Here I am, at the tail end of my last long vacation before December break. Wasn't much of a vacation, really, but I did get some things done. Oh, yes: my relatives never called once during Chuseok. I've trained them well.
We have, insanely enough, another break coming up: this Wednesday is a national holiday. My students will be delighted to know that I'm assigning homework for them to do over break-- hooray! It's not much; I'm giving them a grammar worksheet.
So we jump into the week but stutter with another holiday on Wednesday, then do a marathon from Thursday until November 30, after which it's a one-month break for yours truly.
I thought about going to the office today and continuing with transcripts, but decided against it. I think that was wise. Today was mainly about laundry, eating leftover taco salad and ratatouille (lunch and dinner, respectively), and reading that old Richard Adams classic, Watership Down (Podcast 007 features Arnold Schwarzenegger reading a passage from the book).
About ratatouille and taco salad: ratatouille definitely leaves your place smelling better. With all the cumin I put in my taco sauce, the place smells like armpits after a meal.
Wanna read something really fucked up? Over at one of those Marmot's Hole free-or-all threads, commenter hoju_saram describes a fantasy bout among Koreabloggers. Considering who cleans up at the end, I know that scenario's got nothing to do with reality.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Here I am, at the tail end of my last long vacation before December break. Wasn't much of a vacation, really, but I did get some things done. Oh, yes: my relatives never called once during Chuseok. I've trained them well.
From its clever title onward, Steve Krodman's little tome Shorts in a Wad: One Hundred 100-Word Stories delivers.
The book is a compendium of short-shorts: stories, poems, and meditative reflections on subjects ranging from Superman's ability to make diamonds by sending charcoal briquettes through his intestines (Superman is actually a recurrent trope in this book) to hilarious parodies of the great monotheisms to puns so corny that you'll laugh because you're groaning. Each story is, as advertised, 100 words long; Krodman's book is a happy little stack of self-contained universes, 10,000 words deep.
I have a special affinity for books like this because I tend to write in the "bathroom reader" mode as well: there's a substantial demand for shit-and-go reading, and while Shorts is by no means fixated on the scatological, the book is nonetheless a fitting crown for one's toilet tank-- and lest I be misinterpreted, let me make clear that this is a high compliment.
It's hard to choose among the shorts when trying to decide which one is best. I have quite a few favorites and expect that you'll have yours, too. "Graduation Exercise" had me rolling, as did the aforementioned Superman story, "Critical Mass." Speaking of "mass," I busted a gut reading "Waiting for Pentecost," which pokes fun at Christian tradition. I could go on, but you get the picture-- the book is a trove of good humor.
And not only humor: "First Love: A 100-Word Elegy" is sentimental food for thought, arresting in its beauty. The entire chapter "Future Imperfect" is funny, yes, but it also contains some very interesting ideas about the crazy future toward which humanity is shoving and dragging itself.
Krodman's 100-word pieces are simple and modular enough that you can read the story collection straight through from its first page to its last, or you can zigzag through it as randomly as you please, or-- and why not?-- you can start at the back and read your way to the front. It's no exaggeration to say that the book has something for everyone, but most of all it provides the reader a sometimes-funny, sometimes-frightening glimpse into the weirdly brilliant mind of its author.
Get your Shorts in a Wad today.
(Steve, I'll email you later with my bank account information...)
UPDATE: I'd like to contribute some back-cover blurbs if I can. You can use these if or when you do a second printing.
"I laughed so hard my nuts turned purple. Then green. Then they started barking."
--Kevin Kim, author of Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms: A Panoply of Paeans to Putrescence and a Cornucopia of Corrosive Coprophilia
"The ultimate test of a work is whether it can distract you from an activity you love. I'm happy to report that Krodman's book is so compelling that I did the unthinkable and withdrew from my sheep to give his words my undivided attention."
--Kevin Kim (etc.)
"Jesus is NOT going to be happy."
--Kevin Kim (etc.)
"I had a vision of my death after reading this book. Federal agents break down the hotel room door and find my day-old corpse in bed. I'm naked, dead of a heart attack, but instead of a Penthouse clutched in my left fist, it's Krodman's work. Honestly I can't think of a better way to die."
--Kevin Kim (etc.)
"Muhammad is NOT going to be happy."
--Kevin Kim (etc.)
Saturday, September 29, 2007
I think I've changed my mind about Facebook's annoying features: it's far too much fun to distort them from their original purposes. Take, for example, the "confirmation" feature when someone "friends" you. If someone wants to "friend" you, you receive, first, an email message that a request has come your way. Next, you click the Facebook link in your email, which takes you to Facebook itself. You log in and get taken to the "Confirm Requests" page; you take a look at the request(s) before you, and you hit either "confirm" (hooray! new friend!) or "ignore" (fuck off!).
If you hit "confirm," a new window opens up, allowing you to check off how, exactly, you and this cyberfriend know each other. Since the option "e-met through blogging" isn't available, the next closest option is "met randomly." If you click "met randomly," you are then invited to write about how you met. There seems to be an upper limit of a couple hundred characters, but this is enough for me to do my damage. Let the defacing of Facebook commence!
I behaved myself for the first several "friendings," but now my attitude is Fuck it, so I invent fantasy scenarios to describe how I've met certain Facebook friends.
Take Hardy and Tiny, who friended me just today. You newcomers may not know this, but Hardy and Tiny is the man who revolutionized the Koreablogosphere in the early double-aughts of this century by bringing all those sexy pics to our attention. He didn't invent yellow fever, but he was certainly one of the biggest vectors for it. H&T seems to have retired to a life of commenter-ing; in the meantime, many, many copycats have sprung up and attempted to fill in the immense vacuum his departure created. The result has been a (not-unwelcome) glut of Thong Thursdays and Snatch Saturdays and Twat Tuesdays for the mostly-male (and occasionally fausse-lesbienne) K-blog contingent to drool over-- not to mention the arrival of blogs that, like the original H&T, devote themselves entirely to the worship of the female form.* My sidebar image for H&T came off his early blog:
It was a real shame when I finally removed it.
H&T has corresponded with me on occasion; seems like a friendly enough fellow, not an axe-murderer type as far as I can tell. So... in answer to the Facebook question re: how we met, I wrote:
We were hatched from the same egg sac, and as larvae we often dined upon the same necrotic animal tissue... until that fateful day when Earth swept through a massive storm of cosmic rays, and we found ourselves mutated into ferocious supermaggots with a taste for fresh human flesh...
For reader HK, I wrote:
I was a young moisture farmer on Tatooine and H was living in the Jundland Wastes out beyond the Dune Sea. After I was attacked by sandpeople, H took me to her dwelling and gave me my father's lightsaber. Only later did I realize she had lied to me about my father, but by that point I had already become a member of her religious order.
For fellow blogger Joel, I wrote:
We used to run through the streets of downtown Seoul, biting grandmothers and kicking little children. We've also known poverty, back in the days of the IMF crisis when South Koreans were forced to live on a diet of trash can lids, dandruff, and used condoms, and the height of Myeongdong fashion was a dead cat draped across the shoulders.
For fellow blogger Jelly, I wrote:
We got into a massive brawl after we both tried to grab and eat the same booger hanging out of a coworker's nose.
For fellow blogger Brian (of Gangwon Notes), I wrote:
Brian and I were suicide bombers who went on many missions together.
For OMNI writer and editor Todd Thacker, I wrote:
Todd has tried several times to kill me. I think this is just his way of expressing friendship.
For the most evil blogger in Oz, I wrote:
We were trying to slaughter the same whale. Rory was gleefully hacking at its tail with an axe while I was gently making love to its blowhole. Neither of us noticed the other until the whale was dead. Whether it died from blood loss or asphyxiation has been a perennial matter of debate.
...and for one of the absolute nicest ladies I know (not to mention one of the loveliest), I wrote the following paragraph, which she hasn't confirmed, probably because she's too mortified to do so:
It took a few weeks to discover that C was the one who was slashing my car's tires every night. At first I was annoyed, but after a while I began to think it was kinda cute, so I simply stocked up on tires. Same goes for all that emphysemic rasping and hacking on my voicemail-- creepy at first, but sort of endearing after a few months.
Sorry, C. You deserve better. Next time I'm in the States, feel free to give me a sound beating, Catholic University-style.
And that, folks, is how we enjoy Facebook.
*Feminists call this "objectification." Post-feminists know better: it's a special kind of power that women hold over men.
I saw "Ratatouille" about two weeks ago via TV Links. As Charles pointed out, the movie should be experienced on the big screen. I can understand why Charles would say that: the movie features a great deal of swooping, gliding, Spielbergian camera work, and spends a great deal of time in kitchens-- especially the kitchen of Gusteau's, the restaurant owned by Auguste Gusteau (almost a palindrome: oh-goost-goost-oh; had they wanted exact symmetry, the Pixar folks should have named him Auguste Stugueau), a plump chef whom we briefly encounter as a TV personality before his untimely death.
That's not a spoiler, by the way: Gusteau's demise occurs early in the film. The cause of death? Heartbreak. Gusteau's top-flight restaurant is given a blistering review by none other than Anton Ego-- food critic, éminence grise, and bête noire of restaurateurs everywhere.
But the restaurant must forge on, and it does so under the leadership of Gusteau's erstwhile second-in-command, the irascible, Yoda-sized Skinner. Skinner is Gusteau's opposite, a sellout completely uninterested in the notion that good cooking comes from the heart and contains more than a dash of integrity. Skinner's master plan is to create a line of Gusteau products such as burritos and other fast foods.
In the kitchen is Linguini, a hapless, sad-sack sort of kid who seems to lack any talent and is desperate for work-- any work. Linguini seems inspired by the atmosphere of Gusteau's kitchen, but his attempts at tweaking a soup go horribly awry.
Luckily, in that very same kitchen is a rat(!) named Rémy. This rat has dreams. He's come to Paris on his own, goaded in part by the ghostly apparition of Gusteau (the ghost admits several times that he is merely a figment of Rémy's imagination), and by his own desire to leave the rat colony and see the big city. Rémy's peregrinations take him to Gusteau's kitchen, where he is just in time to see bumbling Linguini ruin the soup. Rémy immediately knows what needs to be done to save the soup, and while deftly avoiding the kitchen staff, he manages to turn the soup into something new and delightful. It gets the customers raving, soup orders pour in, and Linguini, who has no idea how the soup could have turned out so well, gets the credit.
But Skinner smells a rat. He sees one, too: Rémy is caught and slammed into a bottle, and Linguini is tasked with chucking or killing the pest. Outside the restaurant, Linguini plops down by the Seine and spills his heart out to the rat, belatedly realizing that Rémy can understand him. Linguini needs his job-- he's been asked by the suspicious Skinner to re-create the soup-- and Rémy wants free rein to cook. Through a strange process of discovery, Linguini and Rémy hit upon a plan: the rat will puppeteer the man, guiding his movements and creating culinary masterpieces, all without Linguini's volition. A modern twist on Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac is born: a pair work together for love and honor; the well-meaning bumbler is the public figure while the passionate virtuoso remains carefully hidden.
