Wednesday, December 24, 2008

holiday cheer




(Image for sale at CafePress in two forms.)


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Saturday, December 20, 2008

100 Below: Volume 38

It didn't take long to realize that the mice hadn't been trading fairly. I had initiated the trade by giving them large chunks of my best Gruyère. In exchange, the mice had given me so-called “chocolate pellets” which, according to them, would be great when added to hot milk.

Those little fuckers.


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Sunday, December 14, 2008

celebrate the holidays!

It's beginning to smell a lot like Christians
Ev'rywhere you go;
Take a look in the manger, then-- it's glistening once again
With afterbirth! Placenta white as snow!
It's beginning to smell a lot like Christians
Magdalene's a whore--
And the scariest sight you'll see is the Holy Family
At your own front door!




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Sunday, December 07, 2008

SWAG!!

Just in time for Christmas, we've got all sorts of CafePress products. See the new tile coasters here. Get a bird's-eye view of the store here. Buy my book here. Greeting cards are here. Remember: shopping from home means no shootings and no deadly stampedes.


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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Monday, December 01, 2008

holy shit, this turns me on

Many thanks to the Maven for sharing this hilariously disgusting YouTube video depicting tonsillolith removal. Already forgotten my post on these nasties from long ago? Type "bighominid tonsillolith" into Google and find the original post.


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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

horrified love-grunts

dropped my pants
shook my wang
told my gal to
Suck that thang!
she got up
grabbed a pan
smashed my nuts
into a flan
kicked my ass
made me yell
blood flew out
my dick as well

...then she said, "OK, now I'll suck it."

But I didn't believe her.

Because she had scissors.


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Sunday, November 09, 2008

troublesome curves

One commenter at the product blog-- whose name and sex shall remain undisclosed (the comments are hidden)-- wanted me to remove certain language from Items 35 and 36, two pieces of brush art I had done a few years back, depicting a woman seated by what may be a riverbank (the scene is minimalist, so you can fill it in as you please). The woman's back is turned to us, but her curvaceous fundament is plainly visible. The comment I appended to the image jokes that, in painting this picture, I may have revealed my weakness for plump, curvy asses-- the "may have" of course alerts the reader to the fact that I haven't actually stated my real preference: we're in the world of humor, here.

The commenter didn't give a reason as to why the "weakness for" text should be deleted, leaving me to speculate as to what, exactly, was so distressing or offensive about it. Let's review-- and refute-- some possibilities.

1. A public comment by a male about his preference for plump, curvy asses is disrespectful to women: it objectifies them (women, not asses... or, yeah, maybe asses, too), and from there it's a slippery slope from objectification to victimization.

This claim fails on a number of fronts. First, any argument rooted in victimization undermines whatever feminist goal the claimant has in view. To speak, on the one hand, of women as empowered, equal, and even better than men in certain (or in many) respects, while also speaking of women as constantly vulnerable to "the male gaze" is to engage in a hypocrisy that keeps non-feminists from taking such feminists seriously.

Second, it's not obvious that objectification is always a bad thing. How can a man praise a woman's physical virtues without referring to her physical parts? There are many women who prefer such praise to remain vague and poetic, which I can understand (and a man who shouts "Damn, she got some junk in dat trunk!" isn't going to inspire female lust or admiration), but like it or not, people are wired to respond to each other's physicality. To stoop to the language of postmodernism for a moment: we are embodied; this is as much a part of our interiority as it is a brute, objective fact. To perceive someone is not merely to perceive them abstractly; it is, first and foremost, to perceive them concretely, i.e., through the senses. Women are no different from men in this, and these days women often offer sexual commentary that is just as public and just as raunchy (Exhibit A: MTV-- watch college girls talk about guys on any number of "reality" shows).

It's primarily the main strains of paleofeminism that attempt completely to separate sex from gender, peeling biology away, pretending it's irrelevant, and arguing that "manhood" and "womanhood" are purely mental and social constructions. This sort of thinking still gets a lot of play in American academe; it's a shame we Yanks aren't as relaxed as the French (I don't speak here of old-school French feminists, who are arguably among the worst offenders in the "abiological" movement), who take female sexuality to be an advantage, even a weapon-- a worldview that's closer to the truth than the twisted gospel preached in American classrooms.

And that's why, as I've mentioned here and elsewhere, I'm a Camille Paglia feminist. Paglia represents, to my mind, a far more liberated, empowered woman: a woman who can hear sexually charged male comments and say to those men, "Yeah, that's right... my ass is hot, and you ain't gettin' any of it." (Well, obviously: Paglia's a lesbian. Paleofeminists often uncharitably accuse her of being a betrayer, a "gay man in a woman's body," as one feminist put it.) Paglia doesn't separate sex and gender; biological reality is front and center in her thinking, and objectification is, for her, something we simply do:

Other feminists contest feminist claims about the objectification of women. Camille Paglia holds that "Turning people into sex objects is one of the specialties of our species." In her view, objectification is closely tied to (and may even be identical with) the highest human faculties toward conceptualization and aesthetics. Individualist feminist Wendy McElroy holds that the label "sex object" means nothing because inanimate objects are not sexual. She continues that women are their bodies and sexuality as well as their minds and souls. [source]

I also like McElroy's contention, quoted above, because it points to a major philosophical flaw in the abiological paleofeminist victimization stance. Is most objectification really objectification? Probably not. To be fair, I'm willing to grant that there are forms of human objectification that shouldn't be tolerated. The demonization of one's political enemies, in which the other side is portrayed as irrational or stupid or subhuman or simply evil, is a good example of this. Such a stance precludes meaningful dialogue, or at least makes it unnecessarily difficult. Other out-of-bounds forms of objectification can be seen when we turn to outright acts of cruelty, in which people are treated literally as objects. Some examples: slavery, kidnapping, spousal abuse, etc.

But my point is that putting a guy declaring "What an ass!" in the same moral category as spousal abuse strikes me as ridiculous, not to mention insulting to victims of abuse, i.e., people who actually merit the label "victim." Luckily, I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Third, it's not obvious that public statements of appreciation of the female form constitute objectification. Men aren't exactly known for phrasing their utterances in the most delicate manner; most of what men say to and about women is, believe it or not, a weird form of praise, and should be taken as such. (I'm obviously not including extreme cases, such as that of a violently drunk Mel Gibson snarling "Whadaya think you're lookin' at, sugar tits?" upon viewing a female officer at a police station in 2006.) But many women seem not to understand this, choosing instead to be offended. This state of affairs puzzles me since women are routinely touted as more perceptive than men! (I happen to agree, at least generally, that women are more perceptive than men, though I think each sex has its own set of blinders, denials, and other forms of self-deception.)

Finally, we can't end this section without noting that slippery-slope arguments are of dubious validity, if not outright invalid, when applied to human behavior. They rely on the idea that a certain set of psychological initial conditions will hold steady, even gain momentum. While there is evidence to support such an idea, there is, I think, an equal amount of evidence against it. People are both social creatures and creatures imbued with free will; they can be swayed to act in certain ways, often en masse, but they can also pull themselves out of a pattern of action before that pattern solidifies, for such is the nature of freedom. A guy might have a "what an ass!" moment upon seeing un joli cul, but this doesn't mean he's going to start kidnapping women and locking them in cellars as part of a growing collection. Such wildly irrational thinking is what leads some feminist schools of thought to preach, for example, that "all men are potential rapists." No, we're not.

2. The "plump, curvy ass" language matched neither the general tone of the rest of the blog, nor the tone of the picture in question.

It might be true that that tone is jarringly out of place for some, but this doesn't amount to an argument for removal of the offending language. Quite the contrary, asking for such a removal amounts to a rude imposition, as mentioned before: it's like coming into someone's house and demanding they rearrange the furniture.

3. It's just icky, OK? Change it! Strangely enough, this is probably the most compelling stance. But note that there's no reasoning here; whatever motivation exists behind the command is all visceral, totally irrational, purely emotional, and not particularly considerate of my rights to blog as I wish. Nevertheless, if the commenter is someone with whom I'm on friendly terms, that bond alone may be enough to make me back down. And that is, in fact, what I've done in this case (though not without grumbling about "the thought police"). Yes, you may call me a wuss. Or a pussy.

Two final thoughts: first, ultimately, I see nothing wrong with publicly appreciating the feminine form, whether we do it in florid language or in a markedly lower register. We, men and women, exist bodily and are prone to act bawdily. I'm not suggesting that we drop all pretensions to civility, charge outside, and rut madly in the streets (that's what nightclubs are for: to channel all that sexual energy), but we do need to relax and shed our political correctness. I'm reminded of this daily, because my own bathroom reading is currently George Carlin's often-hilarious When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?, another collection that takes on the PC mentality that wants everything to be inoffensive... the end result of which is the stultification of thought and culture, all ironically in the name of respect.

