Sunday, October 31, 2010

all dressed up...

So I scheduled a camping trip, then cancelled the camping trip, and am now in a position to go on that camping trip. What to do? I may take a little drive south to look at some apartments, instead. Or not. Decisions, decisions...


Saturday, October 30, 2010

camping trip... postponed?

An apartment search led me to what appears to be an amazing deal in the same city my buddy Mike lives in: a 3-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom domicile for $600/month. I don't think that includes utilities, however, so I'm a bit cautious about the total monthly costs. I may be visiting the couple who manage the property this coming Sunday morning, which means no camping for Kevin this weekend. This is a rather sudden cancellation, but I only just received the email about the place two hours ago.

So now I know: Craigslist isn't just peopled with freaks, after all.

UPDATE: The Craigslist ad I had seen is now gone, ever since I emailed the couple back. Now, however, they've put up ads for 3-bedroom places going for $550/month. Is this some sort of scam, or is this a normal practice?

UPDATE 2: Found this page on apartment scams... then ended up here. The couple mentioned in that second link, Robert and Angela Banks, have the same names as the couple that wrote me back. It pays to be cautious.


christology and eschatology

As is always true with Lee, he's got a great christological discussion going on at A Thinking Reed. (By the way, the McIntyre book he references at the beginning of his post is one I had to read in a Comparative Ethics course. Come to think of it, I've forgotten most of it and should really reread it sometime soon.)


Friday, October 29, 2010

quite possibly camping (and other matters)

Yesterday was my first full day of work at ETS. It involved a good bit of stumbling and fumbling, but by the end of the day I had acquired something of a rhythm. Although essay rating isn't the sort of work that leaves me delighted and energized, one nice thing about it is that there's no extra work beyond one's scheduled work hours: no loose ends to worry about at the end of the day.* Still, despite this comforting fact, I ended the day with somewhat jangled nerves. Starting next week, i.e., the beginning of November, I begin my first official week of work with ETS. Cross dem fingers. Le travail commence pour de vrai.

Meanwhile, depending on certain things happening today, I'm planning to be out in the mountains this coming weekend. Will the bears have stopped their pre-hibernation foraging yet? I'll need to check that. There's also a chance that I'll be moving out of this house come December-- possibly to Fredericksburg, and possibly to the mountains. A trip down to Germanna Community College on Friday is currently in the works. I'm curious about working there as a full-time staffer, and one way to do this may be to teach at Germanna as both a religion instructor and an English/ESL instructor. I need to find out whether that's even possible, hence tomorrow's trip. I recently learned that community colleges are always looking for Composition 101 teachers. That might be my foot in the door. ESL would be great, too, since I've got plenty of experience in that area. Tomorrow's visit will also be to the head of the Humanities Department, to apologize for having turned down the offer of part-time work that had come in August.

Even if Germanna doesn't take me up full-time at first, I'll have steady work with ETS, which will at least allow me to pay the rent. (Eventually, I'd like to follow in my little bro's footsteps and buy a house, but that's not happening anytime soon.)

Lots to think about. Lots to prepare.

*This isn't to say that I hated this aspect of being a teacher. With any other job, I would have resented any extracurricular work, but with teaching, it was often a delight to plan lessons and curricula, grade papers, and do research to prep for upcoming lessons.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Political Compass results

Inspired by Skippy's recent post, I revisited the Political Compass, a site I go to every couple of years, and retested myself to see whether I've finally veered away from my self-professed centrism. Results:

Not much seems to have changed, though I could have sworn that, this time around, some of my answers tilted much further to the right than previously (2005, 2007).


things I'm waiting for

1. I want a screen saver that's essentially a real-time, hi-res simulation of a low-altitude flight over every inch of the surface of Mars-- flight among the mountains and inside the canyons, Podracing-style! With real-time weather conditions. When I say "real-time," I don't mean that the sim has to show Mars as it is right this second; I simply mean that, if our imaginary craft is flying over the Martian surface at 3000 miles per hour, it should take an hour to cover a straight 3000-mile stretch. The craft will essentially be flying a search pattern that will eventually cover the entire planet, which might take a while, ensuring no repetition for a long, long time. I could stare at that for hours.

While we're at it, I want the same screen saver for Mercury and Venus, too. The gas giants might also be nice, but I'll settle for high-altitude flights for them. And Jupiter's and Saturn's moons, too, come to think of it.

2. I want a kitchen appliance that, when you insert it, vibrates off an orange's skin in the space of three seconds. You hear a buzz; the skin becomes visibly looser; you peel upward and outward just a little ways from the device's insertion point, and voilà-- the whole skin comes off. What are the culinary possibilities of nearly-whole orange skin? What could you infuse the interior with to make it tasty? Or could you somehow carve out all the white and make a tiny Jack-o-lantern?

3. I want a parrot that can sing the entire "America! Fuck, yeah!" song, and that knows not to sing it unless commanded to do so.

4. I want a DVD of the Purple and Brown animated series. I looked for such a DVD on recently, and failed to find it. (If you've never seen the claymation monsters Purple and Brown, type "purple and brown" into the search window on YouTube. How can you not love them?)

5. What else do I want right now...?


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Twitter poetry

Trap me in a tiny box, and I go nuts looking for creative ways to make life interesting. Twitter, which is all about microblogging, confines you to writing posts of no more than 140 characters in length (and yes: a space is a character). Every time I visit Twitter, every time I tweet, it's like being trapped in a tiny box. That drives me nuts, and me nuts like stupid poetry, so that's one of the ways I pass the time on Twitter. For those who've missed my poems, here's what I've written so far (reformatted for the blog):


I wanna ship that's four miles long,
four miles long,
four miles long...
I wanna ship that's four miles long--
rowed by angry slave girls.


I knew a legless ostrich once
that lived a cocaine high
it porn-surfed on my Macintosh
and pecked at women's thighs


when the eagle farts
make sure you're not under it
sometimes it's a shart


I feed my cat nickels
he don't seem to mind
but when he shits pennies
I think he's unkind


On Halloween I lick your brain
because your brain
don't feel no pain
and 'cause it looks just like chow mein
I'm gonna slurp it


our cat died years ago, and yet
I find it's still my favorite pet
I dig it up each night and say
"O, undead kittie! Time to play!"


dudi B wut I du--
dudimi dudi U--
dudi in dudi out--
dudi shaykit N shout--
dudidudi in bed--
dudi til UR ded--
dudi green dudi blu--
dudimi dudi U


life is tough in Anusville
the crater town between two hills
for every time the Worm appears
the townies quake and scream in fear

I've also been attempting to write super-short stories that evoke, even if they can't flesh out, things like plot, character, and theme. A few of those:


Garrison Keillor, smashed on rotgut from some Central American hamlet, deep in the jungle with an M-60, hunting Predators and velociraptors.


Darling Lydia, let not yon dwarf smell thy panties and regain his honor thereby, for he is a most execrable dwarf.


"I ask for fal-tor-pan." "You mean the re-fusion of Spock's body and katra?" "No, I mean a Chinese hooker. OF COURSE I mean re-fusion!"


I dream that I am Saruman, chasing Princess Leia through the stairwells of Isengard while she shrieks, delighted, that I am her nerfherder.


Explosions. Kermit the Frog, bleeding, on his knees, arms upraised and face toward the sky à la Willem Dafoe's death scene in "Platoon."


"Faster!!" screamed the hen, urging her elephant on. The terrified fox zigzagged crazily. Behind him the bird cackled, drunk with vengeance.


Her nightgown whispered to the floor, revealing her alluring topography. Spock quirked an eyebrow: the human adventure was just beginning.


way to go, Sean!

Too proud not to link this: my brother Sean's new chamber orchestra, Counterpoint, has gotten a writeup at CNBC. Awesome achievement, Little Bro!

(True: it's a promo article for an upcoming event, but I'm sure the reviews, when they're written, will be splendid. Sean's a talented musician, and he's one of the driving forces behind the putting-together of this group.)


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Catholic inclusivism?

This post is actually a reprint of a comment that failed to publish over at Malcolm's blog, probably because of the inclusion of hyperlinks, which can activate anti-spam software on some blogs, depending on their comment settings. A bit of background: Malcolm had written a post titled "Slow News Day," about the conversion of Tony Blair's sister-in-law, Lauren Booth, to Islam. In the comments, Dr. Hodges asked, "Doesn’t the Catholic church allow for salvation outside the official church? Lauren Booth might yet make the grade..." Malcolm replied, "Does it? I thought not. Kevin would know..."