I won't spoil the movie if you haven't seen it, but that's the basic setup. The movie is a top-quality Pixar product, but it doesn't dethrone "The Incredibles" as my favorite Pixar flick. The main problem for me is the movie's premise: you've got a rat in the kitchen. I'm not sure why it's so difficult for me to suspend disbelief regarding this film in particular, but I couldn't get past the notion of a filthy beast running across floors and standing, unwashed, on the edges of pots while using his grimy, pestilential claws to handle utensils. True: the movie shows Rémy washing a few times, but it also shows him scampering across that floor, climbing onto a counter top, and handling food and equipment without washing.
"Anyone can cook!" is Auguste Gusteau's motto, and that, I think, is what the movie is about. A rat is a highly improbable cook, but the rat serves, I suppose, as a kind of symbol for those of us who might be inspired to cook, yet believe it impossible. Perhaps the selection of a rat as one of the main characters was precisely to tweak our sensibilities: a rat? Cook?? Various characters in the movie betray their own anti-rat prejudices (a mass exodus of cooks is one case in point); the issue is never far from the viewer's mind, and neither is Gusteau's optimistic motto. Perhaps that's the discomfort we're meant to experience: we'd like to agree with Gusteau, but to do so, we have to admit that even the humblest among us are capable of greatness.
The problem is that the various messages and subplots in the movie don't seem to jell. "Anyone can cook" is all well and good as a motto, but how seriously can we take this notion when "anyone" can include rats? I admit I'm prejudiced against the little bastards; the old Frenchwoman in the country house at the beginning of the movie had the right idea when she grabbed her rifle and tried to gun down the rats she saw.
In order for the movie's message to work, you have to accept the way the story runs roughshod over how nature works. Rémy, for example, figures out that he can puppeteer Linguini simply by pulling on Linguini's hair in various ways. What human being is wired that way? We also have to accept that rats both read and understand English (well, French, I guess, but the text and dialogue are all in English). Normally, I wouldn't complain about talking rats who read and understand other languages, but my point is that, in this film, the only way that "Anyone can cook-- even rats" can work as a motto is for us to divorce ourselves completely from reality. And once we realize how much is being asked of us, we might reexamine Gusteau's motto and truly wonder whether anyone can cook.
Compare this movie's cheerfully egalitarian message to the decidedly unegalitarian subtext of "The Incredibles," which is a movie about, among other things, greatness. Suspending belief about superheroes takes no effort at all because we've grown up with them, and the superhero archetype has at least some basis in reality: truly great people do exist: Olympic athletes, fantastic writers, captivating speakers, compassionate souls, and so on. They're not superpowered, but they possess the virtues and excellence we recognize in superheroes, in whom those same qualities are merely magnified.
But rats who cook? Nope. Not a one.
This isn't to say I hated "Ratatouille"; I did enjoy it. But I couldn't buy into the story, perhaps because I couldn't relate to its premises.
Most enjoyable for me was Peter O'Toole as food critic Anton Ego. Ego gives a fantastic speech (done as a voiceover narration) at the end of the film, and I count it among O'Toole's best performances. O'Toole has starred in films ranging from the magnificent to the ridiculous, and on occasion his performance actually separates him from the movie in which he appears (cf. "Troy," for example). I think this is the case in "Ratatouille." He is certainly head and shoulders above the voice acting by Lou Romano as Linguini and Patton Oswalt as Rémy the rat.
Hats off as well to Brian Dennehy as Rémy's father Django (no relation to the Fett character, I'm sure), the always-solid Ian Holm as Skinner, and to Janeane Garofalo (it always takes me several tries to spell her first name) as the steely-yet-tender Colette, who mentors Linguini for a time.
"Real" ratatouille here at Wikipedia. I actually think mine looks better.
A note about the photos: I took them in my dorm as the afternoon was waning, and held the plate of ratatouille under the main ceiling light which, combined with the light from outside, created a disconcertingly yellow effect. I've tried to tone down the yellow a bit, with only moderate success.
From my buddy Tom, a link to a Hani article about the hoops a foreigner will have to go through starting in 2009 if he wants to marry a Korean wife and become a citizen through marriage.
Personally, I wouldn't want to become a Korean citizen, but I wouldn't mind the privileges that come with a spouse visa.
From the Maven, a link to a site displaying Flash animations by those "South Park" partners in crime, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The topic? The Eastern-tinged teachings of Alan Watts! Pretty cool.
I loved Alan Watts when I was younger, but I've soured on him a bit since then, largely because I discovered he was happily dropping acid at Buddhist temples and fucking around on his first wife (possibly on his next two wives as well). Wishing to avoid the genetic fallacy, though, I admit I still find his insights clear and provocative, and while many modern scholars shy away from some of his views, I think Watts's The Way of Zen and The Spirit of Zen remain good, solid intros to Zen Buddhism.
Watts videos are all over the place on YouTube, by the way. Just type "alan watts" into the YouTube search window. In the meantime, I think the Maven's link is quite a find. The first video in her link is, in my opinion, the best, as it deals with the just-this of this moment. The next two might be a bit more controversial, especially if you're scientifically inclined.
Where else would I be but in the office, ja? To tell the truth, I just got here. Internet has been out all fucking day in my dorm, and I've been occupied with other projects at home-- namely making ratatouille!
Charles's wife made this dish today, if I'm not mistaken, and I feel sort of copycattish ever since I found out from Charles that he and his wife would be cooking for his Swiss brother- and sister-in-law, here in Korea ofr a spell but residents who live somewhere in la Suisse romande (i.e., French-speaking Switzerland, the second-largest geographico-linguistic portion of the country, extending mostly northeastward into Switzerland about 90 minutes by train from Geneva).
I'd had the idea of attempting ratatouille ever since seeing "Ratatouille" (I doubt I'm the first to be so inspired), but the recipe I riffed off came from The Joy of Cooking (thanks, Sperwer, for giving me your copy of it). I can say that I'd bought the ingredients before receiving Charles's email about his better half's own plans, and I've got the Lotte Mart receipt to prove it! This doesn't prove who had the intention of making the Provençal dish first, but at least the evidence exculpates me from the charge of copying my friend's wife! We'll have none of that!
Soon: photos of the meal (it's traditionally a lunchtime food, according to Wikipedia; I knew next to zero about ratatouille until I started reading that entry). Stay tuned.
Friday, September 28, 2007
As I'm finishing the very last of the student journals, I now encounter this attempt at practicing the expression "shoot for the stars." The student wrote a group of sentences that put the expression in context. The end result looks a bit like a poem.
Jane shoots for the stars.
She wants to be president.
This is difficult for her.
Because she is deaf.
Yeah, that's right. Fuckin' deaf people aiming too high in life. They should know-- their-- place.
UPDATE: Here's another one I love: in practicing the expression "steer clear of," a different student writes:
We steer clear of the word "ugly" around Ms. Kim.
I'm still rolling.
I've been up since early this morning, but the damn internet connection didn't come on until just now, around 2:30PM. I'm working at home, getting down to the last dregs of student journals. It's been a long slog as each journal takes almost 30 minutes to get through. Not long from now I'll be scarfing down some homemade chili dogs, then heading over to the office for yet more transcription (not to mention plugging my students' homework grades into the ol' Excel file).
I've gotten a lot done over break, but I still have a lot to do, especially with transcription. One thing I've noticed about online versions of "Friends" transcripts is that they contain an annoying number of misquotes along with the standard raft of punctuation and spelling errors. What's worse is that some of these transcripts appear to be of the UK version of "Friends," which is, bizarrely, slightly shorter than the standard, 24-minute US version. Entire patches of dialogue are missing from the transcripts as a result, and the net effect of all these problems-- misquotes, spelling errors, punctuation errors, and missing text-- is that I still have to review the transcript line by line, along with the video. When I compare the amount of time it takes to type the transcript from scratch versus the time it takes to rehabilitate an online transcript... the difference comes down to about an hour. That might sound like a lot of time, but it's really the difference between 4-5 hours and 5-6 hours. In other words: not that different. A long slog either way.
The student journals have proved quite interesting. While I don't want to name names and start exposing private thoughts, I do want to note two interesting themes in the students' writing: (1) many of the girls want a baby whether they get married or not, and (2) almost all of them have felt enormous pressure from their parents to succeed both academically and in their future working life. That second observation is, of course, unsurprising to anyone familiar with East Asian culture. I haven't quite pieced together what these two themes together might mean in terms of the evolution of Korean values and culture, but it's interesting to see such wide agreement, independently arrived at.
I have no idea why I titled this post "love and mustard." It just... seemed like the thing to do at the time.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Dan Rather is still upset about being "squeezed out" of CBS news for shoddy journalism (right-leaning account of the Rather downfall here; finding a more balanced account will take some time because almost all sources related to a Google search of "rather downfall" are right-leaning; Wikipedia's article on Rather is here). He's bringing a suit against CBS and may or may not be contemplating calling Bushes 41 and 43 to the stand as witnesses (according to the first article linked above, Rather was silent on whether he would do this, but the article's writer seems to sense that Rather is leaning toward involving Bush père et fils).
At a guess, Rather is unhappy that he is no longer in the limelight and that his CBS career ended on such an ignominious note. He currently finds himself confined to HDNet hell, where his audience will be greatly reduced from what it was in his heyday. I can understand the man's desire to defend his good name, but his errors and agenda were so public that I think this is a lost cause.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
I must have missed the changeover. When, exactly, did we go back to calling it "Burma" and not "Myanmar"? I'd been raised on an aural diet of "Burma" for years, so the switch to "Myanmar," which admittedly reflects what the country calls itself, was annoying to me. Attachment to name and form, if you will.
But now we're back to Burma. Good.
And Burma's back in the news. Bad.
I'm not too familiar with the history of government oppression in Burma, but I somehow doubt we can expect anything like the recent near-bloodless coup in Thailand (that article links to Justin's own posts at Cosmic Buddha, but for some reason, clicking the link from the French-language blog causes my IE browser to crash-- click at your own risk). The Burmese junta has no compunctions about gunning down protestors by the thousands, according to this BBC article. Another article notes that Burmese bloggers are playing a major role in disseminating information to the outside world.
Images of saffron-robed monks leading throngs of people along the streets of Rangoon have been seeping out of a country famed for its totalitarian regime and repressive control of information.
The pictures are sometimes grainy and the video footage shaky - captured at great personal risk on mobile phones - but each represents a powerful statement of political dissent.
