. Students already get this opportunity in my classes: they probably talk, in total, for the majority of the hour, and I always walk around monitoring them, periodically correcting them, even writing corrections on the board for everyone's benefit.

So I'm wary of the "talk with Kevin" idea, and my counterproposal to certain students was that, if they really wanted a one-on-one with me, we could bring back my old one-on-one sessions from last year, where I sat with a single student for ten or fifteen minutes and we talked about whatever the student wanted to talk about. The idea was something I brought with me from my previous job, and students loved it. So we might go back to that. It'll mean a couple more hours per week doing unpaid work, but to me, such a task would be worthwhile.

At the beginning of this spiel I talked about complaints I like. Here's the sort of complaint I hate: "It's too hard! I can't do it! We should do something easier!"

The above complaint comes courtesy of a girl in my 7:50am Tuesday/Thursday advanced-level reading class-- a class of Level 3s. I was pissed off all morning after hearing this complaint, and truth be told, I'm still pissed off because the girl who made the complaint has done precisely jack fucking shit in my class. She routinely arrives 20-25 minutes late. She hasn't posted a single blog entry on our group student blog, and for this morning's class, she didn't read a word of the current four-page passage (a short by George Orwell titled "A Hanging"-- see for yourself how short it is). For this student to have the gall to complain about how hard her life is because of the assigned work she isn't doing is rich beyond compare.

Now that I've taken the measure of this student-- as well as of the others in class today who were similarly late and unprepared-- I've decided to dig in my heels. I have no plans to lower my expectations of these goofballs. They will either rise to my standards or fall by the wayside. If this means losing my entire class because they refuse to accept responsibility for their own effort, so be it. I'll explain the situation to my boss if necessary. The students paid for a Tuesday/Thursday session; it's their choice if they decide to waste their money.

The students who attend this class on Tuesdays and Thursdays also attend a Mon-Wed-Fri conversation class at the same hour, i.e., 7:50am. My impression is that that class is a lot easier for them. I have no idea whether they're being given homework, but I do know that some students quietly skip the reading class in favor of attending only the conversation class. Having been the "conversation" half of such a teacher pairing before, I don't feel personally slighted: students constantly bitch about reading assignments, so the reading teacher inevitably gets skipped on first. Anyway, if this means I'll be starting later on Tuesdays and Thursdays from now on because the 7:50 class has disappeared, then so be it.

To top it all off, I must now proclaim myself a whore: I hit Hannam Market yesterday for some overpriced Western goods, but despite a microscopic inspection of the premises, I was unable to locate my treasured Nutella. The lady at one counter offered her sympathies and showed me a plastic tub of a different chocolate-hazelnut spread from Greece (!!) called NuCrema, an obvious goddamn ripoff of my one and only love.

"People say it's the same," the lady told me with a shrug.

So of course I bought a tub.

O, Nutella! Can you ever forgive this wayward Kevin?

I took the spread back home, heedlessly ripped open the seal, and plunged my rigid spoon repeatedly into NuCrema's moist, creamy depths. Then I licked my NuCrema as it's never been licked before.

And let me tell you:

It's not the same.

But-- God help me-- it's not bad, either.

I am a whore. A cheap, crack-smokin' ho-ho-whore.


Ave, Skippy!

I knew there was a reason not to like the former president. Skippy offers a substantive takedown of Clinton's evasions and half-truths here. I give you tone; Skippy gives you content.


Monday, September 25, 2006

the most awesome scream

Many people love the classic Wilhelm scream, which gained its cachet thanks to the Star Wars movies. But in my book, there is only one scream to rule them all, and it barely qualifies as a scream: some might call it a loud gurgle, or a Wookiee mating call. If someone can find and email me the sound sample, I will actually PAY YOU MONEY (not much money, mind you, but enough to cover a couple medium-sized pizzas in the States).

The scream is made by the awesome Brit actor Pat Roach in the apocryphal 1983 James Bond thriller "Never Say Never Again."

Perhaps you recall the setup: Bond has been told that he's out of shape and needs to get fit. To this end, MI-6 enrolls him in a ritzy fitness camp where he flirts with a nurse and listens to a doctor praise herbal enemas. While working out on an enormous bench press, Bond is attacked by a thug played by Roach. Bond barely manages to escape Roach's first assault, and the chase begins.

At one point Bond runs downstairs, then finds a wooden slat and waits for his pursuer to descend the same stairway. When Roach arrives, Bond jams the slat through the banister and trips Roach.

And it's right there: right at the moment when Roach starts to fall, he utters the most hilarious, kick-ass scream in all of film history. It is truly the scream of a large, startled man who only belatedly realizes that his feet are no longer carrying him forward. Rich and inarticulate, the scream has survived for decades inside my head, outlasting other precious bits of data such as the long swaths of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" dialogue I used to have memorized.

Will no one procure me this meddlesome scream?


"purple-faced rage"?

That's the title of the latest Drudge link to another, longer YouTube segment showing Bill Clinton's tense interview with a Fox reporter. Is Clinton upset? Yes-- he says as much near the end of the clip. Was this "purple-faced rage"? Not by a long shot.

To be honest, I can't stand journalists who adopt that hectoring style, cutting off the interviewee with an eye to getting them off-balance and on edge. The goal of such interviews is less about content and more about the money shot: the dude who flips out for the camera. I've seen this style used against both Democrats and Republicans; my criticism isn't confined only to what the Fox reporter did.

In this interview, my sympathies went to Clinton. Doesn't mean I like Clinton, but he deserved better treatment than he got, and I think he had a point about the "hatchet job" being done to him. Something similar happened recently during an interview of George Bush by Matt Lauer. (Thanks, Malcolm.)


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Ave, KL!

