Friday, December 31, 2010

productive

The boxes and boxes of books that I'd hidden away over a month ago are now back out in the living room: book sorting and shelving starts tomorrow, December 31. I'll also be taking three or four hours out of my day to bring the dog back to my brother Sean's apartment.

If I work steadily throughout the morning, I ought to be able to get a lot done before I drive back to northern Virginia. And if I get a lot done by 10PM, after I'm back from NoVA, I'll be able to sit back and relax before midnight. It's going to be a quiet New Year's celebration, but that's all right by me: I've got the rest of my life to find reasons to celebrate.


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none for me, thanks

This is usually the time when bloggers write some sort of year-in-review post. For me, 2010 began with the death of my mother in early January, the discovery of a close family member's lies and deceit in July, the bitter fallout from that discovery, and my November move to a new apartment to start life over in a place of relative calm and quiet. In all, it's been a horrible year for yours truly, so I hope you'll pardon me if I don't write a detailed year in review. I will, instead, wish my handful of readers a very Happy New Year, and offer my sincere hopes that 2011 will prove joyful and prosperous for all of us.


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Thursday, December 30, 2010

finale

I'm finished with "The Great Queen Seon Deok." It was indeed a thrilling ride, compelling to its last scene, and the final episode wrapped up almost all the loose ends, except-- unless I missed something-- the fate of Lady Misil's second-most competent son, Bojong (her greatest son was, arguably, Bidam). You can read a little about the real Queen Seon Deok here.

I'll go into the series in greater depth later, but I was amused at how some of the series' imagery resembled moments in Western film and TV. Seon Deok's quiet death strongly reminded me of the passing of Laura Roslin on "Battlestar Galactica," for example. Lady Misil's execution of a court flunky looked to be straight out of "Kill Bill: Volume 1"-- the scene in which O-ren Ishii beheads a surly Yakuza underling. Field Marshall Munno getting hit in the neck with a dart-- and plucking the dart out before collapsing-- was almost shot-for-shot out of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon": the scene in which Li Mu Bai discovers he's been poisoned.

Weirdly enough, one of the series' most annoying characters, Misaeng, the conniving little brother of Misil, had what was, to my mind, one of the best final speeches in the whole series. Delivered from a seated position on the dusty ground, with Misaeng covered in battle grime and aware that he was facing execution for treason, the speech reflected on Misaeng's strange yet wonderful life-- a life lived deeply and with no regrets. He could just as well have been speaking for all of the series' characters, all of whom lived and loved deeply. I was impressed by Misaeng's speech, and paused to reflect on how this man's sentiments, villain though he be, might apply to my own life.

It's unfortunate that my DVD set doesn't come with any behind-the-scenes "extras"-- you know what I mean: end-of-series cast parties, TV interviews with the actors and directors, etc.; all that "making of" stuff that I love. I would have loved to see what it was like for the actors to train for their fight scenes, for the minutiae of court etiquette, for the rigors of high-register speech in a royal context, and so on. It had to have been hard work. Hats off to the entire cast.

A post about this series would probably take a long, long time to write. What I might do instead is divide my thoughts into discrete sections so I can cover various aspects of the series. So expect a series of posts about "The Great Queen Seon Deok." A series about the series-- a meta-series, if you will-- coming soon, before it all slips from my mind (as things so often do these days).


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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

winding down

The story of Queen Seon Deok is coming to a close. I'm at episode 59, and there are only three episodes left after this one. It's been a great ride, though I think the storytelling and direction have slacked off somewhat since episode 50, which is about when the story's greatest villain dies. The rest feels a bit like a rushed anticlimax, and thus far, the handling of Bidam's rebellion against the queen suggests a dramatic rewriting of history for the sake of a romantic subplot. As with "True Grit," I'll have more to say about this series later.


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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

chihuahua in da house

Sean's dog Maqz is now residing chez Kevin for a few days. I stayed overnight in Alexandria so as to avoid taking two trips: that way, I was able to get my leaky right rear tire repaired before heading back to my place. I also wanted to avoid rush hour traffic, so I delayed my homeward departure until nighttime. In the meantime, I ate dinner with my brother and two of his friends at an Ethiopian resto in DC called Dukem (strangely enough, people pronounce it to rhyme with the "nukem" in "Duke Nukem"; I would have thought it would be something like "dukaim," rhyming with "fame"). If you have a chance to eat at Dukem, order the regular-font #3 in the latter half of the menu (not the boldface #3 earlier in the menu). Wonderful spices in the meat.

I'm hoping the dog won't prove too noisy for the neighbors. I'm also hoping that Maqz won't crap or pee on my rug. He's generally a good dog, but he's been known to misbehave, given how lax his initial training was.

Anyway, it's late, I'm home, and I'm tired. Dog tired. More later.


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Monday, December 27, 2010

collecting my thoughts, collecting the dawg

I've seen the Coen Brothers' new release, "True Grit," approximately 1.5 times now. The first time, I had attempted to see the film near where my buddy Mike lives, but ended up getting myself lost for nearly an hour in the vast, sprawling maze of streets, parking lots, and shopping complexes. By the time I arrived at the theater, I was thoroughly pissed off, but had no one to blame but myself, my own confusion, and the fact that the cinema was so new that it wasn't listed as a valid destination on my GPS.

Once in the theater, I experienced a further delay when the customer service guy, who was supposed to be holding my ticket, told me that someone had thrown the ticket away. This guy ended up escorting me up to my seat himself. The film was an hour and fifty minutes in length; I suspect I missed the first thirty or forty minutes, given that there were several minutes of previews.

On Christmas Eve, I saw the film again, this time with my buddy Dr. Steve. We drove thirty miles to reach our target theater, which was located in a town even smaller than the one I've moved to. The ambiance of the theater might best be described as David Lynchian: an overly friendly woman in her fifties offered to take our credit cards and spend them on herself, then gave us walking directions to a nearby ATM because her theater only accepted cash for tickets. A creepy old man hovered somewhere near the lady, and when he managed to pull himself away from her, he sauntered into a control room with a small bank of monitors. Once we got into the particular theater showing "True Grit," we saw what the monitors were monitoring: us. Perched atop every speaker along the walls were tiny CCTV cameras. Big Brother was watching.

The theater's interior did little to improve the David Lynch vibe. As Dr. Steve noted, the lobby's ceiling had the torn-open look of a place in the midst of a renovation. Over-plush furniture occupied the end of a carpeted hallway; Buddhist art adorned one wall, and Chinese abalone-shell frescoes decorated another. Our own particular theater, number 7, the one with the CCTV cameras on every speaker, contained a small, high-set movie screen flanked by niches in which stood two suits of knight armor, pole arms at the ready-- and weird chandeliers suspended over their helms. Beneath the movie screen was a row of differently colored lights that beamed upward onto the screen itself while nothing else was showing on it. The beams highlighted the fact that the screen sported a curious bump, somewhat above center, that bore an uncomfortable resemblance to an engorged pimple.

We had arrived very early for the movie, so no one was in the theater but us at first. As folks began to trickle in closer to showtime, however, we began to hear whispered reactions that mirrored our own. Once or twice I heard the utterance "This is unreal," choked out in a tone caught somewhere between reverent awe and humorous derision. The aura of kitsch was overpowering.

Then the movie began. The suits of armor were no longer visible, and we all plunged together into the story of a girl bent on avenging the death of her father. Sometime later, I'd like to write a review of the movie itself. I'm still collecting my thoughts, however, so it may be a few days, if at all.

And speaking of collecting: dog-sitting plans were changed by my brother Sean just before Christmas. After our original arrangement, which would have involved Sean dropping the dog off at my place on Christmas, Sean told me he wouldn't be able to drive out to where I live, so it was up to me to come back into town to get the dawg. I wouldn't have to collect the pooch until Sunday, he said. Now that it's Sunday, I'll be driving out to acquire Maqz and dog-sit for about a week. I also have to see about a slow leak in my right rear tire; might take care of that while I'm in Alexandria. My brother David recommended a Firestone service center in the old neighborhood, so I may stop there.

Ah, dog-sitting. Lucky for me, I've stocked up on lint rollers. These will prove useful with a dog in the apartment. (They've already proved useful with a Kevin in the apartment.) I became a lint roller and Swiffer devotee last year. Despite the expense, I think these products are well worth the price. If I were a movie star, I'd shill for them without a single pang of conscience.

And on that bizarre note, I leave you, Dear Reader, to your post-Christmas affairs.


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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas

May your Christmas be a time of joy and peace.


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Friday, December 24, 2010

Yuletide recycling

1. An old post from my other blog on that old saw about how "the Christmas tree is a pagan symbol."

2. Another old post from Kevin's Walk on political correctness when it comes to wishing people a merry Christmas.

3. A remembrance of what things were like last year at Christmas: start here and work your way forward in time by clicking the "newer post" link at the bottom of every blog entry.


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budae-jjigae redux

For folks looking to do something unconventional at Christmas-- my official budae-jjigae recipe (earlier version blogged here).

UPDATE, 12/31/11: a December 2011 jjigae-fest photoblogged here.




NB: The recipe doesn't note quantities or proportions. One of the fun aspects of budae-jjigae is that there are so many local variations, and you're just as free to make your own as anyone else is. The above photo will provide you with some help, though, in understanding one person's notion of the proportions involved.

BUDAE-JJIGAE 부대찌개의 재료 와 조리법

MEAT

Hot dogs (preferably Hebrew National, but any type of hot dog is OK)
Spam
Ground beef (80/20 meat/fat ratio)


CONTENTS (건데기)

Shiitake mushrooms (표고)
Enoki mushrooms (팽이 버섯)
Button mushrooms (양송이)
Minari (미나리)
Tofu (두부)
Ddeok (찹쌀떡, 떡볶이떡, 등)
Kimchi (맛김치)
Soybean sprouts (콩나물)
Green squash (호박)


FLAVORING/AROMATICS

Gochujang (고추장)
Green onions (파)
White onion (양파)
Fresh ground garlic (다진 마늘)
Korean green chili peppers (고추)


OTHER

Beef broth
Ramen (라면—optional; add later)


COOKING:

1. Chop up meat and 건데기 (the elements making up the solid part of the stew) to desired texture (spoon-friendly). Add to stew pot or large, deep pan.
2. Chop up and add flavorings and aromatics.
3. Add beef broth and water to preferred level.
4. Bring to a boil; stew is ready when all the meat and veggies are thoroughly cooked.
5. Optional: Add ramen noodles at the end of the cooking process for more texture.





