Thursday, September 30, 2010

Jyllands-Posten: the 5-year anniversary

People shouldn't go out of their way to piss other people off, but when it comes to freedom of expression, they should have the right to say, write, and draw what they please. Blaming the Jyllands-Posten cartoonists for provoking murderous and destructive behavior is about as ass-backward as one can get, and only people who subscribe to a philosophy of victimology would sympathize with the Muslims who flew into a rage over those cartoons. Those Muslims had a choice: set fire to Danish embassies or protest in a civilized manner. They chose the former, and should be held accountable.

I, for one, side with the cartoonists. No one should live in fear of reprisal for their religious irreverence, and anyone interested in fairness should recognize that, if it's permissible to ridicule Christianity and Christians-- routinely and relentlessly-- through written satire, cartoons, etc., then it's permissible to do those things to other religions and their adherents as well. That's how fairness works.

So, Bill Maher: more Islam jokes, please, even if Christine O'Donnell is a truly tempting target.


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congrats

Congratulations to bidder Terry, who was the only person to bid on any of the items at the auction blog. The 1870s-era Civil War record is now yours for $90 plus shipping.


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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

thanks, John

Thanks to my En-Zed buddy John Williamson, I learned the word "busking." In looking the word up, I discovered that it's related to the Spanish buscar (to look/search for).


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quiz stats

Like Dr. Vallicella, I got a 14 out of 15 on the religion quiz he took. Most of the questions were absurdly easy, but the ones that dealt with religion-and-politics or religion-and-history were harder for me to answer. I guessed on two of those questions, and apparently got one of them wrong (a history question).

Several weeks ago, I got a 15 out of 18 ("Very Good; You Are Definitely Talented") on the Traditional Architecture Quiz over at the always-entertaining All Look Same, a website that tests your ability to differentiate East Asian faces, art, architecture, etc. The architecture quiz shows traditional buildings like temples, pavilions, and so on, and you have to guess whether you're seeing something that's Chinese, Japanese, or Korean.

While I'm rather proud of my architecture quiz results, I know that I still have a great deal of trouble distinguishing different types of structures in Korea. Example: unless a photo provides certain obvious clues, it's often difficult for me to distinguish a building on Buddhist temple grounds from a building at a Confucian academy. If I see clues that lead me to believe I'm looking at a temple, this isn't so hard. But photos of a given building, taken at a distance and in a certain kind of light, usually leave me scratching my head and rushing to the caption to identify what I'm looking at.

And don't even ask me to distinguish different Buddhist denominations by their architecture. Most of my studies in Buddhism have tended to focus on the gross aspects of its ethical and metaphysical teachings, with a dash of history of thought. Were you to quiz me on specific Buddhist rituals or iconography, or on the finer points of, say, folkloric Korean Buddhism, I'd be useless to you. (And this, folks, is what distinguishes the MA student from the PhD student: knowing a lot broadly is nothing like knowing a lot both broadly and deeply.)

I can't say that I've been interested in many quizzes of late. If anything, I'm curious to retake two diagnostics that I've always enjoyed: the "Belief-O-Matic" profiler over at Beliefnet.com, and "The Political Compass," a diagnostic I take every couple of years to see whether my political views have evolved. (They seem not to. I always score as a centrist.)

ADDENDUM: Some may remember my old Star Trek Movie Quotes Trivia Quiz. It's still around if you're interested. Only for the geekiest of the geeky, though. You've been warned.


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back from a move, and looking forward

My brother David's just about done settling into his new house. Last night and the previous night, I helped him out a little by assisting in the boxing and shuttling of a mass of his possessions. He was astounded to see just how much stuff he had accumulated over his several years in his apartment; I was pretty impressed, too.

Luckily, I didn't have to contend with the truly huge possessions: David had hired a team to take care of the very large, very heavy items a week or so ago. What I did with David was actually quite similar to what I had been doing, slowly but surely over the course of the past several months, here at home: you'll recall that I spent a great deal of time organizing, boxing up, and storing all sorts of household items that had been piled ceiling-high in our basement since 2008. All that boxing and storage is now done; all that's left is the tidying-up of the basement/family room and the laundry/utility room. I need to buy a couple more heavy-duty plastic storage shelves to complete this task, and once that's over, all that's left is the insect-bombing (sorry, little critters) and the carpet-cleaning.