Second, a public proclamation about a general stance ("I've got a weakness for plump, curvy asses") is not the same thing as loudly declaring "What an ass!" when a woman passes by. A lot of people fail to see the difference, which is usually the result of overly large ego boundaries that contribute to inordinate sensitivity. I've had commenters who, at both this and my other blog, have reacted to things I've written as if I had personally attacked them. That reaction might be understandable if I were, say, tossing off racist remarks or engaging in truly sexist rants (like this dude, or possibly even this dude), but I fail to see how appreciation qualifies as offensive.

I like big butts and I cannot lie
You other brothers can't deny
That when a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist
And a round thing in your face
You get sprung, wanna [pull out your tough]
'Cause you notice that butt was stuffed
Deep in the jeans she's wearin'
I'm hooked and I can't stop starin'
Oh baby, I wanna get with you
And take your picture
My homeboys tried to warn me
But that butt you got makes me so horny
Ooh, Rump-o'-Smoothskin
You say you wanna get in my Benz?
Well, use me, use me
'Cause you ain't that average groupie
I've seen them dancin'
To hell with romancin'
She's sweat, wet,
Got it goin' like a turbo 'Vette
I'm tired of magazines
Sayin' flat butts are the thing
Take the average black man and ask him that
She gotta pack much back
So, fellas! (Yeah!) Fellas! (Yeah!)
Has your girlfriend got the butt? (Hell yeah!)
Tell 'em to shake it! (Shake it!) Shake it! (Shake it!)
Shake that healthy butt!
Baby got back!


(Sir Mix-a-Lot, "Baby Got Back")


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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

one nation, under semen

Do you have any idea how much victory sex will be going on this evening after Obama wins this election? Liberals can be found everywhere, not just in urban areas, and I guarantee you that they will be fucking each other's brains out. Sperm will be flying high and low, like bullets on Normandy Beach, so please: if you absolutely must drive tonight, break out the winter gear early to assure the maximum amount of traction. Put chains on your tires, or drag the hovercraft out of mothballs. If you can avoid driving, do so. Wait until tomorrow afternoon, when the spunk will have started to cake and crust over. Tonight, though, America will be auto-bukkake-ing itself, so seriously think about staying indoors.

And if you're a liberal... do the rest of us a favor and watch your aim.


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MASSIVE ERECTION DAY!

I'm breaking radio silence because I'm sexually excited by the prospect of watching the ultimate snuff film: Barack Obama avidly gnawing on John McCain's quivering intestines.

Not that I wouldn't be any less excited if it were the other way around, but as of this writing, it appears that it's McCain who's chained to the stalagmite and not his adversary. Sorry, John. It was a good run, but you're lunch.

Obama will pause in mid-gnaw, removing his head from inside McCain's abdominal cavity to sniff the air suspiciously. His eyes will prowl the cave until he finally sees the camera that's filming this ghoulish feast.

And then...

Barack Obama will smile a demon's smile, the corners of his mouth pulling away from each other to an impossible, inhuman distance. Tattered ropes and ribbons of John McCain will be visible in that maw, hanging wetly from Obama's faceful of saberlike fangs.

Obama will cackle madly, then return to his hellish repast with renewed fervor as McCain whimpers and struggles feebly, too far gone to be saved. Oh, the end is gonna be brutal, John. May your last thoughts be of Cindy... or of Sarah.


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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

quiescence

The time has come, Dear Reader, to send this perverse, chaotic mass of verbiage and imagery off to its bedroom for a year(s)-long siesta. As noted before, this isn't the end of the Hairy Chasms; I'll be posting here every now and again over the course of the next year or two.

But for those among you who have been dedicated readers, willing to follow me through thick and thin (or, in this case, from thick to thin as my upcoming Walk whittles me down to a less freakish size), I encourage you to keep tabs on the madness over at Kevin's Walk.

The time has come to focus more acutely on what lies ahead, which means the tomfoolery has got to go. It's been fun, and it'll be fun again: this isn't adios, after all... it's merely one last, desperate French kiss and boob squeeze to tide us over until we meet again.

See you at the other blog. In the meantime:

may rainbows shine from your anus,
may you shit gold nuggets and filthy little leprechauns,
and may you never accidentally fuck anyone's pet.





ONE LAST UPDATE: We had our "midterm" evaluations last week, and I got the results back just now.

My 7:40AM Level 2 class gave me a 96.7%.
My 8:50AM Level 2 class gave me a 90%, the bastards.
My noon Current Events English class gave me a 100%. The love is mutual.
My 1:30PM Level 2 class gave me a 100%.
My Pronunciation Clinic class gave me a 94.7%.

If we simply average the five classes, my final average is 96.28%.

If we calculate the whole mess by taking the average of all the individual sheets, we get 945 points out of 980 (each student can award a maximum of 35 points), which is a 96.4%.

A 96% either way. Story of my life.

In case you were wondering about student numbers:

My 7:40AM Level 2 class turned in 7 eval forms.
My 8:50AM Level 2 class turned in 4 eval forms, the bastards.
My noon Current Events English class turned in 8 eval forms. The love is mutual.
My 1:30PM Level 2 class turned in 2 eval forms (only 3 students in this class).
My Pronunciation Clinic class turned in 7 eval forms (10 students were there that day... did 3 students abstain?).



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one last ass-kicking from Alan Cook

Alan Cook holds my feet to the fire again, this time in his blistering critique of my essay on philosophy of mind. While I reject some of his criticisms, I think many (and there are many!) of them are valid and deserve to be addressed, but this blog is going dormant as of tonight (dormant isn't dead-- occasional posts will appear here over the coming year or two), so I doubt I'll be responding anytime soon.

Of note is one critique Alan made about my qualia/Taoism association. Sperwer made almost exactly the same critique long ago, and this is indeed a point that needs fixing. In Alan's case, the critique runs thus:

Here, it seems to me that Kevin commits an elementary logical error: from the facts that a is F and b is F, it does not follow that a=b. Just because the Dao is ineffable and must be directly experienced to be known, and the same can be said about qualia, it does not follow that the two terms refer to the same thing.

I don't think I actually equated the Tao with qualia, so I'm not sure I'm guilty of the fallacy described above. What I was doing was trying to point out a thematic resemblance. I may have failed in the attempt, however, and for that reason I might have to leave the Taoism illustration aside since it seems to muddy the waters rather than clarify them. Sperwer's own remarks were similar in spirit to Alan's, which leads me to believe that, as written, the passage to which Alan is referring can easily be read as committing the "a-b-F" fallacy. That alone is reason enough for a rewrite.

(NB: A second edition of Water from a Skull-- perhaps one in which the essay on philosophy of mind is an actual paper and not merely a superficial meditation-- won't be appearing for a long, long while.)


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were you April fooled?

I want to thank the kind commenters who thought my previous post was serious. It was indeed an April Fool's joke (a lame one, as Charles comments), but not malicious in intent.

I don't know whether you tried this, but if you drag your cursor across that post and highlight the entire thing, you'll find a hidden message.


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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

the bad news I haven't revealed yet

While I've been farting around with Walk graphics and accepting cash donations (thank you all; you know who you are), there's one thing I haven't wanted to reveal to my readership, largely because it's more than a tad embarrassing:

I've decided to nix the Walk and stay in Korea.

I'm in the process of refunding my plane ticket, and am mentally rehearsing what I'm going to say to my bosses, who are likely to be pissed off.

This may seem sudden to you, but that's only because I've been... well, to be honest, I've been rather afraid of everyone's reaction. "Pulling a Boyle, are you?" I can hear someone saying. No, I'm not pulling a Boyle. To do that, I'd have to actually start the Walk. It's better this way, yes? I can refund the donations I've received, I can save the walk graphics for when they'll be useful, I can begin when I'm more physically fit.

So I'm writing this at around 11:30PM because I'm hoping my Korea-bound readership will be away from their computers and hobnobbing with the Sandman. I don't know what my Stateside and European readers will do or think, but... be kind, OK? People sometimes pull a 180.

Sorry, folks.
And if you actually believe this post, I should tell you about my two-meter penis.

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o-hae hajimaseyo!

This morning, I brought in a mess of cheese, crackers, juice, and figs for my noon Current Events class to consume. Around 11:15AM, I saw one of my Pronunciation Clinic students dipping into my big red Costco bag, examining its contents item by item, without any fear of being caught. I thought this was pretty fucking brazen, but I held my temper and approached her with my usual loud, blustery, humorous routine, acting the part of the scandalized merchant who has caught a shopper rifling through the wares in the back room.

"Oh! Please don't take this the wrong way!" she said in Korean (o-hae hajimaseyo-- literally, "don't misunderstand").

Why the Korean? you bellow. Why isn't she speaking to you in English? A number of reasons, actually. One is that her own English is awful; she lived in China for a year and speaks great Chinese, from what I've heard, but her English needs some major surgery. Another is that she's not one of my regular students (i.e., not one of my Level 2 students), so I feel little obligation to push her to speak English with me. Some teachers have a standing policy about speaking English to all students all the time, and I respect that. It's just not what I do. That brings me to the third reason for speaking Korean with her: selfish bastard that I am, I try to seek out opportunities to practice the tattered Korean I have.