So here we are. I've actually dealt with this question on a few occasions throughout this blog's history (use the search function to look up words and phrases like "Nostra Aetate," "inclusivism," and "Vatican II"), but it's good to revisit the subject. What follows, then, is the comment I had hoped to append to Malcolm's thread.

The Nostra Aetate document from Vatican 2 (see here) seems to open the door to a more inclusivistic approach: salvation is still Christian, and still through Christ, but to the extent that one's religious practice manifests Christian virtues, those non-Christian traditions can conceivably be ways of salvation. See this passage, for example:

Religions, however, that are bound up with an advanced culture have struggled to answer the same questions by means of more refined concepts and a more developed language. Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust. Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination. Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.

The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.

The document goes on in that vein, next addressing Islam and Judaism in a very conciliatory tone. Some consider this document a revolutionary change in Catholic thinking (and the 2000 Dominus Iesus of then-Cardinal Ratzinger's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is seen by many non-Catholics as a step backward toward the old extra ecclesiam nulla salus); others aren't so sure. While I was out west on my walk, one Catholic monk I spoke with was doubtful that Nostra Aetate should be read as an explicit statement of theological inclusivism. Catholic opinions seem to vary. My own reading of the document, as a non-Catholic, is a hopeful one, and is a reading shared by many of my Catholic and non-Catholic instructors in grad school.

Sorry I can't be clearer, but as my engineer friend would probably note, with great frustration and annoyance, religion isn't an exact science. Everything's open to interpretation.

Nostra Aetate concludes this way:

The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to "maintain good fellowship among the nations" (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men, so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven.

Make of that what you will.


émeutes, manifs, et grèves en France

I got curious as to how things have been going in Strasbourg, the large French city about an hour away from where my buddy Dominique lives. Found this blog entry, which made for entertaining reading, regarding the occupation of la présidence de l'Université de Strasbourg (UDS; copy and paste the italicized phrase into Google and click "video" for videos). The blog post includes a laundry list of claims of solidarity and demands for change, almost none of which struck me as very specific. The overall language is very late-teen, early-20-something passionate rhetoric: educated, eloquent, and yet somehow intellectually muddled. What I took from reading this blog was that French students buy into statism. Sad.


Monday, October 25, 2010

dusky ending for Duskie Estes

On this latest episode of "The Next Iron Chef," tiny, unassuming Chef Tio ended up on top of both the preliminary round and the elimination round. The big surprise, for me, was the elimination of Chef Duskie Estes, but the universal complaint from the judges was her overall inconsistency (a problem that might bring Ming Tsai down in future rounds if he's not careful). I can't say I was a fan of Chef Estes; she turned me off when she voted in favor of herself during the first episode-- a move I found rather arrogant. On the plus side, she had a competitive spirit and was liked by Judge Mike Symon, who saw her as a "dark horse" in the competition. Unfortunately, her elimination-round meal was disastrous, and she failed to recover from several missteps.

During the initial challenge, Chef Tio wowed everyone with her ability to use the vinegar in hot sauce as a catalyst for creating a spicy ricotta cheese. Very, very clever, that. In the elimination round, which required the chefs to transform standard fair food into something Iron Chef-worthy, Tio's fish taco, popcorn shrimp, and moon pie wowed the judges enough for her to secure the win.

And now we're down to six chefs.


now a Picasa album

I've had trouble seeing all the pictures of my Most Awesome Scrapbook in the Universe over on eBay, so I've re-reloaded them on Picasa as their own separate album. Someone, meanwhile, seems to have placed a bid for my 1893 stamp. It'll sell for a mere dollar. What a shame, but that stamp is apparently the most common one of its series.


last year

Last year was my mother's final Halloween. Around this time, we went out to a local store that sold seasonal plants, wandered around their pumpkin selection, and bought five pumpkins, one for each family member. My father carved the pumpkin representing Mom, and I carved the rest, right on Halloween day. The results can be seen here, on the other blog.

This year, things are quieter. Much quieter.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Most Awesome 1880s/1890s Scrapbook in the Universe

I referred to it before, but after much labor, it's now on sale on eBay. Even if you don't buy it, you might want to peruse the 63(!!) full-size photos I appended to the eBay listing. My write-up for the scrapbook also notes that it may be associated with a macabre bit of history-- just in time for Halloween.


visit James Jean

If you haven't seen the artwork of James Jean before, go check out his amazing website. Everyone's aesthetic sensibilities are different, but my reaction, while perusing his images, was rapt fascination. Some of those pictures were so hypnotic to me that I would have stared at them all day, had they been hanging on a wall in my house. The man can make art.

And there's another skill I need to learn: how to photograph paintings correctly, so that they look as if they've been scanned. How do photographers do that without suffering the problems of white "flash spots" or edge convexity caused by lens distortion? How do they make sure that every square inch of the painting is lit equally? And how do they make sure the painting is seen in its "true" light (if such a thing exists), i.e., not too bright or too dark? Much to learn, I have.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

November means WORK

Good tidings of great joy! ETS confirmed my November schedule, so I'll be plunging back into the work force soon. I'm also attempting to sign up with a tutoring agency that matches tutors with families; I've turned in my paperwork but don't yet know whether they'll accept me as an "independent contractor," which is how the arrangement's been conceived.

Meanwhile, I continue to slap stuff up on eBay. Several items have only a few hours left before they wink out of existence, and I'll be forced to re-list them, perhaps with sexier photos. While I was ecstatic to have sold that pewter medallion by Donald DeLue for $25 plus shipping, that's been the only item to sell thus far. Am fervently hoping that someone goes for the Civil War Registry. More items are on their way, including that awesome scrapbook I wrote about earlier. Check out ingwaeungbo on eBay to see what's for sale.


Friday, October 22, 2010

the "James Cameron: Hypocrite" YouTube video

If you haven't yet seen the "James Cameron: Hypocrite" video on YouTube, do yourself a favor and watch it now.

The video points out that acclaimed/vilified movie director James Cameron has been preaching a gospel of frugal, green living despite owning three massive houses (no solar, no windmills) and an armada of green-unfriendly possessions ranging from sports cars to Ducati bikes to submarines.

I admit the video gave me a chuckle, but once I stopped to ponder its message, I had to wonder: what was the message? If the message was simply that James Cameron is a hypocrite, then I can get behind that. The video makes this narrow point quite well, and perhaps this is the only point the video is trying to make-- hence its title.

But if the ulterior motive behind the video is to discredit arguments for green living, then the video is a 2.25-minute-long genetic fallacy. James Cameron might very well be a hypocrite, but this has no bearing on whether his advocacy of greener living holds water. The arguments for greener living need to be assessed on their own merits, not according to whether they've been forwarded by hypocrites.

Beware the seductive power of sound and light!


the Great Issue

If you haven't done so already, be sure to read Elisson's newest poem, "Stand Up." First stanza:

The morning air was crisp and cool
Upon this lovely autumn day.
And to myself, “Myself,” I say,
“I think it’s time to drop a stool.”

Swedish, thanks to its ABBA rhyme scheme.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Lost Cave Temples of the Himalayas"

I watched "Lost Cave Temples of the Himalayas" last night. Quite fascinating. Were I teaching a class on Buddhism, I'd definitely include this video as part of the students' extracurricular work.


how to popularize Socratic dialogues

Have you seen the work coming out of a site called Using their "text to movie" function, you can supply dialogue and create your own little animations. Instapundit is currently featuring such a video right now, and earlier I mentioned an embedded XtraNormal video, lampooning the iPhone, in that article by David Wong.

This is a medium I was born to use. Over 9 million text-to-video projects have already been produced; I'm way behind the curve. Time to bring Socratic dialogues into the twenty-first century.



The best article on FARTS (Forced ARTificial Scarcity) you'll ever read, by David Wong for The punchline, which comes at the beginning of the article:

If you want to know what the future looks like, there it is. The future is going to hang on whether or not businesses will be able to convince you to pay money for things you can otherwise get for free.

(Be sure to watch that hilarious YouTube video lampooning the iPhone at the end of Wong's article.)

I've long wondered about this myself. To me, it seems that digital commodities, which can be perfectly reproduced at zero or near-zero cost, can't enjoy the normal copyright protections accorded to other types of intellectual property. What we need is a new paradigm, something that trumps the FARTS mentality. As Wong himself points out, simply giving our creations away for free is unhelpful; everyone will go broke. At the same time, expecting consumers not to want a free version of your digital creation seems equally unhelpful, given how easy it is to obtain free copies of it. What's the middle ground? Perhaps, when a digital product comes out, we need to focus on the early-adopter crowd to pay through the nose for access to the product. Make it a question of early release versus general release, with the poorer, slower, lazier masses receiving the product for free after the first wave has been bought up by the richies. To eliminate the "redistributionist hacker" problem, minimize the time between early and general releases.