The Korea Liberator should be required reading for everyone with an interest in Asian politics. Joshua and his cohorts constantly churn out well-written must-reads, of which I'll mention the three most recent:

The Case for Blocking Ban Ki-moon

The Sunshine Policy is Dead, Part 2

Waiting for the Ceausescu Moment

On that last one: Kim might avoid a Ceaucescu* moment by pulling a Saddam, i.e., shuttling himself around and using spider holes to avoid capture by his people or by foreign troops. What we learned from Saddam's case is that a prominent dictator might not be able, plausibly, to flee his own country: he'd be too well-known, with too many potential Judases in his retinue, people who would sell the enemy his location for the right price.** Ceaucescu tried this as well, zipping around inside Romania by helicopter, but he was eventually nabbed by his own police, turned over to the army, and shot dead on Christmas of 1989.

Unfortunately, North Korea has become an enormous maze of gopher tunnels, so a wild goose chase to track Kim down could theoretically take much longer than did the chase for Saddam. This is balanced, though, by the fact that North Korea's infrastructure stinks. Faulty roads and too few usable vehicles might slow down Kim's ability to escape.

Does Kim have an "undisclosed location" available to him, à la Dick Cheney's secret chamber near the earth's core? If so, Kim could plunge coreward from directly underneath Pyongyang and wait events out.

It should be noted that 1989 was a momentous year: the Berlin Wall fell in early winter, around November 9 or 10. Europe was in motion. Countries were throwing off the yoke of totalitarian oppression. The coup in Romania almost certainly benefitted from what had happened in Germany: people were given hope that change was possible. Korea doesn't have any proximate examples of the same kind of change: Chinese citizens don't appear to be about to revolt en masse; South Korea and Japan, for their part, both enjoy powerful, largely stable economies and social structures, any contentiousness being well contained and channeled by the democratic political systems there.*** The spark for revolution in North Korea won't be the result of local examples giving hope: it'll be the result of a people that finally decides, on its own, that it's had enough.

Go read your KL!

*Spellings vary. I've seen "Ceauşescu" and "Ceaucescu." My own preference is for the latter, but ultimately I don't care: the guy's dead either way.

**Some might offer Osama bin Laden as a counterexample, but I think there are distinct disanalogies. Osama was never the leader of a country: he shot to hero status fairly quickly in the eyes of the anti-American world. Being surrounded by loyalists more than willing to die for him has undoubtedly helped him hide from justice this long. Is he now dead? I can't say, and neither can France or the US.

***Thailand might represent a very recent and discomfiting rebuttal to this; some conservative Korean politicians appear to have hinted to President Roh that he shouldn't take current stability for granted.


Ratzinger follies, continued

People who are currently in a rush to defend el papa do need to remember that this man has a track record. I've been gently insisting on this point since this blog began in 2003, and just happened upon a post (found thanks to a link roundup on Asiapundit) that offers us a glimpse of the pope's low opinion of Buddhism, which he labeled "spiritually self-indulgent eroticism" back in 1997 when he was still only Ratzinger and had not yet acquired his sparkling new dharma name.

As I said earlier, it's only a matter of time before Benedict puts his foot in his mouth again. I suspect a great deal of religious conflict will occur on his watch. The Muslims doubtless overreacted to Benedict's most recent faux pas, but it'll soon be obvious that Benedict isn't entirely innocent in these matters.


i geo mweon-ji aseyo?

The local California Roll restaurant is back in business after its recent renovation, and I've already been there twice to grab my favorite cashew chicken dish, which rocks.

My Saturday meal went smoothly (the appetizer arrived a minute after the main course... not to worry, though), but when I went to the cash register to pay, something funny happened.

While standing next to the register, I glanced down and noticed that the resto was selling little bottles of American apple cider-- Martinelli's, to be exact. That's a fairly well-known brand where I come from. As I hadn't had apple juice or cider in ages, I asked the cashier how much a bottle would cost. "Two thousand won each," she said. A ridiculous price, but I paid W4000 for two little bottles, along with W13,500 for my cheese roll appetizer and kick-ass chicken dish. (As you might guess, this was the only meal of the day for me. Or maybe you wouldn't guess that.)

The cashier, a college girl, indicated the apple cider and asked me in all seriousness, "Do you know what this is?" I had to laugh, because she asked the question in a tone that implied I might not know what I was purchasing. I assumed my patented Friendly Amusement Expression and repeated her question in a mocking tone: "'Do you know what this is?' Ha!" The girl was embarrassed and tripped over herself to explain that she thought I thought I might be purchasing alcohol or something. "I wasn't trying to insult you," she said twice. I laughed and said it was nothing. I was simply amused.

Imagine what it would be like to hold a bottle of kimchi up to a Korean and ask, "Do you know what this is?" Heh.


Saturday, September 23, 2006

what rage?

Charles Krauthammer recently wrote that religious fanatics all lack a sense of humor.

Perhaps. But they've fallen in love with one American pop icon:


when non-news is bad news

The Drudge Report often likes to slap misleading headlines on linked articles about liberals and Democrats. The banner headline I currently see says "CLINTON ANGER UNLEASHED," which leads to a YouTube segment with an even more misleading title: "Bill Clinton Freaks Out."

While I'm a fan of neither Bush nor Clinton, I wouldn't describe the Clinton YouTube segment as a freak-out by any means (watch it here). A long while back, Drudge linked to a clip of Clinton truly losing it, and that one was awesome to behold-- the bulging neck veins, the quickly reddening cheeks, the clenched teeth. Quite entertaining.

I can't imagine the stress that comes with being a US president. In a media culture, you can't help noticing how the office changes a person: after four years, everyone ends up substantially leaner and grayer. I'm willing to forgive a few freak-outs here and there. Leaders have to be leaders, but they're also only human.

Upshot: Drudge's current "headline" isn't news at all. It's emotional manipulation of the right-wing constituency.


of mice and men

Malcolm Pollack's got a way with words. Go read about the blow he has finally struck against "the murine invasion": here.