"It is amazing how the Burmese are able through underground networks to get things from outside and inside," says Vincent Brussels, head of the Asian section of press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders.
"Before, they were moving things hand-to-hand and now they are using the internet - proxy websites, Google and YouTube and all these things."
The use of the internet as a political tool is one of the most marked differences between the latest protests and the 1988 uprising, which was brutally repressed.
Thanks in part to bloggers, this time the outside world is acutely aware of what is happening on the streets of Rangoon, Mandalay and Pakokku and is hungry for more information.
I wish the Buddhist monks luck as their protests continue, but like Malcolm, I'm pessimistic that there will be a bloodless outcome. While I'm not a fan of missionary zeal, I do admire the courage of the monks-- many of them young-- who have put their lives on the line in the name of freedom. If they rally the citizens to their cause (and many citizens appear to be shielding the monks during their protest marches), we might-- just might-- see some welcome changes in that part of the world.
If not, the Burmese bloggers will have a sad story to tell. And there's always the chance that they might become the sad story.
Chuseok is, along with Lunar New Year, one of two huge national orgasms on the Korean calendar, dates that get everyone moving about. But the calendar is dotted with other little grunts and heaves as well, and through a strange twist of fate we will experience this next week, for next Wednesday is Gae Ch'eon Jeol, Foundation Day (literally "Heaven Opening Day"), sometimes folksily referred to as "Tangun Day" in honor of Korea's mythical founder.
I've been using this orgasmic time to prep for next week's classes (and beyond). It's going to be strange to go back to school on Monday and experience a break again on Wednesday, but so be it-- nothing wrong with coming twice. Two days is plenty of time to rebuild the reserves. We should enjoy the crush of holidays as much as possible because after they're over, it's a straight, non-stop, cum-free run to winter break, which begins for us on December 1 this year. I'm not looking forward to that marathon, and that's one reason why I'm trying to get a lot done now: it will be easy to fall behind, what with the workload I have.
Back to the grind, then. In God we thrust.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
The harvest moon as picked up by my cell phone camera just outside of Smoo at around 3:30AM, Wednesday morning. Yeah, I was in the office on Chuseok from about dinnertime on Tuesday until 3:30AM the next day. I wasn't joking about having a shitload of work to do.
The moon is the glowing ball seemingly perched atop the building silhouetted in front of me.
Hairy Chasms Reader Curtis S. emails the following:
Enough of your food bloggings already. Now it is my turn.
When you are done licking the screen you can go work it off on a hike up Namsan.
Pork Shoulder and Country Style Ribs
Waterlogged Hickory Chunks
Here we go...
Come to Poppa!
Get here before dark.
One question, Curtis... that grill was full when you put the meat on, but there was only one hunk of meat left when you showed us the cooked product. I'm trying to understand, here, and as near as I can figure, this is what happened:
The chunks of meat were still alive when they went on the grill. Once the top was on and the heat started to get intense, those chunks of meat went nuts and began eating each other, cage-match style. Pretty soon, only the largest and strongest chunk remained, having defeated all the other chunks of meat before expiring in the heat.
Does that sound about right?
Seriously, man, that looks damn good.
Monday, September 24, 2007
As I have once again decided to avoid my relatives this Chuseok, I've chosen to make some good ol' Amurrican-style food: burgers.
Having made taco salad the other day, and having plenty of chips and homemade salsa left over, I decided to make two burgers for myself and one for the concierge downstairs (I don't think he returned my plastic plate, dammit), with chips (instead of fries) on the side.
Here are some pics of the step-by-step assembly of my Monday evening dinner:
Pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. I would much rather have had a grill, of course, but I made do. Frying the bacon first and then cooking the burgers in the bacon fat was indeed a way to enhance the burgers' taste, though it was necessary to reduce the heat to keep the place from smoking up (strangely, my room has no fire alarm in it, but smoke is smoke and it can be obnoxious when I burn something).
The ground beef was mixed with a whole mess of spices: red pepper flakes, paprika, a wee bit of basil, thyme, and marjoram, plus a special seasoned salt they've begun selling at the local markets. Along with those reagents I added garlic and onion powder (not being partial to having actual onions inside my patties), plus some black pepper.
I've also made a discovery since I began living alone here in Korea: I really don't want mustard on my burgers. Ketchup and mayonnaise, yes; mustard, no. I have no idea why; I love mustard on hot dogs, and if someone serves me a burger with mustard on it, I'll eat it without complaint. But for whatever reason, when I'm by myself, I never seem to put mustard on my burgers.
The salsa wasn't half bad: diced tomatoes, green and red (Korean) chili peppers, diced onions, some crushed garlic, some finely chopped parsley and less finely chopped cilantro (hence the afore-blogged trip to Hannam Market), some red pepper powder, plus some salt, a splash of vinegar, and a larger splash of lime juice. Mix the whole thing with a spoon, take half of it out and puree it in the blender, then dump the puree in with the chunks-- voilà. Salsa. Not a bad meal, in all.
Hairy Chasms reader Curtis recently emailed me a series of foodblogging photos that show off his grilling prowess; I'll slap those up soon. Meanwhile, enjoy the sight of the burgers you didn't eat.
The French have arrived, and they need your help. No, not Sarkozy and his lot; they seem to be doing just fine and saying all the right things (a good read, that article).
No: in this case, "The French" are a music group whose lead singer is someone I know, but who wishes not to be named on the blog. Go figure.
Visit The French's MySpace page here, and if you've got a MySpace account, think about befriending The French with that "friending" function that MySpacers use. I don't know anything about how MySpace works, but if you do, then go to it, baby!
IT IS ACCOMPLISHED!
Along with making some kick-ass hamburgers, doing laundry, and correcting student journals, I managed to figure out how to get my audio files onto YouTube, where they will live as long as YouTube lives!
Check it out. Visit YouTube and type "bighominid" in the search window, or better yet, hit me here. Along with that "squeal like a pig" video, I've slapped up the six brief podcasts I'd made last year.
This is fantastic: the more I learn about how to put such videos together, the more sophisticated you can expect my YouTube fodder to become. Stay thou tunèd.
Oh, and... Happy Chuseok. Tuesday's the official day of the harvest moon. The ajumma who runs the local grocery gave me a free bag of my favorite kind of ddeok, known as song-p'yeon. Very nice of her to do that. She and her husband have always been kind to me.
Seoul taxi drivers must live for days like today. While the city's nowhere near empty, a driver can nevertheless gun it: so many people have left the city for their hometowns that the downtown streets are far from jammed. I went from Smoo to Hannam Market in record time as a result (I called Hannam first to be make sure they were open). That was cool. And with the day as gorgeous as it is, it was nice to roll down the window and enjoy the taxi-created breeze... much the way a dog might.
Simple minds, simple pleasures.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
I must spend this lovely day (1) in my dorm doing laundry (and correcting student journals), then (2) in the office working on TV transcripts and worksheets and discussion pages for the students. It's a ton of work, certainly a hell of a lot more work than last semester, but I enjoy it.
One piece of bad news from my boss this past Friday: I might not be able to teach French officially next semester. Why? The Smoo French department is apparently in an uproar that an American is teaching French. "We know their accent!" they allegedly said. I asked my boss whether that department has any authority over us. She didn't look me in the eye, but I gather the answer is "no." It would be nice if we had some backbone and challenged their misplaced outrage instead of curling up in a little ball and taking it. I'm thinking about talking-- nicely-- to people in that department about some sort of cooperative program. I won't do this without my boss's permission; my intention isn't to embarrass her. A friend of mine cautions me that my idea will never fly because both sides of campus have already decided what to do: our side has decided to back down; their side has decided to get pissy.
I might just develop some very large posters advertising FREE French lessons for next semester, and will plaster them around the French department's office. "Learn the French you're not learning in class!" the posters will say. It's true, after all: from what I hear from my students, most of those French profs lecture in Korean. Students are learning about French; they're not learning French. It was unfair of that department to judge me without even having met me, but because I've met plenty of Koreans who claim to speak French, I know that it's highly likely that the Smoo French department is composed of teachers with embarrassingly low French proficiency-- the one actual Frenchwoman in the department excepted, of course. That makes them hypocrites.
And on that happy note, I now prep my laundry.
Brian's right: Taser Boy should never have been tasered (though I do believe the guy was being an asshole*-- spouting more of that conspiracy theory nonsense, trying to draw weird connections between Kerry and Bush through the wild-eyed Skull and Bones argument).
Unfortunately, because I am a cold, cruel asshole, I admit I laughed at the Taser Boy YouTube video found here.
*Did security have the right to taser Taser Boy as they did? I would have to say no. I haven't read up on whether they followed proper procedure, but even if they had been following proper procedure, I'm unconvinced he deserved a tasering. Nothing on the video suggested he had become violent. He was loud, he was obnoxious, but he didn't seem to be a danger to anyone else, and he didn't seem nearly as crazy as that fucker at UCLA who, in my opinion, probably did deserve his tasering. That dude was nuts.
Two Liminality essays of interest: the first explores issues of Koreanness, foreignness, the way we unconsciously assess someone's intelligence according to his language ability, and problems with overly hierarchical thinking. The second is much more personal and deals with Charles's realization that he's not going to be able to finish his doctoral diss before his advisor is due to retire. Charles and I had talked about this via email, but I had no idea that things were as bad as his essay describes. Charles is tough, though, and he'll fight through this.
I've created posters of my posters on CafePress! Get a taste of life at Smoo!
Check them bad boys out:
The Lingua SHOCKING Poster
The Lingua SEXY Poster
To be honest, I don't think any poster should cost the buyer $19.99 plus shipping, but CafePress sets the minimum fee rather high. If you want the A3-size version of the poster, email me and I'll charge you $5 plus shipping and the cost of the cardboard tube I use (probably not more than a dollar or two, I hope... I need to check).
A trip to Lotte Mart went strange when I paid by check card, signed the electronic scanner, and hit "enter" (hwagin) on the screen as I usually do: the signature didn't take. The cashier told me to try again, but said, "Please don't hit the enter key." I replied, "But that's what I usually do." She said, "Well, stop (geu-man)."
Today has to be the worst day to be shopping. Lotte Mart was bursting with all the last-minute shoppers buying gift sets and other sundries before heading out to their hometowns for the Chuseok holiday. I was in no hurry, having resolved yet again to avoid my relatives, though I do plan on sending my K'eun Ajoshi (Mom's eldest cousin; technically K'eun Apba, but on the phone he always refers to himself as "Ajoshi") the W1.5 million won I've owed him since, oh, about 2003. It's a damn good thing the man doesn't charge interest.