Note that this question doesn't apply to things that are hard to replicate. Non-digital works of art, for example: paintings and sculptures can only be forged at great effort and expense. The same goes for money: you need quite a complex apparatus to create convincing counterfeits.

But digital products? I really can't see how we can go on charging money for them when-- as Wong points out-- they're so easy to distribute once they've been made., the print-on-demand self-publishing website, has anticipated this, and allows authors to charge nothing for e-versions of their manuscripts. (An author can also charge something for those e-scripts, but how likely are people to buy them?)


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

freakin' my shit out

An article on revolutionary insights about bacteria also speculates on how the latest bacterial research may alter our perception of the evolution of life:

Science has determined that life arose and became complex through a process generally known as evolution, but biologists are engaged in an energetic debate about the form of that evolution. In essence, the argument centers on whether the biosphere should be characterized as a tree of life or an interactive web. In the tree construct, every living thing springs from a common ancestor, organisms evolve slowly by means of random mutations, and genes are passed on from parent to offspring (that is to say, vertically). The farther away from the common ancestor, generally speaking, the more complex the life-form, with humans at the apex of complexity.

The tree-of-life notion remains a reasonable fit for the eukaryotes, but emerging knowledge about bacteria suggests that the micro-biosphere is much more like a web, with information of all kinds, including genes, traveling in all directions simultaneously. Microbes also appear to take a much more active role in their own evolution than the so-called “higher” animals. This flies in the face of the more radical versions of Darwinism, which posit that the environment, and nothing else, selects genes, and that there is no intelligence, divine or otherwise, behind evolution — especially not in the form of organisms themselves making intentional changes to their heritable scaffolding. To suggest that organisms as primitive as bacteria are capable of controlling their own evolution is obviously silly.

Isn’t it?

I encourage you to read the article in full, but here's a bit more freakiness:

Bacteria, says Giovannoni admiringly, are marvels of engineering. “When it comes to biochemistry, they are much better than eukaryotes,” he says. “They don’t waste things. They’re very efficient, very clever. They keep it simple but very elegant and sophisticated.”

But just how smart are they, really?

Giovannoni stops short of claiming that bacteria are actually thinking. But the litany of bacterial talents does nibble at conventional assumptions about thinking: Bacteria can distinguish “self” from “other,” and between their relatives and strangers; they can sense how big a space they’re in; they can move as a unit; they can produce a wide variety of signaling compounds, including at least one human neurotransmitter; they can also engage in numerous mutually beneficial relationships with their host’s cells. Even more impressive, some bacteria, such as Myxococcus xanthus, practice predation in packs, swarming as a group over prey microbes such as E. coli and dissolving their cell walls.

At least one scientist was willing to allow for the possibility of bacterial thinking quite early in the development of microbiology: Alfred Binet, who invented the first reliable intelligence test and who published a book in 1888 called The Psychic Life of Microorganisms. And today the idea of thinking microbes is gaining ground. Marc van Duijn and colleagues at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands point out in the June 2006 issue of Adaptive Behavior that the presence of “the basic processes of cognition, such as perception, memory and action” in bacteria can now be “plausibly defended.” And bacteria that have antibiotic-resistance genes advertise the fact, attracting other bacteria shopping for those genes; the latter then emit pheromones to signal their willingness to close the deal. These phenomena, Herbert Levine’s group argues, reveal a capacity for language long considered unique to humans.

Whoa, as Keanu would say.


Ming Tsai: surviving Round 3

I finally watched the DVR'ed third episode of "The Next Iron Chef." Ming Tsai survived the third round in the middle of the pack, but the judges continue to wonder aloud about his consistency. They praised the dish he cooked during the elimination round, along with the work of most of the other chefs, but the stand-out chef this time proved to be Chef Canora (visit the Food Network site to see who these folks are). Meanwhile, the hapless Chef Dumont, who looked doomed from the start, got the boot.

While I've been fascinated by the presence of Ming Tsai in this competition, I'm not sure I'm rooting for him. He often comes off as aloof and a bit arrogant in his on-camera asides, frequently speaking in comparatives that imply he's part of an elite group (e.g., "Breakfast isn't something that everyone does well"-- possibly implying that he does it well). In the previous episode, where he found himself at the bottom, he assured the viewers that he's at least as good as, if not better than, everyone else in the competition. That comment, in itself, isn't surprising, since just about everyone in the competition holds similar sentiments. But because he's made several such comparative comments now, in only three episodes, I'm beginning to wonder whether he might not be trapped in a bit of an ego-bubble.

Chef Canora, the winner of the third-round elimination, is just the opposite: his comments normally evince a great deal of humility, as well as respect for his competitors. Not to say that Tsai has been openly disrespectful, of course: he hasn't. But he also hasn't betrayed much warmth or humanity.

This episode featured a bit more camaraderie than the two previous episodes did; I finally saw some hints of what made Season One so likable. Even Chef Tsai no longer has to worry about being thought of as the super-smart kid who sits alone in the corner of the classroom; having been taken down several notches in the second episode, he is now truly just a fellow competitor.

I'll be curious to see how things go from here. Right now, the chefs to watch appear to be Chefs Canora, Forgione, and Estes. Oh, and the big Texan, Chef Caswell.


your morning of link-whoring

A few articles that have captured my attention of late:

1. Thanks to Dr. V, an article titled "A Natural Experiment in Political Economy" that manages, in only a couple hundred words, to take us from Sweden to Germany to the Korean peninsula, then back to the US for a comparative look at states like California and Texas. The article's purpose: to show that, on the grand scale, capitalism always produces better results for its people than more statist paradigms like communism. While this isn't an original sentiment, I was amazed at the author's ability to be both concise and comprehensive. Despite some unnecessary authorial snark (e.g., "ideology makes you stupid"-- a remark that can always be turned against its wielder), the article is worth your while.

2. An impressive blog post on William James and the notion of "sciousness" over at the eternally fascinating Conscious Entities. Excerpt:

Observation involves conscious attention, but in this case conscious attention is also the target. Necessarily then, there must be some splitting, some withdrawal from the target of observation; but then it ceases to be the conscious awareness we were trying to introspect. It’s like trying to tread on your own shadow. You end up, at best, observing not your real immediate self, but a kind of fake or ersatz thing, an idea of yourself which you have generated.

I’m not absolutely sure this argument is watertight. Comte supposes that in order to observe our own thoughts, we have to stop observing whatever we were contemplating before. If that’s so, is it a disaster? All it really means is that when we observe ourselves, we’ll find that we are currently observing ourselves. That’s circular alright, but I’m not sure it is necessarily disastrous. Moreover, can’t we think about more than one thing at once? Comte suggests that self-observation requires a kind of separation in the self, but aren’t we complex anyway, with several different layers and threads of thought often co-existing? Can’t it be that when we introspect we can observe the thoughts that were running along beforehand accompanied by a new meta level on which we’re watching the original thought and also watching ourselves watching? It sort of seems like that when I introspect – more like that than like bundles or gusts of breath in an empty head.

3. A post by my friend Nathan regarding the trial of Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders and the larger question of "Islamic correctness." Excerpt:

The fundamental issue remains that separation of church and state. Western civilizational history is already replete with many hundreds of years of intellectual darkness, book-burnings, torture, murder, and war in the name of dominant religion. I hope we’ve learned better by now: religion is best left in the private sphere alone, in a place from which it may not dictate to others what they may or may not do.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

looming midterm erections

Although I think the Democrats deserve whatever drubbing may be heading their way after their massive ineptitude since Obama's election, I can't say that I'll be all that happy to see the GOP regain power in the legislative. It's not obvious to me that the GOP has any more coherent a self-image and agenda than the Dems do, and it's also not obvious that the Tea Party is not merely a subset of the GOP, what with all the sinister cross-pollination going on. If the Tea Party claims it's for small government, for example, how does this distinguish it from classical conservatism within the GOP? (NB: I'm not one of those idiots who view the Tea Party as a hotbed of racism and xenophobia.)

Perhaps the best thing that can come of the midterms will be a renewed dynamic tension between the legislative and executive branches, resulting in just the sort of static (by which I really mean gridlock preventing government from further mucking up the market) that can lead to economic robustness. Although it might be too much to hope for a return to the scenario when Clinton was in office (a GOP-dominated Congress after a so-called "Republican Revolution"), we can always hope for something that echoes the 90s.


missed it

I missed "The Next Iron Chef" yesterday. Luckily, it's DVR'ed, so I'll watch it later today. Prediction (if "prediction" is the correct word when we're talking about things that have already happened): Ming Tsai survives another round.