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vacaciones

I had myself a nice grasse matinée this morning after watching three hours of "The Great Queen Seon Deok" last night, which now puts me at the cusp of the final third of the series. Today's agenda: do some bookshelf- and book-organizing, shop for food for house guests,* and possibly go out this evening to see "True Grit," Jeff Bridges's better movie ("Tron: Legacy" isn't exactly garnering praise from critics and regular Joes and Janes) with my buddy Mike. It's going to be a very good weekend.





*Dr. Steve is returning, then both my brothers are coming on Christmas along with two of my brother David's friends.


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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

almost done with work for the year

The head office hasn't seen fit to give me two of my requested days (tomorrow and the next day-- 12/23 and 12/24), probably because of a general lack of willing workers. Bizarrely enough, they did grant me my request to work on December 26, so I'll be spending Christmas looking forward to that. After the 26th, I'm off until I return to work on January 10. ETS is "on hiatus" until the 8th, and the 10th is my first assigned day of work for 2011.

The loss of two work days means, once again, the loss of a couple hundred dollars. Not good, especially with my budget looking the way it does.

UPDATE: Murphy's Law: the 26th has been cancelled. Luckily, because of the nature of my listing ("Available" as opposed to "Tentative"), I'm being compensated a half-day.

UPDATE 2: I won't be working on the 23rd or 24th, either. Cancelled, baby! What will I do with my free time...? Perhaps this is the moment to write that self-help manual, Successful Masturbation.


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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

promising first lines for novels

1. A science fiction novel, Revenge of the Barfeloid Maidens of Planet Raw:

When Gunnar ben Dominico awoke from the operation, he had three penises, all of differing lengths, widths, textures, and colors.

2. A romance novel, Passion in the Linen Closet:

With Goofy's head sitting beside her on the bench and his body still surrounding her in the changing room, Sarah Kingsley blinked sweat out of her eyes and watched the strapping new guy, the new Mickey, as he changed into his costume, donning his Mickey head so smoothly and gracefully that Sarah, quite taken by surprise, found herself swept away by a wave of unbridled lust.

3. A noir novel, Bullets in Buttock Town:

The rain came down hard, muffling the city's cries as effectively and ruthlessly as an old crone's sagging breasts clapped cruelly over my ears, promising no quarter, no mercy, and three guaranteed orgasms for twenty-five bucks.

4. A self-conscious, pretentious literary effort, The Rooster Unsucked:

Gerald froze, a witty riposte stillborn on his tobacco-crusted lips; perfectly, theistically aware of the room's every drip, creak, and sigh, he stared into his accuser's green eyes while his hand, seemingly of its own accord, slipped into his right pocket and fondled the thong-- her thong, O yes-- that he had acquired the previous night in a haze of drunken promises, outright lies, and suspiciously tasty vomit.


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into uncharted territory

I now find myself at episode 38 of "The Great Queen Seon Deok," which catches me up and puts me into uncharted territory. Kim Yusin, the love of Deokman's life, has prostrated himself before the evil Misil in an attempt to save his native people, the Gaya folk. Although he loathes her, Yusin is offering to marry Misil to save his people. At the same time, he's promised Deokman that, although he and she can never consummate their love (goddamn typical for a Korean drama), he will master the art of war and help her unify the Three Kingdoms under the Silla Dynasty banner.

I looked Kim Yusin ("yoo-sheen") up on Wikipedia and discovered that he's one of Korea's most famous military minds-- right up there with Yi Soonshin. I wonder whether any of his military writings have been translated into English. That, folks, would be classic.

Sometime later, I might want to write at length about the series, which I've found to be very compelling viewing. It has its hokey moments, to be sure, but the epic scale of the drama, along with all that castle intrigue, makes it must-see viewing for anyone who's enjoyed Shakespeare's take on royal family dysfunction, martial honor, insanity, the vengefulness of the scorned, and the curdled admixture of religion, black magic, and the state. Shakespeare lovers: "The Great Queen Seon Deok" has all those themes and tropes in spades.

I've enjoyed the ride so far, and look forward to finding out how it all ends. It's going to be a sad thing when I finish the final episode.

UPDATE: As it turns out, Yusin's not marrying Misil herself: he's marrying into her family by betrothing himself to her granddaughter, a girl who's far too young for Yusin. I guess I didn't catch what was really going on, despite the subtitles. That, or the script was crafted in such a way as to fool even Korean viewers as to whom Yusin was truly marrying.


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leaving the peninsula

Two recent blog posts that mull the notion of leaving the peninsula.

1. First, here's John McCrarey on what an evacuation would look like.

2. Next, here's Gord with a thoughtful meditation on gettin' the fuck outta Dodge.

One of my American expat buddies once said that, if war were to break out, he'd be "the first white boy out." I'd like to think that, were I in South Korea when war broke out, that I'd stick around and help my people keep their homeland. I realize I'm saying that from a safe, safe distance away from any potential danger, but it's a sentiment I've expressed even back when I was living in Seoul.

As wiser folks have noted, though, the likelihood of full-scale war remains minuscule, even now, with tensions once again ratcheting upward. "Same shit," as a Korean buddy of mine recently said. That sounds about right to me.


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Monday, December 20, 2010

dumb question

Seen on Instapundit:

CLAYTON CRAMER ASKS: Why do Jews think Christians are anti-semitic?

Gee... could it be the centuries of antisemitism? Just a thought.

Sure, I'm being a bit flippant. Cramer's question probably has more to do with modern Jewish perceptions of modern Christians. Most contemporary mainline Christians-- Protestant, Catholic, and otherwise-- would likely be horrified at being labeled antisemitic. But part of the Jewish perception likely stems from Christians' continued embrace of their own scripture, which lends itself easily to supersessionist thinking and anti-Jewish polemic.

While many modern Christians are at pains to avoid both of those avenues, the scriptures themselves make this difficult. The gospel of John is probably the easiest example to cite in this regard. Written several decades after the three "synoptic" gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke, with Mark likely being the first written), John offers a high-christological view of Jesus* and reads as a polemic against hoi ioudaioi, which is literally "the Jews," though the phrase more likely refers to a particular set of Jews unwilling to accept Jesus as lord and messiah.

Factor in the fact that Jews have a long-standing tradition of remembrance to go along with their unpleasant history with Christianity, and it's easy to see why the Jewish attitude toward Christians is often characterized by-- to put it mildly-- circumspection.

No doubt there are misperceptions on both sides. Jews who see all Christians as potential Hitlers are certainly in the wrong, as are Christians who believe, defensively, that all Jews see Christians as antisemitic. That said, I think Clayton Cramer's question has an easy answer, and need not have been asked.


UPDATE: Perhaps the dumb question comes from Glenn Reynolds himself. I just read Clayton Cramer's post twice, and don't quite see how it could be about specifically Jewish perceptions of Christians. If anything, the post seems to make a general accusation against lefties who view any display of Christian symbols at Christmastime as antisemitic. Then again, Cramer himself doesn't exactly warm my heart when he writes, in his own update:

UPDATE: There are a number of interesting comments on this (even more so since Instapundit linked to it), of which this is perhaps the most disturbing:

There is this datum from a poll: 'some 60 percent of religiously conservative white Protestants in the United States, polled in 1987, agreed: "The Jews can never be forgiven for what they did to Jesus until they accept him as the true savior."' Quoted in John Weiss, Ideology of Death: Why the Holocaust Happened in Germany (Ivan R. Dee Publishing, 1996).

I see this and I am just amazed. I've attended religiously conservative overwhelmingly white Protestant churches since 1979. If anyone that I have ever attended church with this believed something this odd, then they had the good sense not to say it.

The good sense not to show their bigotry? While I applaud the invocation of good taste, this is not a very reassuring sentiment. It's a bit like saying, "Hey, if you're gonna be a bigot, at least keep it to yourself." Quiet bigotry is, by this standard, tolerable. But it's a false tolerance, since the goal seems to be to keep the bigotry hidden, thus leaving others no choice as to whether to be tolerant of bigotry or not.





*Christology refers to theological views of Christ's role and significance. A low (or "low, ascending") christology emphasizes Jesus' humanity. A high (or "high, descending") christology emphasizes Jesus' christic divinity. Contrast the low-christological moment of Jesus' death on the cross in Mark (in which Jesus' final utterance is a scream) with the high-christological moment in John (in which Jesus proclaims, as a god might, "It is accomplished" before dying). Elements of low and high christology can be found in all the gospels, but overall emphases vary.


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reply to Smallholder

(see previous post for my belated reply to Addofio)

The second comment was from Smallholder, regarding my post about a bad experience at a local Home Depot:

Kevin,

Your co-worker's story is atrocious.

Yours? Not so much.

From what you wrote, I would be much more likely to attribute cancerwoman's behavior to poor personal skills and lack of knowledge rather than racial discrimination. In fact, I don't see anything that even points in that direction. I've been sent to the wrong aisle before - I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often, given the number of items in a Home Depot store. As to stepping right in front of you, perhaps she had been counseled about being more proactive with the customers (as the other folks were) and she took it to the next level. The fact that she showed up near the register again is odd, but also could be explained by coincidence. When you told her she was wrong about where the stool was, she might have been one of those many people who don't like being corrected (perhaps you've met some, I don't know, everywhere?)

If you saw her ignore white customers or greet them more deferentially, then you'd have some reason for suspecting racism.