Friday, September 22, 2006

if you read French

There's a very interesting post on a French blog regarding an international poll that asked the following question:

Yes or no: Is the market economy the best system on which to base the world's future?

If you read French, go read the post (actually, poll results are in English), but you should definitely read through the comment thread, which paints a picture of a France in disarray. If that comment thread is any indication, the French are fully aware their economy is going down the tubes, but some are in deep denial about what, exactly, France should do about it. Of the several schools of thought that make their appearance in that thread, the ones I found most interesting are:

1. Face it: we French are lazy bastards and unwilling to lengthen our work week.

2. China as a model for France? You're kidding.

3. China as a model for France? Hmmm... something to consider.

4. It's a lot better in America.

5. America? No, thanks. We need a middle-way solution between American capitalism and out-and-out communism.

6. These poll results are bullshit (the commenters who said this actually gave good reasons for why they think this is true).

Fascinating thread. And it's still growing. Also noteworthy is how civil the discussion on that thread is. So far, anyway.

My favorite comment was by someone with the handle emmanuel:

Je ne connais pas la Chine et j'ignore si la France est un pays communiste mais je sais qu'en France beaucoup de choses sont bien plus compliquées que dans nos pays voisins : par exemple trouver un logement nécessite d'avoir un compte en banque et pour ouvrir un compte en banque il faut avoir un logement (cherchez l'erreur).

Trouver un boulot : avec un chômage de près de 8% (je connais pas le chiffre exact, 8%, 9%, 10%...), les employeurs sont en position de force et peuvent se montrer sélectifs.

(parenthèse : dans le pays où je vis, je connais beaucoup de gens qui ont plaqué leur boulôt pour partir voyager pendant un an autour du monde. A leur retour ils ont retrouvé rapidement un emploi. La sécurité de l'emploi n'existe pas du tout, même pas pour les fonctionnaires, mais peu de gens s'en soucient : le taux de chômage est de 3%. En France, quitter son boulôt pour aller voyager est plutôt mal vu par les employeurs potentiels. Tout trou dans un CV est vite suspect et il faut se justifier d'avoir pris de telles libertés.)

Dès le plus jeune âge les jeunes français (et étrangers) doivent aller à l'école toute la journée, ce qui laisse peu de place au sports, à la musique etc. Alors qu'officiellement tous sont égaux, assez vite une sélection officieuse des écoliers a lieu : en fonction de l'établissement fréquenté, en fonction des langues choisies, des options, du type de bac. Sous couvert d'égalité, le système a réintroduit une sélection cachée dont tous les parents ne sont pas conscients (en premier lieu les parents étrangers ignorent ce genre de subtilités).

OK, sur le papier la France est une démocratie mais dans les faits les français sont très encadrés et peu d'entre eux peuvent vraiment jouir de leur liberté.

Mon opinion : moins d'état, moins de régularisation, plus de liberté et de responsabilité individuelle.


I don't know China and I don't know whether France is a communist country, but I know that things are a lot harder to do in France than in neighboring countries-- for example, finding a place to live requires having a bank account, and opening a bank account requires having a place to live (you figure it out).

Finding a job: with unemployment at close to 8% (I don't know the exact figure... 8%, 9%, 10%...), employers have the high ground and can be selective.

(Aside: in the country where I live, I know a lot of folks who dropped work to go travel around the world for a year. Upon their return they quickly found new jobs. Job security is nonexistent, even for civil servants, but few people worry: the unemployment rate is 3%. In France, potential employers take a dim view of people who quit work to travel. Every gap in your resume is quickly suspect and you have to justify having taken such liberties.)

From the time they're little, French (and foreign) youth have to go to school all day long, which leaves little room for sports, music, etc. Although officially everyone is equal, a semi-official sorting of schoolchildren takes place in short order: it depends on one's school, the languages chosen, electives, and the type of exam taken. Under the cover of "equality," the system reintroduces a hidden selectivity of which all parents are not aware (in particular, foreign parents are unaware of these subtleties).

OK, on paper France is a democracy, but in point of fact the French are fenced in and few among them truly enjoy any freedom.

My opinion: less government, less regulation, more freedom and more individual responsibility.


postal scrotum: the real threat

Jason W. sends me this hilarious link to a YouTube clip of a recent Daily Show segment (a clip of a segment?) about the threat that will undo our military, if not our country as a whole.


the Pierson's Puppeteer

Occidentalism has the goods on what a certain cyber-cross-dresser looks like. Perhaps he's not part-Japanese or part-Korean, but there's a chance he's part-lesbian.


Ave, Arn!

A great post that puts me in a reflective mood.


Ave, Laudator!

Mike Gilleland writes on the connection between deification and defecation, miraculously working his way from recumbent Roman emperors to Elvis expiring on the porcelain throne. His post also contains a treasure beyond compare-- the Latin sentence that will adorn my tombstone:

vae me, puto, concacavi me

Read Gilleland's post to find out what this means. Read Gilleland's blog because you respect intelligent writing.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

your quiz for the evening

Look at these two comments:

1. Islam has a history of violence and currently represents a grave danger to Western civilization.

2. (uttered by the same person a moment later) Of course, Christianity cannot claim to have a pristine history of nonviolence. Witness the Crusades, or even modern examples of violence in places like Ireland.

QUESTION: Based only on the above evidence, would you consider Position [1 + 2] an example of moral equivalence and/or cultural relativism? Justify your answer. Send me an email.


sniff it out

This is an oldie but a goodie. I periodically use optical illusions in class to stimulate a somewhat different type of discussion. All sorts of nifty common expressions can come into play in the ensuing conversation:

I can barely...

Those lines look straight to me.

What? Where do you see the dog? I can't make anything out.

I'm not seeing what everyone else is seeing.

I could have sworn that...