Because there's so little left to do, I find myself slacking the pace. Right now, I'm in a strange liminal period as I wait to hear from my new employer about my work schedule. Once I earn enough money, I'll be leaving this house, but still haven't decided where I'll be going. I've had an offer to move down to Texas, which might be interesting, but would be a bit like moving into a whole new universe. I'm considering a move to Fredericksburg, should I eventually nab a full-time teaching position at Germanna Community College. I've also thought about moving closer to the Shenandoahs, since I love mountains, I love quiet, and I could do my current work anywhere that there's an online connection, be it satellite, FiOS, or whatever.

And of course, there's the idea of returning to Korea. Korea is where I lived for eight years. I know and love Seoul, whatever its faults, and immensely enjoyed my work at Sookmyung Women's University, where I taught English and, on occasion, French. Going back would be a pleasure, and finding a job would be easy. There'd be no question of getting used to the pace of Seoulite existence, nor would I have to worry about re-learning the language or the culture from the 101 level. Plus, getting another university position probably wouldn't be that difficult, especially now that I can slap "certified TOEFL iBT Essay Rater" on my resume.

What makes me happy is that all of these choices are pleasant ones. I can only hope that the future will hold more happiness than the past two years have.


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books I've (re)read in recent months

Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie)
3001: The Final Odyssey (Arthur C. Clarke)
Contact (Carl Sagan)
The Godfather (Mario Puzo)
Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe)
Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton)
Bible Stories for Adults (James Morrow)

I'm currently reading Scott McCloud's Reinventing Comics. I thought his first work, Understanding Comics, was excellent, and was easily one of the most lucid discussions not only of comics, but also of art in general, and how it relates to things like culture, history, and human perception.


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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

sloooow

Word from my new employer is that I'll be contacted by a staffer within the next 10-14 days to discuss scheduling. That makes me antsy, what with bills coming due. Here's hoping the call or email comes soon.


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how journalists craft science articles

A hilarious parody of what passes for science journalism in most publications. Link found at Prosopagnosia. (The blog's bringing up a malware warning on my browser. View at your own risk. There's less risk if you're on a MAC!)


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all is silent in Joisey

I've received no word yet from my new employer that recognizes my accomplishment and points me toward the next step in the employment process. I had been given until 11:59PM on the 27th-- i.e., today-- to re-test, and I did it, oh, 18 hours early. The last time I tested, it was on the cut-off night, and I received notice the following morning. I had hoped the same would happen this morning, but I'm beginning to think that the head office might delay sending any word until after the cutoff day. So here's hoping I receive a call or email tomorrow (Tuesday) morning. I'd like to get working as soon as possible.


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uh... hooray?

Meet General Kim.

North Korea's ailing leader Kim Jong-il has named his youngest son as a military general, state media said early on Tuesday, marking the first stage of a dynastic succession.

It was the first time the 20-something Kim Jong-un had been mentioned by name in the North's media, and his appointment came just hours before the start of a rare ruling party meeting to elect its supreme leadership.


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Monday, September 27, 2010

surely I'm not the first to think that...

I saw this ad on Hulu:





...and wondered whether the solution for human homelessness might not also involve...


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VICTORY!

I've never been happier about accepting a job with so-so pay and no benefits. Yes, boys and girls, I've passed the ETS certification exam, and am now a certified TOEFL iBT rater. I'll be in contact with a representative about my weekly schedule and my start date (ASAP, I hope), and then we'll get this show on the road.

Yes! Income! Finally!


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the retry!

It happens tonight, good gentles. ETS, beware! For I will be certified ere the dawn!


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Sunday, September 26, 2010

how to awesome-ize your polenta

Since I made a ton of polenta on Friday, I decided to amp the flavor up a bit on Saturday by broiling a slab of it. Before I stuck the slab under the broiler, however, I painted it with a mixture of butter, olive oil, garlic powder, and parmesan cheese. I was worried that the butter would burn too easily under the broiler, but it ended up taking a total of about 90 seconds to achieve desired brownness.

I should note that the polenta package warned me that polenta, once mixed with boiling water, tends to bubble violently, and sure enough, that's just what it did. It was a bit like stirring yellow lava, and my shirt bore speckles and spatters afterward. You can, by the way, safely ignore instructions to line a cake pan with oil and wax paper before pouring the still-liquid polenta into it; simply greasing the pan (or, in my case, a large cookie sheet) with shortening is sufficient. The polenta proved easy to cut into any shape once it was out of the oven (you're supposed to bake it for around 15 minutes), and lifted off from the cookie sheet without a problem. When I broiled the polenta on the second day, I painted it with the butter mixture while it was still cold, then microwaved the broiled polenta to heat it through. Turned out perfectly.