Monday, October 18, 2010

first eBay sale!

One of my items, a pewter medallion, has been bought for $25 plus shipping. Pretty cool. And since it's all done through PayPal, I pay the postage while printing the shipping label-- using money from what I just earned when I sold my item. Rock n' roll.


sounds disgusting, but...

Followers of this blog know that I'm currently dirt poor, and that the employer who hired me won't be requiring my services until the beginning of November, which leaves me half a month to figure out what I can do to earn a bit of cash in the meantime. The two avenues I've been pursuing are (1) finding a job that starts immediately (which might mean ditching the current employer), and (2) finding household items to sell on eBay.

I've transferred many of the items that were on my auction blog to my eBay shops, and am currently digging around the house for other items to sell. There's plenty of potential material, and two significant finds came from the attic this morning. The first was a perfectly preserved 1893 "Landing of Columbus" 2-cent commemorative stamp (1492-1892), still on piece (i.e., still on the envelope), and unmarred by a cancel mark. The envelope has postmarks on both sides; the letter inside it has gone missing, but was addressed to Ann ("Am."?) J. Simmons of 305 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn. A quick look online shows that the stamp itself probably won't sell for much: about 30 cents, and Brit sites seem to corroborate this (see the listing for "purple" here). The 1893 postmarks add some cachet.

[NB: The above information was changed to redress a severe misreading on my part.]

The second found item was a scrapbook, apparently compiled by a long-dead ancestor, that contains clippings from newspapers and magazines from the 1870s through the early 1890s. This relative is probably the same one who collected all those 1890s-era cabinet cards (teaser here). The scrapbook itself has not aged well, and is in fact falling apart, but it served its purpose: most of the clippings inside it are nearly perfectly preserved. Among the clippings are:

1. A November 19, 1891 article about the death of playwright and comedian William Florence.

2. A September 1, 1892 article (a long one!) about the life and death of public intellectual George William Curtis.

3. A page of clippings from August and September 1892 about the arrival of "Asiatic cholera" on American and English shores.

4. A September 8, 1892 article about the knockout of famous bare-knuckle boxer John L. Sullivan.

5. A March 22, 1891 article recounting a talk by a certain Colonel Hemstreet. The topic: Colonel Hemstreet's eye-witness account of, and ruminations about, General Sherman's (in)famous march. (Hemstreet was Union, so you can guess what he thought of Sherman's campaign. See a reference here.)

6. A February 19, 1891 article about General Sherman's funeral(!!!!).

7. Several articles about the life and death of Mrs. Henry Ward Beecher.

8. Other Beecher-related articles-- Edward Beecher, Herbert Beecher, et al.

9. Plenty of slice-of-life articles and political cartoons.

10. A March 27, 1889 article on the death of orator John Bright.

11. An (1889?) article titled "Babies of the White House," about the children of President Benjamin Harrison.

12. A November 22, 1886 article about the funeral of President Chester A. Arthur.

13. An 1893 article titled "Four Years More," about Grover Cleveland winning a second (and non-consecutive!) presidential term.

14. A November 2, 1887 article about the death of singer Jenny Lind.

15. Several 1887 articles about the dying and death of preacher Henry Ward Beecher.

16. An article dated October 28, 1886, with the misspelled title "Unvailed," about the unveiling of Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty.

...and more!

But that's not the reason why I'm writing this post. No: the real reason for this post is to announce that, in order to help celebrate my brother Sean's 31st birthday (October 15), I baked a cake. Not just any cake, mind you: as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I'm destitute, and am currently out of eggs. What to do in such a situation, if you're trying to bake a cake?

My first thought, which horrified me as it will doubtless horrify you, too: mayonnaise.

It's essentially eggs and oil, after all, and both ingredients go into cake. So I typed "mayonnaise cake" into Google to see whether my idea was crazy. As it turns out, chocolate mayonnaise cake is a classic Southern dish. Go figure. I used a straightforward recipe found at, and the results turned out far better than anticipated. The cake smelled a bit strange while baking, but its texture, when done, was moist and creamy, with no mayonnaise-y undertone. The eggs and oil blended right in with the rest of the ingredients, and Sean enjoyed his first-ever bite of chocolate mayonnaise cake.

If you're ever out of eggs, but have plenty of mayo, this is the way to go.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

"What is Religion?" (an 1893 answer)

Here's a link to a speech given by Julia Ward Howe at the 1893 Parliament of the World's Religions. Excerpt:

I think nothing is religion which puts one individual absolutely above others, and surely nothing is religion which puts one sex above another. Religion is primarily our relation to the Supreme, to God himself. It is for him to judge; it is for him to say where we belong, who is highest and who is not; of that we know nothing. And any religion which will sacrifice a certain set of human beings for the enjoyment or aggrandizement or advantage of another is no religion. It is a thing which may be allowed, but it is against true religion. Any religion which sacrifices women to the brutality of men is no religion.

For more on Julia Ward Howe, see here. She's best known as the writer of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." I've never found that song to be a ringing endorsement of religious pluralism and tolerance, but Howe's above-cited speech suggests that she was open to the possibility that other valid paths existed than her own. As with many people of the time, her own notion of religion was explicitly theocentric-- a move that would be aggressively questioned in modern academe. But we have to remember that Howe was a product of her time, and as is visible throughout her speech, her main concern was feminism, not theocentrism.

UPDATE: My own posts on "What is Religion?" and "What is Theology?"


how to improve your stats

So it appears that, in order for my blog to get a huge boost in the number of visitors, all I have to do is (1) write a blog entry that quotes a significant chunk from a just-released, and highly topical, news article; then (2) add my own commentary.

Over the recent months, my stats have begun to float closer to the 100-unique-visits-per-day level. But ever since I published yesterday's post about Angela Merkel's assessment of the German situation, I've had way more traffic than I've seen in a long time. As of 7:30AM today, I've already surpassed 100 unique visits. That's not huge potatoes, but it's a curve-breaker for me. Still, since all the hits are coming from the constantly-updated BlogSearch site, I suspect the visits will fall off in a few hours. (I did gain one new Blog Follower, though. Welcome!)

Meanwhile, don't be frightened: I have no intention of writing only news-related blog entries from now on. You'll still receive your regular dose of nastiness, filth, and crabbiness.

UPDATE, 10:45AM: As of 10:30AM, the visits have dropped off sharply. I think we're about back to normal, i.e., back to the usual trickle.


Germany: leading the way or reverting to its old ways?

UPDATE: To all the folks who've found (and are still finding!) this post via Blog Search: WELCOME! Feel free to snoop around the blog and, if you want, hit the "Follow" button so you can be sure to read future posts. Humble thanks for stopping by.

From BBC News Europe:

Attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have "utterly failed", Chancellor Angela Merkel says.

In a speech in Potsdam, she said the so-called "multikulti" concept - where people would "live side-by-side" happily - did not work.

Mrs Merkel's comments come amid recent outpourings of strong anti-immigrant feeling from mainstream politicians.

A recent survey showed that more than 30% of Germans believed Germany was "overrun by foreigners".

The study - by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation think-tank - also showed that roughly the same number thought that some 16 million of Germany's immigrants or people with foreign origins had come to the country for the social benefits.

Foreign workers

Mrs Merkel told a gathering of younger members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party on Saturday that at "the beginning of the 60s our country called the foreign workers to come to Germany and now they live in our country... We kidded ourselves a while, we said: 'They won't stay, sometime they will be gone', but this isn't reality.

"And of course, the approach [to build] a multicultural [society] and to live side-by-side and to enjoy each other... has failed, utterly failed."

In her speech, the chancellor specifically referred to recent comments by German President Christian Wulff who said that Islam was "part of Germany" like Christianity and Judaism.

While acknowledging that this was the case, Mrs Merkel stressed that immigrants living in Germany needed to do more to integrate, including learning to speak German.

"Anyone who does not immediately speak German", she said, "is not welcome".

Is Germany providing a modern answer to a modern problem? Is it reverting to its old, xenophobic ways? Is it doing something that occupies a middle ground between those two possibilities?

And while we're at it-- how does the German situation apply to sociocultural problems in the United States? Should the US adopt a single official language? Would the adoption of a single official language be the death knell for all non-English languages currently spoken within US borders? Is a single official language somehow discriminatory (in the pejorative sense; it's obviously discriminatory in the neutral sense)? How about having two official languages in acknowledgment of current demographic realities? If not, then how would an assimilationist propose to train the millions of non-anglophones in English?

What about the US multiculturalist project? Is it also doomed to failure? Let's back up: what is multiculturalism, exactly? Do we all mean the same thing when we use that term, or are we talking past each other?