This square looks darker than that square.

Are those lines straight or curved/bent?

The dots keep appearing and disappearing!

I see Jesus when I blink rapidly. (Heh... I love this one.)

It's a skull-- no, wait! It's a woman in front of a mirror!

But when you turn it upside down...

(and so on)


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

when prominent Canadians read my blog

...they start talking about fucking sheep and taking shits.


they say it better than I can

Mike quotes the liberal Sam Harris here.

Dr. V lays it out about the intolerance of intolerance. I wholeheartedly agree.


Ave, Justin!

Go to Yosh if you're looking for a more personal perspective on the Thailand coup. Justin's wife, Nam, is a gorgeous Thai lady who speaks fluent Japanese; she's in Thailand right now, and Justin's moving to Thailand soon.

I was shocked when I read about the coup on the online news this morning, but the news articles have all provided a quick historical background, noting that Thailand has gone through quite a few such takeovers. Perhaps the Thai people just take it in stride. I can only hope things end well and that violence remains minimal to nonexistent.


my brother gets me good

My brother David responds with a parody of the parody:


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

the novel in me noggin

Here's the cover of the book I need to write:

Alternative titles:

Fan Death: A Love Story

Inherit the Earth: A Story of Fan Death

Fan Death Chronicles and Other Tales

Death Gets a New Scythe


101 Things to Do While Drunk

Very Bad Date: Book II of the Hemorrhoid Trilogy

The Man Whose Head was Too Big

Your Biggest Fan

The Return of Georg Scrotenauer

Intelligent Creatures Bore Easily

The Redecorator

How Real Men Shave



A pleasant 50 minutes spent with two students in my free Tuesday French class-- the second student is a friend of the first who lived in Côte d'Ivoire for three years, and her French is quite, quite good. These two together are stimulating me to talk a lot more in French, which is fantastic. I run on and on longer than either of them can, and I do make petites fautes here and there, but this is just the therapy I've been needing, and the students tell me they're going to round up even more French speakers, so we might have a somewhat larger circle next week. Chouette.


postal scrotum: Jesus the monarchist?

M writes:

In re:

Was Jesus a Liberal?

I read something that made me think of this post:

"Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat," said John Mark Reynolds, "He's probably a monarchist." When I first heard that at GodBlogCon I thought it was clever; now I find it to be a profound insight. Jesus constantly talked about the Kingdom of Heaven. So why do so few Christians talk about it? One reason, I believe, is that we are now all republicans and democrats (small-R, small-D) and simply don't understand what Jesus is talking about. We may use the term "Lord" and "King of Kings" but-- unlike the vast majority of people throughout history-- we do not comprehend what it means to live under the reign of a king. We need some remedial training on how to live as subjects in a kingdom. We may be justified in rejecting the divine right of kings to rule but we cannot be justified if we reject the rule of our divine king.

Found at:
Evangelical Outpost



Not having a theistic christology, I'll talk only about the parts I agree with, namely: it's true that the center of Jesus' message is what theo students call the KOG, i.e., the Kingdom of God. It's also true that many people who should know better-- that is to say, pastors and priests-- gloss over this fact in their sermons and homilies. People of the cloth go through seminary, where they all learn pretty much the same thing about Jesus' central message.

What the KOG actually is is a subject of some debate. Is it a political analogy referring to something that transcends politics, or is it more literally rooted in the messianic tradition? Is it something else entirely? How does one best approach or express it?

I tend to think of the KOG the way Bultmann did-- it refers to an existential reality, a reality of the heart, not to some objective reality. I'm scatological, but not eschatological.


dialogue and conflict

Your Maximum Leader (and mine) offers up his thoughts about the Muslim/Benedict flap here. The question he poses in his post re: the goal of interreligious dialogue was something he and I discussed more than a year ago-- see here.

One reason to hold out hope for irenological dialogue is that, failing such a hope, we doom ourselves to the only other plausible course: war. I say "war" because radical Islam will have it no other way. If that's where we're truly headed-- toward war-- then we had better stop wasting time pretending to want dialogue at all and get on with the slaughter. Following the same logic used after World War II to justify the reasonableness of having bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki-- that those bombings brought a halt to the war and therefore saved countless lives-- it would seem that launching immediately into war now with the Muslim enemy would be the most prudent and ethical course of action. Does this sit well with you, Dear Reader?


Monday, September 18, 2006

hygh skul teachR

One of my frosh decided to give me an attitude today, so she got the smackdown.

Everyone knows, from the first day of the semester, that I do not tolerate cell phones going off in class. This is basic politeness in a Western classroom (perhaps that's changed in the past few years; I hope not), but not, apparently, in Korean classrooms. I deal with the cell phone issue at the beginning of every semester, and with most of my students, all it takes is an initial illustration of the boundaries for compliance to ensue.

Not so with one high school student in my 10am FroshEng class, whose phone went off. I immediately asked her to turn the phone off, whereupon she simply closed it and put it in her pencil case. I lumbered over to her and said, in Korean, "Turn the cell phone off now. Next time, I'm taking your phone. From now on, you listen to what I say." And then I switched back to English.

This girl will doubtless hate me for the rest of the semester, but you can bet she won't step out of line again. Since I spoke in Korean, everyone else was put on notice about what I'm willing to do to maintain order.

I don't enjoy being authoritarian, but I won't hesitate to respond to a challenge to my authority, however slight the challenge might be. Luckily, life isn't too difficult for me, seeing as I'm an 18-stone man working at a women's university. Things might be different were I teaching a class of American high school boys. Even though I'm not teaching at an American high school now (thank God), today's little flap sure brought back memories.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

postal scrotum: Islam redux

The ever-awesome Jelly writes:

Hi, Kevin!

I was watching CNN last night and they were talking about the Pope's Comments. It was interesesting - the report, and they had a very brief talk with some big Catholic dude and another big Muslim. (Actually, as I recall - it was so brief each of those guys said one thing before they moved on to another bit of news.)