This student is hilarious, actually; she's Student Number One in the pronunciation class (all the students are numbered; this makes it easier for me to assign file names to the audio recordings everyone makes for me), and on the first day, she failed to understand when I asked, at the beginning of her very first audio recording session with me, "What's your student number?" All she had to say was, "One," but instead she gave this weird little gasp as if she had just caught me whacking off. My response to this sounds far worse on the recording than it did in reality. I leaned closer to the mike and repeated, "What's your student number?" in a strident voice that eerily reminded me of the way my dad used to sound on those rare occasions when he was pissed off. On the recording, I sound positively scary; in real life, I was smiling and feeling rather amused by how flustered the student was. I really need to put that recording up on YouTube.

Anyway, I cheerfully needled the poor girl about her brazen rummagery, calling her "thief!" and questioning how she'd been raised. She laughed-- a show of how mortified she was, not of how she appreciated my cruel sense of humor. I stopped busting her balls after a while, but I did want to make it very clear that you just-- don't-- root-- around-- other-- people's-- shit. I ended my harassment on an ominous note: "Don't ever do that if you go to America!"

Heh.


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Ave, Malcolm!

Malcolm emailed me this YouTube link. I just about puked from laughing. Apparently, this video's gone viral.


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nomophobia?

Is "nomophobia" the fear of Hideo Nomo?

No: it's "no-mobile phobia"—the fear of being out of cell phone contact.

That has to be the dumbest phobia ever. It's dumb on at least two levels: first, people with nomophobia are lame. Second, the Greek nomos means law, so to my ears, nomophobia means "fear of law." Applying such a dignified-sounding term to cell-phone addiction is just wrong.

It's possible to establish a connection between the lame nomophobia and the fear-of-law nomophobia: our route lies through the work of Peter Berger, the sociologist who wrote the classic The Sacred Canopy, a succinct overview of the sociology of religion. Berger gently conflates* two Greek notions: law and order (nomos and kosmos) to give us his term nomos, which refers to the overarching and undergirding social order. A teenager experiencing anomie feels somehow separate or detached from this order. In a sense, then, a cell-phone addict deprived of his or her phone might feel great anxiety because of a perception (however false and distorted) that s/he has been cut off from the greater order.

I suspect that introverts are less susceptible to this nonsense than extraverts, who can be godawful needy. Come to think of it, that's one of the happiest aspects of my departure from Korea: while I'm going to miss the country and its people terribly, I will most assuredly NOT miss having a damn cell phone.





*To be fair, law and order imply each other, so I'm not accusing Berger of doing anything sneaky here. A system that runs on laws will automatically manifest order, and an ordered system must needs contain constraints (i.e., laws).


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Monday, March 31, 2008

I think this is better

I wasn't all that satisfied with my previous attempt at a bumper sticker/letterhead image for my Walk, so as you'll see below, I've tried again. Gone is the Kevin image; gone, too, are the massive bootprint, the varied fonts, and the generally busy design.

It took a while to figure out how I was going to represent America on the bumper sticker; my original thought had been to take an outline map of the Lower 48 and squish that into a bumper sticker's dimensions. I abandoned that idea, however, because such a distortion probably would have made the US unrecognizable. I think that switching over to red, white, and blue works better. I'm probably going to go with this design: it represents everything I want it to-- a walk across America plus the interreligious theme of the trek.



Although it wasn't by design, I kind of like the way Buddhism ends up near the middle, where it should be. The Christian cross floats over my heart, obviously because I'm a Christian (that was by design).

I thought about adding the blog's URL, but decided against it once I saw that the URL simply brought us once again to the edge of "too busy!"

UPDATE: Check out tee shirts here and bumper stickers here. Unlike what you see above, the actual design has no black border.



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bad comparisons

You may have seen the hysterical Drudge headline, "Muslims More Numerous than Catholics." The article says:

Islam has overtaken Roman Catholicism as the biggest single religious denomination in the world, the Vatican said on Sunday.

The problem, of course, is that Islam is not a single religious denomination. A proper comparison would be between all of Islam and all of Christianity, and there, the ratio remains about the same as it's been for a while: about 2 to 1 in favor of Christians. (The article offers no hard figures, but guesses at a ratio of 2 billion Christians to 1.3 billion Muslims.)

Beware false comparisons!


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Barbier on Bruni & Sarko and the French economy

For you francophones out there, an "édito-vidéo" by Christophe Barbier about the recent trip by the First Couple to Britain will provide you some amusement. Barbier rates Bruni's appearance, poise, and ability to handle the cameras as a "20 out of 20" (based on the French school system's method of scoring students), while poor Sarko himself gets a 14 out of 20 (considered decent, if not great, in French reckoning, given the difficulty of the tests).

Of more interest is what Barbier says about the bizarre state of the French economy: nous avons à la fois la baisse du chômage et la persistance-- que dis-je-- l'aggravation de la crise économique. Ce n'est pas normal. "We have, at the same time, falling unemployment and the persistence-- what am I saying-- the aggravation of the economic crisis. This isn't normal." Barbier's assessment of whether the current president and government can find creative solutions to the present problem is pessimistic (and, truth be told, a bit bitchy in tone). Interesting vid.


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uncanny valley?

You can't hurt this woman's feelings 'cause she ain't real. Be sure to read the comments.

(with thanks to the rarely visited but often worthwhile BoingBoing)


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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Banky gets cranky

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned "Fitna," the short film by Dutch anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders that juxtaposes violent Koranic verses with violent actions and words by Muslims.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday condemned as "offensively anti-Islamic" a Dutch lawmaker's film that accuses the Koran of inciting violence.

Ban acknowledged efforts by the government of the Netherlands to stop the broadcast of the film, which was launched by Islam critic Geert Wilders over the Internet, and appealed for calm to those "understandably offended by it."

"There is no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence," Ban said in a statement. "The right of free expression is not at stake here."

So the question, as always, is: will Ban show this sort of backbone in the face of

Freedom Go To Hell
God Bless Hitler

and
Behead Those Who Insult Islam

signs?

I suspect not: if he actually took the time to condemn each such incitement to violence, he'd hardly have time for other aspects of his job, now, would he?


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yup-- prayer heals

Two instances of the power of prayer here (thanks, Malcolm) and here.

In such cases, I'm always reminded of the joke about the guy on the rooftop during a flood who insists on waiting for God to save him. You know how it goes: a truck comes by and offers him a lift, but the guy says, "No; God will save me." A boat comes by when the waters have risen but the guy rejects the boat, too. A helicopter comes by when the water is nearly up to the roof, but the guy remains firm in his conviction that God will come down and save him. The guy eventually drowns, and when he's before the Good Lord, he reproaches him, demanding to know why God didn't try to save him. God replies, "I tried three times! I sent you a truck, then a boat, and then a helicopter!"

There are, of course, two ways for us to interpret the story. The atheistic way would be to say that faith in God is vain: there's no divine help coming, only help of the pedestrian variety. The more religious way of viewing the story would be that we need to stop looking for the Absolute somewhere in a meaningless "up there" and start seeing it right here, right where we are, in this moment. No matter which view you take, the lesson is obvious: focus on the now. As the Taoist* proverb goes, "With one eye always on the goal, you have but one eye left to find the Way."





*Taoist in spirit if not actually from the Taoist tradition.


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Hill's pickle and Obama's giggle

Excellent commentary on Hillinbama's recent travails over at the NYT. Much is made of the "viral" nature of politics (think: information spread on YouTube) these days. Obama's group gets it; Hillary's cohorts don't, the author argues.

Now I'm off to buy some fookin' cheese, walnuts, and honey.


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100 Below: Volume 37

Jane found Bob in the kitchen.

"Stop that," she said.

"Stop what?" Bob asked.

"You know what."

"No, Jane, I don't know what." Bob looked annoyed.

"You're slicing the cheese with your dick again," Jane said, fists clenched.

"So?" asked Bob, slicing carefully.

"So this needs to stop, and it needs to stop right now."

Bob raised his eyebrows, but didn't look away from his task.

"But why?" he asked.

Jane opened her mouth, then closed it. She opened it again... then closed it again.

Furrowing her brows, Jane realized she couldn't think of a single reason.


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downhill

It's hard to believe, but on Monday I'll be embarking on my final three weeks of teaching here at Smoo. It's all downhill from here. I've already administered the students' first quiz; the only thing left will be the midterm exam. In the meantime, I'll have my usual complement of journals to flip through and drench in red ink.