I can say this: having lived for a year in Switzerland from 1989 to 1990, I recall many of the same issues cropping up in Swiss newspapers and during dinner table conversation. The question of being "overrun by foreigners" has long plagued the Germanic psyche, and the Swiss, despite being a cultural melange, favor the Teutonic in most things. Back in the late 1980s, the majority white Swiss population complained about the influx of Turks. The accusations were classic: "they take our jobs, they cause fights, they live in filth..." etc.

What would be an ideal happy medium when it comes to defining one's own culture strictly enough to know what that culture is, yet loosely enough to allow for its evolution?


Saturday, October 16, 2010

discovering eBay

Having seen no real action on my auction blog, I've decided to bite the bullet and shunt my wares over to eBay. eBay doesn't do anything for free; there are initial setup fees related to buyer and seller protection, synching your PayPal and eBay accounts, etc. There are also fees to display extra photos of your items (depending on the item), as well as a fee (amounting to a percentage of the final bid) when your item is sold. Revising your entry for an item can also cost you, as can the addition of doodads like the "Buy It Now" button. Through a long series of nibbles and bites, eBay takes chunks off your profit and pockets them. This is what prompted me to start my own auction blog to begin with. But eBay is well-known; I'm not. I got one bid on an expensive item, and then no followup. Lame, but not surprising.

So check out my little spot on eBay. I'll be uploading a little of this and a little of that for the foreseeable future; if you see something you like, you can bid for it or even click "Buy It Now" to seize the item for a somewhat higher price instead of just bidding. Sort of like leaping for the brass ring. Then after you've received the item and are cradling it in your arms as if it were a newborn, you can ask yourself whether you paid too much for it. Heh.

(I'll never be a good salesman. Not with my attitude.)


must... find... work...

My new employer has sent me no word as to whether I'm to start working this coming Monday, which I suppose means that I won't be working this coming Monday... and probably won't be working the rest of the coming week, either. I had been told that the October slots had most likely already been taken (filled up at the beginning of September, before I had even gotten certified), so this doesn't come as a big surprise, but I do need to be earning some money, pronto. Par conséquent, I'm looking into other jobs, including-- God help me-- SAT tutoring, which means a return to teaching high schoolers. I've responded to one SAT-prep offer for a job paying $35-45/hour. I doubt I'll hear from the school before Monday, since I found the ad only a few hours ago. I'm gambling that the SAT students will be mostly juniors and seniors, a markedly different crop from the freshmen and sophomores who drove me screaming from any further pursuit of secondary education back in the early 90s, when I was in my twenties, fresh out of undergrad, and naive about human nature.

So it's not as though I've quit the ETS job, but because the need for funds is pressing, I do have to continue to look for work. If the job I find turns out to be more exciting (and better-paying) than rating essay after essay for under $20/hour, I'll give ETS my walking papers.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Mr. Connery!

The French giggle at Sean Connery's surname, since it sounds like the French word connerie (stupidity, nonsense, bullshit, etc.). It looks as though Mr. Connery may be living up to the French notion of his name, as he has failed to appear in a Spanish court with regard to a property dispute. Connery's absence may lead to a warrant for his arrest:

Sir Sean Connery failed to show up at a Costa del Sol court for questioning over a disputed land deal today.

The former 007 claimed in a fax to the court he had not had time to prepare for the long journey from his Bahamas home.

The investigating magistrate in charge of the case will now consider whether to go ahead with an earlier threat to issue an international arrest warrant against the 80-year-old actor.
However it is appears more likely that he would instead make a formal request to speak with Connery at his home in the Caribbean.

A court worker, confirming the actor's no-show, said: 'Mr Connery has informed the court in writing he won't be coming today. He has cited health reasons and his advanced age and said he has not been able to prepare the journey in time.

'The court is now considering its next move. The emission of an international arrest warrant is a possibility but a remote one. The most likely scenario is that the investigating magistrate will make a formal request through a rogatory commission to question Sir Sean at his home.

And thus I learn a new word: rogatory. Same root as interrogation. Reminds me a bit of a word I already know, hortatory, which comes from the same root as exhortation. (I've used the word a few times on this blog.)

Good luck, Mr. Connerie. Uh, Connery.


why TV is a bad medium for complex issues

I never watch "The View." Apparently, the incendiary Bill O'Reilly (whom I never watch, either) was a guest on the show this morning, and his remarks during a debate about the so-called Ground Zero Mosque prompted two of the show's hosts, Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar, to walk off the set. The event as related by Fox News:

Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg stormed off the set of "The View" during an appearance by "The O'Reilly Factor" host Bill O'Reilly on Thursday morning.

Conversation during the morning show segment had turned to the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque."

"Seventy percent of Americans don't want that mosque down there," O'Reilly said.

When asked why, O’Reilly explained that the mosque was not supported by the majority of Americans because its location was “inappropriate."

When Goldberg asked why it was inappropriate, citing 70 Muslims who died in the attacks, O'Reilly said: "Because Muslims killed us on 9/11. That's why.”

Goldberg responded, “That is such bulls**t."

"Muslims didn't kill us? Is that what you're saying?" O'Reilly asked.

"Extremists did that!” Goldberg said.

As the conversation became more heated, Behar got up from her seat beside O'Reilly.

"I don’t want to sit here right now, I don’t," Behar said. "I am outraged by that statement.”

Goldberg joined her colleague and the two walked off stage.

Barbra Walters came to their guest's defense.

“I want to say something to all of you. You have just seen what should not happen,” she said. “We should be able to have discussions without washing our hands and screaming and walking off stage. I love my colleagues, but that should not have happened.”

Walters then said to O’Reilly: “Now let me just say in a calmer voice, it was extremists. You cannot take a whole religion and demean them.”

“If anybody felt that I was demeaning all Muslims, then I apologize,” O’Reilly said.

Goldberg and Behar returned to the stage minutes later.

“We’re back because now you apologized,” said Behar.
If this debate represents the depth of the average American's thinking on a subject as complex as the building of the Ground Zero Mosque, I weep for the future.

Feel free to comment. Let's get a real discussion going, here.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

with download come access and mayhem

I downloaded Open Office for Mac OSX a few days back because the manuscript for my book, Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms: A Panoply of Paeans to Putrescence and a Cornucopia of Corrosive Coprophilia, was compiled on ancient Corel WordPerfect for Mac (OS 8-point-something) software. None of my other word processing programs was able to access the manuscript without creating weird ASCII jumbles, which is why I turned in desperation to Open Office.

Once downloaded and installed-- boom! The new software worked like a charm. I can now access those old, fin de siècle files, not to mention old papers written while in grad school.

This is great news for me. I've long wanted to put Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms up on CafePress alongside Water from a Skull as a print-on-demand work, but I haven't wanted to re-type the entire manuscript from scratch, nor have I wanted to buy a newer copy of Corel WordPerfect just to be able to access my old files. The installation of Open Office now makes a CafePress upload feasible. I've even thought of expanding and revising the work to produce a Scarier Spasms in Hairier Chasms (title may be changed), though that's unlikely. What's more likely is that the original 2001 work will be slightly tweaked for style and content; a few of its poems and stories may be switched out or rewritten with newer, more current material, and that improved manuscript will be slapped onto CafePress. In the meantime, a "sequel" to the first book, composed entirely of the perversities uttered on this blog (the above-mentioned Scarier/Hairier), will be compiled, polished, and self-published.

I've long maintained that this blog is the place where I generate material that may end up in some sort of book. Water from a Skull contains plenty of essays that began life as blog posts. Time for another harvest.

(See sidebar for information on both books.)


this is your chance to speak up, Mahayana practitioners!

Dr. Vallicella, who's on his yearly Kerouac kick, quotes this paragraph of Kerouac's that demonstrates the man's pro-Hinayana* bias:

Hit the makeless null. Whether or not individuality is destroyed now, it will be complelely destroyed in death. For all things that are made fade back to the unmade. What's all the return-vow hassle, but a final metaphysical clinging to eternal ego-life by Mahayana Thinkers. An intellectualized ego-attachment to taskhood. Hinayana, nay Ecclesiastes, is best.

The "return-vow hassle" refers to the Mahayana notion of the bodhisattva ideal. A bodhisattva is a fulfilled being that, instead of disappearing into the bliss of parinirvana, turns around at the holy threshold and vows to save all suffering sentient beings.

Is Kerouac's understanding of the bodhisattva ideal correct or complete? Would any of my Buddhist readers (or readers who are students of Buddhism, to whatever degree) care to comment on Kerouac's remark? I'm especially curious to hear from the Mahayana contingent.