The story behind the money is this: when I came to Korea in 2002, I was living in Suji, a "new city" (shin-doshi) outside of Seoul, with the family of my mother's youngest cousin (50-some years old). I was commuting to Korea University (for Korean classes) by bus every weekday, which was hellish because it was a 2.5-hour ride into town, meaning 5 hours a day on the road. I eventually moved into town, settling into Jangui-dong, not far from KU, for the better part of a year before landing that job at EC in Kangnam in 2004. I was given housing by EC, which meant moving down around Nakseongdae Station near Seoul National University. When I left EC, it was about three months before I landed my current job at Smoo; I spent two of those months back in Jangui-dong before Smoo picked me up.
The problem was this: being deep in debt (mostly school loans, but some credit card debt as well) and not earning that much, I fell behind on the W300,000/month rent I was supposed to pay Ajoshi-- seven months behind. Also, during my stay, the washing machine I was using broke down. I'm not sure whether this was my fault; I hadn't done anything out of the ordinary, but it was undeniable that the machine had crapped out on my watch. The machine also cost W300,000. Tallying up what I owed, I realized the figure was a whopping 2.4 million won. In the ensuing years, I've paid back only W900,000 of this amount, leaving W1.5 million to go. I'm happy to say that I'm finally at a point where I can rid myself of this debt forever.
So my Chuseok gift to Ajoshi will be the squaring-away of this debt. Poof-- all done. And that will be the last of my non-scholastic debt. I've been debt-free in terms of credit card debt since the beginning of this year, and only three major debts have been hanging over my head since then: (1) Ajoshi's rent, (2) my Sallie Mae student loan (undergrad and grad), and (3) a SunTrust student loan taken out in 1999 back when I was only a part-time grad student with no access to Catholic U's scholarship.*
With Ajoshi's debt out of the way, I want to concentrate on ridding myself of the Sun Trust loan, which was originally $15,000 but which has ballooned to slightly over $20,000 thanks to interest. The biggest and baddest debt, the one from Sallie Mae, will take a great deal of time and effort to resolve. I expect to be quite old by the time I'm totally debt-free.
Wasn't I talking about problems in the checkout line today?
*I applied for and received a full scholarship when I started full-time studies at CUA; my huge debt comes from making the mistake of also accepting Sallie Mae loans and using those loans to pay rent instead of actually working. I have been literally paying for that mistake ever since. Wisdom, for me, has come at a high price.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
My buddy Tom and I went to our friend Jang-woong's party last night. The party was actually for his son, Ji-an (English name "John"), who had turned one. Despite Tom's and my years in Korea, this was the first time either of us had gone to a first-birthday (ch'eot-dol) party. Not having done our homework as to what to bring, we decided money would be best, and went halvesies* on W100,000 in a white envelope on which I had written "Happy Birthday!" in hanja (saeng-il, "birthday") and hangeul. (ch'uk-ha-heyo, "congratulations"). I also bought JW and his wife a bit of alcohol, and gave them a plastic tube with one copy each of those goofy posters I had made. Just as a gag.
The party took place on the 18th floor of the Capital Hotel (or is that "Hotel Capital"?) in Itaewon, and the buffet spread was pretty damn good. JW greeted us right at the door; he had been sitting at the piano with Ji-an; a photographer was taking pictures of them. JW stared at me in shock and said, "What happened to your body? You look good!" I was wearing my new black shirt, see, so the spare tire wasn't quite as visible as usual.
I had the chance to greet JW's parents (whom I've met several times before), JW's lovely wife Bo-hyeon, JW's big sisters Yeon-ju and Mi-yeong, and their families. Tom and I attacked the buffet with relish, swooping over it several times like dragons over a European village, plucking victims at random from the trays on offer. The stand-out entree was thinly sliced beef and mushrooms in sweet brown sauce, but I also went for some pâté, some snails in demi-glacé sauce (I could have eaten several plates of this alone), salad, fried eggrolls, and "L.A." kalbi from the corner grill. I finished this mountain of food off with a few tiny pieces of cake and three scoops of ice cream. Before the buffet I had figured that Modesty and Conscience, those twin harpies, needed to be tied up and thrown in a closet until after dinner.
When we arrived we asked JW when the ceremony would begin, and he said "Thirty minutes from now." After much talking and eating, Tom and I realized that thirty minutes had long since passed, and when JW came out and sat down with us, we discovered that there had been a bit of miscommunication: we had been invited to sit in the special room where the ceremony was to take place, but this invitation came before Tom and I had gotten any food. We got our food and ended up sitting well outside that special room in a fairly roomy spot (close to the buffet spread, of course), and no one had come to tell us the ceremony was about to begin. I think we had assumed we would be warned, while JW and company had assumed we would make our way into the special room. Ah, well. If nothing else, I'm happy to have had a chance to attend the party, and I certainly don't regret the food. More important, I got to meet JW's family again; I hadn't seen some of them in three years. They're good people.
So this morning, with Modesty and Conscience free of their closet, I found myself paying the price for yesterday's extravagance when I ran to the toilet and began feeding its laughing mouth my thick, infernal pasta.
*I have no idea how to spell this word. Halvesies? Halvsies? Halfsies?
Dr. Hodges at Gypsy Scholar writes regarding the 9/11 attacks:
I can recall many different emotions from that confusing time. Some fear and anxiety. A lot of sadness. A great deal of anger.
But I don't remember many Americans worrying about economic or financial collapse, though Bin Laden seemed to believe that his terrorists had struck at this 'soft' spot, for I recall other statements by him urging further attacks on the U.S. economy, which he thought was tottering.
Bin Laden seemed to assume that the U.S. economy was centrally directed and that all one need do was knock out its center, which he apparently thought had been accomplished. I suppose that he's learned something since then, namely, that modern economic and financial systems are not centralized but are widely decentralized systems highly resistant to attacks.
This dovetails with something I had written to a friend in May of 2006 regarding that silly 9/11 video titled "Loose Change," which accuses the US government of having perpetrated the WTC attacks. I wrote:
Actually, the video does provide a reason for hitting the Twin Towers: the narrator claims that, just before the attacks, trading and insurance activity increased. The narrator's point is that the Towers contained all the financial records of that illict activity, so they had to go.
The problem is this: while the American economy did suffer a blow when the Towers were destroyed, the records for most companies were very likely stored in more than one physical location. What corporate head is idiot enough to forget to make backup records? In an info-tech-driven economy like America's, a few minutes is all it takes to download humongous reams of data (including scanned versions of paper documents) to a server somewhere outside New York. That shit is traceable. The [putative US] criminals would have had to consider how much data needed to be destroyed, and they'd have had to blow up more than just what was in the WTC.
If this video maker is such a supersleuth, he'll track down leads on the major companies involved in the illegal trading and get back to us with a new video about how these folks are living the high life (or how they've left the country to live the high life elsewhere). They can't hide forever, those people: our guy was smart enough to uncover a sinister government plot!
If the people planning the attack were really Americans looking to make quick money and then disappear beneath the rubble of the WTC, they should have thought about how decentralized the American economy truly is: it's like killing the hydra. Again, the idea that the criminals were motivated by money doesn't strike me as realistic.
I also think that Islamist ideology hasn't backed up the narrator's claim. Wahabist Muslims really are bent on reestablishing a Dar al-Islam (House of Islam)-- first in the Middle East, then in Europe, then in America and perhaps the rest of the world. Their ideology is no secret: even the most leftist newspapers all over the globe report it daily. There really is an anti-West campaign going on, right now-- it had been going on since even before the 1990s bombing of the WTC, back when Clinton was president and the world supposedly loved us.
Friday, September 21, 2007
A 9-day break begins today, as we Smoolings have all of next week off. It feels strange to have a long vacation when the semester has barely begun, but the Chuseok holiday will not be denied its rightful place on the lunar calendar, and the university knows that many students won't come to class if class is held on Thursday and Friday next week (the Chuseok holiday is Monday through Wednesday, with the harvest moon itself appearing on Tuesday). Upshot: the whole school week off, bracketed by weekends on either end. Nine days.
[Trivia: I had no idea that Chuseok is also referred to as han-ga-wi; I learned the term just yesterday from a student.]
I'm off to a celebration this evening: my Korean buddy's son is turning one, so his family is throwing a party, which is being held at a hotel. I'm not looking forward to dressing up, but a little sweaty discomfort seems a small price to pay for my friend's family's happiness.
This 9-day break promises to be busy: I have a ton of student journals to pore over and correct, and a whole raft of TV transcripts to create for the rest of the semester. I discovered that transcript-making is a four- to five-hour process, and I'm hoping to do two transcripts per day, starting tomorrow. I've got eight transcripts to make, which means a goodly chunk of vacation will be spent right where I normally am: in the office.
That thought makes me itchy. Namsan beckons.
I wrote before about the possibility of getting Water from a Skull done in hardcover here in Korea, but I'm having second thoughts. I decided to take a closer look at the hardcover books I already have; I've got three or four of them lying around. The books were given to me as gifts by coworkers who had completed their MA programs. This gift-giving seems to be a common practice; graduates order copies of their thesis in batches of thirty and distribute them to friends, relatives, etc.
So I looked closely at my hardcover copies to see what sort of binding the copy service, CopyZone, was using-- simple glue? A more respectable stitching method? I took one of the books and deliberately bent the cover far backward, hyperextending it.
Thee was the small sound of something giving out. The spine was fine, but I could see that the pages were now ever-so-slightly misaligned.
Essentially the same binding process used on my softcovers, though arguably not as tough.
Makes sense, I suppose: there had to be some reason why those hardcovers were so cheap to manufacture.
So now I'm hesitating. CopyZone might not be the right place to get this done. I'm once again thinking about Lulu.com, which allows manuscripts to be printed in hardcover form.
More news on this as it happens.
Here's a fascinating statement:
"Parkinson's, depression, OCD, tinnitus (loud, incessant ringing in the ears), central pain -- they're all the same disease. The difference is their brain location, not the mechanism," Llinas said.
Read the article.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Facebook has this "status update" feature that allows you to give everyone a quick impression of what's going on in your head and in your life. The feature is found at the top of your profile page and starts the sentence off your you:
This is one example of Facebook's many annoying quirks: the status update feature is not a bad idea, but that annoyingly unalterable "is" cuts down on what you can say. Wouldn't it be nice to have a completely blank field to play with? No [Name], no [is]?
I don't think I'm the only person frustrated by this, because other Facebook users seem to have gotten the same idea I did: if you can't write freely, then subvert the feature-- fill in the blanks with nonsense, the surreal, and/or with completely unrevealing information. Far from being a useful, flexible way of updating one's status for the world, the feature, in the hands of the frustrated masses, becomes what it already is: a farce.
Take Joel, for instance. Joel's on Facebook, and he created a recent status update that said:
Joel is a hater.
I cracked up. The world needs more Joel-style hateration.
On my own entry, a recent status update showed the following:
Kevin is busy admiring his prodigious man-tits.