A thought experiment: If the person had been Korean, would you have reached for the same explanation of her behavior?

This is not to say she wasn't racist. She could have been. But there isn't enough evidence to reasonably think of her that way.

And even if she was, suspecting her on that minimal basis is unhelpful to you. We ought to confront pernicious racism that still exists. But if we see it everywhere, it exhausts us and squanders focus. Plus, it makes us feel suspicious of everyone else. I saw the creeping nature of this when I taught in Baltimore. Some of my kids were so disposed to see racism that it made them continually angry. As an example, those kids would frequently accuse Korean grocers of being racist because they would leave money on the counter instead of putting the change in their hands. I explained that in some cultures it is impolite to touch others directly, but they couldn't get past it. This mindset made them suspicious of everyone.

Perhaps you've heard my story about the kid who lost his prized job at McDonalds on the first day. When he announced it was due to racism, I asked him what the racist had done. "That racist m-fer asked me to clean the bathroom!" When I pointed out that someone had to clean the bathroom and that jobs like that frequently fell to the newest hire, he wouldn't even consider that.

At any rate, I do try to inculcate Heinlein's Law into my students - never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence. Once is chance, two times is coincidence, three times is enemy action.

We'd all be happier if we just gave other people's internal motivation the benefit of the doubt. Think modern politics in which disagreement is assumed to be malicious. If we just assumed that Democrats/Republicans are misguided in their policies rather than actively communist/evil/plutocratic, we could have more civil discussions.

Anyhoo, I came by to check and see if you had written anything about the escalation in the Koreas. Any thoughts or links you'd like to share?

I think what bothered me most about this comment was the complete lack of acknowledgment that, in my own post, I had explicitly left open the possibility that I was wrong and merely seeing things. The idea that I was being lumped in with perpetually angry minorities who see racism under every rock rather stuck in my craw.

Having said that, I actually agree with much that Smallholder has said in his comment regarding not seeing racism under every rock. I wish he had given me credit for being that sort of person instead of associating me with a whole category of unsavory people (if this association wasn't being made, why comment at all?). True: I've written a good bit about racism in Korea, but I'm also discriminating enough to know that my experience in America has been, and still is, fundamentally different. I don't jump at shadows, and I'm far from being the over-defensive type when it comes to questions of race.

I should also note, though, that the woman in question produced a fairly uncomfortable vibe. Perhaps, in my other post, I did a poor job of expressing that intangible aspect of my experience at the store. Maybe Smallholder would have had to be there to get what I was trying to express. I don't know. It could also simply be that something about the lady rubbed me the wrong way; once again, I concede that we might not be looking at racism. But when she intercepted me and sent me off to the opposite end of the store (rather different from merely being off by one or two aisle numbers), I was strongly reminded of what Candy, the rental office lady (not a coworker, by the way; she's one of the two ladies working in the rental office on the first floor of my apartment), had said about her experience at Costco. The vibe I got was a lack of trust.

Smallholder is right that Candy's experience was far worse than mine, and probably more obviously indicative of racism (although, even in her case, we'd have to verify whether that particular Costco door monitor acted that way only toward black folks). And I'm glad that Smallholder writes, "This is not to say [the Home Depot lady] wasn't racist. She could have been. But there isn't enough evidence to reasonably think of her that way." That's not so different from where I stand regarding my own experience. The difference is that I was there, which is why I lean toward a more negative view of the situation.


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it's not too late to get some swag

I still have a CafePress shop, and I'm still selling products with my designs on them. From the semi-profound to the mostly-profane, the shop contains a wide variety of items for your perusal, purchase, and pleasure.

Some religion-related items here.

Greeting cards (mostly Christmas cards) here.

Fugly mugs here.

Tee shirts here.

Sweatshirts here.

Miscellaneous items, including my book, are all here.

It's not too late to order.


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reply to Addofio

At long last (and at least temporarily), the mental fog has cleared and I feel able to reply to those two comments I'd received a while back. I last referred to those comments here.

In this post, I'll deal with the first comment, which was from Addofio, regarding my post on Christian pluralism:

A couple of things, minor but that tickled my brain in response to post and comment. One, it struck me that your main focus seems to be on deciding what kind of pluralist Suchocki is, rather than the ideas themselves. Not that you ignored the latter--but it seems to be important to you to categorize her. I'm not sure there is a "so what" to this, but I thought it was interesting.

Second, a fundamental puzzle for anyone who is serious about diversity of thought in general is how to deal with the paradox of simultaneously believing one's own thought or opinion about something, and fully affirming and respecting that others' may also be true though different from one's own. The elephant metaphor is useful for this, whether or not it includes the sighted observer off to the side; the reality of the elephant is still there, still diverse, and we each still have our grasp only on some part of it. I may be grasping only the tail, but nonetheless my grasp is "true" in some sense, and so is your grasp of the ear. We inevitably try to "put it all together", to grasp the whole, and (I think) we inevitably fail. Even the metaphoric sighted observer off to one side has a limited perspective on the whole. But the effort is worth it, we expand our understanding in the process. ("I'm sticking with my tail, it has an interesting texture and this puzzling bit of brush on the end, but I find your desctiption of the ear fascinating.") And if anyone ever DID manage to figure it all out, what then? What a conversation stopper THAT would be!

Addofio

Good points. But if the categories are already in existence, then why reinvent the wheel? This isn't to say that preexisting categories should be followed in a slavish and unquestioning manner; sometimes there's benefit in altering or ignoring them. At the same time, though, it would be hard to discuss or understand anything without some frame of reference, and since the categories in question have been discussed at various points on this blog, I felt little need to rehash all the content behind the categories-- what it means to be a pluralist or inclusivist or exclusivist, for example. Besides, I think Lee did a fine job of highlighting the content of Suchocki's thought in his own post.

I imagine that, had I wanted to engage Lee and Suchocki more thoroughly, I would have spent time going over the content of Suchocki's position in my post. As things were, I discussed only the content that leaped out at me:

I also have to wonder, from Lee's post, whether Suchocki (pronounced "Sue Hockey," in case you were curious; her name was tossed around a lot during my MA program, especially during a course on feminist christology) isn't actually advocating something closer to inclusivism than to pluralism. If God resides at the most fundamental level of her pluralistic paradigm, then she's as guilty of funneling other religions through her perspective as other inclusivists are.

Lee's reading of Suchocki was that she was trying to offer a type of pluralism that was rooted in Christian belief, instead of taking the sort of approach associated with John Hick: one that requires a believer to unplug various elements of personal belief before embracing his pluralistic paradigm. Quite a few Christians since 1989 (when Hick's An Interpretation of Religion first appeared and presented his "pluralistic hypothesis" to the world) have devoted time and energy to rescuing Christianity from Hick's scalpel.

Since my own blog post was a response to Lee's post and not an in-depth response to Suchocki's work, I wasn't able to delve much deeper than that, content-wise.

As for the second part of Addofio's comment-- I'm generally in agreement. Our perspectives are inevitably "horizoned," so we all have little choice but to proceed from where we stand. S. Mark Heim hammers this point home quite effectively in his Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion. But he runs up against the very paradox that Addofio highlights in her comment-- the paradox of advocating one's own perspective-rooted view while simultaneously affirming the legitimacy of the other's perspective-- and, in my opinion, fails to transcend the paradox. Heim wants his orientational pluralism (the term and concept come from Nicholas Rescher's The Strife of Systems, which I now own thanks to reader Hahna) to allow him simultaneously to affirm the supremacy of his Christian belief while also acknowledging the rationality of the other's belief. It's a pluralistic paradigm that's helpful in generating a feeling of tolerance, but as far as I'm concerned it's also a hopeless metaphysical mess, as most forms of "divergent" pluralism are: just how many ultimate realities are there? At best, Heim's pluralism allows him to say to a Hindu, "You're wrong about ultimate reality, but I think that you've reached your conclusions in a legitimately rational manner." This, then, is where Heim diverges from Addofio's reading of the elephant story, and once again I'll submit the complaint I submitted years ago about Heim's stance: he hasn't really bothered with the question of the hegemonic nature of truth claims about ultimate reality.

Which brings us back to Hick and "convergent" pluralism. Hick would have no problem with the elephant story, or with Addofio's view that each blind man is somehow "right" in his experience of the elephant, because Hick's view of the great religious traditions is that each one is legitimately experiencing a single* ultimate reality, each from a different perspective marked by different historico-cultural filters. One single elephant; many approaches to it, resulting in many legitimately different experiences of it.

I tend to think that the sighted man represents the wisdom that comes of a broad historical perspective. Only by going through the deliberate act of synchronic and diachronic cross-comparison can we discover meaningful commonalities between and among religious traditions, and move from such insights to larger theories about ultimate reality and human responses to it. Something like that wisdom must already have existed in ancient times, when this story was first told. With the advent of cities and trade routes, people were bound to realize that other worldviews than their own were out there, making the elephant analogy possible to those who tended to view things from a somewhat removed perspective.

Of course, Addofio points out that even the sighted man in the story can see the elephant only from where he's standing. People with broad historical outlooks are in a similar boat: they may see a lot, but they still see the world from a particular perch; they have biases and preconceptions arising from where they find themselves, historically and culturally. Heim takes this to mean that, in reality, we're all blind men and there are no sighted men: we've all got perspectives, so we're all horizoned in the same way. That's precisely what I deny. I think some of us are "big thinkers," and have the ability to take a wider view than others who are more entrenched in specificity and detail-- and that the wider view legitimately brings in "more" reality than does the narrower view. I hope I'm not misreading Addofio when I say that I agree with her that the task before us is how to reconcile the wide and narrow views: they each provide insights that the other can't, but are so often taken to be contradictory, when in fact they aren't. We may fail in this reconciliation, but the effort of reconciliation is itself worthwhile.