Both CNN and the Catholic dude noted that the Pope's speech which caused the furor was delivered to professors at a unversity where he himself used to teach theology classes. He was talking about the way religion and reason have split. From what I've read online, Muslims have absolutely ignored what was the overall meaning of the Pope's lecture.

"It was an invitation to dialogue between religions and the pope expressedly spoke in favour of this dialogue ... What Benedict XVI emphasised was a decisive and uncompromising renunciation of all forms of violence in the name of religion," [said] German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Seriously, I don't understand what all the Muslims are freaking out about. The Pope's "apology" (being "deeply sorry" for the reaction to his comments) is kind of clever. He ain't saying he's sorry for quoting someone else in a lecture meant to deliver a much larger message than calling Muslims a bunch of violent over-reactionaries. It wasn't even HIM who made the statement!

Again, I'm not really understanding what the big fuckin deal is. Anyhow, I wanted to direct you to this post: (the 2nd most recent one, titled "Those touchy Muslims are at it again") The Pope should deflect some of the screaming protests against himself by inviting the Muslims to go read Tharp's thoughts. Then they can really freak the fuck out, eh?

I have to admit to a deep dislike of Ratzinger/Benedict. I've actually been somewhat surprised at the defenses that have so quickly sprung up around him. I understand why knee-jerk Muslim anger is being denigrated, and I share the "intolerance of Muslim intolerance"; I also agree that some (or maybe most) angry Muslims need to take a sedative or get laid. But Ratzinger has never made things easy in terms of dialogue, and many defenders aren't taking Ratzinger's history into consideration.

JP2's virtue was that, growing up among Jews in Poland, he had a natural affinity for Jews and a real empathy toward their plight. This attitude extended, during his papacy, to other religions as well, and although he, too, failed to step over the inclusivist line to become a pluralist, I applaud the efforts he personally made to foster dialogue.

When the Dominus Iesus document was promulgated in 2000 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Ratzinger was the main force behind it and JP2, who at the time was probably only lucid 3 hours out of the day, had to sign off on it. This makes JP2 responsible, to some degree, for the hurt the Jews suffered when that document entered the public realm. But there was no doubt that JP2's heart had always been in the right place, and I can't say I truly blame him for a work in which he had very little involvement. JP2 was himself hurt by the Jewish reaction to that document-- I can only hope he learned a lesson from that experience.

Benedict, on the other hand, has to go a long way to convince me of his willingness to dialogue deeply and meaningfully. I certainly don't want the Pontiff to renounce his Catholicism, and I don't expect him to drop the use of Catholic/Christian idiom in his discourse, but I have to say I'm unsurprised that something like this might have happened on his watch.

Having met many Catholic priests at CUA who are downright gleeful at the prospect of interreligious dialogue, I can say with confidence that some men of the cloth are better at this holy endeavor than others. Benedict doesn't have much of a reputation as a diplomat: witness the 1980s-era disciplining of liberation theologians in Latin America during Ratzinger's tenure at the CDF (early 1980s to 2005). While a hundred times more articulate than the likes of George Bush, Benedict shares some of the same bluntness and somehow manages to be shocked that his bluntness doesn't go over well with the masses (Bush at least has the virtue of betraying no shock).

I realize I may be focusing on Benedict to the exclusion of the obvious injustice of the Muslim reaction to his speech. I'm not letting such Muslims off the hook; I'm just reminding people that this pope has a track record, and you can probably expect more blunders like this during the rest of his tenure.

[NB: Wikipedia has a nicely sanitized entry on the current pope, here. Interestingly, there is currently a tag atop that entry noting that people have attempted to vandalize it. Out of monkey curiosity, I skipped over to the entry on the current US president and was unsurprised to see the same tag-- evidence in favor of my "they're not diplomats" thesis. Heh.]


your answer to the Islamist scourge

The Beer Cannon.

I was originally going to title this post "White Guys Blowing Shit Up," but the fact is that I'd love to make and use my own beer cannon, too. Procuring "empties" might be difficult, though, seeing as I don't drink.

This, by the way, is the followup montage.


postal scrotum: various

Many thanks to the folks who wrote in to recommend the Audacity software for Mac audio recording (in response to this post). However, I tried that software a while back and found it unwieldy on my Mac. This might be a problem unique to my Mac-- if Audacity works for you, then more power to you.

A reader wrote in with regard to my Po-po-po-POPE post:

In re: Ratzinger's remarks on Islam, keep in mind that the media which is reporting on this is not known for being generally supportive of Christianity.

True enough. The media are also largely uninterested in covering successful interreligious dialogue. You see occasional articles about people of different faiths living together harmoniously, but these articles are buried under other articles that dwell on blood and conflict. When was the last time you saw a Page One story about good interfaith relations? Was it in a prominent publication? Anyway, I share your cynicism about elements in the media.

My brother David writes in to say that conversion to MP3 is a snap via iTunes. I'll be trying that with my old audioblogs and sticking them on Odeo.


Ave, Charles!

Check out Charles's new Liminality entry as well as his Zen story. The latter link is to Charles's Workshop, where all works are ephemera. Check the story out, then, before it disappears!


goddaughter's birthday message

Creating an MP3 with the software I have is a pain in the fucking ass, lemme tell ya'.

First, I have to record and edit all sounds via Cacophony, a for-Mac Shareware program that works pretty well for my purposes. Next, I have to use QuickTime Pro to convert the file to something smaller, such as MOV or MP4. As Murphy's Law would have it, QuickTime Pro doesn't allow conversion to MP3. So the third step is for me to use yet another program called WireTap to convert the MOV or MP4 to an MP3 file. This almost feels as if I'm working backwards: MP3s are actually larger than MOV files.