*In 101-level Buddhist studies, one often hears that the term "Hinayana" (Little Vehicle, 小乘 in Chinese) is to be avoided because the term is insulting or denigrating to members of that set of traditions. Further study, though, reveals that the issue is more complicated than it first appears. The idea that the term "Theravada" (Way of the Elders) should be used in place of "Hinayana" may be something of a scholarly artifact: the tradition-strains to which the term "Theravada" refers are themselves part of the larger set of traditions to which the term "Hinayana" refers. Theravada is thus not a proper synonym for Hinayana.

It's true, of course, that Big/Little Vehicle mudslinging is an unfortunate part of Buddhist history. "Hinayana" has indeed been used by many Mahayana practitioners as a pejorative. However, enough Hinayana practitioners possess a sufficiently secure self-understanding that it's not entirely warranted to claim, narrowly, that "Hinayana" is a pejorative. The Hinayana ideal is that of the arhat (roughly, saint). The difference between the Big and Little Vehicles might be thought of as the difference between using one giant boat or millions of little boats to cross the water to the far shore. In either case, the boat(s) eventually must be abandoned. The bodhisattva is the boatman who must wait until everyone gets aboard before he can launch his great ship. The arhat climbs into his little craft and starts rowing; others see him do so, and climb into theirs.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

the hunt begins

Tomorrow morning, I'll be driving out to Front Royal, Virginia to look at apartments. Here in the northern Virginia (NoVA) area, a simple studio apartment can easily run you from $700 to nearly $1000 per month, which is ridiculous. Out in Front Royal, a 2-bedroom, 1.5-bath apartment goes for $725-830 per month. Quite a difference! And if you're working at a job that allows you to use your own computer, it doesn't really matter where you relocate to. My hometown will be only an hour away; it's not as though I'll be cut off from all civilization. Besides, Front Royal is no longer the one-horse town it was decades ago; it's the hub of a burgeoning network of small cities and towns.

I can't hope to move quite yet; I don't have the cash. But in a few months, I see myself out somewhere green, mountainous, and fairly quiet. Part of me has long sought to recapture the feeling from my year in Switzerland. Here in Virginia, we don't have any mountains that even begin to compare to what you find in that part of Europe, but as far as I'm concerned, small mountains will do just fine. More on this later.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"palindrome" must die

The word "palindrome" is not itself a palindrome, which has always bothered me. We need to invent a palindromic word for "palindrome," but it can't just be a nonsense word: it should be a word whose root elements suggest the notion of a palindrome (palin = again/back; dromos = a running; see here). This means a word like "palinilap" is out, since "nilap" is nonsense, both lexically and etymologically. We may have to search long and hard among Greek, Latin, or other roots before we find what we're looking for, but I think this could be a worthwhile brain-teaser.



As a fan of SF/fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson, I've been waiting impatiently for the arrival of the third installment in his Thomas Covenant tetralogy, Against All Things Ending. The hardcover edition will be out in mere days, but I'm waiting for the paperback edition. Two reasons: first, the paperback will be cheaper; second, as I discovered while reading Donaldson's gradual interview, mistakes found in the hardback edition are normally corrected before the paperback is printed. (I recall JK Rowling being mortified when diehard fans pointed out story inconsistencies in her books; she, too, assured her readers that the mistakes would be corrected in subsequent print runs.)

A bit like George Lucas, many authors can't seem to leave their works well enough alone: they go back and tweak them, or even offer their own "director's cut" version of the work years after the original version has established itself in the public consciousness (see, for example, Stephen King's extended version of The Stand, which in my opinion wasn't improved by the extra verbiage). This is a reminder that books are living things: they grow and change.

But before they can grow and change, first they must appear. So I await the paperback version of Against All Things Ending with great anticipation. With the hardback coming out so soon, it promises to be a long year.


Monday, October 11, 2010

in the bottom two!

Ming Tsai barely squeaked by to survive another week on this episode of "The Next Iron Chef." On the first episode, two different chefs grumbled that his food seemed "overwrought," and while that tendency may have given him the first-round win, it was nearly his downfall in Round 2. Last week's theme was "Ingenuity," and this week's was "Innovation," with an emphasis on traditional American diner food. As happened last week, Chef Tsai didn't distinguish himself during the preliminary round; during the elimination challenge, he was assigned corned beef hash and eggs (corrected from when I'd said "steak and eggs" earlier), but the judges complained that he had put too much on the dish. "Was there an ingredient in the pantry that you didn't use?" quipped Judge Majumdar during the judges' initial critiques. When Chef Tsai found himself in the bottom two with affable Chef Pagán (who looks uncannily like Andrew Zimmern), Alton Brown summed up the judges' feelings by saying that Tsai had "delivered a Fabergé egg via the Hindenburg." This was a reference to Tsai's meat component, which saved him; Chef Pagán was praised for his college try, but in the end, his dish was less than the sum of its parts. In the private asides, an anxious, then relieved, Chef Tsai sounded not so much humble as humbled. As of today, he is now merely one contestant among eight.

I've seen this sort of up-then-down performance before. In fact, it occurred a few times on the most recent season of "The Next Food Network Star," where people like Herb and Aria and Brad bounced from top to bottom and back again. Unlike those harried contestants, however, I don't think Chef Tsai is going to be berated for lacking a clear culinary point of view; if anything, he's going to do what he can to figure out what the boundaries of taste are for the judges, and will modify his approach. As he learned today, overthinking doesn't score points. At the end of the episode, Tsai vowed that this would the closest he'd ever come to being eliminated. I'm sure the other contestants have something to say about that.


Round 2

Tonight, we look forward to the second episode of Season 3 of "The Next Iron Chef." Prediction: Ming Tsai will survive Round 2. Beyond that, I really can't say.

I always feel sorry for the person eliminated in Round 1 of any of these competitions. All it takes is a single bad hair day, and you're gone, without any chance to demonstrate that you're a better chef than a single round can demonstrate. If I were designing this competition, I think I'd rather do several rounds of point-accumulation first, after which, say, the lower third or fourth of the competitors would be eliminated. After that, single-elimination competition would seem appropriate, since we'd now have a better idea of who was consistently top-tier material.

One might respond that the ten chefs who make it onto "The Next Iron Chef" have already proved their mettle through years of achievement in their own respective culinary areas and styles, thereby obviating the need for a series of point-accumulation rounds. Still, I'd submit that no chef, however skillful, is perfect, so it seems unfair to start cutting chefs so ruthlessly from the very beginning, after a single bad performance. Witness what happens in an actual Iron Chef battle: each chef must prepare five different dishes; they can't be eliminated based on the demerits of a single dish. Instead, the judges have a chance to evaluate the trajectory of each chef's cooking, and to rate them on their overall performance. Consistency matters, which is why each chef prepares more than one dish; unfortunately, consistency is precisely what can't be tracked in a single-elimination challenge.

But as the expression goes, it is what it is, and "The Next Iron Chef" is, like it or not, a single-elimination challenge. If nothing else, the precariousness of every chef's status makes for interesting viewing. You never know who's going to stumble and get the boot. All I can say is... it won't be Ming Tsai tonight.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

gearing up

I've got job training this coming Monday, from 8:30AM to 12:30PM. This ought to be interesting. I've been through the tutorial and certification process, but Monday's job training is all about the admin stuff-- how to log in, how to coordinate with the "scoring leader," etc. I'm reviewing procedures this weekend, and have logged in my bids for work over the coming six weeks (last half of October through November). I've been told that the October slots were mostly filled up in early September, so there's a chance I might not start work until November.

Since I'm bidding for full, 8-hour shifts, my bids ought to take priority over people bidding for 4-hour slots. Law of the jungle, baby.


Saturday, October 09, 2010

New Twitter, and life on Twitter

I've barely made the acquaintance of the old Twitter, and now we're in the era of The New Twitter, which comes with extra features and functionality to make all that tweeting easier and more versatile.

Twitter hasn't exactly enriched my life, but I've found it an interesting way to amuse myself. The spatial constraint of 140 characters presents a structural challenge to the writer that's not unlike the challenge of crafting haiku. All utterances must be short and sweet, and in my case, I try to minimize the use of txt msg abbrevtns lyk "yr" 4 "your," etc. This makes finding le mot juste an exciting process.

I wanted to see whether some naughty individual had tried to craft a "Twatter" site, and sure enough, some of the domains have been created, albeit with disappointing content. Go down the list of, .nu, .org, .tv, etc., and you'll quickly see what I mean.

Despite having made the switch to the updated format, I haven't taken advantage of the features of The New Twitter yet; thus far, all I've done is change my background image because the new interface occupies almost twice as much screen space, thereby crowding out my previous background image. The new features seemed focused on embedding, i.e., you won't have to navigate away from Twitter to see something that someone has linked to. Whether this is useful to me remains to be seen.