An earlier update said:
Kevin is very excited for Russia now that Vladimir Putin has dissolved its government.
Why bother with status updates, eh? For me, Facebook is at best a necessary evil.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
If you speak French, you'll probably enjoy this this parody of "Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country" by a comedy sketch group called Les 2 Minutes du Peuple (The People's 2 Minutes). In the Trek vid, several things happen in rapid succession. Among them:
Chekov tells Kirk he has a funny joke; he starts to tell it ("There's this dude who--") but gets cut off by Valeris, who asks where Spock is. Kirk says he doesn't know, and when he asks Chekov to continue after the interruption, Chekov shrugs, "That was it."
Valeris tells Kirk she thinks that Spock is increasingly unhappy with the Enterprise crew; Spock appears. Kirk tells Spock he's never thought of him as an organic being (this leads to a brief interlude with sped-up organ music-- get it?). Spock insists he is organic, despite being unable to cry. Kirk goads Spock into revealing what he thinks of Kirk overall as a human being, but cautions Spock to keep his comments general, and to avoid personal attacks. After some prodding, Spock finally reveals his repressed fury, letting loose with a stream of insults including "coward, liar, brainless, stinky, cretinous," and concluding with "small dick!" ("I said not to make this personal," Kirk chides.)
Spock confesses that he thinks he's going to cry, but that he doesn't know how. Kirk encourages him to try: "It'll do you some good." Spock attempts to cry but succeeds only in making strange noises. He then reveals to the bridge crew that he had a girlfriend on Vulcan: Spockette. Last name: Cigarette. Kirk jokes at the expense of Vulcans; Spock attempts a lame guffaw, which prompts Kirk to observe that Vulcans don't know how to laugh, either.
The Enterprise is hailed by the Klingons, who issue an ultimatum to which Kirk responds, "My answer is that your face looks like an asshole." The Klingon boasts, "That's because I'm showing you my asshole! Here's my face!"-- at which point we see the face of Chancellor Gorkon.
There's more, including a lame "teleporter" (i.e., transporter) joke at the end.
The French-language Wikipedia entry about Les 2 Minutes du Peuple is here. For true geeks, a French-language article on Vulcan mind melding (la fusion mentale vulcaine) is here.
The Trek video is a decent sample of francophone humor, which often has a lot in common with the groan-inducing sight gags and puns of the Zucker Brothers. The folks behind The People's 2 Minutes are Québecois, if I'm not mistaken. The Wikipedia article notes that their sketches are broadcast in different versions of French for different French-speaking countries.
This 2MdP Columbo parody is also hilarious.
The "chérie, passe-moi le revolver qui est sous le fauteuil!" part of the video had me busting a gut.
Long promised, never done: podcasts coming soon. They'll be available on YouTube; type "bighominid" in the YouTube search window to see them.
But not yet. If you search YouTube for "bighominid" right now, the only video you'll pull up is the one of me squealing like a pig.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
After a semester with the world's easiest schedule, I find myself knee-deep in lesson planning and wading through a fog of sleep deprivation. I've had no trouble making it to my 7:40AM class ten minutes early every day so far, but because I still haven't managed to get to sleep before 1:30AM (old habits die hard), life is slowly morphing into "Fight Club." Don't be surprised if I actually start founding Fight Club branches all over Seoul and Pusan.
Also in the news is the fact that we are going to be observed by our supervisors for the first time since I began working here. I'm actually not against this; as I noted to one supervisor, I was observed four times a year while teaching high school French in Arlington, Virginia: a certain Mr. T would do one observation (T was always friendly in manner and lenient in his criticisms); our department head, Madame M would do another (she was usually a softie as well, focusing on positives); the old battleaxe from the main office, Sister L, would do another (her notes tended toward the picky); finally, our principal, Mr. B, would strut in and do an observation. I was around 23 years old at the time; the first few observations made me a bit nervous, but because they happened once per quarter, it was possible to get used to them.
I've since discovered that there are some teachers who absolutely fear being observed. Not to put too fine a point on it, but in many cases, this is because those teachers suck at what they do. Other teachers, however, are quite self-confident and feel perfectly at ease with an observer in the classroom. I'd like to think I'm one of those, and I have the pleasure of working with Korean and expat colleagues who are the same way.
I think confidence is at least partly rooted in the quasi-fatalistic realization that no teacher will ever teach an absolutely perfect lesson. The whole point of the human project, as I see it, is constant self-improvement. This means that, at the end of the day, you can look back on what you've done and feel some satisfaction that things went well... but that tomorrow will be even better. Of course, it doesn't always work this way, but over time, you notice that experience is the best teacher, and if you've kept your eyes and ears open, you'll have made yourself aware of your mistakes and then done your best not to repeat them.
So Thursday is the day we get observed by our department head. My immediate supervisor (a new lady) will be coming to see all my classes over the course of a week (probably after our long Chuseok break); I've given both ladies packets of course materials for them to look over and digest in preparation for their observations, and have made it known that I'm available to talk shop with them at the end of the day. I don't think a teacher needs to be quite that prepared, but I'm hoping to send a subtle message to my observers that, as Robin Williams said, "Ah'm ready fo' yo' ass!"
Monday, September 17, 2007
Our office decided to spring something new on us, though I remember hearing rumblings of this over a year ago: evaluations done before the end of the semester. The idea, I think, is to get a "fair" reading of the teachers by catching students while they're still attending our classes, i.e., long before they drop out, leaving only the most dedicated students to give us artificially high ratings at the very end.
Personally, I don't mind this at all. As the illustrious, intelligent, and well-hung (er, flight suit moment) president of my country says, "Bring it on!" I've had high ratings during the semesters we've taught Freshman English; the students are required to attend those classes, and they do so for credit, which means that even the students who hate our classes will be there to rate us.
But what the office did this time around was to distribute eval forms to the students this past Friday and today... barely a week after the beginning of term. Let me ask you: does this seem rational? The first two weeks of term are when the students are still busy shopping: some drop out and move to another level; others drop out entirely, suddenly realizing they are unable to commit themselves to the schedule and/or to the workload. Students simply haven't settled into a routine yet.*
As I said, I'm fine with evals any old time, but it seems to me that, if the office wants to get some real dirt on us teachers, they should wait until about the midterm period to gather the incriminating data. That way, they'll have a large data sample (most students will still be attending the class), and the students will have had time to get familiar with their teachers, the course, and the flaws of both.
Let's not bullshit ourselves: that's what this move was all about. The office is trying to determine what it can do to increase student enrollment, and instead of looking at the possibility that it might be doing something wrong (e.g., not marketing the English program aggressively enough), or that the students might be trending away from hagwon-style lessons and toward study-abroad programs, the office aims to fix blame on the teachers. As always, the easy way out.
The major clue for this is that we teachers weren't informed that the first-week evals would be happening. That, above all else, is what chaps my ass right now. I don't like working in an environment of mistrust, and as mentioned before, I don't like the "rumor mill" style of management. It might be nice to see the supervisors sit down in our classes and do some evaluation for themselves as opposed to relying on hearsay and overly subjective eval forms.
I'd like to see a few fields added to that form. The main field would be located directly under the "complaints" box. The student would list her complaints, and would then have to answer "yes" or "no" to this question: "At least 6 weeks before filling out this form, I spoke with my teacher about the above complaints." If the student's answer is "no," then she would be required, in an adjacent sub-field, to explain why nothing was said to the teacher before the midpoint of the semester.
For those who answer "yes" to the above question, the second sub-field would say: "My teacher's response was...", and the student would have the opportunity to relay what the teacher may or may not have said in response to the face-to-face complaint. In my experience, some students will write complaints that reflect a certain immaturity and inability to see past the end of their nose, but no student has ever written a complaint that was an outright lie. I think the above two fields would be filled out honestly.
I plan to write my supervisors about this situation. I'll be polite, of course, but will emphasize the point about fostering an environment of trust as opposed to suspicion. I'm lucky to have fairly reasonable bosses, so I know this won't turn into a screaming match. As I mentioned to a colleague today: "Imagine if I had tried to send such an email to my old hagwon boss from 1994. We'd have had a fistfight in the staff room."
*Not only that, but students who drop and switch classes in the first week are usually doing so prematurely, based entirely on a very superficial impression of the class they're escaping from. Following their misguided instincts, they think that jumping ship will somehow make them feel better, because that's what it comes down to for so many of them: superficial feeling, not actual substance. For them, the foremost question isn't "Am I learning something?" Instead, it's "What's my anxiety level?"
It happened over the weekend-- Saturday, I think-- as I was schlepping over to the office. A group of kids was bouncing along behind me when one of them screamed, "Waeguginida! Waeguginidaaa!!" In other words: "It's a foreigner! It's a foreignerrrrrrr!!"
Oh, how I wished I had a shuriken or two right at that moment. I've gone nearly three years in this fairly quiet Smoo neighborhood without having to hear that nonsense. I seriously did think about turning around, commanding the kid to come over, then grabbing him by the earlobe and telling him he'd better be nice from now on or I'd kill him (jugyeobeorigettda, 죽여버리겠다) the next time I saw him. I thought better of it mainly because I knew the kid would run and tell his parents about the scary foreigner. Unfortunately, that thought led to the slightly more evil thought that I'd just have to grab the kid by the hair, not the earlobe, so as not to leave any marks. Oh, I'm bad.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
I found an interesting site, quite by accident, called "French Expressions Revealed"-- Les expressions françaises décortiquées. Even if you don't know French, you might guess that the root word in "décortiquées" is related to the English "cortex," a skin or outer layer of some sort (e.g., the cerebral cortex). If you décortiquer something, you're peeling off its skin, i.e., revealing what lies beneath. The purpose of the site is to explore, largely etymologically, the origins of certain French expressions.
I found the site while Googling for instances of one of my favorite gallicismes: "to pull the worms out of (someone's) nose"-- tirer les vers du nez (à quelqu'un). The expression refers to a successful (and often discomfiting) attempt to extract information from someone who doesn't want to divulge it. Below is the article in full, with my translation beneath it.
tirer les vers du nez
Réussir adroitement à faire parler quelqu'un (sur un sujet ou des informations qu'il ne voulait pas aborder ou divulguer).
Que viennent faire des asticots dans les narines ?
A moins que, suite à une faute d'orthographe perpétuée, on évoque ici le gamin qui se triture l'intérieur du nez à grands coups de doigt agile avant ensuite de faire une boulette de 'vert' qui est soit promptement avalée, soit collée sous le bureau pour un usage futur en cas de disette, soit glissée dans le cou de son camarade de classe de devant ?
Mais peut-être que les asticots sont une bonne piste. Vous savez en effet qu'il y a très très longtemps, les larves de mouches, entre autres, servaient à guérir les plaies car elles ne se nourrissaient que des tissus morts (voir un petit rappel dans le film 'Gladiator').