*Hick's contention is actually more subtle than this, and people who attack his paradigm generally ignore this subtlety. Because the Real-- Hick's label for ultimate reality, in both its experienced (phenomenal) and un-experienceable (noumenal, Real-in-itself) forms-- is ineffable, it can't even be said to be numerically singular. Numbers fall into the realm of categories and dualism: to say something is one is to say that it has a number, and that's where the dualism is visible: one means "1 in opposition to 2, 3, 4, etc." If the Real is ineffable, categorically omnitranscendent, then it's immune even to numerical categorization. (And were we to take this line of thinking to its conclusion, we'd realize that even saying "The Real is categorically omnitranscendent" is a label that, in the face of the Real, would need to fall away.)

Unfortunately, Hick himself has been ambivalent, in his writings, as to how to treat the Real. Very often, he treats it as a numerically singular entity, and many of his arguments appear to hinge on that conceptualization, since he's primarily arguing that the great religious traditions are all somehow oriented toward it. But at other moments, such as in his A Christian Theology of Religions, he falls back on the Real's ineffability. In the end, the ambiguity of Hick's central concept is at once a major flaw in and the saving grace for his paradigm, and it's probably why he's still discussed and attacked even today.


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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hire R. Kickle

I heard some people the other day who were struggling to pronounce "hierarchical."


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easy come, easy go

Verizon offered a $100 rebate with my new Droid X; I had to go through a silly, multi-step procedure just to send the rebate paperwork in, but the effort has paid off: the rebate arrived on Thursday, and I made use of it on Friday. When I was a kid, $100 seemed like a huge amount of money. These days, it's hard to find a bill that doesn't hover somewhere around the $100/month range.


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Saturday, December 18, 2010

did I call it?

Remember this August prediction?

Well, here's one headline for you. There may be more like it on the way.

(Alas, I didn't go see "Tron" tonight. Tomorrow...?)

UPDATE, 12/18, 10:04PM: See here, and check back periodically, for more "New Tron Bomb" blasts. It has begun!


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will I be seeing "Tron: Legacy" tonight?

Good question. Today's opening day.


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oof

My half-day of work ended 30 minutes early today when we ran out of student essays to rate. Luckily, ETS pays for the entire shift, even the un-worked 30 minutes, because it was ETS that cancelled.

I've got some errands to run today. My car is currently covered in a dusting of snow from yesterday's little snowfest, but I'm pretty sure the roads won't be a problem. Snow never passed beyond wuss levels.

In other news: Hooray! I've got a half-day of work tomorrow as well!

That "hooray" was sarcastic, in case you missed it. I despise working on the weekends. Avoided weekend work like the plague when I was living in Korea, but it's going to be inevitable over the next twelve months, I think, until I'm truly back on my feet, financially speaking. Quitting two jobs and not working for a year is hell on one's bank account-- especially if you follow up your dry period with a move. I owe a lot of people a lot of favors for helping out in all sorts of ways.

Back soon. For now, let us all stare lovingly at Paula Deen's Herbed Monkey Bread recipe.


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Friday, December 17, 2010

close encounters










Drudge showed that one picture of Obama golfing (first frame), and I swore it looked as if the man were dodging something that had shot behind him. This was confirmed when I did a Google Image search on "Obama golf." The dodge posture comes up a few times, perhaps as a function of his follow-through or as a goofy little show of emotion after a shot.

So the question then became: what could Obama have been dodging? The logical answer was, of course, Nancy Pelosi's enormous flying dildos. I think Harry Reid's wistful mien in the final frame is priceless.





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today's tweets in one place

1.
TOEFL wisdom: the Roman Navy can also be called the "Roman Naavi." James Cameron's aliens would be proud.

2.
YES! "...destroyed the enemy sheep" instead of "destroyed the enemy ships."

3.
It's often easy to tell who's a francophone in TOEFL: "It's juste a mythe," they write. Or, "the waited result" ("le résultat attendu").

4.
No way! One of my all-time favorite 70s B-movies, "The Mechanic," has been remade into a Jason Statham actioner: http://is.gd/iQNdr

5.
A pup and a way.

6.
Lunch: pesto fettuccine with ham. Those who eat kosher, halal, Buddhist, and vegan can start complaining now. Beef tonight for the Hindus.

7.
Stupid portmanteau poetry: Do you combine / your tea and wine? / You drinkin' twine / while feelin' fine?

8.
Genital haiku: bad luck comes in threes / not so with my testicles / I am blessed with FIVE

9.
Story idea: "True Spam," the story of a rich guy/gal who seeds the Net with "You've Won $$$$$$$!" emails... and is really offering the cash.





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from my brother

My brother David sends me this lovely YouTube tribute to Jesus. Click only if you have a sense of humor. And ask yourself why this vid wasn't released at Easter.


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Thursday, December 16, 2010

dinnah

I've got eggplant. I've got butternut squash. I've got ham. I've got bacon. I've got cans of tomato sauce and paste, and bottles of herbs, seasonings, and spices. I've got the will. I've got the way. And I've got the hunger.

Time to make dinner.


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ah, Korean health care

My friend Jeff at Ruminations in Korea offers an update regarding his ongoing post-trauma saga (readers will recall he suffered a pretty nasty motorcycle crash and had a horrifying experience while at the mercy of two different Korean medical centers). His latest followup treatment doesn't seem much better than his initial treatment.


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French poesy during break

Quand tu as la chiasse
ski fauque tu fasses
appuie sur la chasse
connasse!


NB: for those trying to figure out "ski fauque tu fasses," read the phrase out loud. The subjunctive construction gives you a clue as to what I'm really saying.


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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

cold and windy, clean and dirty

It's cold and windy where I am, and not so long from now I'll be out in the middle of that freeze. Guess I'd better bundle up.

My apartment isn't drafty, but it creaks whenever the wind blows. I'm still getting used to my new residence's various quirks, most of which are innocuous, being little more than noises and odd shadows. A major problem spotted by my buddy Mike, when he helped me move some heavy items in a few weeks ago, is going to be worked on soon.

With below-freezing temperatures now here, I often wish I had an ondol floor, but it's the rare American residence that would think to install such a creature comfort. In the States, a floor is something you walk on or place furniture on, and which you sweep or vacuum every once in a while. It's not the first choice for sitting, eating, or sleeping: that's what couches, chairs, tables, and beds are for. In Korea, unless you're pretty well off and have a mess of chairs and couches, your floor is where you perform all the activities of daily living. You clean your floor every day; you keep it free of dust bunnies, food crumbs, nail clippings, skin flakes, stray pubes, and pit hairs. A random inspection of a Korean versus an American floor would show a striking difference in the level of schmutz.*

Still, what I have now isn't bad, and since I've only recently moved in, it's not all that verschmutzt yet. The apartment may lack an ondol, but it's warm and comfortable, and what's more, it's looking better by the day as I continue to arrange and organize my possessions. Too bad I have to leave it in a couple hours to brave the harsh cold outside.





*I'm not holding myself up as a paragon of Korean cleanliness, here. And yes, there are exceptions to the Korean rule. I've been to some slovenly apartments and houses in and around Seoul, and don't get me started about the skankier yeogwans.


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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

although... but

So many of the essays I rated today contained the erroneous construction "although... but," as in, "Although it isn't raining, but I took my umbrella all the same." The but is obviously superfluous, but students from all over the world seem to think it needs to be there. English learners have to memorize a pile of inflexible or nearly inflexible locutions: either/or; neither/nor; not only/but also; so [adjective] that [clause]*; etc. It's no wonder that they get a few mixed up. For all its global popularity, English isn't easy, especially when it comes to the details.




*As in: "He was so drunk that he keeled over in mid-sentence."


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why I read Skippy

Two reasons to read Skippy.

1. The political commentary.

2. The ass-appreciation.


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Sunday, December 12, 2010

how'd I miss that?

Today's 12/11/10!


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a recent tweet

On Twitter, and inspired by a line from "The Great Queen Seon Deok," I wrote:

去去去中知 行行行裏覺: 거거거중지 행행행리각. Very roughly: go-go-going is knowledge; move-move-moving is enlightenment. All you do brings some sort of wisdom.

Two observations:

1. Chinese and Korean are both more Twitter-friendly than English, I think: you can squeeze a lot more information into each tweet, because Twitter treats Chinese characters and Korean syllables (which are bundled letters that are often phonetic renderings of Chinese characters) as single characters. Compare the difference between writing "學生" and "student"-- 2 characters versus 7.

2. In puzzling out the Chinese phrase mentioned in the tweet, I discovered that the Chinese character "去," which is pronounced "거" in Korean (geo, somewhere between gaw and guh), means "go" or "going." I've seen this character many times without knowing what it was. All I knew was that it was a component of a character I did know: the character for "law/dharma," which in Chinese is written as "法." The extra three strokes on the left side are the short form of the character for water (水). Basically, then, the concept of dharma, when broken down, means something like "(the way of) water's flow." Before Buddhism entered China, the character would have meant, merely and more narrowly, "law," not merely in the legal sense, but also "law" in the sense of "natural law," i.e., principles governing reality's flow. I'll never look at the dharma character the same way again.

The "去" character itself breaks down into two sub-characters: "土," (토, to) meaning "earth," and "厶," (사, sa), meaning "everything." Somehow these two concepts together mean "go" or "going." Perhaps there's a metaphysical recognition here, that all the earth-- everything on it and in it-- is in ceaseless motion. This fuller breakdown of the "dharma" character, then, could be interpreted to mean "(the way of) water, earth, and everything." Academics have long noted the overlap between the concepts of dharma and Tao; this quick and superficial etymological exploration sheds some light into why that overlap exists, and what made "法" such an appetizing translation for "dharma" when Indian monks like Kumarajiva were translating their scriptures for the Chinese.


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Saturday, December 11, 2010

no cancellation!

I've received no cancellation notice for today's work shift-- my first on a Saturday, and probably not my last-- so I'll be working a half-day from 1PM to 5PM.


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car crash

My brother David was involved in a car crash early this morning (Friday). He's perfectly fine, he tells me, but his car is another matter.