I know one thing I'd do differently if I had the time to formally institute the changes: I'd spend less time on error correction in those journals. In fact, I'd spend no time at all on correction; instead, I'd simply circle whatever errors I found, then let the students get together to figure out where/how they must have gone wrong. I'd then ask them to do rewrites, and only after that would I involve myself in actual correction. What I do now is, basically, provide a proofreading service for the students. They appreciate the feedback, but I don't think they're getting as much out of the experience as they could. I'd love to make that change this semester, but given how tightly I've scheduled the activities, that won't be possible.

Teaching is as much a growing process as learning is. You learn while you teach; you experiment with different methods, learn what works, then go with that. You also update your methods on occasion-- not necessarily by jumping onto the latest pedagogical fads (most of which are stupid, anyway), but by going with what makes sense to you and responding to the specific needs of the academic community you're in. Most teachers, for example, realize pretty quickly that, for all their claims to "know grammar," a high proportion of low- to intermediate-level Korean students still produce lengthy utterances or essays that are grammatically feeble. This means that many of us will sacrifice part of the vaunted communicative approach-- an approach that stresses merely being understood-- in order to go Old School and reintroduce the meat-and-potatoes elements of grammar, style, and usage. Clarity does actually count for something.

Don't drop those articles!
Don't add articles where they're not needed!
Watch those prepositions!
Watch the plural and third-person "S"!
Watch how you phrase ideas in the negative ("everyone don't know")!
Watch that subject-verb agreement!
Watch how you use "yes" and "no" in response to negative questions!
(etc.)


I'm sure the above sounds quite familiar to people in the business.

Ah, the business. And I'll be leaving it soon.

But I'll be back. Like Arnold and MacArthur and Jesus, I offer a promise (or is it a threat?) to return.

Today I'm making charoset (we're celebrating Passover early in my classes, you see), shopping for cheeses to make a cheese platter, doing laundry, proofing a short paper, and gearing up for the week. Luckily, I did my class prep on Friday, which is why I could afford to laze around this weekend. Today, though, I've got a few things to do. The charoset and cheese platter are for my Current Events English class; I had hoped to do something with them last week, but I was just too tired, for some reason.

This week we'll have the cheese party, and along with my coworker Terry and his students, we'll be doing a movie night on Thursday evening. Not a bad way to start the downhill slide.


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imminent dormancy

April approaches, and in a few days I'll be putting this blog to sleep. Not in the euthanasia sense, mind you: I'll likely be posting on here intermittently during the Walk. But as my time in Korea draws to a close, I think it'll be helpful for me to focus more acutely on what I'm about to do. To that end, I invite you all to follow my activities over at Kevin's Walk, where I'll be spending the bulk of my time. The blog hasn't got much to offer at the moment, but in the coming months it will become my home base in cyberspace, the main source of news about me. My hope is that it will feature photos, videos, and the usual logorrhea you've come to expect from my mind's ass.

(Special apologies to my obsessive reader in London, for whom this putting-to-sleep of the Hairy Chasms is going to be a painful experience.)


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Saturday, March 29, 2008

cuss-o-meter

Found over at Cappy's place:

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?


Not shown above is the following remark, which appeared on my results screen:

This is 83% MORE than other websites who took this test.

Like Cappy, I'm not particularly happy with my results, because I'm pretty sure I cuss more frequently than this fucking thing is claiming.


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Thomas Covenant has company

Are you an Unbeliever? There may be a "church" for you.

It is hard not to notice the bells that ring on Sunday morning. But at churches, synagogues and mosques around the globe there are some for whom that religion is lost. This group is part of America's atheist minority.

While Christians, Muslims and Jews can celebrate their beliefs, and fellowship in the company of others in churches, mosques and synagogues, where can non-believers find a spiritual home?

One answer lies in Palo Alto, Calif., if you spot the sign by the roadside. It's at the Humanist Community, where for a few hours every Sunday the humanists, as they call themselves, come together in what one might call a congregation. It even has its own Sunday school.

Without church bells, but with music, this group of humanists believe in a lot of things – but God isn't one of them.

They get together and, with lectures for the older congregants and stories and games for the younger ones, discuss not their faith, but the opposite of faith -- the idea that truth arises from reason, from science, from free thought.

"I like to think freely, but still I can really think freely whenever I want 'cause I think thinking freely is good," said eight-year-old Jane Kovak, one of the humanists' younger congregants. Jane's parents, John and Kimberly teach in the community.

"I don't believe there is a God," Jane continues, "but there is a possibility that there can be. I don't really think there is."

I'm dying to know what my atheist/agnostic readership thinks of this. Not to skew or prejudice the replies I get, but my own reaction is: This is corny as hell.

Read zee rest.


UPDATE: Another ABC News article says the following:

There are an estimated 20 to 30 million atheists in the United States these days, and some of them say they feel like a persecuted minority.

"Atheists are completely vilified. And it's OK," says Kelly, an atheist who works alongside Brian and also asked that her last name not be used.

"It's actually OK to hate atheists," Kelly said. "We are like the last group that people overwhelmingly agree that it's OK to hate us, because there's an absurd caricature of atheism out there."

No, atheists: the "last group that people overwhelmingly agree" is OK to vilify is fat people. Believe me-- I know. Ha ha!

Switching gears: I hadn't realized there were so many atheists in the US. The above stat puts atheists at about 7-10% of the total US population. I expect the number (and proportion) to grow.


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speaking of London...

I'd love to know who this person is (look at the area highlighted in red):



While most of the world ignores this blog, at least one person seems to be doing one of several things:

1. S/he is working his/her way through my archives. (The "long-lost friend or enemy or frenemy who just found Kevin online" explanation.)

2. S/he is using tabbed browsing, glancing at my blog, then forgetting to close the tab despite the passage of several hours. (The rather implausible "innocent" explanation.)

3. S/he is someone who likes reading and re-reading the posts on this blog, no matter how old or recent. (The "possible stalker" explanation.)

Who are you? What's all this about? You've been at this for several days, I know. But more important than all that: are you hot?

Heh.

Don't run away-- send me an email. I promise not to reveal you, though I may already have betrayed you by revealing so much of your IP address.

(Then again, your IP address is a matter of public record, so it's not as though I feel guilty about highlighting information already available to the public. My unimpressive site stats are open to all; scroll down my sidebar and see for yourself. Dig around a bit and you'll find plenty of IP addresses.)


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another reason for ICN to snicker

I am, like many who have passed through it, thoroughly impressed with the efficiency and organization of Incheon International Airport. It's my understanding that, during its first year of operation, there were a few glitches in the airport's smooth running-- most of them baggage related and fairly minor.

Incheon might be forgiven a moment of snickering Schadenfreude, for now we read about the disaster in London as the new Terminal 5 of Heathrow International opens up... and immediately screws up the lives of tens of thousands of passengers, not to mention the lives of the many harried airport staffers who also suffered from the lack of coordination from the top. If you haven't yet, go read the story. As airport-related nightmares go, this fiasco is among the most horrific.

I've never flown into London and therefore don't know what the experience is like. I have, however, flown into Paris's Orly and Charles de Gaulle (known locally as "Roissy"), as well as into Nice, Geneva, and Zurich. The worst of those experiences was Charles de Gaulle, but as I wrote before, my experience with CDG this past December was a major improvement over previous arrivals. The two best were probably Nice and Geneva, though Zurich's not far behind Geneva in terms of that legendary Swiss efficiency. Nice gets high marks for being so damn relaxed.

My sympathies to all those passengers stranded in London, and to the airline staffers who didn't receive enough training, and have had to face computer glitches and other systemic problems. Here's hoping the kinks are smoothed out within a week.


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it's official

Your Humble Narrator is the only ugly Korkawk (that's Korean-Caucasian to you, sirrah) half-breed. The Marmot provides proof.


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the Man controls your nipples

By now you've heard about the recent nipple piercing scandal; if not, you can read about it here or here (thanks, Tom, for the second link).

Remove thy nipple piercings;
thou standest upon hallowed ground.


While I doubt the sacred nature of our airport security apparatus, I have some sympathy for this lady. As is pointed out, passengers with other types of piercings or jewelry are often let through security. Once the cause of the metal detector's beeping had been determined, she should have been let through.

I suppose the only point I would hold against the aggrieved passenger in this case is that she's 37 years old and should have outgrown the need to wear nipple piercings. Ugh.


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Friday, March 28, 2008

CD's nuts

How upset would you get over a 15-minute film critical of (or insulting to) your religion? Upset enough to kill someone?

UPDATE (3/29/08):

From the Hollywood Reporter:

AMSTERDAM -- The controversial anti-Muslim film by Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders has been removed from the Web by its British Internet provider, which said its employees have been seriously threatened.

"Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature and some ill-informed reports from certain corners of the British media that could directly lead to the harm of some of our staff, LiveLeak.com has been left with no other choice but to remove 'Fitna' from our servers," the company said.

The 15-minute short film was posted Thursday and taken down Friday and had been seen by some 3 million people. In the film, presented in Dutch- and English-language versions, Wilders claims that the Koran provokes violence, using Sept. 11, the attacks in Madrid and London and the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh as examples.