Friday, October 08, 2010

found one!

Remember my post on correct, yet still bothersome, spelling and pronunciation? I listed some spelling examples, but had trouble thinking of an example of bothersome pronunciation. Tonight, I finally thought of a good example: how to pronounce the word "nihilism."

My preference, soundly based on the Latin: "KNEE-uh-lizm."

Many people, however, pronounce it "NIGH-uh-lizm," consistent with the "nihil" in "annihilation." This pronunciation is perfectly legitimate, but my inner Zero Mostel remembers the Latin and cries, "Tradition!"

"KNEE-uh-lizm," dammit!



I read that there's a rush to marry on October 10, 2010, because of the uniqueness of that date: 10/10/10. Well, next year, there'll be a kind of Pepero Day on steroids: 11/11/11. But I wonder how huge the rush will be to get married on December 12, 2012: 12/12/12 will be the last time we'll ever see that sort of "treble" date, unless someone invents a thirteenth month.


what format?

If I were to write the story of our family's recent ordeal, what form would such a book take? Should I keep the blog entries pretty much intact, tacking up emails along the way? Or should I novelize the account, writing the story out in a more conventional narrative style? What if I included the blog entries, but added commentary after each entry? Or should I adopt a time-jumping format, such as what Mitch Albom did in Tuesdays with Morrie-- a principal narrative (the "A story," if you will) punctuated by brief, italicized vignettes from Albom's college-student past (the "B story")? That format is very tempting to me, but might come off as cliche. The other two formats (journal and straight narrative) are more conventional, but are also more accepted.



Wednesday, October 06, 2010


An interesting find: a blog called Hypertiling, which features essays on science, philosophy, and religion. My gateway into this blog was this fascinating post on pratitya-samutpada (dependent co-arising) that highlights the Middle Way thought of the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna. Heady stuff.



Anyone know where a bloke in the DC-Metro area can get a bunch of foreign money changed? The catch: a lot of it is pre-euro, and it's mostly coins. There's Korean money as well: bills and coins. Sans commission would be best, but even if the place charges commission, that's fine. Ideas?


Tuesday, October 05, 2010


The house is very cool: down to the 60s upstairs. I may soon have to switch the central air from "cool" mode to "heat" mode. The current indoor temp has been set for 74 degrees; it was like that all summer. For the past week, I've only rarely heard the A/C kick in, and that's because the weather has cooled down so much. Fall is coming! Sweaty guys like me can breathe easy.


sidebar Dalma Daesa

The Dalma Daesa image on my sidebar now takes you somewhere different when you click him. Go be transported. (I said click him, not lick him.)


thanks, Tom

My buddy Tom points me to a hilarious video-- most likely put together by an expat-- that offers a variant of the "America! Fuck, yeah!" song from "Team America: World Police." The song, "Korea! Fuck, yeah!", is married to a gleeful slideshow parade of images of both North and South Korea... but if you watch for the moment when the singer yells "Fan death," you'll see an image that ought to be familiar to readers of this blog. No, I didn't give the creator permission to use the image, but since I didn't have a profit motive when I created the Photoshop pic to begin with, and since the video's creator could easily make a "fair use" argument, I'm not complaining.

Go watch the vid. It's quite funny, especially with the awful Korean pronunciation. (If you haven't seen "Team America," do yourself a favor and watch this vid first.)



Try this the next time you need a light sauce for a cucumber salad:

5 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons Korean mirim (see here for the Japanese version, often mentioned on the Food Network*)
2 teaspoons sriracha
1-2 teaspoons sugar

Mix well.

Have on hand:

1 small-to-medium cucumber, washed, unpeeled
half a smallish carrot, peeled
an eighth of a small onion

Run the cucumber through a mandolin set to produce very thinly sliced disks. Julienne the carrots at about 1/8-inch thickness. Use the mandolin to slice the onion paper-thin. Toss everything together with as much sauce as you need; you might not need all the sauce. (NB: Go easy on the sugar; too much produces a nasty, cloying mouth-feel.) The tartness of the sauce will be dampened by the process of tossing it with the vegetables. Adjust the proportions of the sauce ingredients as necessary.

I arrived at the above sauce while trying to figure out what to dip some cooked fish into, but it occurred to me that the sauce would work just fine with cucumbers. I suspect you could also dribble it lightly onto deep-fried cod in place of malt vinegar.

*Based on color alone, Korean mirim and Japanese mirin can't be considered equivalents, though I think they're closely related-- a bit like Korean dwaenjang paste and Japanese miso paste.


go write a book!

Barnes and Noble has started an e-publishing service with the unfortunate name "PubIt." Despite the name, it's not about porn, but rather about self-publishing e-books and being paid a pretty decent royalty for your effort. In traditional publishing, an author can expect royalties in the 10-15% range (percentage of the book's cover price), with 15% considered generous. With's PubIt service, a $9.99 e-book gives a 65% royalty to the author, mainly because most of the costs of traditional publishing are nonexistent: everything is data, so there are almost no storage and distribution issues.

I'm considering re-working Water from a Skull to conform to the e-format, but that's going to take a lot of time, and I'm still poring over the PubIt literature (find PubIt here; an article on the service is here).

For all you aspiring writers out there, this might be something to look into.


Monday, October 04, 2010

shout-out to my visitor from MAUI

I see on my SiteMeter that I get regular visits from someone residing in Hana, Hawaii. Not being very strong in geography, I had no idea which island Hana was on, so I looked it up on Google Maps and discovered it's on Maui. That must be an awesome place to live.

Anyway-- helloooooo, out there!

Is it possible to make a coherent 17-syllable haiku with "humuhumunukunukuapuaa" (12 syllables)?


"The Next Iron Chef," Season 3, Episode 1:
and how will Ming Tsai do?

My buddy Charles will be interested to know that Ming Tsai (whom Charles has met) is among the crop of ten nationally ranked chefs currently competing in this season's "The Next Iron Chef." I had begun to wonder just how many Iron Chefs would be allowed into the stable, but given the departure of Mario Batali, there's now an empty pedestal.

The East-meets-West chef won the first elimination after a not-so-distinguished preliminary competition involving sandwich-making. His victory in the elimination challenge wasn't flawless, either: there was some dispute about the doneness of his clams. Tsai (yep, that's his surname, not Ming) will probably go far; he may even win. Several of the contestants privately expressed some intimidation, given Tsai's veteran status. I felt he deserved to win the first challenge primarily because he showed that he was capable of cooking a complex meal in under an hour.

This time around, the judges are Mike Symon (one of the winningest Iron Chefs along with Mario Batali), the always-prickly Donatella Arpaia, and a new guy I've never heard of: Simon Majumdar of England. Writeups for all the judges and contestants can be found at the Food Network site.

Digression: it occurs to me that Donatella Arpaia could pass as Piper Perabo's sister. See below:

This season, the motley group of chefs looks both livelier and friendlier, overall, than the group from the previous season, though I don't see any of the easy camaraderie of the first season (in which Mike Symon was crowned Next Iron Chef). Season 2 disappointed me because it felt like any of the other reality shows on the Food Network: there was plenty of small-minded sniping and no shortage of mind games, all of which detracted from what could have been an ambiance of professionalism. Season One stood out in my mind for the way those chefs acted: it was truly a gallant effort on all their parts, and pettiness was kept to a minimum. Many of the chefs already knew each other, and they all bonded over time. I don't know whether Season One is available as a DVD set, but I confess I'd like to own it. It's a great example of what healthy competition should look like.

As of tonight's premiere Season Three episode, Chef Andrew Kirschner has been eliminated and Chef Ming Tsai stands tall as the first winner of a major challenge. I'll be watching his progress with interest. He says he's not doing this to prove he can cook: he's doing this to prove he's still "got game." My tentative prediction is that his poise and professionalism will take him at least past the fifth episode, but some of those other chefs seem pretty sharp as well. For Tsai, though, his survival of the first round means that his chances of winning the entire competition go from a mere 10% to 11.1%. If he survives next week, it'll be 12.5%, then 14.3%, then 16.7%, then 20%, then 25%...

My worry: there's already a fusion-oriented East Asian chef in the stable: Morimoto. Would a second Asian chef skew the group's composition? Then again, with two chefs doing Southwestern/Latin (Flay and Garces), and two chefs showcasing their Greek/Mediterranean influences (Symon and Cora), perhaps two East Asian chefs would be a good thing.