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I turn to her for wisdom







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Friday, December 10, 2010

Seon Deok yeowang

One of the Korean TV series I had been watching during my mother's sickness was "Seon Deok yeowang," or "The Great Queen Seon Deok." It's the factual/fictional tale of the rise of Silla's first queen, and for much of 2009 it was the top-rated TV series, popular enough to receive an extension from some 50 episodes to 62. While the show's production values couldn't possibly rival the big-budget fare that we in America are used to, a lot of credit has to be given to the writers for telling a complex, engaging story that moves along at a healthy clip.

The DVD set comes as 13 discs in three packs, with each individual DVD containing on average five episodes. I've been working my way through the story from the very beginning since I had actually missed the first ten or so episodes when the series initially aired. I'm now around episode 15, which puts me into "already seen" territory; I probably saw through about episode 40 or so last year, which means I still don't know how the story ends.

Of course, a brief perusal of Seon Deok's history will give one the big picture, but a TV series is at its best when it makes you care about its characters, even the ones most likely to be fictional and/or composites of real people. Obviously, we know from the beginning that Seon Deok (known at first as Deok Man) will rise from poverty and strife to take the Silla throne; the suspense, at least for me, lies in what will become of her nemesis, the crafty, ambitious Lady Misil (pronounced "mee-shil," not "missile"). Will Misil go down in flames, a victim of her own hubris? Will she escape ruin, Darth Vader-like, and live to fight another day (or gnaw on her anger until she dies in obscurity)? I'm rooting for ignominy followed by public execution, but you never can tell.

I'm watching this series at the same time that I'm rereading Stephen R. Donaldson's Gap Cycle-- a series of five novels about-- among other things-- a woman named Morn Hyland who goes through hell but manages to win out in the end through sheer grit and wit. Donaldson's main characters are often dragged endlessly through the muck before they can experience any sort of relief; I think he'd appreciate the Seon Deok story, which involves plenty of close calls, betrayals, reversals, unexpressed love, and long, long misery.

Koreans, in their turn, might appreciate Donaldson's understanding of han, a Korean term that's hard to translate, but which might be described as a searing, soul-binding knot of impassioned bitterness, if that makes any sense. Han is concentrated anguish and sorrow, but it's also, perhaps paradoxically, the energy that drives one to soldier onward in spite of one's debasement or abjection. (See the movie "Seopyeonjae" for how a father instills han in his daughter in order to get her to sing p'ansori well. The paradox of han is in full view in that story: the father blinds his daughter with poison, and the daughter's misery, her han, leads her to become a true p'ansori singer.)

Otherwise, aside from the reading and TV, the settling-in continues. Books and kitchen stuff-- that's what it's all about. Oh, and I bought both an acrylic and an oil paint set. I'm curious as to what I might end up painting... and whether it might be worth selling. The last time I worked with acrylics and oils was... good Lord... junior high. I have some picture ideas, but we'll see.


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Thursday, December 09, 2010

100 Below: Volume 39

“Santa!” yelled Pickle the elf. “What happened to the reindeer?”

“Ho ho ho,” chuckled Santa. “I’ve replaced them with unicorns!”

“But— but— what happened to their horns?” gasped Pickle.

“I’m hitting some rough neighborhoods, so I’ve replaced the horns with lightsabers,” said Santa. “And as you can see, I’ve refitted the sleigh with battle armor. Oh, and miniguns.”

Pickle was aghast. “I don’t— what about the spirit of Christmas?”

“Yes, I keep him locked in a jar. Ho ho ho.”

Pickle sighed mournfully as Santa took off. The elf turned around to go inside… and stumbled over Dasher’s saber-severed head.


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all hail Iowa State!

Someone from Iowa State University has been perusing my blog for quite a while now, having first found the Hairy Chasms through a Google search on "Hinduism in the movie The Matrix." I assume you're an undergrad, Whoever You Are. Just wanted to say: thank you for your over 40 minutes of readership. You rock. And more importantly, you roll. Study hard, stay sane, and be careful what you lick, flick, suck, sniff or gag on. College is a minefield for the tongue, nostrils, stomach, and genitals (we might have to add anus for some). My apologies that the essays you found weren't written up in a more academic style. I hope they've inspired you to move on to more scholarly sources; it would horrify me to learn that anything I'd written had been quoted in an essay or research paper as if this blog were an authoritative online source.

For the rest of you who aren't spending over 40 minutes on my blog each time you visit: read this essay. I started reading it and couldn't stop.


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hard at work behind the scenes
to determine our foreign policy

Joshua at One Free Korea, your source for all things NK, quotes a world-famous foreign policy expert in this recent post.


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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Thursday cancelled!

Dammit. Thursday's been cancelled as well, and that was my only other work day this week (next week's a lot fuller... or it's supposed to be). How the hell am I going to earn any money? Might be time to consider another trip up the street to that high school to see about tutoring. Yumpin' Yaysus.


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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

ye bunke bedde

The fruit of my labors.

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well, well...

Just a quick note to remark that I haven't written anything today.

Though now I have.


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Monday, December 06, 2010

nuts

The head office wrote me (and, I presume, everyone else on the TOEFL team) to say that, due to the low volume of student output for the current round of essay topics, my/our schedule on Monday is being cut down to a half day. Because this is happening right after last week's cancellation of two whole days of work, I'm beginning to get the uneasy feeling that this job isn't quite as stable as it was originally made out to be. After going over my budget for the next several months, I'm starting to sweat: with this little income, I'll be cutting it close for at least the next two months: December 2010 and January 2011.

I was so nervous, after my budget review, that I actually took a quick drive down the street to the local high school. It's got an impressive campus, and probably services most or all of the entire county. If I do start teaching high school students again, I'd rather do it privately, for a decent hourly rate, and only for very small groups. But it may be that, if things start looking tough, I'll have to think about plunging back into full-time secondary-level teaching. Here's hoping things don't get that desperate. As I've mentioned before, I've got other projects I'm working on, and I'll do whatever I can to avoid teaching that age group again.


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name that saint!

Peter at Conscious Entities writes in his latest post:

Gopnik throws in the suggestion that self-aware, self-conscious thought is just the icing on the cake and that the basis of consciousness is that state where we take in information without consciously reviewing it (I imagine this fits with her view that adults develop a searchlight of focused attention in contrast to the widely scattered illumination of infant awareness); this is a view she attributes to David Hume (him again) and to Buddhists. In fact she thinks Hume might have got some of his views from Buddhism. This is not implausible historically: quite apart from the detailed case she makes we know that popular medieval stories were versions of Buddhist texts, even leading to Gautama’s informal recognition as a Christian saint.

Without looking-- can you name the saint? Ha ha-- I can! And hooray for a reference to Catholic-Buddhist cross-pollination!

Don't mind me. I'm just happy I know something.


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Sunday, December 05, 2010

getting on that top bunk

You know you're too heavy when, as you're climbing up a bunk bed's ladder, you begin to fear that the entire bed is going to tip over and pin you beneath it. After I'd assembled the bunk and prepped the two mattresses with all their accessories (memory foam pads, waterproof protectors, mattress covers, sheets, blankets, and pillows), I flopped onto the bottom bunk and lay there for a while, reading a novel and shifting positions. I was delighted to find that the experience was pretty dang comfortable. I wanted to try my luck with the top bunk as well, but the climb up the ladder proved embarrassing because of the bed-tipping problem, and also painful because of the narrowness of those rungs. To get up the ladder, I'd need to wear thick-soled sandals. That, or I'd need to buy a better ladder to put against the bunk. (More on this in a moment.) In the end, I never made it onto the top bunk.

My test run taught me a few things. First: the bunk is solidly built. Second: now that it's been assembled, it profoundly alters the character of the room. Third: there's still enough space in the room for exercise equipment. Fourth: the bunk needs some more accessories. Among them:

1. A thicker memory foam pad for each mattress. Although the bottom bunk's mattress was plenty comfortable, it could be even more comfortable with a thicker foam pad instead of the el-cheapo one that I'd bought. The two mattress covers (a waterproof, hypoallergenic protector and a black, fitted sheet) are both large enough to accommodate the extra thickness; if anything, they seem a bit too loose and wrinkly now.

2. Bedboards. Although the bottom bunk was able to support my great weight, I knew that each individual slat under the mattress was, by itself, rather weak. Since every body creates pressure points on a mattress, it follows that certain slats will receive more stress than others. Since the slats are metal, this means they'll experience fatigue. The solution is a more even distribution of my weight across the slats, which is where a bedboard comes into the picture. Many bedboards are flimsy, foldable affairs; I may end up asking a dude at the local hardware store to cut me some bedboards out of plywood or particle board, which I'll then have wrapped in burlap and a sheet of black fabric to prevent tiny wood chips from sifting onto the floor and onto the sleeper in the lower bunk. The cloth covering will also protect the black paint on the metal slats. Lastly, the bedboards will serve an aesthetic purpose: they'll hide the tucked-under regions of the blankets and sheets. Right now, the bottom-bunker will find himself staring up at a jumbled mass of cloth.

3. A better ladder to reach the top bunk. This, too, might end up being a custom job, since the bunk, as it is, already has its own ladder. But I somehow doubt that I'm the only person who'd experience pain while climbing a ladder with such thin rungs. Such a ladder might work well for kids, but once you cross the 200-pound threshold, your poor feeties will take a pounding. Of course, a cheaper solution might be those thick-soled sandals I'd mentioned earlier, but using sandals to get onto the top bunk seems a bit weird. What if you knock them off the bed while you're tossing and turning? How do you get back down pain-free? I suppose you could hang a cloth drawstring bag off the side of the bed, but that seems a bit weird, too. No-- a wide-runged (preferably flat-runged) stepladder is best.

Aside from those issues, the bunk seems great. The guest room is starting to look like a guest room.