Good thing I saw the film, though the film doesn't say anything new and is no better in quality than the typical YouTube mashup. Still, the message is significant, as the film tries to establish a correlation between (a) violent verses in the Koran and (b) Muslim violence (and violent rhetoric) across the world.

I am, however, somewhat of a skeptic regarding the link between violent scripture and actual violence. I won't go so far as to claim that such scripture has no influence on human behavior, but given the prevalence of violence in the scriptures of other religions (not just Christian scriptures, either: Hindu scriptures, for example, also contain a smorgasbord of horrific images) and the relative lack of violence in those same religions (i.e., no Hindu, Christian, or Buddhist international terrorists), I think it is difficult to establish a clear causal connection. Far better would be to analyze the situation in terms of history and human psychology, paying attention to how the scriptures are received and interpreted by the mass of believers. This is why I insist that religions are as they are practiced: doctrine and scripture are not, cannot be, the essence of religion.

UPDATE 2: I forgot to credit Malcolm for the original link. Also, the movie hasn't really been removed: thanks to the stubborn and clever nature of those who won't let a message die, the LiveLeak movie has been transferred to Google Video.


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DELFmeister

One student of mine, a cute, chirpy little girl, is a French major, and after our Current Events class yesterday she started asking me questions about something called DELF. I had no clue what a "delf" was, so she explained it was actually a pretty big deal: it's a six-level French proficiency test that sounds as though it has a lot in common with the six-level Korean proficiency test (the hangugeo-neungryeok-shiheom).

DELF is an acronym that stands for "Diplôme d'études en langue française." The official English translation of this appellation is "Diploma in French Studies"; Wikipedia has an article about it here.

As it turns out, the DELF battery of tests covers only the first four of the six levels of proficiency (A1, A2, B1, B2). The two highest levels (C1, C2) are covered by a different test, the DALF: (Le) Diplôme approfondi de langue française, or "Diploma of Advanced French Language Studies."

As I was doing some research on DELF and DALF to help my student out, I got curious as to how I'd measure up. As is the case with the Korean proficiency test (I think), you do not need to take all six levels of the test. For both DELF and DALF, you can plunge directly into the level you think you're at and either pass or fail the test. I wanted to see how hard the hardest level of the test was, and I was fortunate enough to find a page that includes sound samples for the audio portion of the test; I first ran a clip from the A1 level, and it was indeed pretty easy. I then skipped over to one of the two samples provided for a C2-level test (DALF, not DELF) and listened to a conversation on the topic of whether it is the role of educational institutions to teach everything. The exchange, scripted as a debate among a small group of people (a host/moderator plus three guests with different backgrounds and credentials), proved easy to follow, which was a relief. I have, lately, become rather worried about the state of my French, which doesn't get nearly the practice it should.

I'm now interested enough in these tests to think about trying the C2-level DALF myself. I won't do it before my upcoming Walk, but will likely try it sometime after, in a year or two. This is an ego thing: I'm planning to just walk into the test with no prep, get a passing score (at least, I hope to get a passing score), then walk right out-- just to prove to myself that I can still do it, and can do it at the highest level.

Of course, receiving a slip of paper certifying my current level is no more or less meaningful than receiving a black belt in a martial art: if you don't maintain your skills, the status symbol becomes empty of meaning. Flabbiness negates all. But I'm going to aim for that certificate all the same, future flabbiness or not. I'm too damn curious not to.


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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mark Boyle replies

Check it out.


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Knut the psycho

I knew Knut was psycho from the beginning, and once he had grown large enough, I could see quite clearly that he shared traits with the Alien queen. Look at the comparison below. Note Knut's skull structure, the nearly nonexistent eyes, the way the swept-back ears, so low on his skull, suggest the swept-back cranial fringe of the Alien queen. Note the hungry fangs and overall voracious demeanor. Knut is either part or all Alien, and we all know those Aliens are psycho.*



*Though it's true you never see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.



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Ave, Elisson!

A pearl of wisdom:

Little white lies are part of the lubrication that keeps the machinery of Polite Society running. Strip away that lubrication - tell the truth about everything - and people’s lives grind to a halt.

None of us, alas, is perfect. Each one of us has a list of questions, the answers to which could conceivably make other people unhappy. But in the normal course of Human Events, we are never called upon to answer these questions...and if we are, we are allowed the face-saving expedient of the Little White Lie.

Troo, dat; troo, dat.


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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

fibs







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Tibet gets us thinking

The Current Events class began working on the Tibet/China issue today. I think the group is interested in what is happening over there; the students have been drawing parallels between China's hegemony over Tibet and the Korean experience of the Japanese occupation: citizens killed, linguistic imperialism, seeding the indigenous population with squatters from the invading country, etc. When I asked for a show of hands as to whether Tibet should be free, all students but two raised their hands for a free Tibet. Of the two holdouts, one said she was neutral while the other, a guy, strongly felt that Tibet belonged to China.

The student who did the presentation today gets high praise for having come a long way since she began taking my classes over a year ago. Her English has definitely improved (though I doubt I can take credit for this; she's been taking other English courses as well), and while she still makes plenty of mistakes, it's obvious that she's trying hard. She'll be doing the second part of her presentation tomorrow, leading a discussion about some of the major Tibet-related issues, especially the upcoming Olympics (you've doubtless seen that Nicolas Sarkozy has expressed a willingness to boycott the opening ceremony).

This evening, I plan to send students a link to this right-leaning opinion piece that compares and contrasts the Tibetan situation with the Palestinian one. The piece forcefully asks why we (ie., the world) don't pay as much attention to the Tibetan situation as we do to the Palestinian one. The first question I plan to ask my students is whether they think the piece has a bias or strives to be objective (coming as it does from Real Clear Politics, you and I know the obvious answer to that question).

PS: For those interested in the French angle (assuming you read French), L'Express has several good articles up right now. Visit their site and type "tibet" in the search window to bring them all up, or trust my judgment and start with this one.


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lust for goodness

Through no fault of its own, this page is going to drive me insane. I keep coming back to it just... to stare.


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Clinton's "Tuzla moment" = Dean Scream?

Nah. She's waaaaaay too much of a Weeble for that.

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sci-fi convergence

You know, I can't help looking at the "Iron Man" preview and thinking that Iron Man's suit is essentially a lighter-weight version of the powered armor we read about in Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers (the armor that didn't make it into the movie version, alas). There is, of course, the question of fuel storage in Iron Man's suit. How'd he solve that problem?


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preparing to pass the torch

IRRELEVANT QUESTION: Did you know that Kevin Smith's movie "Dogma" is currently available in its entirety (though chopped up into 9-10-minute segments) on YouTube?

I need to start writing up a little handbook for whoever succeeds me. I don't want to make it too lengthy; like the old saw about what miniskirts and short stories have in common, my handbook needs to be long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep it interesting. I basically have to explain how I've structured five of the six classes I teach (the sixth class, our pronunciation clinic, is only a six-week course), give some info on how I record grades and mark present/late/absent on the attendance sheet, and add some remarks about what to expect from each class in terms of student dynamism, initiative, etc.

I have no idea who my replacement will be, though I suspect it's going to be someone from across campus. My office still needs time to hire someone permanent, and though they've already been taking resumes, I don't think they've arrived at a selection yet, and probably won't settle on someone until the summer (summer term begins in July). Borrowing from across campus gives the office time to make a decent choice. Best of luck to the new people (both in April and in July), whoever they may be.


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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

First Chronicles: done!

I've finished Stephen R. Donaldson's The Power That Preserves, the last book in the first Thomas Covenant trilogy. One thing I had completely forgotten was that Covenant's adventure in the Land ends on Easter Sunday. How could I have forgotten that?

But this doesn't make Covenant a Jesus. Readers of Donaldson's fantasy trilogy know that Thomas Covenant, whatever the Judeo-Christian significance of his name*-- is no Christ figure at the end of the First Chronicles, though he is, arguably, just that at the conclusion of the Second. The Power That Preserves actually ends on a rather selfish note, entirely consistent with Covenant's often unlikable character.

I'm about to plunge into The Wounded Land, the first book of the second trilogy; if all goes according to plan, I'll have finished White Gold Wielder (the final book of the second trilogy) right around the time I'm ready to depart the peninsula.





*The name refers to the essential paradox of Covenant's anti-heroism: as Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, a person who remains unconvinced of the reality of the Land and Earth into which he is thrown, he is a doubting Thomas who has learned to love the Land enough to promise (i.e., forge a covenant) to aid it.


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Shatner's "Has Been": the 3-word review

Goes down easy.


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Range Rover vs. Challenger Tank

A most invigorating video that tries to answer the question: if you're the driver of a sport-modified Range Rover, could you use your vehicle's off-roading ability to sprint across a battlefield patrolled by a Challenger tank without getting nailed?