I haven't had an honest-to-goodness nosebleed in years, but one happened last night. I blame my nose-picking: I had ripped a particularly tenacious booger off the inside of my right nostril, and I'm pretty sure that it took some skin with it. That booger deserves an award of some kind. People could learn much from its determination.

After the booger was out and the bleeding had started, I stuffed wad after wad of tissue up my nostril; it took a disturbingly long time for the bleeding to stop. What's weird is that I was asleep when the blood flow started, and it's the blood flow that, somehow, woke me up. I had gone to sleep around 2AM and woke up around 5AM with a wet face; perhaps the bleeding had something to do with my lying on my side. I don't know. But I was up until 9AM before I finally felt I could go back to bed and catch whatever Zs were left to catch.

The moral of the story: nose-picking isn't bodice-ripping. Proceed with respect and tenderness.


Sunday, October 03, 2010

where my readers like to hang

Ever since Blogger introduced its own "Stats" function, I've been poking around to discover what sort of traffic comes my way and what posts are most popular. The function came online this past June, so it hasn't really gathered a very large data set, but right now, the all-time most popular post is apparently "So Now What Do I Watch?"

I'm not sure I like the Stats function's method for counting hits. It seems far too generous compared to SiteMeter; the latter has a well-defined algorithm for distinguishing "unique visits" from "page views." Right now, I've been enjoying a steady increase in traffic as more and more people realize I'm back to blogging again. In recent months I've gone from 60 unique visits per day to 90, and have topped 100 on several occasions. Will I reach the old glory days of 350-400 unique visits per day (still a pittance by any reasonable standard)? Doubtful; most of my original audience has moved on, and with distractions like Facebook and Twitter to occupy the short of attention span, it's unlikely that I'll be garnering more traffic anytime soon unless I start publishing.


Saturday, October 02, 2010

that's crazy

A recent fire in a 38-story luxury high-rise apartment in Busan, South Korea shot from the fourth floor to the top of the building in a mere 20 minutes. Citizens are naturally worried about the safety of the buildings they're living in.

I can't help feeling that this is, in some ways, the Seongsu Bridge disaster all over again: people will recall the discoveries made in the 1990s about the corners cut during the bridge's construction. Fire safety rarely seems to be a major concern in Asia, despite the crowded conditions and the dangerous potential inherent in a population that loves to smoke and drink. Fires in the US often begin with a drunken slob falling asleep on his couch with a smoldering cigarette between his fingers; in Korea, population density multiplies the danger.

Of course, sometimes pure negligence and stupidity are to blame, as seems to be the case here, according to the above-linked JoongAng Daily news article:

“[The fire] appeared to have started in the janitors’ room and laundry on the fourth floor,” said a police official. “We have testimonies that scrap paper was burned in the janitors’ room.”
I have no point of reference for how fast this blaze shot through the new building, but for a fire to take only 20 minutes to ascend over 30 floors seems frightening. If anyone has any information on recent fires in the US, ones that took place in relatively new luxury high-rise apartments, I'd like to do a bit of informal comparison using rate of floor-ascension as the metric.

My own quickie research leads to this:

1. A recent fire in a Toronto high rise that lasted several hours and burned unusually hot, but which appears to have remained on its floor (this article says the blaze spread sideways, to two adjacent apartments). Officials were cautious enough to wonder aloud about the structural integrity of the building.

2. A February 2010 fire at a high rise in Florida involved minor damage and no injuries. The fire was on the top floor, and didn't have time to eat its way downward before it was put out.

The JoongAng Daily news article notes that people are worried about the need to update fire safety codes:

Experts also worry that fire regulations have not been updated, although the number of high-rises has increased rapidly. In 2005, 60,000 households lived in apartment buildings taller than 30 stories, but in 2007 it went up to 120,000. This year, 260,000 households are in high-rise apartments.

“Construction companies and building owners oppose stricter safety regulations because it will cost them a lot more,” said a fire department official.
It may take a few more such disasters before things change.



Huge congratulations to my brother Sean, a professional cellist who is, at long last, breaking into the big time. He's gotten news that he's made it onto the "sub list" for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which will give him crucial networking opportunities when they call him. Sean is happy to have gotten onto the list after an audition that was, he felt, below par. His self-critical nature may have led him to harbor modest expectations, though, which explains his surprise at having made it onto the list.

Sean has had only two major auditions. His first was for the Seattle Symphony; he didn't make it to the second round, despite massive preparation. Although he was crestfallen, he also knew to keep the experience in perspective: he'd been told that most of the pros go through dozens of auditions before landing their dream job. By that standard, making the sub list of a large orchestra after only two auditions is quite a coup, and we can only hope that this will continue to lead to bigger and better things.

In the meantime, Sean has been working on a large chamber orchestra project-- about which I can say nothing, because it's still in the works. He continues to teach, to perform in various local orchestras and chamber groups, and to do his standard slew of gigs. Weddings, mostly. Sean gets raves from his students, who see him as a talented teacher. Many of his students have gone on to win first-place awards in a variety of local and regional competitions; such wins are feathers in Sean's cap. Long may he rock. Long may he roll.


it's the most wonderful time of the year

October! The time of year when the squirrels are going, "All right, men! This is the moment we've been waiting for!" --and then they start punching themselves in the nuts in preparation for winter.

For me, fall doesn't really begin until it's October. September is when we in northern Virginia get hints that the battle between Coolness and Warmth will eventually turn against Warmth-- but not quite yet. October, though, is when the tide begins to turn in earnest, and by the beginning of November we know that There's No Turning Back. October, then, is the true bridge to autumn. Or, to my mind, the Bridge to Awesome. Fall is my favorite time of year.


Friday, October 01, 2010

draw Muhammad?

In a response to my Jyllands-Posten post, Brian wrote an excellent comment that says in part:

I'm with you on this and am not attacking you, but, you are an artist: will you be posting your own pictures of Mohammed? You don't need to draw an overtly offensive picture, a stick figure would be fine.

I began writing a response in the comment thread, but the response grew in length until I began to realize that it might be better simply to write it out as a full-on blog post.

I haven't drawn Muhammad on the blog yet, but I've shown a depiction of him here before. If someone really wants a picture, stick figure or otherwise, I'll slap one up. My point, with that previous picture, was that many Muslims have claimed that images of Muhammad are forbidden by the faith, but this isn't true at all: the Prophet has been depicted many, many times in art, both with and without a face, and often by Muslim artists. In the meantime, if I haven't slapped Muhammad up on the blog, it's for the same reason that there are no images of Mahavira or Lao-tzu: I just haven't gotten around to it.

I can say, however, that I wouldn't draw a Muhammad picture like some of the ones I've seen that depict him as a pedophile. People have the right to be transgressive, but we all set different limits for ourselves as to how transgressive we're willing to be. It's not contradictory to set boundaries for oneself while affirming that others have the right to go further if they want. The point about freedom of expression is that the larger society should be maximally permissive, thereby allowing its members to figure out their own boundaries of taste for themselves. By restricting freedom of speech in a slipshod, patchy manner, that basic right gets violated. (And in this context, I intend "restricting" to refer not only to federal and local laws, but also to society's less formal means for controlling or curtailing expression: finance/funding, public opinion, etc. The double-standard regarding the public treatment of Christianity versus Islam is an example of a slipshod, patchy restriction of freedom of speech.)

Of course, the problem of conflicting cultural values comes into play at the global level, but this is precisely the arena in which we separate the men from the boys: should I, as an American, tout the Western value of freedom of speech as a global, human value? For me, the answer is a clear yes, while keeping in mind that, if it's OK for me to assert the global relevance of my values, then it's OK for members of another culture to do the same. This is where the notion of orientational pluralism becomes a useful ethical guide. The resulting dialogue will be messy and acrimonious, but that's the superior method for hashing out our problems-- not retreating to our own separate corners and building walls that restrict the flow of information and direct interaction.

That in itself is a value-charged notion: the idea that freer information flow is better than restricted information flow. But that's precisely what orientational pluralism contends will always happen: in making judgments, we assert our values (and, implicitly, the superiority of our values), and this is only rational. The PC route is to deny ourselves the right to assert our own values while affirming others' right to assert theirs.

Anyway, as I've been writing this, I've decided that Brian's comment should be taken as an actual request, so here's the stick figure (along with some others, and with apologies to for treading on its territory):


a note about comments

I just saw that I had 4 comments awaiting moderation. I published 3, but deleted the fourth-- not because it carried any incendiary content, but because it was sent anonymously. Please tack on some sort of identifier when you comment, per my comments policy. I always feel bad about deleting comments that are actually civil and constructive (as this one was), but the principle underlying my "no anonymous comments" stance overrides whatever guilt I feel.