Eh bien actuellement, alors que les antibiotiques sont de plus en plus inefficaces, ce traitement revient en grâce et semble soigner efficacement certaines plaies difficiles à guérir autrement.
On pourrait donc imaginer que, suite à une blessure dans le nez soignée de cette manière, il faudrait bien finir par en retirer les asticots voraces qui y grouillent (ça doit faire de drôles de sensations) avant qu'ils se transforment en insectes volants (*).
Mais quel serait le lien avec les informations qu'on réussit à extirper à quelqu'un ?
En fait, les hypothèses sur l'origine de cette expression qui est attestée depuis le XVe siècle sont multiples mais aucune n'est réellement satisfaisante.
Une qui est semble séduisante viendrait d'une déformation du latin 'verum', 'le vrai'. On tirerait donc la vérité du nez.
Mais pourquoi du nez ? Et pourquoi 'les vers' au pluriel ?
En outre Alain Rey réfute cette hypothèse en ajoutant que la version anglaise "to worm a secret out of somebody" évoque bien un ver (de terre) et non la vérité.
Mais je ne suis pas sûr que cela suffise à la rejeter car cette expression anglaise pourrait simplement être une traduction approximative de la française.
D'autres personnes évoquent les charlatans de l'époque qui prétendaient guérir les gens en leur retirant par le nez les vers qui étaient forcément la cause de leur(s) maladie(s).
Il y a même eu Littré qui faisait un rapprochement hasardeux avec les comédons (ou points noirs) qu'on extirpe du dessus du nez et qui, s'ils ont bien la pointe noire, ont plutôt l'apparence de plus ou moins mini asticots blancs.
Enfin, même si cela a été suggéré, il est peu probable que l'expression ait un lien quelconque avec un poète auquel on chercherait à faire écrire quelque vers pour un sonnet (son nez ?).
Voilà donc encore une autre expression qui garde son mystère.
(*) Je rassure tout de suite ceux qui imagineraient cela : seules les plaies béantes qu'on peut entourer d'un bandage pour confiner les larves qu'on y a déposées sont soignées ainsi.
to pull worms out of someone's nose
Adroitly succeed at making someone talk (about a subject they do not want to broach or about information they do not want to divulge).
What are maggots doing in your nostrils?
Unless, following a long-perpetuated spelling error, one is here evoking the image of the child who digs around inside his nose with great thrusts of his nimble finger to form a little ball of "green" which is promptly swallowed, or stuck under the desk for future use in case supplies run low, or subtly smooshed onto the neck of the classmate sitting in front of him...?
But perhaps maggots are a good place to start. You know, in fact, that a long, long time ago, fly larvae were, among other things, used for treating wounds because they fed themselves only on dead tissue (you can see a reminder of this in the film "Gladiator").
Well, nowadays, while antibiotics are becoming increasingly ineffective, this treatment is back in vogue and seems effective at treating wounds that are difficult to treat with other methods.
We can thus imagine that, after treating a wounded nose in this manner, it would be necessary to conclude the treatment by pulling out the voracious maggots wriggling within (which must feel funny) before they transform into flying insects.*
But what might be the connection with the information one succeeds in extracting from someone?
In point of fact, hypotheses regarding the origins of this expression, known since the 15th century, are numerous but none is truly satisfactory.
One seemingly attractive hypothesis comes from a deformation of the Latin verum, "the true" [i.e., the Latin verum is orthographically similar to the French ver, meaning "worm"]. One would be pulling truth out of the nose. But why from the nose? And why "worms" in the plural?
Alan Rey refutes this hypothesis by noting that the English version, "to worm a secret out of somebody," indeed evokes an earthworm and not the truth. But I'm not sure this is enough to reject the hypothesis because this English expression could simply be an approximate translation of the French.
Others evoke the charlatans who claimed to cure people by pulling from their noses the worms that must have been the cause of their ills.
Even Littré made a random connection with comedones (or "blackheads") which one extracts from the surface of the nose and which, if they have a black tip, look rather like tiny white maggots.
Finally, even if this has been suggested, it's highly unlikely that the expression has any connection with a poet one might seek to compose a sonnet [NB: the pun here is that, in French, "sonnet" sounds similar to "son nez," i.e., "his/her nose"].
Here again we have another expression that retains its mystery.
*I wish to reassure those imagining this: only gaping wounds that can be covered with bandages to confine the larvae deposited there are cared for in this way. [NB: The author's point is to reassure the reader that no one would seriously treat a bloody or wounded nose by ramming maggots in there.]
Computers are going to turn me into a Shatz-style Luddite, methinks. My dorm connection was working fine late last evening (remember that it had fritzed out Saturday morning? I was in the office all day using that computer), and was still working fine this morning and early afternoon. Once I got to the office today, I decided to surf over to my book's CafePress site and... guess what? It's on the blink again! Sincere apologies to potential buyers. CafePress did write me about the situation:
Thank you for contacting CafePress.com!
I am happy to help. There was nothing that you did wrong. CafePress has a bug in the site that doesn't allow the file to switch over like they should.
If there is anything else I can do for you please let me know.
"Happy to help"-- forsooth.
In the meantime, I made an interesting discovery a few days ago while talking with the fine folks at CopyZone, the local bootleg book printer from whom I've ordered several dozen copies of Water from a Skull. CopyZone prints hardback copies of student research papers; the book dimensions are fairly similar to the B5-sized pages I normally order. I've been paying $X per book to make softback copies. It turns out that these hardbacks are printed out in short runs of at least 30 copies, and it doesn't matter how many pages the manuscript is. The per-book cost for this? One-third what I currently pay.
So compare: I've been printing out softcover versions of my book for $X a copy. If I wanted 30 copies right away, I'd be paying around $30X. Now I discover that I can have 30 nice, hardcover versions of the book printed for far less than the cost of softcovers-- about $10X for the lot!
A couple catches, though:
(1) Those research papers are normally printed as single-sided sheets. I'd obviously want the double-sided treatment. Would the cost go up for double-sided copies, or would this still be a case of "the number of pages doesn't matter"? I have to ask those guys.
(2) I'd still like to have a cover slapped on the book. Not on the surface of the hardback (CopyZone stamps the covers with gold leaf lettering-- Chinese, Hangeul, and Roman letters), but as a separate paper cover that would fit over the hardback, as you see on normal hardback books. Perhaps I could even include some sort of blurb for the front and rear cover flaps-- reviews, testimonials, and so on.
If I can swing this, and if the final cost of the hardbacks is still significantly cheaper than what I currently pay, then I will be happy to sell the hardbacks from here at the same cover price as the softbacks. The benefit to future readers should be obvious: solidity, durability, and a potential weapon to use against someone's throat à la Jason Bourne in "The Bourne Ultimatum"-- all at the same listed cover price.
(For those who missed it, I did update my FAQ blog while I was on break.)
I'll call your attention to two interesting articles, both from the Times Online UK. The first is about that recent complaint Syria made regarding Israeli planes straying into Syrian airspace. Remember that? Well, it may well be that the Israelis weren't straying: they may, in fact, have been bombing a cache of North Korean materials meant to be converted into nuclear weapons.
It was just after midnight when the 69th Squadron of Israeli F15Is crossed the Syrian coast-line. On the ground, Syria's formidable air defences went dead. An audacious raid on a Syrian target 50 miles from the Iraqi border was under way.
At a rendezvous point on the ground, a Shaldag air force commando team was waiting to direct their laser beams at the target for the approaching jets. The team had arrived a day earlier, taking up position near a large underground depot. Soon the bunkers were in flames.
Ten days after the jets reached home, their mission was the focus of intense speculation this weekend amid claims that Israel believed it had destroyed a cache of nuclear materials from North Korea.
The Israeli government was not saying. "The security sources and IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] soldiers are demonstrating unusual courage," said Ehud Olmert, the prime minister. "We naturally cannot always show the public our cards."
The Syrians were also keeping mum. "I cannot reveal the details," said Farouk al-Sharaa, the vice-president. "All I can say is the military and political echelon is looking into a series of responses as we speak. Results are forthcoming." The official story that the target comprised weapons destined for Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi'ite group, appeared to be crumbling in the face of widespread scepticism.
Andrew Semmel, a senior US State Department official, said Syria might have obtained nuclear equipment from "secret suppliers", and added that there were a "number of foreign technicians" in the country.
Asked if they could be North Korean, he replied: "There are North Korean people there. There's no question about that." He said a network run by AQ Khan, the disgraced creator of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, could be involved.
But why would nuclear material be in Syria? Known to have chemical weapons, was it seeking to bolster its arsenal with something even more deadly?
Alternatively, could it be hiding equipment for North Korea, enabling Kim Jong-il to pretend to be giving up his nuclear programme in exchange for economic aid? Or was the material bound for Iran, as some authorities in America suggest?
The first question in that final paragraph is chilling, and certainly throws the ongoing nuke talks with North Korea into a new light. (Well, maybe not so new for those who follow such things closely.) I do wonder, though, how concerned North Korea might be about this. NK is already suspected of a whole spectrum of illegal activities, the goal of which is the undermining of US interests, and if they've already received payment for whatever they purportedy shipped, they might not care about the eventual fate of their products. I say this because I think the regime is narrowly focused on the question of its own survival, and whatever game it's playing with the rest of the world is ultimately only about that.
The second article of note offers a glimpse into the contrast between French coziness and German stiffness: German Chancellor Angela Merkel has apparently had enough of Nicolas Sarkozy's kissing, hugging, and other public displays of affection. The article's writer does the unthinkable and draws a relationship between Sarkozy's mannerisms and his diminutive stature (you'll recall from the articles I had translated that Sarko is extremely sensitive to remarks about his height), and he doesn't stop there:
When you receive the Sarko treatment, you sense the desire to dominate as well as the friendliness. I experienced it backstage in a TV studio after interviewing him in May. The slight menace and Sarko's small stature inevitably bring Hollywood gangsters to mind. With women, there is a patronising side.
Merkel feels that Sarkozy has been pushing her around since he won the presidency in May and began trying to impose himself as boss of Europe. She has now had enough of his Tigger-like antics and her people are making it known that she resents the excessive greetings.
Le Parisien newspaper relayed the complaint today: "Angela Merkel, who is very reserved, does not greatly value the outpouring of affection from her French opposite number -- his way of kissing her on every meeting and touching her and handling her shoulders in front of the cameras."
The Germans might normally accept the Sarko style as Gallic warmth, but they see it as part of a power game in which the French president is breaking the rules of the Franco-German relationship. These require Paris and Berlin to treat one-another as equal senior partners, the "motor" of the European Union, even if their interests have diverged since the end of the Cold War.