If anyone can figure out a quicker and easier way for a Mac user to record sounds without having to go through all this rigamarole, please write in. I appreciated the recent outpouring of DVD-related advice; it worked well for my PC at the office.

Anyway, this is an MP3 of the audio birthday message I sent to my goddaughter recently. Enjoy my singing talent... such as it is.

powered by ODEO


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Benedict's faux pas

Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, recently delivered a classic "rat zinger"* when he gave a speech that included a condemnation of jihad, the Muslim concept of holy war or holy struggle. Benedict's speech cited the words of a 14th-century Christian emperor, Manuel II Paleologus of the Byzantine Empire: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Christianity is hardly in a position to condemn the fusion of violence and faith, and we need not go far back in time to cite Christian failures in that regard. The pope, however, is learning an important lesson about the Muslims his church has been coddling:

Correspondents say Pope Benedict, who has been closeted with his chief advisers at his summer residence near Rome, is upset at the way in which his remarks have been interpreted.

The Vatican is seriously concerned that the protests might develop into violence directed at the tiny city state, says the BBC's David Willey in Rome.

The Muslims who react with anger and violence to the pope's words are, of course, responsible for their own actions: they can choose not to react that way. But the pope isn't helping matters by being socially retarded.

On the one hand, then, you've got an inept pope who has finally tread on the wrong toes. On the other hand, you've got a religion that could be quite a noble thing, but is instead mired in a victim mentality that produces adherents ready to take offense at every misstep made by the Other. I'm tempted to Photoshop some of the more recent pics of Muslim demonstrations against the pope by adding the caption: "We are a religion of peace! Death to Benedict!"

Are you still convinced that interreligious dialogue isn't an important subject? If you're convinced that it is, at least, a comical subject, then you're not far from what many students in religious studies also think.

*I did my grad work at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, back when Pope John Paul II (commonly known as JP2 on campus and elsewhere) was alive and then-Cardinal Ratzinger was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Ratzinger had a bad reputation among many of the more progressive Catholics; while he was and is an acknowledged Church authority in such matters as scriptural hermeneutics, Ratzinger has never been known as a conciliator. If the cardinal took the time to smack down someone in the ranks, the action was referred to as "a rat zinger."

Ratzinger was the chief force behind the 2000 Dominus Iesus, a CDF document that offended many Jews who had enjoyed something approaching a civil dialogue with JP2 (the Jews were justified in being offended, I thought). Then as now, the Vatican claimed that no offense had been meant. At the time, the followup argument was that Dominus Iesus had been intended for a purely Catholic audience, a claim I found disingenuous at best. Much the same is being said now, as the Vatican's PR machine attempts to emphasize that the pope was trying to highlight the incompatibility of violence and faith. I say the pope has a tin ear, and this incident is consistent with the behavior of the pre-papal Ratzinger.


I mugged my friend

Dr. Steve reports that he received his CafePress mug, so I'm now at liberty to share the mug design with you:

Buy one here. The actual design has no black border.


Friday, September 15, 2006

you just can't trust him

GM Ballack is back in Korea and trying not to blog obsessively about women... but then something like this happens, and you have to wonder what GMB is really doing here, and how he really "meets" women.


it's coming

As the weather cools down, my nipple hairs shiver in anticipation: fondue season is approaching.


what lies ahead

In the Koreablogosphere, there's been a resurgence of talk about fan death, but it seems that it'll be up to me to provide actual images of the phenomenon. They might appear tonight or tomorrow, so stay thou tunèd.


LOTR: fruity edition

This rehash of the reunion scene that occurs near the end of Peter Jackson's "Return of the King" (Frodo on the bed in Rivendell with his friends pouring in) had me laughing hard enough to vomit out my small intestine.

Ooooooooh, it is gay. Visually speaking, this YouTube video is perfectly safe for work. What's questionable is the sound.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Arnold has no reason to cringe

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California recently expressed contrition regarding remarks he had privately made during a session with his aides. The remarks pertained to the ethnicity of State Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia. "I mean Cuban, Puerto-Rican, they are all very hot... They have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it," Schwarzenegger said.

I'm really having trouble seeing what there was to be ashamed of here. The reason these remarks are volatile at all is that American culture has been taken over by far too much political correctness. Both left-leaning and right-leaning comedians like George Carlin and Carlos Mencia would regard the furor over Arnold's remarks as unnecessary, not to mention a sad sign of the times.

I was pretty comfortable joking with my black coworkers about race when I worked in DC, and while I'm aware of the "politics" that underlie all such exchanges, I think we need to take the stick out of our collective ass and realize that, while racism is a real problem, we do also tend to see racism where it doesn't exist.

By one definition of racism, any general claim about an entire race-- be it positive or negative-- is racist. But racism is a more nebulous reality than that: its existence often requires not only malicious intent but also someone to take offense. To declare a remark racist, you need more than a clear-cut set of criteria: you need the maturity to understand that racism is sniffed out on a case-by-case basis. Bright-line definitions might make such a task seem easier, but they blind the mind, if I may paraphrase the Tao Te Ching.

The Democrat challenger to Schwarzenegger in the gubernatorial campaign, State Treasurer Phil Angelides, seized upon the governor's remarks (which may have been obtained illegally) and thought he had a slam-dunk. The problem is that the object of Schwarzenegger's comments, Garcia, wasn't perturbed by what The Bemuscled One had said:

Garcia, who is Puerto Rican, told the Times the governor's remarks did not bother her.

"I love the governor because he is a straight talker just like I am," she said. "Very often I tell him, 'Look, I am a hot-blooded Latina.' I label myself a hot-blooded Latina that is very passionate about the issues, and this is kind of an inside joke that I have with the governor."

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson called the governor's remarks "a small part of a long conversation that is taken totally out of context."