(courtesy of Instapundit)


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Ave, Malcolm!

Malcolm responds to my Easter post contra Sam Harris.


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the popularity of finance

My Current Events English students just spent two days listening to student presentations by two of their classmates on the mortgage crisis in the US and how it relates to the Korean economy. The presenters were flinging around financial terminology that had my head spinning. There's no way I could ever pass myself off as a financial wizard, and as a rule, I avoid the Business section of the newspaper, so today was all about listening and learning; I had little of substance to contribute.

What surprised me was that I thought the topic would be a dry and difficult one for all the students, just as it was for me, but my students were into it. A lot of them knew their way around the vocabulary far better than I did, so I spent a goodly chunk of my time as quiet as a hyperthyroid mouse. The "audience" was fairly engaged, though two students seemed to be as lost (and as quiet) as I was.

A good learning experience.

Tomorrow, we embark on a two-day presentation by a single student about the Tibet/China situation. Ought to be interesting-- more interesting than talking about subprime this and mortgage that, at any rate.


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Monday, March 24, 2008

four of my five classes

Here are four of the five classes I teach:













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does a dog have Buddha-nature?

Okinawa has its answer to the Korean Buddhist dog. This dog, however, seems to have something less than satori on its mind:

Buddhists clasp their palms together to pray for enlightenment, but Conan, a chihuahua, appears to have more worldly motivations. The dog has become a popular attraction at a Japanese temple after learning to imitate the worshippers around him.

"Conan started to pose in prayer like us whenever he wanted treats," said Joei Yoshikuni, a priest at Jigenin temple on the southern island of Okinawa.





Fuckin' chihuahuas. Here's a reminder of the much cooler Korean dog, Hama, to whom a somewhat more religious motivation has been attributed (true or not):






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ah, the folks you meet on the trail

Introducing Gary Michael Hilton.

Meredith Emerson used her wits and martial arts training when she was attacked in the north Georgia mountains by a drifter who eventually killed and decapitated her, the convicted killer told investigators.

Gary Michael Hilton described his four days with Emerson, and how she fought him from the moment he tried to overpower her as she hiked with her dog, Ella, according to the interviews that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

"She was doing everything she could to stay alive," GBI Director Vernon Keenan told the newspaper. "It's not something you can train for. Instinct kicks in ... She nearly got the best of him. She's very much a hero."

Hilton pleaded guilty to charges he killed Emerson and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years. He had agreed to lead investigators to her body if prosecutors didn't seek the death penalty. He also has been indicted in Florida in the slaying of another woman whose decapitated body was found in a forest on Dec. 15.

He told investigators he targeted the 24-year-old University of Georgia graduate because she was a woman.

My condolences to the family. This is one of those cases that make you hope there is a hell.




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howdy from Popeland!

This took only about 10-15 minutes to Photoshop:







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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter meditation: contra Sam Harris

Sam Harris is on a mission.

Harris's basic message is that the time has come to speak openly and honestly about religion, because that has not occurred in his opinion. He feels that the survival of civilization is in danger because of a taboo against questioning religious beliefs. While highlighting what he regards as a particular problem posed by Islam at this moment with respect to international terrorism, Harris makes a direct criticism of religion of all styles and persuasions. He sees religion as an impediment to progress toward what he considers more enlightened approaches to spirituality and ethics. Harris has written that "shamanism, Gnosticism, Kabbalah, Hermetism and its magical Renaissance spawn (Hermeticism) and all the other Byzantine paths whereby man has sought the Other in every guise of its conception" are constructive forces, and that spiritual experiences can "uncover genuine facts about the world".

While an atheist by definition, Harris asserts that the term is not necessary. His position is that "atheism" is not a worldview or a philosophy, but the "destruction of bad ideas". He claims that religion is especially rife with bad ideas, calling it "one of the most perverse misuses of intelligence we have ever devised". He compares modern-day religious beliefs to the myths of the Ancient Greeks, which were once accepted as fact, but are obsolete today. In a January 2007 interview with PBS, Harris noted that: "We don't have a word for not believing in Zeus, which is to say we are all atheists in respect to Zeus. And we don't have a word for not being an astrologer". He goes on to say that the term will be retired only when "we all just achieve a level of intellectual honesty where we are no longer going to pretend to be certain about things we are not certain about".

In 2004, Harris's book, The End of Faith, was published. I haven't read the book, but I did find an excerpt from it that hit me where I live. The excerpt comes from a chapter that deals with people like me: self-proclaimed religious moderates, religious pluralists, and the like.* Harris finds much that is blameworthy in our stance, and if I read him rightly, he is essentially suggesting that moderates and pluralists are analogous to "enablers" in a dysfunctional relationship:

The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. We cannot say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; we cannot even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivaled. All we can say, as religious moderates, is that we don't like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on us. This is not a new form of faith, or even a new species of scriptural exegesis; it is simply a capitulation to a variety of all-too-human interests that have nothing, in principle, to do with God.

Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question-- i.e., that we know there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us-- religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness.

The benignity of most religious moderates does not suggest that religious faith is anything more sublime than a desperate marriage of hope and ignorance, nor does it guarantee that there is not a terrible price to be paid for limiting the scope of reason in our dealings with other human beings. Religious moderation, insofar as it represents an attempt to hold on to what is still serviceable in orthodox religion, closes the door to more sophisticated approaches to spirituality, ethics, and the building of strong communities.

Harris seems to think that moderates and pluralists are purposely or inadvertently protecting their more rabid coreligionists, but I think the assertion in Harris's first sentence is wrong. Contrary to Harris's claim, I would contend that religious moderation and pluralism are often critical responses to fundamentalism, scriptural literalism, and similar orientations.

I am also unsure how Harris can justify calling moderation and pluralism "an attempt to hold on to what is still serviceable in orthodox religion." Theologians like John Hick or the far more radical John Shelby Spong would probably style their project as one of deconstruction: both Hick and Spong are willing to go so far as to throw out the resurrection-- the very cornerstone of Christian faith-- in their radical recasting of the Christian message. What Harris is talking about is more reminiscent of the humorous stereotypes one hears about the Catholic Church: every announced revision in Roman dogma begins, "As we have always contended..."**

In speaking this way about religion, Harris mischaracterizes the phenomenon as non-evolving, which is ludicrous even from a non-religious standpoint. I would agree that religious traditions are highly, highly resistant to change; as my former pastor used to say, "If you want to find a group of people more unwilling to change than any other, go to a church." There's truth to this. But Harris should know better than to view religions as static phenomena. They do indeed change, the doctrines within them change, and one of the ways they evolve is by interacting with scientists, the non-religious, and yes, with other religious traditions.

Now more than ever, deep and meaningful interreligious interaction at multiple levels has become possible. These days, we have transcontinental chats with friends of different faiths; researchers in remote areas can compare notes on the religions they're studying; traditional religious claims can be challenged and debated by scholars and clergy; anyone can talk to anyone about any religious issue. The advent of all this technology has meant the breaking down of many cultural barriers and the freer exchange of religious ideas. While religious diversity has been the norm throughout human history, we truly feel it now, and I sense that interreligious interactions can and will lead to real-- possibly speedy-- evolution in the future.***

Perhaps one of the most frustrating parts of the Harris excerpt is this:

Religious moderates seem to believe that what we need is not radical insight and innovation in these areas but a mere dilution of Iron Age philosophy. Rather than bring the full force of our creativity and rationality to bear on the problems of ethics, social cohesion, and even spiritual experience, moderates merely ask that we relax our standards of adherence to ancient superstitions and taboos, while otherwise maintaining a belief system that was passed down to us from men and women whose lives were simply ravaged by their basic ignorance about the world. [italics added]

I have the impression that Harris, in his eagerness to tear down the "bad ideas" of religion, hasn't actually bothered to speak with (m)any religious moderates or pluralists, for the above-italicized text describes exactly what we moderates and pluralists do. Far from aiding and abetting what we, along with Harris, would agree is ridiculous and antiquated thinking, we work from within our traditions to bring about greater and greater change. We do this in different ways, of course, and the overall picture is admittedly messy, but I bristle at Harris's implication what we strive only for "a mere dilution of Iron Age philosophy." That's not it at all.

Please don't get me wrong. I like and respect Sam Harris, and I certainly admire his guts. I think he's giving religion in general exactly the kick in the ass it needs, and it couldn't come at a better time. I hope that young people-- those most likely to bring about major changes in the future-- will take heed of what Harris says. But the man has to take a closer look at the phenomenon he's critiquing before passing too swift a judgment on it. His arguments about religious moderates and pluralists miss the mark entirely. Religious change does happen; it's happening right now. Sam Harris himself is part of that change, and he should take comfort in the fact that he has friends and sympathizers in some surprising places.