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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Testes, testes, 1, 2... 3

Testing the moblog function from my phone. This is probably the easiest way for me to blog while away from the computer. Phone apps like Blogaway seem a little too unwieldy.

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gracias

Thanks and a hug to reader and commenter Hahna, who sent me Nicholas Rescher's The Strife of Systems as a gift. Rescher's work underlies, among other things, S. Mark Heim's arguments in Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion, a blistering 1995 critique of convergent pluralism. Rescher was recently quoted by Dr. Vallicella as well. While he's not the most well-known of philosophers, Rescher's work is often cited in discussions of pluralism in its many forms-- religious, explanatory, etc. I plan on tackling this book with vigor.

Thanks again, Hahna!


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make your bed!

Getting my apartment organized is no mean feat. Before my buddy Dr. Steve came over, I did what I could to maximize floor space, which meant taking boxes and boxes of books and consigning them to various closets. Several kitchen-related boxes were cracked open because I'd needed their contents for my food prep; whatever food and equipment wasn't placed in the kitchen was placed onto and into my bookshelves, to get it all off the floor. Along with that, empty boxes had to be cut up, collapsed, and tossed out.

I still have a little over a dozen kitchen boxes to go through, at least half of them still unopened. They contain a lot of small stuff-- cans of soup and tomato paste, small bowls, cups, etc. Once the kitchen items have been placed where they need to go, I've got that mountain of books to take care of.

Then there's the matter of the guest room. Last night, I finally began the assembly of the bunk bed I'd purchased. It was slow work, mainly because I was at pains not to disturb the neighbor who lives directly beneath me. Most of the bunk bed is metal tubes and rods (see here), which makes some clanging and banging inevitable. At around 5AM, with most of the bed finished, I decided to call it a night and went to sleep. Got up a few minutes ago, i.e., a bit after noon. I have that luxury today: as you'll recall, my company cancelled the rest of my work week.

For the rest of the day, I'm going to work like mad to finish the bed and get the kitchen as organized as possible. Over the weekend, I might begin the daunting task of unboxing my books, organizing them into proper categories, then shelving them. At that point, the apartment will finally start to look like an apartment.

Transitions are never easy, and this has been one hell of a year, transition-wise. By the end of this month, I'm hoping that things will have started to become more stable, and that life will have begun to feel like life again.


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Friday, December 03, 2010

Ave, xkcd!

5-minute comics-- here, here, and here.


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Thursday, December 02, 2010

coming soon

Either later today or sometime tomorrow, I'll be blogging responses to two recent comments that deserve lengthy treatments. One was from Addofio here; the other just arrived from Smallholder-- see here.


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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

sudden cancellations

It seems that one of the uncomfortable realities of my current job is that there are sudden cancellations. This week, I'm losing Thursday and Friday, which is good insofar as it gives me some time to relax, but double plus ungood insofar as my predicted income has taken a hit.

It's impossible to control the number of students who take TOEFL. Sometimes it's a big crop; sometimes it's meager. TOEFL is a good test to rate because the work is, I'm told, fairly steady throughout the year: it's a test taken by foreign students desirous of studying in the US, and international academic calendars vary. In other words, there will always be someone, somewhere, taking the exam at any given time. Contrast that with the SAT, which is taken primarily by American students at rigidly scheduled times throughout the year, making it the sort of test that happens in waves. With SAT rating, you're either very busy or you're stuck twiddling your thumbs. TOEFL is quite steady by comparison.

But this doesn't mean we get exactly the same number of students from month to month, which brings me back to this week's cancellations. Wednesday will be my final work day this week, which means a loss of a few hundred dollars. Since I've been having pretty good luck selling things on eBay, I think I'm going to start slapping up more art to see what happens, especially as Christmas nears. I'm sure my new town has some art supply stores, and I've still got plenty of material for making brush art. Who knows-- this might blossom into enough of a side business that I might even cut down the number of days I work for ETS.

"What about your plans to tutor?" I hear you belch loudly. Don't worry: those plans are still in motion. Right now, though, the main goal is just to get the apartment squared away before I worry about the larger projects. An uncluttered house is an uncluttered mind.* When I was teaching at Sookdae, I was usually at my best when my office desk and my dorm/studio were both neat. At the moment, I'm thinking that a spring or fall 2011 start date will be best. If I recall correctly, spring is what I had been shooting for, but there's a lot to consider: getting proper equipment, furniture, and textbooks; establishing a decent online presence; developing course materials, scrounging up students, etc. Is spring realistic for me? I'm not sure, which is why I'm hedging a bit and leaving fall as an option.

All of which leads me right back to the here and now-- facing a severely truncated work week, with the financial exigencies that such a week entails.



*One of my teachers in junior high used to have a sign that read, "A clean and organized desk is the sign of a sick mind."


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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christian pluralism?

"Christian pluralism" sounds almost like a contradiction in terms, but Lee over at A Thinking Reed has written a post about a book he's just read: Marjorie Suchocki's Divinity and Diversity: A Christian Affirmation of Religious Pluralism. Sounds like an interesting work. Lee's post is equally interesting, and this part caught my eye:

What I like about Suchocki’s position is that, unlike some pluralists, she doesn’t try to assume a “view from nowhere”, outside of any particular tradition. Too often, this results in a kind of lowest-common-denominator theology or a covert attempt to impose the standards of one tradition on others without acknowledging it.

I sympathize, to some extent, with Lee's chariness regarding the "view from nowhere" approach. Very often, this approach is emblematized by the Jain metaphor of the blind men and the elephant: each man stands by a certain part of the elephant and perceives the animal to be, respectively, a wall, a rope, a tree trunk, etc. The metaphor has been criticized by the likes of S. Mark Heim, who notes that, in order for the story to work, we have to assume the presence of an all-seeing observer who stands apart and can see the limitations of the blind men at a glance. Heim feels that the metaphor fails to capture the actual human situation: there is no one who isn't blind, since we are all "horizoned," i.e., bounded and limited, in our apprehension of the world.

Because I still have one foot in John Hick's camp (and Hick is the quintessential "convergent" pluralist), I wrote a response to Heim's position some years back, addressing the elephant metaphor. I said in part:

The elephant analogy doesn't ascribe omniscience to the sighted person. Heim wants to claim that the meta-theoretical paradigms of religious pluralists are arrogating to themselves a God's-eye view. I don't believe this to be the case at all. They are, like the sighted man in the elephant analogy, simply at a remove from the immediate situation, and this is sufficient to provide superior insight. The sighted man is merely sighted, not all-seeing. His integrated perspective is objectively less blinkered than that of the blind men, which is the real point of the story.

So while I sympathize with the idea that the "view from nowhere" can be a dangerous approach to religious diversity, I don't really see it in evidence among the bigwigs in such discussions.

I also have to wonder, from Lee's post, whether Suchocki (pronounced "Sue Hockey," in case you were curious; her name was tossed around a lot during my MA program, especially during a course on feminist christology) isn't actually advocating something closer to inclusivism than to pluralism. If God resides at the most fundamental level of her pluralistic paradigm, then she's as guilty of funneling other religions through her perspective as other inclusivists are. Then again, the Amazon.com review has this to say about Suchocki's perspective:

In this insightful and irenic work, Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki demonstrates that Christians need not ignore, nor even compromise, the teachings of the gospel in order to accept and rejoice in religious pluralism. She argues that the Christian doctrines of creation, incarnation, the image of God, and the reign of God make the diversity of religions necessary. Without such diversity the rich and deep community of humanity that is the goal of the Christian gospel cannot be realized. Along the way Suchocki rejects the exclusivist claim that there can be no relationship with God apart from the church, and the inclusivist idea that Christianity is the highest expression of the search for God, with other religions possessing in part that which Christians possess in full. She argues instead for a pluralist position, insisting on a full recognition of the distinctive gifts that all of the religious traditions bring to the human table.

This seems to place her rather close to Paul Knitter on the pluralistic spectrum. Knitter, a Catholic thinker (Suchocki is Methodist), has long advocated a sort of "theocentric" pluralism in which theos can be interpreted more broadly than just "God of the Abrahamic faiths." While I remain unconvinced that Knitter has truly stepped outside the Magisterium (in fact, he's written a book titled Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian about how his interreligious experiences have helped confirm and reinforce his Christian beliefs), I appreciate his openness to the reinterpretive possibilities inherent in any honest dialogue.

I've put Suchocki's book on my Amazon Wish List as a reminder that I need to grab it and read it. Religious diversity is a burgeoning field of study; as I noted a while back, Georgetown University now offers a doctoral degree in the subject. I remain sorely tempted by GU's program. In the meantime, my thanks to Lee for bringing this book to my attention.


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Monday, November 29, 2010

ululate!

My brother texted me with the sad news that comedian Leslie Nielsen has died.

Here's hoping that, when he reaches the pearly gates, Mr. Nielsen won't be addressed as "Shirley."


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Ave, Justin!

As always, Justin Yoshida knows where all the cool videos are. In a recent post, he found a video titled "Kitty is a Very BAD Mystic." Justin's own title for the video is "The best cat video on the internet." Whatever the video's name, it had me rolling. And it made me believe in talking animals. Go watch and laugh.


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conformity redux

I spent a good deal of time earlier associating Koreans with a conformist, hive-mind mentality, and saying very little about its equivalent here in the States. Yesterday evening, I had a rather unnerving experience at the Home Depot in a nearby town (my current town doesn't have one), and it reminded me strongly of my many experiences with the same phenomenon in Korea. I now live in a more racially homogeneous part of the commonwealth, you see, and racial homogeneity brings with it a certain cultural homogeneity. Of course, I'm talking about being in a majority white region. Oh, there are minorities about: I've seen Latinos, South Asians, and Chinese. But they're few and very far between. I hope no one takes this the wrong way, but it's striking that roles generally occupied by minorities in the DC-Metro area are occupied by the majority race here (one of my religion profs privately made a similar observation once, when visiting a western state). In Alexandria, the Home Depot staffers come in all shapes and sizes; in the town near my new place of residence, the staffers are, as far as I can tell, entirely white.