In the past few months Sarko has, in German eyes, committed the following offences. He grabbed the limelight during Germany's six-month presidency of the EU last June and claimed as a personal triumph an agreement on a new constitutional treaty. He flouted the rules of the EU single currency by raising the national debt with tax breaks. He foisted a French candidate on Europe as next boss of the International Monetary fund. He brokered the release of foreign medical workers from Libya after all the groundwork had been done by the European Union. He imposed his French priorities in the revamp of the management structure of EADS, the Franco-German parent of the Airbus company. He is indulging in protectionism by creating French industrial champions, such as the energy giant born with the merger between Suez and Gaz de France. On Monday, Sarkozy instructed Merkel to drop German hostility to nuclear energy. The list goes on.
Poor Merkel. She was offended when George Bush came up behind her and massaged her shoulders at a G-8 summit in late July of 2006 (the hilarious music video version of this brief encounter is here), and now she's got Sarkozy groping her, too.
Question: do leaders like Bush and Sarkozy try these stunts with female leaders from non-Western countries? I'm morbidly curious. I think we need to elect a president who goes straight for the crotch when meeting women, just to see how the women fight back.
Oh, wait-- we had that president already. Heh.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
UPDATE: Charles's comment to this post is probably correct: there were scenes where people rode "dragonlings" like those tauntauns in "The Empire Strikes Back."
Is this really a poster for "D-War"? No one rides a dragon in the movie, especially not the evil knight who commands the forces of Buraki, the evil imugi (serpent protodragon). The movie features only one dragon; it's not evil, it never wears a harness, and it has antlers, not horns. What's up with this poster? Is it real? Is it fan art? Why do I find myself strangely reminded of this?
(Found off the Rotten Tomatoes review page for "D-War" after reading this post at the Marmot's Hole. Which reminds me: the most kick-ass dragon movie ever made was "Dragonslayer.")
I don't deny that I can be an asshole, but it usually takes a certain amount of pushing to get me to that point, after which I'm all over you. What follows is a reprint of an email I sent a friend not long after I blew up at author Zach Shatz for what I saw as extremely annoying assholery disguised as civility. The exchange between Zach and me is unretouched except for minor things like font color and style. You, Reader, may judge for yourself just how much of a dick I was, but before you do, read my commentary at the bottom of this post relating the history of my correspondence with this individual.
The email to Friend X begins thus (this email's text will be in black boldface from here on in; the emails I quote from will be in either blue (me) or red (Zach; yeah, we're doing the good/bad Jedi thing):
I lost my temper and told Zach to fuck off based on a series of exchanges we had over the course of today. The guy's got issues. He was open about some of them in the interview, but damn.
I'm using Rich Text formatting so you can see the emails as they were originally written by him and me. Take your time; it ought to be entertaining. I'm thinking about publishing the exchange (which I told Zach I'd likely do because, yes, I'm an asshole that way).
First, here's Zach's email after one of his friends emailed him the text of my blog entry. Zach wasn't happy with my intro, so he laced it with complaints in parentheticals.
Kevin, a friend sent me the text off your blog. I still want to get there myself. I'll follow your suggestions and see if I can. Meanwhile, thought I'd give you some comments witihn your intro.
Be well, Zach
Zach Schatz (misspelled my name) is an American author, teacher, and Big Thinker (nice of you) who recently moved to China. He found a post of mine, the old Contra Vallicella piece, and congratulated me on what he thought was a good argument (the analytical philosophers in the corner, however, weren't quite so impressed and gave me a sound drubbing from which I still haven't recovered). Zach and I struck up a cordial email dialogue many months ago and he was kind enough to mail me a copy of a book he'd written, titled Prisms and Mind (visit the book's website, Prismind, and order a copy). I received the book and read it in no time at all (while this might be true, I remember you saying it would take time for you to digest; here it's made to sound insubstantial) , as it's only about 70 pages long. The prose is clean and well-edited; the words have a poetic ring to them. (thanks) As it turns out, Zach is, among other things, a poet, so his book's simple eloquence is no accident.
I had agreed to help Zach promote his book by doing some sort of interview (here it sounds like an obligation you couldn't get out of, rather than by your invitation); we negotiated a bit on format, with yours truly gently insisting on IMs for more spontaneity. Zach kindly consented, but my summer vacation intervened and we couldn't do the interview right away. After various delays (some for technical reasons; it turns out that the Chinese internet isn't always user-friendly) (subtly taking your jab!), we finally managed to sit down and IM for three hours on Monday, September 3rd. I had also noted to Zach that I had several fundamental disagreements with the book, and that I hoped we could hash those out. I admitted that my disagreements might be rooted in misunderstandings of his ideas, which was another reason I was looking forward to the exchange.
What follows is the transcript of the three-hour IM conversation we had. We've cleaned up the typos and adjusted the formatting for clarity's sake, but the substance of the dialogue remains untouched. I hope you'll enjoy reading the exchange. Of course, this isn't really the end of it: the dialogue will likely continue (that would be splendid), and you, Reader, are invited to participate in it through comments or email (would love to be apprised of any such responses) (keep my email policy in mind, please; the policy is on my sidebar).
Sorry about the misspelling. Thanks for catching that. I've corrected the problem.
Regarding your comments:
(while this might be true, I remember you saying it would take time for you to digest; here it's made to sound insubstantial)
Zach, you're making too much of what I said. What I wrote was literally true. I'm not changing this. If anything, think about the positive way to read my remark: it was engaging and absorbing, a page turner. A page turner I happen to disagree with, for sure, but a page turner all the same.
(here it sounds like an obligation you couldn't get out of, rather than by your invitation)
I'm not sure why you insist on a negative interpretation of what I've written. If I've made a promise to do something, doesn't that promise become an obligation? Where did I imply it was a burden, especially when you read the rest of what I wrote there? Come on, Zach. Relax. Seriously. Don't go for the negative outlook.
(would love to be apprised of any such responses)
Your homework is to figure out how to access my blog. Have you tried Unipeak or other proxies yet? Once you're able to see my blog, hit the time stamp link under any blog post in order to see the comments.
FYI: Per my email policy, I do reserve the right to publish blog-related emails I receive. I'm mentioning this since you haven't had a chance to see the blog yet.
Zach wrote back, again inserting his reactions (boldface) into the text:
Sorry about the misspelling. Thanks for catching that. I've corrected the problem.
Regarding your comments:
"(while this might be true, I remember you saying it would take time for you to digest; here it's made to sound insubstantial)"
Zach, you're making too much of what I said. What I wrote was literally true. I'm not changing this. If anything, think about the positive way to read my remark: it was engaging and absorbing, a page turner. A page turner I happen to disagree with, for sure, but a page turner all the same. No problem. But why are you so willing to call it a page-turner here, but don't say that in your intro? Obviously, if you've taken the time and used my work in your blog, you give it credit. I'm just noting what I read.
"(here it sounds like an obligation you couldn't get out of, rather than by your invitation)"
I'm not sure why you insist on a negative interpretation of what I've written. If I've made a promise to do something, doesn't that promise become an obligation? Where did I imply it was a burden, especially when you read the rest of what I wrote there? Come on, Zach. Relax. Seriously. Don't go for the negative outlook. Your intro says, "I had agreed to help Zach..." Sounds like I asked you rather than the other way around, that you offered to help me. It just minimizes your enthusiasm for my book. Again, none of this is said with any emotional charge attached. No negativity. Just noting how I perceive it to read, that detracts a bit. Hopefully you can benefit from/appreciate a person's thoughts about your remarks.
"(would love to be apprised of any such responses)"
Your homework is to figure out how to access my blog. Have you tried Unipeak or other proxies yet? Once you're able to see my blog, hit the time stamp link under any blog post in order to see the comments. Haven't tried yet, but I will, and I think it will work.
FYI: Per my email policy, I do reserve the right to publish blog-related emails I receive. I'm mentioning this since you haven't had a chance to see the blog yet. Not a problem, come what may.
[NB to the blog reader: The above boldface text was HTML'ed with red, and it looked red on my preview screen, but it was coming out black on the actual blog, so I've decided to keep Zach's text black.]
And finally, I snapped:
Zach, I'm fed up with your whining. You emailed me TWICE to ask whether you could send me your book. Do you recall this? I have your emails on file. Your second email even went so far as to ask whether I had ignored you the first time you asked about sending me the book. That's promotion, Zach. I AGREED to help you promote your book.
Your current questions and comments betray a vast insecurity coupled with a desperate need to control your message-- a message you seem to think is beyond rational explanation, which makes me wonder how it can even be expressed, much less controlled.
At age 47, you should have some notion of responsible conduct. When you missed the first online meeting we'd arranged, I made an effort to be polite, but my estimation of you dropped considerably. I honestly thought I was dealing with another fresh-out-of-college "Expat in Asia" who had no idea what the hell he was doing. That's why I wondered how old you were. Your continued fumbling with online issues (be happy I publicly blamed China, not you) hasn't raised my esteem any. I've tried very hard to be civil and accommodating with you, Zach, but the time has come to cut the bullshit and tell you what you need to hear. Take a good, long look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself what you're doing in China. I think you'll discover that, at bottom, the answer is: "I don't know." Change that.
And toughen up. Frankly, I don't have time for your problems. If you feel the need to interpret the things I've written negatively, don't foist that psychological issue on me. I'm not about to kiss your ass and rewrite every little detail of what I've written just to appease your need to micromanage.
One thing I've learned in interreligious dialogue is that you have to risk reinterpretation by the Other. I haven't done that to you, but as old as you are, you should have the intestinal fortitude to deal with (mis)perceived reappropriations of your writing. I occasionally get comments on my blog from people who either don't understand what I've written or who understand but disagree. I don't complain about this fact, and you shouldn't, either. Misunderstanding and differing interpretations are part of the larger process of communication, not an opportunity for bellyaching.
Zach, I'm done with you. DO NOT reply to this email. As things stand, I'm likely to publish this email (I reserve that right, as stipulated on my blog and as noted in my previous email) along with the ones you've been sending me so that people can see for themselves how peevish and petty you sound. In your recent reply, you noted that my publishing your emails is "not a problem, come what may." I take this as written consent.
PS: Your email address is now filtered. All replies will end up in my trash folder and will be deleted unread. So let this go and learn some actual maturity while you're in China.
Maybe it's because I'm in the middle of planning the upcoming semester. Whatever the reason, I just didn't feel I had time for this shit, and Zach doesn't seem like the kind of person I'd like to waste time with, anyway. It's not his beliefs that bother me; I'm proud to know people with all sorts of strange beliefs. Long live variety! No, what bothered me was the whining, the wheedling, and the persistent nitpicking. So I took Joe Hyams's advice from Zen in the Martial Arts and decided not to waste any more time with Zach. Life's too short. Better to cut off a finger now than amputate an arm later.