"The governor respects every member of the Legislature and holds them in the highest regard," Thompson said in a statement. "It is not uncommon for him to have fun and joke with the members while they're working, especially during very tense negotiations."

Schwarzenegger's communications director, Adam Mendelsohn, said the governor's office would not release the tape publicly because it was a private conversation.

The recording is full of frank and comic assessments of fellow Republicans from Schwarzenegger and his staff.

America has a freedom of speech problem, and the problem primarily affects white folks these days, generating fear and discursive paralysis. This has a direct bearing on our politicians, most of whom are white. Here's vintage 2002 Carlos Mencia on the subject of PC-generated paralysis:

[After razzing various ethnicities for twenty minutes] And you see? Everyone got picked on; everyone had a fabulous time. (applause) But, no! No! This is what people are afraid of: us enjoying making fun of each other. Listen-- look at me, white people, when I say this (laughter): Do you know how many white people have died in the history of America so that we could have the fundamental freedom of speech to say what we feel? See, I wish that you had my freedom of speech. I wish that you knew what it was like to really have fun. But some o' you don't, and you think you do. Please-- tell my jokes at your job on Monday! (long laughter, applause) We go too far with this stuff. We go too far with political correctness.

I think Carlos has it right, and Arnold has nothing to cringe about.

I'll grant that stereotypes can be dangerous, but let me ask you this: can you spend even a single day without uttering a remotely general claim? I'll answer the question for you: you probably can't. Speaking in generalities is part of life, and included among those generalities are stereotypes. Stereotypes are dangerous, but not inherently evil. That's the PC attitude that needs changing: the self-righteous, nearly fundamentalist dogmatism of people who fear to offend anyone. When it comes to something like race, we should all do ourselves a favor, take what lessons we can from our comedians, and relax. Robin Williams, who leans decidedly leftward, also noted the PC problem in his Broadway routine when he broke off from a bit about Osama Bin Laden to observe that some in his New York audience were obviously displeased with the ethnic humor. It was a moment for Williams to point out the hypocrisy of such people, and he did so deftly.

Folks, tell your ass to kiss the stick goodbye.


Happy Birfday, S & D!

My buddy Dr. Steve hit the 37 mark on the 12th, and my little brother David arrives at that cruel milestone, AGE THIRTY, today.

I sent a CafePress tee shirt to David that had the following front and back design (David got the shirt, so I feel free to show the design off now):

You know you want one.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

death of someone I knew

He wasn't a close friend, but I knew him well: Jimmy W, the little brother of Willy W, Mount Vernon High School Class of '88 and '87, respectively. Jimmy apparently died-- a bit of shocking news I discovered when I received an automatic email newsletter from the MVHS alumni archive service to which I subscribe. There Jimmy was, in the "in memoriam" section. No mention of the cause of death.

Jimmy was vice president of the Key Club the year I was president; he was also president of the junior class the same year I was a senator of the senior class (my campaign speech, delivered in our huge cafeteria to over 400 classmates, was critiqued by one teacher as "humorous but lacking substance," which is pretty much what I thought of my speech, too-- but I knew what would get me elected).

Along with being a natural athlete like his big brother Will, Jimmy was a born leader-- laid-back, but full of ideas, drive, and decisiveness. He had charisma, too. His cohorts, the juniors, quite deservedly won the Homecoming competition for Best Float and Best Banner, handily beating out us seniors. (Twenty years ago, I wouldn't have said "deservedly," but we seniors were destined to lose, anyway: there was a scandal that year involving senior pranks that went overboard, and those pranks certainly militated against us when it came time to judge the classes' efforts.)

I can't help thinking about what Will must be going through. I've mentioned it on this blog and privately: should anything happen to my own little brothers, it would destroy me. Will W finds himself living a reality I dread, and I have no idea how he deals with it. My sympathies, belated though they be, go out to him and his family. Jimmy was a great guy, and it's a damn shame that he's dead.


FroshEng: the inside scoop

Like all my colleagues, I am now teaching six hours of Freshman English per week, roughly from 10am to noon, about 50 minutes per class.

My first group of 22 students, supposedly the most advanced at Level 4, contains a few nice students but strikes me overall as fairly self-absorbed and saddled with attitude. A few students thought they could get away with making comments in Korean; I disabused them of that notion right away and told them, in Korean so as to be clear, that if anyone had anything to say, they should say it directly to me. The class gave a collective, comical "oooooooooh" to show they understood my ominous tone. I'm hoping this group improves, but we appear already to have started on the wrong foot. One problem is that this group contains too many people who don't belong in the advanced level. This isn't going to be like last time, when I had a Level 4 class full of near-native speakers who raised the bar and made life interesting for me.

My second group of 16 students, more modest in ability as Level 2s, were a much more pleasantly disposed ensemble, and I enjoyed our "academic hour" together. The teacher who was there before me, the vaunted (and possibly illegal) J, had tossed around Starburst candies for the students to chew on, so perhaps it was a well-timed sugar high that made these students so perky and easy to deal with. We'll see on Friday whether the students do as well without the aid of chemical stimulation.

My courses:

Level 1 regular conversation
Level 3 regular conversation
Level 3 regular reading
FroshEng Level 4
FroshEng Level 2
French: advanced
French: basic

I came to the realization that I have seven different lesson plans. Trying to maintain some semblance of organization has become a time-consuming task: Which textbook? Which audiocassette? Which handouts? Which realia? Don't mix them up! Add to this the fact that some of my classrooms are being shuffled around-- another thing for me to keep track of. I keep my syllabi, attendance sheets, and other vital paperwork together in a packet titled "Kevin's Brain," a packet I make every semester, without which I can't function. I've watched Kevin's Brain get rapidly thicker over the course of the past ten days, and the organic Kevin is starting to feel as thick-brained as the paper analogue. I find myself thinking that December can't come quickly enough.


on s'est bourré la gueule!