*Harris is guilty of a conflation here: a religious moderate is not the same thing as a religious pluralist. Ask any religious conservative whether they believe pluralists to be moderate. Perhaps this doesn't matter from Harris's point of view, but a hasty conflation hints at sloppy thinking, in this case caused by an over-eager willingness to look at the whole religious tangle and say, "Bleh... it's all the same."

**I had a Catholic classmate at CUA who gave me a dark look when I uttered that line in our interreligious dialogue class. Nice girl, but convinced the world was out to destroy her church.

***I'm not a wide-eyed optimist about this, of course, and I certainly don't see all religions converging into a single global religion. But religious splits and fusions are as much a part of human history as diversity itself is; it's not out of the question that something new will emerge from the current cacophony.


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Happy Easter!

A longish post is on the way-- one of my increasingly rare forays into religious subject matter. Meantime, for those who are Christian and, hey, for those who aren't: Happy Easter! May the Cosmic Bunny lay a big, veiny, pulsating alien egg right-- on-- yo'-- haid!



Here's a nice Easter story.



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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ave, Joel!

Good Lord, I've missed all the foodblogging. Go visit and start salivating.


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US vs. Euro business attitudes

Here's an interesting take on American and European approaches to business:

When we [i.e., Americans] see a pie and conclude that our slice is too small, we typically come up with one of two strategies: make the pie bigger (sector expansion, usually through innovation), or bake a whole new pie (entrepreneurship).

Europeans by comparison, and with a few exceptions, almost always settle upon two very different strategies: either wheel and deal to make your slice a little bit bigger (mergers and partnerships) or limit the number of people allowed to eat pie (protectionism). And when it comes to the latter, one of the most common ways to do that is to keep out the bloody Americans.

Centuries of history seem to be reflected in those attitudes: America's history of expansion across the wild frontier still echoes in modern consciousness, making the idea of pie-enlargement both plausible and desirable. Setting up camp on one's own plot of ground and starting anew-- again hinting at the ethos (however mythologized) of the frontiersman-- is the very essence of enterprise.

Europeans, on the other hand, have had a much longer history of living in the din of each other's presence. European civilization touches on the Mediterranean as well; the ideas of negotiation and protectionism would come easily to minds awash in the push-pull culture of an uneasy and long-standing pluralism marked by both pleasant and unpleasant encounters with the Other.

But because I don't want to be accused of accepting the writer's pie imagery uncritically, I hereby open the floor to commenters with actual experience in the matter to pick apart the writer's perspective on how things are.

The above-linked article, which I encourage you to read, is about recent adjudication against Google's Gmail in a Belgian court because of the existence of the much lesser-known G-Mail, an email system established before Gmail by a German company. Google had been hoping to acquire a "right to use" in the EU. This most recent adjudication against Google marks the second such rejection; Google plans to appeal.


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...so how is Mark Boyle doing?

Jelly has been keeping better tabs on the progress of Mark Boyle (see here as well) than I have, and the latest news appears to be that young Master Boyle has called it quits. What started as a very ambitious pilgrimage to India from Ireland has become an "inner pilgrimage" now. Jelly writes in an email:

Hey Kevibou!

I was just reading Mark the Walking Dude's blog. When he turned back from France he didn't consider it "quitting" - and has still, in fact, been walking around the UK since. But now, he's officially stopped.

"So halfway between London and Cambridge we decided to call it a day and to go and put our energies into bringing the freeconomy community to the next stage in its progress from a base in which our needs for food and shelter are met everyday. In Calais the decision we made was partially influenced by the fact that we were very hungry, very tired and very cold, though also by our talks with the Afghan and Iraqi Refugees.

This decision was made though without any of those factors. We had enough food for the journey, though it was mainly dried fruit, and the weather was a bit less wet and cold. The question we asked ourselves was “is this my best use in the world at this moment in time?” Once I decided the answer was no, we packed up our stuff, and decided to hightail it back to Bristol, where we both lived previously, and got welcomed by all our amazing friends."

Ghandi (himself!!) already commented on this latest development:

"First walking to India - which ended in Calais when you realised they didn’t speak "the language".
Then walking around Britain, which ended before you even reached Cambridge.
Why stop now?
Rather than quitting maybe you can just scale the pilgrimage down a little bit further?
How about [an] epic trek around your kitchen in Bristol?
But knowing your record though I guess you’d quit before you made it past the fridge."

But I suppose Saoirse (Mark) is trying to end off on a positive note:

"So for me the inner pilgrimage goes on in a way. There is no end to anything, just a continuous journey, often not in the way you first expect. My focus is now on making this the most amazing community in the world to be part of, to get people together all over the planet sharing and coming up with solutions to this crazy world of ours and to hopefully spread peace in the process of all that"

I thought the journey was pretty interesting anyhow.

A few thoughts of my own:

I'm not really in a position to judge Boyle's decisions. I thought the concept behind his trip was both fantastic and a bit foolhardy, primarily because he'd have to be passing through some rather dangerous countries on his way to Gandhi's birthplace. I admit, however, that I was extremely disappointed to discover that mere passage through France proved daunting to him. Quite a few college-aged American and Korean backpackers can attest that you can survive France without knowledge of French; it might be a pain in the ass, but ultimately it's not that hard. I can't speak for other countries, but I'm sure I'm right about France.

Mark's background is in business, which makes me think he is, ultimately, more of a pragmatist than even he would care to admit. Going on a 9000-mile quest with little to no preparation is a gutsy move, but in order to carry it through, you need more than ideals: you need conviction and, dare I say it, planning. How, then, could a former businessman allow himself to be seduced into trying such a walk? My only conjecture is that it's because he's only 20-something, and like many 20-somethings, he found himself in thrall to his ideals, with all the rest being "mere detail." But trite as it sounds, the devil is in those details, and Mark's inner pragmatist probably reawakened and put a stop to the madness of this dangerous trek.

The above is pure speculation, of course. I have no doubt that Mark, having now felt what it means to walk long distances and encounter concrete problems along the way, can and perhaps will remake the original attempt a few years from now. I still think it's a worthy cause; he simply needs to listen more closely to the voice of reality next time. The pragmatic instincts of a businessman aren't something to throw away in a fit of idealism; to the contrary, those very instincts could help hone his purpose and focus the trek into something more worthy and less fuzzy. East Asians combine the concepts of "heart" and "head" in a single Chinese character: you don't follow one at the expense of the other, because you need both to get through this life. Heart and head, passion and rationality, feeling and thinking-- these are not-two.

I hope Mark finds what he's looking for.





EPILOGUE: It's many hours later, and I've just visited Boyle's blog. Here's a quote from one of Mark's recent posts that supports my analysis of his character: "For the first time on the journey my heart was saying I should stop walking and only my head was saying to continue. And I am a heart person, often to my own demise."

See the problem?


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Britney as anal expulsive

Thanks, Tom.


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Friday, March 21, 2008

wafting through the heavens

My brother David sent me a link to an article about an amazing discovery: scientists have detected methane-- an organic molecule-- in a location outside our solar system. I have a feeling I'm going to like whatever life forms are producing this gas.

So much for Sagan's speculation that the first aliens we'd encounter would be broadcasting prime numbers. They're broadcasting, all right, but it ain't prime numbers. Not unless they're going:

Poot.

Pootpoot.

Pootpootpoot.

Pootpootpootpootpoot.

Pootpootpootpootpootpootpoot.

Pootpootpootpootpootpootpootpootpootpootpoot...



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pension

I've filled out my Smoo pension form and have been told that the money will be wired to my US account about(!) 15 days after the end of my contract. The contract ends April 25, so I'm assuming the money will appear around May 9 or 10. Here's hoping. Now I need to go take care of the national pension.


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woo-hoo!

I noted this on the Walk blog, but in case you missed it: many thanks to the people who have been providing donations. I'm now up to $140 (minus a wee bit thanks to PayPal's nibble). I truly appreciate your generosity.


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on a more positive note...

I blogged earlier about my "spray it, don't say it" moment in class, but I should note that we had 14 people today as opposed to the 10 we had last week. I take that as a good sign. I hope we have somewhere in the 10-14 range next week as well. It'd be a shame for this pronunciation class to peter out as happened two semesters ago.

Oh, how I envy all the people who teach for-credit courses.


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Gorbi, child of the covenant

Nathan emails me with a link to an article about the "closet Christianity" of Mikhail Gorbachev. Quite interesting.


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ah, memorable moments

I hate my mouth.

Apparently, when I get to talking too much, the interior dries up a bit and I start spraying out flecks of half-dried spittle. Today, during my pronunciation class, my students were treated to a most wondrous display of spittle-ejecting prowess. The shotgunned emission fell short of the targeted student, but the entire class bore witness to the phenomenon. There's no way to recover from such a memorable turn of events, so I took the class in a comical direction and told them about the time a large booger in my nose flew out during an evening English Circle session. They had a good laugh at that: I described the booger launch in great detail.

Very embarrassing, today's salivary event.