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he sees you when you're sleeping




UPDATE: Dammit. I thought I had done something original. No such luck.



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Italians will hate me, but...

I mentioned (and showed you a picture of) watery tomato sauce yesterday. I noted that I should have simmered the sauce at a somewhat higher temperature to reduce it more properly, but failed to talk about what I usually do in such situations: I cheat. I doubt I'm the only American to do this, but if you're Italian or an Italy-loving traditionalist/purist, turn away now, because you don't want to know that I cheat by mixing in a bit of cornstarch as a thickener while the sauce is still boiling. Whoops-- too late. You read it already.

I do this because I'm not a patient man. Simmering is a much better method for achieving non-watery perfection with Italian sauces, but it takes time and a watchful eye. Cornstarch-- the el cheapo, Chinese restaurant solution to all sauce consistency problems-- is a much faster and easier way to achieve the same results as patient simmering. I imagine that a discerning palate might be able to detect the cornstarch in the sauce, but I normally can't, and I usually allow the sauce to cook a few minutes after the cornstarch has been added; this minimizes its flavor, which is already muted. For me, taste-wise, there's no harm in adding cornstarch.

Purists (rightly?) rebel against this because, once you start introducing wheat- or corn-derived reagents into your tomato sauce, you're on your way to converting the sauce into bread. Ever seen what happens to a Chinese sauce when it cools to room temperature? It turns into gelatinous goop. Were you to keep adding cornstarch to such a sauce, you'd eventually end up with a disgusting pancake. The goop is a protocake, an intermediary evolutionary form. By adding cornstarch, you're violating the very concept of a proper Italian tomato sauce.

But we're all about concept-violation here at the Hairy Chasms, so unless a commenter can present a truly persuasive reason for me to desist in my sinful ways, I shall continue to improvise, adapt, and overcome-- the Chinese way.

[I suspect, however, that the Chinese in China don't rely on cornstarch to quite the extent that Chinese-American restaurant cooks do.]


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Saturday, September 25, 2010

power

We're always looking for newer, more efficient ways to produce, store, and utilize energy in its many forms. PhysOrg.com has put out a slew of articles on this topic.

1. Using quantum mechanics to turn waste heat into power

2. Waste-free conversion of renewable raw material into energy

3. An ultracapacitor that recharges in under a millisecond

4. Water gel-based "leaves" that absorb solar energy

I hope for success in all these projects, and more.


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polenta perfection

The polenta turned out great. My prep was a cross between standard grits and couscous: I added olive oil, butter, a bit of salt and pepper, and some powdered garlic. Once the polenta got firm, it was simply a matter of cutting it into hockey pucks, then placing the pucks bottom side up on the plate to present their smoother faces to the world.

The sauce also turned out well, but was still a bit watery; I should have simmered it at a higher temperature to reduce it further. In the photo below, you can see some of the runniness; click to enlarge.



The water creatures were tilapia and shrimp; the land creature was probably pig, or cow, or a combination thereof, in the form of slightly spicy Italian sausage. I had hoped that the sausage would prove fatty enough to cook the shrimp and tilapia in, but it turned out to be surprisingly lean. I ended up adding a bit of olive oil and stirring the sausage in it after removing the meat from its skin. Then I lightly salted and peppered the shrimp and tilapia before introducing them to the skillet; they all cooked up nicely.

To get the effect you see in the photo, I separated the protein: some shrimp, fish, and sausage were put on a plate, and another portion was mixed with the sauce (a crude marinara). I put the un-sauced protein on the plate first, then ladled on the meaty sauce. It's a shame the sauce was still so runny despite 30 minutes' simmering, but I'm pretty sure my mistake was to simmer at too low of a temperature. Still, the ensemble tasted great, even though the plating isn't pretty. I need to think about buying some fancier dishes if I'm going to keep foodblogging.


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complexity and simplicity in the spheres of thought and action

Both before and after we do anything consciously, we normally go through a complicated, often haphazard process involving interwoven thoughts and emotions. Any given action can be seen as the simple consequence of the matrix of thoughts and emotions leading up to it; after the action has been performed, an expanding web of post hoc thoughts and emotions will emanate from that action: reminiscences, rationalizations, doubts, queries, vindication, defensiveness, etc.

An adult can, for example, debate for minutes about what to select from a restaurant menu, but in the end, a simple choice will be made. A teen debating over whether to contact a girl he likes might agonize for days before a special school event, but when the moment of truth arrives, he'll either contact the girl or not. The mental consequences of his action (and here we can include inaction as a species of action) will radiate outward and forward in time.