What made yesterday's Home Depot experience unnerving was the consistency with which the staff treated me every time I approached their section. First, there was the greeting as soon as I entered the store: "Welcome to Home Depot." Right there, I was reminded of countless upper-level stores in South Korea where a greeter intones "eoseo-osaeyo" and offers a stately bow. Perhaps I haven't been listening hard enough, but I've never heard "Welcome to Home Depot" at any of the Home Depots near DC. Yet out in the boonies, there it was.

Next was the way each staffer greeted me as I neared his or her section. While I've heard the question "Hi! Anything I can help you find?" in the DC-Metro area, the difference here, at this countrified Home Depot, was the amount of physical distance before the staffer felt the need to offer the greeting. In most cases, I was fairly far off-- more than fifteen yards-- when the greeting was used. As you can imagine, this meant that the greeting couldn't be whispered or spoken too conversationally: it had to be made with the volume turned slightly up. I often had to look directly at the staffer to make sure that he or she was talking to me.

The consistency with which this happened was impressive. I'm all for good customer service, but I was beginning to realize that different regions have different notions of what such service entails. I further suspect that, in racially homogeneous areas, it's easier for the boss to delineate customer service policy and enforce it, since every underling comes to the table with roughly the same cultural assumptions and understandings. In the more diverse DC-Metro area, it may be harder, by contrast, to expect such consistency. Each person will interpret etiquette and store policy at least partly according to his or her ethnic perspective; there will be a broad norm, but with plenty of variation inside that norm.

My understanding, as an Alexandrian, has been that the "May I help you?" question doesn't appear until you're within about ten feet of a given staffer. Exceptions abound, of course, such as when it's obvious you're the only customer in the store, but those are only exceptions. Suffice it to say that a loud greeting from fifteen yards away takes me a bit out of my comfort zone.

Up to now, nothing I've remarked upon has truly been negative. I was taken aback by the difference in customer service, yes, but it was just a matter of recalibrating my sensibilities to How Things Are Done in these parts. What disturbed me, however, was the behavior of one Home Depot staffer in particular. Her comportment, too, reminded me of behavior I've seen while living in Korea.

I had been searching the store for a Rubbermaid footstool-- something small, that I could use in my kitchenette to reach some above-the-cabinet spaces. My wanderings took me toward the far end of the store where they sell large ladders and smaller, foldable stepladders. I reasoned that the footstools-- which I hadn't found in the "cleaning items" section-- would most likely be here. When I was more than fifty yards away from my goal, a small, late-40s blonde woman materialized and moved to intercept me. She had a bright smile and a voice that was either marred by too much smoking or ravaged by laryngitis. "What are you looking for?" she rasped brightly, smiling and stepping directly into my path-- something none of the other staffers had done. I told her I was looking for a one-piece, non-folding Rubbermaid footstool. "Oh, those are on the other side of the store, aisle 46. They're not in this section." She said this with convincing authority, so I assumed that I was the one in the wrong, thanked her, and marched all the way back to the same aisle where I had previously looked for the footstool. Nada.

My zigzagging progress through the store eventually brought me back to that lady's section again. Not seeing her around, I plowed forward to the wall with the ladders, and... voilà. There was the footstool I'd been looking for.

Was the lady being racist? There's not enough evidence to say, but her performance as a staffer was in marked contrast to the polite, friendly assistance I'd received from every other staffer in the place. This lady came off as both insincere and intent on keeping me out of her section. She reappeared when I was in the process of self-checking my items (for those of you out of the country-- that's a big change in recent years in the States: the self-checkout line, where you ring your own items up), and began hovering while I was checking out. At the end, when I'd bagged everything and placed it all back in my shopping cart, the lady asked solicitously, "Is everything OK?" I didn't like the implications of her question. It sounded almost as if she wanted to see my receipt and check it against my purchased items. I pasted a smile onto my face and told her everything was fine, and deliberately added that I'd found the footstool I'd wanted-- in her section. The lady moved on with no further comment. That, too, struck me as odd.

Either the woman simply lacked social graces (she never once made eye contact with me, even when posing direct questions), or she saw a big non-white guy and felt she had to defend the castle from the barbarian intrusion. Neither alternative is particularly pleasant, and I found it amusing to receive this sort of treatment in my own country. In Korea, you see, Koreans often make no bones about their attitude toward foreigners-- or more precisely, toward anyone who doesn't look like they do (there are, for example, Chinese and Japanese with "crossover" looks who can pass as Korean, at least until they open their mouths). Even in cosmopolitan Seoul, where foreigners abound, one is likely to be stared at on the subway or viewed with suspicion by the shopkeeper. It's a simple fact of expat life, and one either learns to cope with it in some way, or one builds up resentment until life in Korea is no longer bearable. I found that being able to speak a good bit of Korean was extremely helpful in most cases; a lot of the Korean mentality is rooted not so much in racism as in the culturally determined "Hermit Kingdom" worldview. This is why even fellow East Asians aren't immune to the anti-foreigner scowl.

But the Home Depot lady and I spoke the same language and had many of the same tacit cultural assumptions. Despite this, I had the distinct impression that she automatically viewed me with suspicion. Had she experienced a rash of thefts out of her department? Had she had a bad experience with someone from another race? Had she been brought up in a household where epithets were casually thrown around? I have no idea. All I know is that the vibe I got from her was markedly different from the vibe I got from everyone else in the store.

The two ladies in my rental office are black. Both are extremely friendly, and are easy to talk with. A couple weeks ago, one lady, Candy, told me about a bad experience at a Costco in that same nearby city. She was accosted by a door minder (they check your Costco member ID on the way in, and pore over your receipt on the way out), who rudely asked her whether she'd bought everything in her cart. This happened in front of Candy's child, which was a pretty humiliating experience. She said she'd never go back to that store. I remember nodding while listening to this story, and thinking That'll never happen to me. How wrong I was, eh? Heh.

Unlike Candy, I do plan on revisiting that Home Depot. I'm scientifically-minded enough to want to give the staffer some benefit of the doubt. To that end, I'd like to see whether she'd behave the same way if I came for a second visit. Nothing she did was as obviously humiliating as what the Costco staffer had done to Candy, so there's a slim chance that I just caught her on a bad night. If that's the case, then I'm sorry for this whole rant, but I truly can't shake the feeling that she was stepping over a line.

All of which is to say that Korea and America aren't all that different. Conformism can be found in both places, as can racism, in both subtle and obvious forms. Being half-Korean means being the odd man out in any region of the world where everyone looks a particular way. In other parts of the world, where's it's no big thing to be the child of parents of very different races, it's easier to blend in.


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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nathan on Hitchens and Blair

My buddy Nathan writes up his experience watching and listening to a recent debate between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens on the question of whether religion counts as a force for good in the world. Excellent post. A quick excerpt:

The central question, the subject of the debate was “Be it resolved that religion is a force for good in the world.” The Munk Centre held the event in a massive hall, and it polled its audience before and after the debate. Before the debate, 22% of the audience in Toronto had indicated agreement with this statement, while 57% were opposed. The others were undecided, and clearly, Tony Blair had his work cut out for him.

The debate was an inspired performance from both Hitchens and Blair. Each made good points, a fact that I as a formerly religious person can particularly appreciate.

So: what did the post-debate polling reveal? Did Hitchens, a staunch atheist, shrink the 22% down even lower, or did Blair manage to change some people's minds? Go to Nathan's blog and find out, and be sure to read his very thoughtful reaction to the debate.


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untalented cook?

At 10:05 this morning, I was in the middle of a shower when the fire alarm in my new apartment building started shrieking. My brain, caught completely by surprise, began shrieking along with it. I leaped blubberously out of the shower and tromped out of the bathroom in search of the alarm, tracking water onto the tile and carpet.

Luckily, I didn't have to go far: the alarm was on the ceiling about two steps away from the bathroom door. I reached up to see whether I could turn the alarm off, and... nothing. I concluded that it wasn't my alarm that had initiated this, and that I had little choice but to ride this out. A peek out the window showed no one else leaving the building, reinforcing the impression that this was either a false alarm or something very small-scale, like a minor kitchen emergency.

At a guess, I'd say that all the alarms in the apartment are connected, and that a tenant has little choice but to endure such alarms when they occur. I've been told that I live in a building with a bunch of older folks (I've seen some younger folks, but it's mostly been the 60-and-over crowd), so it's possible that someone lost track of some frying eggs or carelessly smoked while sitting too close to their own apartment's alarm.

There have been no fire trucks since the alarm went silent, so I'm not too worried. I had, however, forgotten what it was like to have to deal with fire alarms in apartment buildings. We had several false alarms back when I lived in an apartment on Route 1 in Alexandria from 1998 to 2002. Today was a reminder of the down-side of communal living.


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Saturday, November 27, 2010

yesterday's meal

1. turkey breast tenderloin (when you're cooking for only two people, there's no reason to buy the entire bird) with gravy (store-bought, alas... a consequence of not having an entire turkey to produce drippings and crumbly bits for gravy)

2. homemade stuffing: rather humble Stove Top boxed kit, with a broth made of water, gravy, and beef-flavored Korean dashida; also added mild pork sausage with peeled, diced apples (both cooked on the side and partially drained before incorporation into the stuffing); turned out great

3. homemade cranberry sauce: cranberries boiled the standard way (i.e., in simple syrup), with a tiny drop of lemon essence and some pumpkin pie spices; came out great

4. homemade mashed potatoes: peeled and boiled potatoes mashed with butter, heavy cream, salt, pepper, and a bit of garlic and onion powder; forgot to add the Gruyère, but it didn't matter

5. homemade sweet potatoes: along with #6 below, probably my best hit of the evening. Peeled and boiled sweet potatoes, mashed along with brown sugar, molasses, pumpkin pie spices, and heavy cream; candied walnuts (I candied them in molasses and brown sugar) were added; the whole thing was placed in a baking dish with marshmallows on top; 350 degrees for a few minutes to brown the marshmallows... perfect

6. Kevin-style choucroute alsacienne: (placed atop the mashed potatoes) ham, bacon, bratwurst, mild pork sausage, pork tenderloin, sauerkraut, cloves, and BEER (Heineken); forgot the mustard, but the thing was so damn good it didn't matter

7. peas: came frozen; boiled and buttered, salted and peppered

8. baby carrots: fresh; boiled and buttered, salted and peppered, with a touch of onion powder

9. salad: baby spinach, red onion, feta cheese, honey-roasted almonds, crispy bacon crumbles, and a sprinkle of raisins

10. pies: apple and pumpkin (very nice)

The pies were bought at Wegmans by Dr. Steve, who spent the night in my humble, box-filled abode. Steve also brought over wasabi peas (very addictive), some Japanese kiddie snacks (a bit more flavorful than the Korean version), and a British type of ginger ale called Idris Fiery Ginger Beer. The Idris turned out not to be fiery at all, but the drink was quite tasty, and could well become my new addiction.