[NB: The above paragraph is the concluding paragraph of the email I had sent to Friend X. The Zach/Kevin exchange was nestled in this email.]
So that's the email exchange. Now for some history.
Zach's very first email to me was in February of this year, complimenting me on my "Contra Vallicella" piece from so long ago. We struck up a civil enough conversation, but in Zach's first and second email, he offered to send me a copy of his book.
In his second email, he wrote:
Hey, Kevin. Good to hear your reflections on your piece. Not only did I send you my web address, but offered you a complementary copy of the book, if you like. Did you miss that part, or are you just not interested? Send your mailing address, if you want it. Be well.
There's nothing particularly wrong with self-promotion, but what Zach was doing in that above unpleasant exchange was twisting the truth: he doesn't seem to want to acknowledge that he came to me first. Zach is essentially accusing me of lying. Are you beginning to see why I lost patience with him?
Zach also wrote the following regarding whether we could make changes to our IM conversation:
I wouldn't be interested in a project in which my words are edited. This isn't out of vanity, but is essential to intuitive science. As is presented on pages 27 and 29, linguistics is the intuitive complement to mathematics. The words are the formulations, and not just chatter. To edit my language would be to interfere wih my assertions. Challenge all you want, but editing my words would be out of the question. Excising portions would have to be by consent. You might unknowningly be deleting necessary material.
I should point out that Zach came around to the idea of cleaning up the IM conversation-- something I was in favor of because we'd both made so many typos. Making such changes wasn't problematic to me, and I didn't see Zach's acceptance of a little proofreading as hypocritical. However, after Zach accepted most of my suggested changes, he made one very interesting (and, in my opinion, substantive) change to his own text: in the line where he talks about scientists not publicly advocating his point of view, Zach made the following change:
(ORIGINAL) Also, I've met world-class scientists and many others on my journey and they've been largely very positive also, but refrain from getting on board because their reputations demand the rejection of anything spiritual.
(EDITED) Also, I've met world-class scientists and many others on my journey and they've been largely very positive also, but refrain from getting on board because their exalted reputations demand the rejection of anything spiritual.
Keep in mind that Zach had originally said that he was totally against the editing of his words. I suppose he might have meant that editing himself was fine, but how does this square with his contention that "linguistics is the intuitive complement to mathematics," which seems to make discourse/textuality of supreme importance (an idea I scoff at, by the way)? He made this claim about the importance of language despite being aware that we were going to engage in a spontaneous, typo-ridden IM dialogue (how many such dialogues are unspontaneous and typo-free?).
So why the reversal? Why the need to add a sneering "exalted" to this supposedly sacrosanct, initially untouchable text? Zach told me he was actually quite a devout Christian, but his tactics betray a talent for subtle duplicity-- more serpent than saint, I think. At the very least, he's a damn hypocrite.
Zach also had this to say via email about his knowledge of science:
About science and empiricism - I'd call my science knowledge quite strong for a layman.
Having just accused Zach of duplicity, it's only fair that I come clean and confess my own trickery: I had asked for the IM format for one specific reason: I didn't want Zach to have the time to grab a reference and bullshit his way through an answer, as would have been possible in an email interview. I was relying on the idea that Zach would remain at his keyboard-- and in the moment-- and would answer off the top of his head.
I was rewarded for my efforts. At the very end of the interview, I asked Zach-- a man who claims to use prisms as his central paradigm for the true nature of reality, and who must therefore know his prisms through and through-- what a "Kretschmann prism" was. This wasn't a throw-away question; it had a purpose. Zach's reply, as you'll recall, was:
I can't answer that at the moment! Try Wikipedia!
Let me tell you a little secret: the Kretschmann prism is mentioned in Zach's book. You'd think he'd know what it was before mentioning it.
What else doesn't Zach know? In his tiny book, Zach quotes the titles of many research papers that mention prisms. Has he read and actually understood these research papers? He should be able to, given his "quite strong" knowledge of science, but I have my doubts as to whether Zach's science knowledge actually is that strong. As it turns out, he also messed up on the color mixing question; I'll talk about this in another post.
Scientists are held to strict standards of integrity: they keep each other honest. Individual researchers are as flawed and biased as anyone else, and science, viewed as a whole, has made its share of blunders. But science measures itself against reality, and if scientists try to jigger the numbers, reality will eventually slap the cheaters down-- which is why scientists themselves refer to science as self-correcting. The field cannot move forward without such empirical notions as repeatability, verifiability, and Karl Popper's notion of falsifiability (so eloquently discussed by Carl Sagan in his image of "the dragon in my garage"). Scientists, as scholars and researchers, also have to adhere to certain rigorous academic standards. As another friend pointed out, it is the height of sloppiness to mention references one hasn't bothered to read, and I'm pretty sure that if Zach doesn't know what a Kretschmann prism is, he probably hasn't read (m)any of the research papers he cites.
Let me delve into why the recent exchange with Zach set me off. You might not agree with my reasoning, and that's fine, but I think you'll agree that I wasn't completely irrational to do what I did. Let's review some of Zach's comments in the above exchange.
First: "(while this might be true, I remember you saying it would take time for you to digest; here it's made to sound insubstantial)"
Zach seems to be complaining that I've somehow diminished his work. That's not how I read my own remark. Instead-- as I pointed out to Zach-- my having gone through Zach's book in "no time" could be taken positively: the book engaged me. This, by the way, is true. The book is indeed well written, whatever its fundamental flaws. Zach is whining here, and I find it annoying. The fact that he will insist on whining in the next part of this exchange will become infuriating.
Second: "(here it sounds like an obligation you couldn't get out of, rather than by your invitation)"
What exactly is Zach's point? He seems to be saying I've twisted the truth. This remark pissed me off. A lot. Yes, I proposed the interview, but Zach came to me first. It is absolutely true that I was agreeing to help him promote his book. Our aims, at least at the time, were consonant. Zach wanted to be known and read; I wanted to help him achieve that goal.
Third: "(subtly taking your jab!)"
Jab? I was actually covering for Zach, again out of politeness. Zach Shatz, Mr. Quite Strong in Science, is apparently a zero with computers. While he was in the States, he was unable to read my Korean-language mailing address (it came out as gibberish characters on his screen), and he never figured out how to reconfigure his computer to make those characters legible. I eventually had to send him a PNG graphic of the address. The procedure that allows modern browsers to read foreign languages is available on Google, like everything else that exists in the cosmos. At that early point in our correspondence, I was willing to overlook this clumsiness as a mere quirk, but in light of the above exchange and my own increasingly sour insights into Zach's character, this inability became less puzzling and more annoying. When Zach was in China, we again went through several rounds of emails before he was able to get set up on Yahoo! Messenger. It's not as though China is a technological backwater; they steal enough tech to keep up with the times. And Zach, who I assume has friends (they're the ones who viewed my blog and emailed the interview to him), didn't consult those friends about any of his online problems. Why not?
Even in private correspondence, I made an effort to be patient with Zach's inability to figure his way through very simple online tasks. In those emails, I commented that the Chinese internet must suck (we discovered that, at least in Luoyang, Blogspot blogs are still blocked; the Great Firewall remains in place). Why, then, did Zach see my public comment-- which blamed China-- as a jab?
Fourth: "But why are you so willing to call it a page-turner here [i.e., in a private email], but don't say that in your intro?"
Is Zach saying I need to suck his dick in public? Is he worried that I'm trying, privately, to reassure him? He sounds like an insecure prima donna here.
Fifth: "Your intro says, 'I had agreed to help Zach...' Sounds like I asked you rather than the other way around, that you offered to help me. It just minimizes your enthusiasm for my book."
As mentioned before, Zach is here attempting to pass over the fact that he came to me first. He asked twice about sending me a copy of his book. How would you read this? I read this as blatant self-promotion, especially if the second request is worded in such a way as to imply that I had ignored the first request. You could argue that Zach might not have intended to promote his book at all. But then why make the website, eh? Why make two requests? Aren't these behaviors consistent with the profile of a self-promoter? According to Zach, he apparently shopped his book (or at least his views) to world-class scientists and to people whose lives were utterly changed by his insights. I didn't receive a shotgun email from Zach-- he approached me directly. It's safe to assume I'm not the only person he tapped this way.
This burns me. It really does. The dishonesty of it makes me laugh in disbelief. His ingratitude, after all the time spent on arranging this interview, makes me want to knock his head off.
But you know... he's right that my enthusiasm for his book has been minimized.
Sixth: "Hopefully you can benefit from/appreciate a person's thoughts about your remarks."
Hopefully? Benefit? What am I, a fucking monkey? A charity case? The condescension here is amazing.
By the way: I hereby apologize to all the people who feel I've been condescending toward them. I'm saying that because I want to make goddamn sure I go to heaven when I die.
Seventh: "(would love to be apprised of any such responses)"
Am I to become Zach's servant now? Instead of making the effort to solve his online problems, Zach regally assumes that I'll simply float periodic emails his way.
As one reader remarked, Zach would do well to give up his US citizenship and make his fortune as a citizen of China. If he thinks China is some sort of paradise, well... good luck to him. I wonder what Zach'll do once he takes a close look at how repressive the Chinese government can be. Will Zach speak out about human rights problems there? Will he be as critical of the Chinese experiment as he is of the American one? I'm also curious as to how he'll react when his school in Luoyang eventually shafts him at the end of his contract.
Let's stop there and talk about one other thing: why, if I was suspicious of Shatz from the beginning, did I bother to allow this nonsense to go on for months and months, even to the point of eventually taking three hours out of my day to do this hard-to-arrange interview?
As lame as it sounds, I don't have a good answer for that. The best I can say is that I normally give people the benefit of the doubt and will do so for a long time before my patience finally begins to run dry. In Zach's case, I felt he was more annoying than unbearable, and my annoyance initially wasn't that great. But the fact that he began twisting the truth, waving his overly delicate ego about, and being persistent about it (couldn't you see where the email exchange was headed?) all pushed me to my limits. It probably didn't help that I was busy prepping for the upcoming semester at Smoo. I admit I wasn't in the mood for Zach's bullshit, and also admit that my own passivity exacerbated the situation. We're both at fault.
Am I an angel? No. Hell, no. I was an asshole to Zach. But you know what? I'm not sorry. Not one bit. I felt that Zach needed to be exposed for the person he is, and if that meant risking the exposure of my own unsavory side, so be it. I can be a fucking bastard; I'm old enough to know this about myself and to admit to it with no hesitation. I'm not interested in being liked by everyone because I know such a thing is impossible. Why waste time on the impossible? If this makes me seem arrogant to you, then you're one of those insecure people who routinely mistakes confidence for arrogance. I know your type.
To the rest of you more confident souls: judge as you will.