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Thursday, March 20, 2008

bleak weekend ahead

I'm buried under a pile of journals to grade, along with two sets of voice files to evaluate for my pronunciation class, plus various handouts for that same class.

Yeah, I know: whine, whine, whine.


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it works!!

Back in 2006, Justin Yoshida blogged about a Japanese commercial for Takemoto Piano. The commercial seemed to have a special power: it caused babies immediately to stop crying.

Today, a coworker brought her adorable, six-month-old baby daughter, Shi-yeon, into the office for almost two hours. The wee little girl was fine for most of that time, but as nap time approached, she naturally got cranky, and was acting the way any normal baby would: she bawled, not quite sure what she wanted. On a whim, I asked the babysitter (a college student) to bring the baby over to my work station, and I called up the Takemoto commercial straight from YouTube.

Sure enough: as soon as I hit "play," little Shi-yeon stopped crying and watched, enraptured. The moment the video ended, she started sniffling and began crying again. I hit "play" one more time, and boom-- she stopped crying.

So: while I can't speak for all of babydom, at the very least I can vouch that the Takemoto Piano commercial does indeed make at least one baby stop crying.


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the title of my novel

Seeing as a Google search turned up no results, I'm going to title my next novel Fangocracy: An Alien Love Story.


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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Covenant watch

I'm 60 pages into The Power that Preserves, the third novel in the so-called First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Won't be long before I finish the First Chronicles and start on the Second. In a comment a while back, Jeff in Korea mentioned the Third (and final?) Chronicles; I suppose I'll get hold of however many books are out once I'm back in the States. I've heard mixed reviews about the Third Chronicles; my personal favorite is the First, mainly because the Second goes off in a weird metaphysical direction (though if you map the Second Chronicles onto a Hindu paradigm, you start to see some sense in all the mess, especially if Linden Avery is viewed as the feminine half of a divine pairing). Still, the Second Chronicles has its own peculiar charm; I look forward to plunging back into it soon.


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ululate!

Arthur C. Clarke is dead. I know Clarke best for his novels, 2001, 2010, 2061, and 3001. I also love his short story collection, Expedition to Earth, and one short story not in that collection: "The Nine Billion Names of God."

RIP, ACC.


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and then there were eleven

As a rule, the first two weeks of the semester are topsy-turvy in terms of student attendance: quite a few students switch classes, drop them entirely, or register late. I thought I was going to have thirteen people in my Current Events class, but the girl who had thought about registering apparently decided not to register, and one student already in the class just netted a job at Merrill Lynch Korea and won't be able to attend. She'd been rather spotty with her attendance last week, so it's actually something of a relief that I won't have to deal with her zigzagging anymore. On the bright side, she was kind enough to attend class today; everyone congratulated her on having gotten what we hope will be a sweet position (she's going into the human resources division).

What all this means is that my class is taking a net loss, not enjoying a net gain: we're down to eleven people, which is still a bit bigger than I'd like, especially for a class so focused on talking. But despite that minor complaint, I'm extremely pleased with how this class is running itself. That is, after all, the point of the student-centered approach: you, as the teacher, want the students to carry the ball, to play a role in each other's learning, and not to rely on the teacher except for the occasional question or two. Setting such a system up takes just a few days-- enough time to introduce the principles underlying the curriculum and class structure, to make clear what the students' specific obligations are, and to assure the students that you are there as a facilitator (which also means that you occasionally have to grab the reins for a few minutes if it's obvious that the student-planned lesson is headed toward a cliff).

I truly hope this class keeps its current momentum for the rest of the time I'm "teaching" it. It's already the class I enjoy most this semester.


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the thirteenth warrior

My morning class just got bigger, and the same student has told me she'll be registering for my Current Events class as well, which means the class will go from twelve to thirteen.

Yes: lucky thirteen.


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one syllable

Sometimes, when my ass is shouting the brown shout, the utterance comes out as a barrage of short, staccato syllables (think: human-scale rabbit raisins). It's less a cry and more a series of barks. Sometimes, though, what comes out is more of a polysyllabic moan, a sort of glorp, gloooorrrrrp. Ploop. But every once in a while I'm lucky enough to experience a single, monosyllabic cry-- deep, booming and rather lengthy-- and that's it. The shit is over. It's like the opera singer who holds that note as long as he can: he holds it... and holds it... and holds it... and at the end, when he's completely winded, he collapses and the audience leaps to its feet in a thunderous paroxysm of frenzied adulation.

That's the sort of shit I took this morning. And when I'd finished pushing out my single, enormous log, I heard the raucous hoots and applause of the billions of damned souls in hell. Even the log itself had curled into an ourobouros shape and was tapping its ends together, celebrating its own birth. I sat on the throne, gasping, amazed, and thoroughly pleased with myself.


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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

booger haiku

hunchback globs of snot
slowly rocking as I breathe
dancing in my nares

eating booger chunks
chewing on my nose gristle
grinning freakishly

there upon her face
hangs a booger green and proud
shot there by my nose

have you ever sneezed
while having an orgasm?
my cat did that once

Indiana Jones
on a quest to find the lost
booger of St. Jude


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how to piss Kevin off

This is not news. Let's talk about something important.


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Monday, March 17, 2008

for your entertainment

It's St. Pat's, and if you're gonna talk about drinking, you have to talk about puking.

This is very likely a fake vid (as noted by the YouTube commenters), but in it you see a news reporter (or perhaps he's just an interviewee) very suddenly vomit on camera. Real or not, it put a smile on my face.

UPDATE: One puke video leads to more! This one's pretty good, especially the recovery! Oh, yes: and then there's the post-vomit interview.

And after watching the above, you have to wonder: what the hell's up with those wacky Scandinavians? This pungent vid, which I blogged long, long ago, is an oldie but a goodie. Some commenters suggest this is fake... I'm no expert, but I'm inclined to disagree.

UPDATE 2: This puke vid makes you wait, but the payoff at the end is pretty fucking cool.


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ah, Tibet

I've mentioned it on this blog before but feel it worth mentioning again: Master Shin Go Seong of Hanguk-sa in Germantown, Maryland feels the Dalai Lama "should have stayed in Tibet." I think he should have, too. I have mixed feelings about his relationship with the media, with politicians, with commercialism, and with Hollywood elites like Richard Gere. The Dalai Lama might be a nice guy, but an immutable cosmic truth is that big religion means big business.

--yours truly in April of 2006

Now we see this:

Protests spread from Tibet into three neighboring provinces Sunday as Tibetans defied a Chinese government crackdown, while the Dalai Lama decried what he called the "cultural genocide" taking place in his homeland.

Questioning the actions and motives of the Dalai Lama might be about as politically correct as taking a sledgehammer to Mother Theresa's skull, but I do have to wonder what the Dalai Lama had been hoping to accomplish in abandoning his people to their fate, effectively making them the outsiders, the people who strain to hear news of their spiritual leader from across whatever communication barriers China has set up and maintained to keep Tibetans both in and controlled. What's it like to be an outsider in your own country-- to know, through news that trickles inside your homeland's borders, that your spiritual leader is alive and very well, thank you, but that he's otherwise occupied?

Still, this isn't to exculpate China, which continues to show an unbelieving press what real imperialism is, as opposed to the bogus imperialism usually ascribed to the United States. Hell, if I had tickets to the Beijing Olympics, I'd consider boycotting.

All hail Spielberg!


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the swelling

My Current Events English class gained yet another person, which puts me up to twelve students-- a number I haven't seen in a long time (as always, I expect serious attrition). It's good, I suppose, insofar as this means more money for the office. However, it's annoying as hell to have to take a latecomer through a week's worth of activities and handouts in order to get them up to speed.

The newest addition to the class is a sour-faced girl who speaks English quite well. I get the impression that she spent some time overseas; as with many such people, her English lacks the stumbling hesitancy so common in speakers who've never been abroad. I'm hoping she's not actually as dour as she came off today; otherwise, we're in for a rough semester.

We started the seminar phase of the class today; I finished all my presentations last week, so now it's up to the students to assume the burden of teaching their material while I step back and act as a facilitator, intervening when called upon (or when it's obvious the class has gone off the rails). Today's presentation wasn't bad, though it did go way off script: the first day of each two-day presentation is supposed to be about low-level cognitive tasks like knowledge and comprehension, but our presenter, EM, rushed through the Day One material (comprehension and vocab) and spent most of the class in discussion, an activity slated for Day Two. While she didn't exactly follow her plan as rigidly as she could have, I was impressed by how engaging a presenter she was: students were quite willing to toss in their two cents whenever she allowed them to, and she led the discussion with conviction and a sense of humor.

The only problem now is that, with twelve people in the class, we're probably going to need to break the class into smaller groups to allow everyone more time to talk. Not that this is a bad thing; I think partner and group work are the lifeblood of such classes. But still-- twelve people! While I've managed groups as large as 25-30 before (especially back when I was a high school French teacher), I much prefer a group of 6-8 people.

We'll see how it goes.


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