Steve was a sport about the fact that I haven't had time to set my new place up. It's been a back-breaking couple of weeks for me: the long drives back and forth to Alexandria, the dozens of trips up the stairs as I carried box after box out of my car and into the apartment, and the desperate food shopping the night before Thanksgiving. I did manage to clear out some space in the living room for a table, and got the kitchen organized enough to cook a meal. Instead of putting all the kitchen items in their proper places, I stuffed everything into my many bookshelves (the books themselves remained boxed and were shunted into various closets) so that I could see all my food-related items at a glance. This proved helpful when I finally got around to cooking; the meal prep itself took me several hours, since I hadn't had the time or energy to get a head start the night before.

For his part, Steve put the TV together (a stand had to be mounted), and also assembled the Ikea-bought TV console. We watched "Star Trek" last night, and I have to say that the picture quality is incredible. The meal was huge, and Steve, who's thin as a toothpick, told me "This was the first real meal I'd had in a while." Steve's one of those thin people for whom eating is just an afterthought. Part of me admires this attitude; part of me finds it insane.

I spoke to my brother Sean last night; he was up in Rhode Island. I Skyped with my brother David earlier today; even earlier that that, I had a visit from the Comcast cable guy, and he hooked up my computer and TV. I'm once again plugged into the civilized world.

Steve's gone back to face a massive pile of grading; I'm now alone in my apartment, with a throbbing lower back after all the lifting and stair-climbing I've done. I've still got things to shop for locally, but at this point, I'm pretty much moved in. There also remain a few items on the to-do list for the house in Alexandria, but nothing urgent. As a final courtesy, I may take care of the blanket of fallen leaves in both the front and back yards.

Oh, yeah... about the above-mentioned Heineken (which was an ingredient in the choucroute alsacienne): a six-pack of Heineken was sitting on the front step of the house in Alexandria. I'm pretty sure it came from a neighbor across the street, a Latino contractor who had visited twice to tell me about items that had been stolen from his place-- a ladder, some power tools, etc. It's all been very distressing for him because it impacts his ability to do business effectively; I just happened to be a friendly ear, and I suppose the beer was his way of repaying me for listening. I don't drink beer, of course, but that doesn't mean I can't cook with it.

I've got a list of things to do right here in town, but I may rest a bit first before I get up and do them.

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.


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Thursday, November 25, 2010

test post with Blogaway


This is a test post with a new app called Blogaway, which is supposed to make blogging on the Droid easier. So far, that seems to be the case. Although I'm still uncomfortable with the haptic keyboard, I find that Blogaway offers a more user-friendly edit window format. 

When I tried blogging through Blogger on my phone, the edit window was ten times larger than the screen, and I was often unable to see the text I was typing because it kept zipping off the screen for no apparent reason.  Blogaway seems to get that the text one is typing should always be visible.

OK... test over.

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raid

A Thanksgiving afternoon/evening raid of the Alexandria homestead may be possible. I've still got some leftover supplies to pick up. Over the next week or so, I've also got some items to drop off before I can declare myself officially moved in.


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switching home bases

I'm getting cable and Internet service hooked up at my new abode this coming Friday; it's been a long time coming. Up to now, I've had to remain in Alexandria because I work from a computer, and therefore need to be where the stable Internet connection is. Now, at long last, I can finally switch the base of operations to my new, undisclosed location out in the boonies, where the population is under 15,000.

The moving process has proceeded in fits and starts. Over 90% of my possessions were taken to my new place over a week ago, but I've still been collecting all sorts of knick-knacks and driving them out to the apartment as I can (tiny car = many trips). Setting up Internet service has proven to be a pain; it took three customer service representatives for me to discover that, Internet ads notwithstanding, Verizon does not provide service in my new place of residence. Out there, it's all Comcast country; Comcast sucks, but it's like Jabba the Hutt: when you're on its turf, you have to pay it a tribute. The day Verizon FiOS is available, I'll be switching over, even if it means breaking contract with Comcast.

The apartment is a pile of boxes right now; today is going to be devoted to unpacking the kitchen items and making up the guest room. Yes, I've got a guest room: it's a two-bedroom place, with 1.5 bathrooms. I'm setting up a simple bunk bed in the guest room so as to accommodate at least two guests, who will even be able to enjoy their own half-bathroom. As Borat might say: very nice.

The eventual plan is to turn the apartment's living room area into a classroom, and to have the classroom up and running, at least part-time, by March or April. The quicker I can switch away from ETS work to something more my style and speed, the better.

Right now, though, the immediate plan is just to get totally moved. Today is all about prep for tomorrow: a haircut, a paycheck deposit, a paroxysm of last-minute desperation shopping for some humble Thanksgiving ingredients (my buddy Dr. Steve will be coming over to spend the day; as I mentioned earlier, my two brothers will be otherwise engaged), the prepping of the kitchen and guest room, and the setting-up of the electronics so that Mr. Comcast Dude can come over on Friday morning, work his technical magic, and leave me with a functioning TV and computer.

A big shout of thanks to my buddy Mike, who helped me shuttle over some bulky purchases (TV, mattresses, etc.) this past Sunday. Meanwhile, since I won't have a functioning computer until Friday, I'll take this opportunity to wish my three readers a Happy Thanksgiving. May there be much turkey, cranberry sauce, and hugging (and perhaps a bit of furtive, TSA-style groping) during your holiday.


UPDATE: Be sure to read my buddy Charles's essay "System of Control," which talks about the current Korean situation using the idiom of "The Matrix."

UPDATE 2: All the Korean ajummas at the local $7 cut barbershop (where I practice my Korean, since they only speak to me in Korean) are telling me I need to get married. When I told them about my move out to a small town, they were horrified. In true Korean fashion, they felt that their cookie-cutter solution-- to plunge into the human fray as deeply as possible-- was the best remedy for a soul in pain. "You have to go where there are lots of women! Job! Church! Clubs!" they said (before they learned I was moving, and that I have a work-at-home job). One lady, however, was more sympathetic to my point of view. She seemed to understand that some folks, especially after suffering tragedies, might want to take some time off from the hubbub and just chill in quiet, natural surroundings.

Modern Koreans, alas, are too deeply in thrall to the idea of social life to understand the quietistic urge. They'd freak if I were to read them Dr. Vallicella's frequent odes to individualism, contemplation, and spiritual depth. For many (but certainly not all) Koreans, happiness is found in the hive, the flock, or the herd. That may be why, when I was teaching in Korea, the students who made the deepest impressions on me were those who were striving to break away from all that conformism.

We have it here in the US, too, of course: people who follow trends and conventions, people who can't stand to be alone, people who are directionless and purposeless without the comfort of the herd. But we're more of a "have it your way, do it yourself, break new ground" kind of culture. When Koreans break ground (pace the bitter expats: Korea does produce a great deal of technological innovation; it's not just copying and miniaturizing), they tend to do it together. Even Grandma will grab herself a smart phone if she sees everyone else using one. Contrast that with the crotchety American Luddites who, even now, refuse to have anything to do with email or the metric system. Or with people like me who are content to float at the margins of society. I'll never pretend I'm a rugged individualist interested in building his own log cabin somewhere in an immense forest, nor will I say that I want nothing to do with society. I've just never been one for too much noise, is all. Seoul was great for eight years, but one thing it lacked was any opportunity for true solitude.

With one foot in both cultures, Korean and American, I sometimes feel comfortable with the Korean hive-mind mentality. But not right now. Right now, tranquility is just what I need. One of the ajummas warned that I might become a misanthrope, living all by myself. Well... I lived alone while I was in Korea, and didn't end up bitter. Quite the contrary, I made a nice, tight circle of friends, gained a better understanding of the culture, and came away from the experience feeling enriched. I think I'll be just fine.

The ajummas lamented that I wasn't going to be around to teach them English, but I told them I'd probably be in the area from time to time to get my haircut. My new town also has a $7 haircut place, but I have no idea how good it is. With both of my brothers still in the DC-Metro area, it's a sure thing that I'll be back regularly.

Digression: I ordered a load of Chinese food (godawful, except for the main dish) a few days ago, and kept the three fortunes from the fortune cookies I received. Here they are, each one spookily relevant (and none of them a true fortune in the predictive sense):

1. Learn to enjoy every minute of your life.

2. A house without books is like a room without windows.

3. Devotion is worth the effort at this time.

The cosmos is speaking to me through little slips of paper. Go be good and be happy. I'll try. Promise.

And now... I'm finally about to leave Alexandria. I've gotten my haircut, mailed off the $100 rebate paperwork for my cell phone, and have bought some more stuff for the apartment-- a vertical lamp for the guest room, and a new microwave. It's time to toss this computer into the car, make the long drive to my new home, shop for food, prep the place, and get ready for my old friend's arrival tomorrow afternoon. Signing off for now... but possibly blogging by phone later on. Stay sexy.


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