The brain complicates the world, but the world is just a brute fact, straightforward in its suchness and unconcerned with our mental static. No matter what we do, our every action is the simple result of all that convergent complexity, and the divergent complexity of our post hoc thoughts and emotions is an echo-- perhaps a necessary one, given the nature of mind-- of that action's simplicity.


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today's culinary attempt

Today, I'll be making Italian-style polenta for the first time. You might say that "Italian-style polenta" is a redundancy, to which I'd reply, "Oho, but it is not!" For you see, polenta is merely the Italian designation for a product known in America by another name, a far uglier name: corn grits. To make your corn grits Italian style, you have to add ingredients like parmesan cheese and (optionally) olive oil. I might lace mine with a bit of garlic as well, just to up the peninsularity of the dish.

I'm currently puzzling over what to do for protein. I've got tilapia, shrimp, Italian sausage, and chicken, which leads me to think that I could either go in a mutant gumbo/jambalaya direction, or stick with the Italian theme and somehow incorporate, say, three of those four proteins in a tomato-based sauce to pour atop the polenta. We'll see. If things come out beautifully, I might foodblog the results. If not... I'll talk about the disaster, but won't offer images of it.


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yodyjami

I had to type "yodyjami" into a security window before one of my comments could be published on a friend's blog. A lot of people make jokes about the "captcha" or security words they have to type; this one struck me as interesting for the mental resonances it engendered. A person's name? A religious concept? A mysterious type of food? An alien species?


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Friday, September 24, 2010

yet more for the asking

I'm continuing to add items to my silent auction blog. Go check the place out. Currently up for grabs:

1. a crucifix/candle holder/holy water font

2. a silver-on-copper serving platter

3. an 1870s-era book: Record of Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Civil War, 1861-1865

4. pewter medallion and other paraphernalia of famed sculptor Donald DeLue

5. an 1890s-era book: Tennyson's Heroes and Heroines (with 1893 autograph of Charles Hugo-- not the son of Victor, alas)

6. a 1950s-era Scrabble set

7. Beavis and Butt-Head comics, mint condition

8. brass candle holders

9. set of fat candles

10. glass candle holder

11. fancy serving dish (cut glass)


Feel free to shop around and place a bid or two!


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correct, yet still bothersome, spelling and pronunciation

It grates on me every time I see "forego" used in place of "forgo" (to do without). "Forego" is actually a legitimate alternative spelling ("Let's forego the appetizer"), but it still doesn't feel right to me. I prefer to see "forego" used in the sense of "precede," e.g., "the foregoing remarks."

Another one: "kerfluffle" instead of the more common "kerfuffle." This reads like a misspelling that proliferated until it entered the ranks of "received" English. I suspect that many writers of "kerfluffle" have misread "kerfuffle," and have only inadvertently arrived at the alternative spelling, unaware of the more common way to write the word.

On the pronunciation front: just about every word Paula Deen says sounds like a mispronunciation to my mid-Atlantic ears, even though I know her accent is perfectly legitimate. (Linguistics is one of those fields in which it's OK to say, "How could millions of people be wrong?") Her "Hey, y'all!" often sounds, to me, like a countrified "Hell!" She begins every broadcast with an invocation of the infernal-- an impression reinforced by her obvious love of butter-- the ultimate "drag me to hell" ingredient.

I'm trying to think of more examples of legitimate pronunciations that sound like mistaken pronunciation, but nothing's coming to me right now, aside from US English renderings of foreign words: "eye rack" for Iraq (a topic unto itself), or just about any Korean surname butchered by a non-Korean speaker. "How do you do, Mr. Daaawwwng??"

What are your spelling and pronunciation peeves?


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"City of Angels": finally seen

Out of sheer monkey curiosity, I DVR'ed "City of Angels," the 1998 American remake of a 1987 German film, "Der Himmel über Berlin"-- "Heaven over Berlin," directed by Wim Wenders, and unnecessarily retitled "Wings of Desire" in English. For those who don't know the story, both films are a modern rehash of an ancient idea: that a divine being might look upon a human and be filled with the desire to experience love and the world as we mortals do, enfleshed and subject to the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. In global folklore, the divine being is often male and the human is female; the divine/human interaction varies anywhere from celestial prankishness to outright rape.* "City of Angels" settles for benevolent stalking and consensual sex.