French youth catch up with the Brits in one important respect.


thank you, loyal readers

According to Google Analytics, the number of return visitors to the Hairy Chasms is currently 57% of my total daily visits, which is far, far better than I expected. This is up from the initial 18% and the subsequent 40%. I usually tell people I have only a couple regular readers, but it may be that I have way more than that. Thank you all-- all ten of you! Ha ha.


an hour in French

My free French class is being held Tuesdays and Thursdays. No one came last Tuesday, and I had one student on Thursday. Yesterday, however, I had a Tuesday arrival, a girl who's currently in one of my Level 1 conversation classes. She's a French major, and while she's got a strong accent, she's nevertheless a lot better at French than most francophone Korean students I meet. I stumbled once or twice myself during our hour-long conversation, an indication of how far my own French has sunk. But it felt good to speak at length in French again. I really need to get over to the local Alliance Française and brush up.

Wednesday promises to be busy: I face the Frosh again.


discomfiting legacy

I'm not sure that this is how Steve Irwin would have liked to be remembered.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

postal scrotum: GEE, DO YOU THINK

With one voice, the Kiwis, the Canucks, and even those dirty Yanks write in to recommend the VLC codec, which is what I've ended up downloading and installing on my PC at work...

...and it works like a charm. Many thanks, gentlemen.



I apparently have to install a "codec" to get my new bootleg DVD to play correctly. I had picture, but no sound. Also, the flow of the movie was uneven, the images starting and stopping in a strange staccato. More on this as it develops.


call me Captain Bootleg

My buddy Tom dropped off a gift he said he'd been wanting to give me for a while: a single bootleg DVD-ROM from China that contains all six Star Wars movies. I have no idea what to expect (it never occurred to me that a single disc could contain over twelve hours' worth of movies), but I do know I'll be hanging at school even longer than usual to watch the DVD and... regress.


Monday, September 11, 2006

appreciate the little things

In the midst of my annoyance over today's scheduling clusterfuck, I should note that September is generally a happy time for me, for several reasons.

First: September traditionally marks the commencement of the school year for most American students. Fall has therefore never been about endings for me, but about beginnings. The weather in Seoul has been cooling down substantially, which is great for me, and fall seems to be in the air. My A/C no longer has to be on 24/7, for which I'm grateful.

Second: This month features a string of birthdays for people close to me. My goddaughter turned 10 on the 10th (she got her shirt and liked it!); my other best buddy, Dr. Steve, turns 37 on the 12th; and finally, my wacky brother David turns the big 3-0 on the 14th. A thirty old man!

Third: Our first class of FroshEng wasn't even a class: we had to spend two hours interviewing students. One rather pretty one asked, "Are you married?" (You'd be surprised how often we male teachers get that... or maybe you wouldn't.) When I announced that I wasn't married, this student blinked her big doe eyes at me and said, "Well, how about marrying me?" Awwwww. It was a cute moment. She started fanning herself, blushing hard at her own temerity.

So it's not as though today had been a total loss. Good things did happen.



In remembrance of nearly 3000 dead, and a salute, as always, to the rescue workers who paid the ultimate price in the performance of their duty.


ziggin' and zaggin'

I've come to expect it from Korean management everywhere: zigs and zags. Last week, I was given my FroshEng schedule and told that my six hours of FroshEng per week had been upped to nine hours. Today, Monday, we discovered that another teacher, J, had been brought in over the weekend (the arrangement's a bit shady; the dude has worked with us before, and I think he's a personal friend of the supervisor), which apparently obviates the need for an extra hour of classes. Good for me, I suppose: I won't have do nine hours of FroshEng per week.

Originally, we four teachers had been scheduled to teach two hours per day on a MWF schedule-- one hour teaching one level, then switching over to a different classroom (and level) to teach a second hour. From the students' point of view, this would mean having two teachers. Because we are all team-teaching from the same textbooks, it was decided that one teacher should teach odd-numbered chapters while the other should do the even-numbered chapters. Because our supervisor didn't want to give her friend too much work to do, she decided to rearrange the schedule without telling the rest of us. Those of us who had already planned their calendars out a week in advance (and that would include yours truly) were incensed that we were quite suddenly being asked to change everything. How the hell can we be professional in such a situation?

As you might have guessed, I share one major trait with the Swiss: I hate surprises.

I plan. I'm methodical. The students in my classes receive a syllabus that details what we will be doing each day of the semester, which is exactly the sort of syllabus I used to receive from my profs in both undergrad and grad school. No surprises. Everything thought out. I consider that sort of preparation a mark of professionalism, which is why I ask how we can even be professional if one can't even plan a semester properly.

Today's comedy involved our supervisor going back and forth once she realized her rescheduling wasn't going over well with the faculty. She sent us a revised schedule, so I did the best I could to retype crucial handouts and photocopy them. Then, about an hour later, a second schedule revision occurred, at which point I made my feelings quite clear: this schedule should have been finalized a week ago. Although my supervisor said, Han Solo style, "Sorry for the mess," I wasn't in any mood to hear an apology. We are now back to the original schedule-- the one we received a week ago, but with the addition of Teacher J, our savior, the Lightener of Burdens. Our supervisor's reason for putting us all through this? "I thought it would be easier for the teachers this way." The fact is that she made all those changes to accommodate her friend: she admitted as much to a coworker of mine.

I think I've talked about this before on the blog: Koreans often have good intentions, but instead of simply asking somebody what they want, they guess. The results are almost always the same: confusion, crossed signals, and overall inefficiency. It would save time and make more sense to actually think through the teachers' schedules the first time around, formulate a solid plan by discussing the calendar with the teachers, and then have us all stick to that plan, making minor alterations if absolutely necessary.

God, I hope my schedule will still apply on Wednesday, when we have our second day of class. Perhaps I'll discover that I've been rescheduled to teach four French classes or something.