Not having seen the Wim Wenders original, I'm unable to compare the two versions, but I can say for sure that the US version, starring Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan, would have played better as a made-for-TV movie than as the theatrical release it was. It wasn't horrible, but it often seemed trite, too frequently understated, and not nearly metaphysical enough. The ontological status of angels is never satisfactorily explored (that whole question of what angels can touch or otherwise sense, for example), and the ending-- Jesus, the ending was horrible. I assume most of my readers have seen this film, so it shouldn't come as a spoiler for you to know that Meg Ryan's character, a surgeon who falls in love with an angel, ends up crashing her bike into a lumber truck while biking along a forest road with her eyes closed in romantic reverie (well... they open just before the crash, so we can get that look of horror). Far from exploring the implications and problems of immortal/mortal relationships, the film neatly resolves the issue by nipping the relationship in the bud.

As with many Hollywood productions, insufficient care is taken to describe the physics of the film's universe. The aforementioned ontological problem translates into a plot problem at the end: why are Cage and fellow angel-turned-mortal Dennis Franz able to teleport magically onto skyscrapers and other unreachable perches earlier in the film, but unable to teleport to anyone's rescue at the end? Why couldn't Cage have poofed right next to Meg Ryan and saved the day, instead of being forced to run for miles through the woods, only to arrive too late? The film is unclear as to how many divine powers a mortalized angel retains. Such lack of clarity always makes my buttocks squirm angrily.

I'm also unsettled by the film's direction. Cage and Ryan are both talented performers, but Cage's hangdog presence throughout the first reel struck me as creepy and stalker-ish every time he appeared next to his darling Meg. Even after she begins to see him (angels are invisible to most of us, unless they want to be seen), the angel's appearances seem more unnerving than comforting. The script, however, makes it clear that we're supposed to see a deep connection between Ryan and Cage; far from being frightened by her stalker, the surgeon seems almost to be expecting him. The script, then, pulls us one way; the visuals pull us another. The unintended contrast diminishes whatever effect director Brad Silberling was going for. (Female viewers seduced by Cage's unconventional looks might argue differently. Ladies...?)

Its flaws aside, I think the movie was trying to say something meaningful. Cage's third-reel conversation with fellow angel André Braugher (most memorable in recent months as the psychiatrist treating Dr. House in Season 6) was about whether Cage's transition into mortality was worth it, despite the heartache. Cage's answer is a predictable but still significant yes: this moment, though fleeting, is better than any vaunted eternity. The experience of time and the world, emblematized in the film by the sensations of touch and (to a lesser degree) taste, is a precious thing, a fragile glory out of the reach of aloof divine beings who choose not to "fall" into the mortal realm.

Despite my gripes about the Meg-meets-wrong-kind-of-wood plot twist at the end, I did enjoy the idea that Cage's angel may have started a heavenly revolution: his companion, Braugher, sees Cage-- still in mourning over his surgeon-- cavorting in the morning surf, and begins laughing. Throughout most of the film, the angels we see appear silent, somber, and detached. Braugher's laughter implies that he's been touched by the transformation he's witnessed in Cage, and that other angels, beginning with Braugher, might soon begin to "fall" as well.

The movie's idea of fallenness is rather benign. In this universe, to be fallen is to undergo a self-willed incarnatio. Dennis Franz, who plays such an angel (significantly named Messenger), is one of an earlier wave of the Fallen. He enjoys spatiotemporal existence, has a wife, kids, and grandkids, and is eminently at peace. It's almost as if the film turns Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" on its head: in that movie, Jesus' final temptation is domesticity, i.e., a rejection of his messianic role. In "City of Angels," domesticity is a consummation devoutly to be wished. The transcendent seeks immanence. Emptiness coalesces into form. Unfortunately, as with the Cage/Ryan romance, little is done to explore what it means over the long term for a fallen angel to live a normal human life.

The movie's soundtrack is worthy of note. I enjoyed the instrumental moments, but had forgotten that "City of Angels" contained all those damn Top 40 hits: Alanis Morissette's "Uninvited," Sarah MacLachlan's "Angel," and the Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris" come immediately to mind. I remember hearing these songs on the radio years ago, and somehow failed to make the connection with this movie. That was quite the pop assault.

For the past few years, I've been slowly compiling a list of religion-related movies, but I'm not sure whether "City of Angels" merits inclusion. I think I need to see the Wim Wenders version, and part of me regrets that I didn't see the 1987 film first. "City of Angels" isn't a horrible movie, but because it left too many implications unexplored, because it was metaphysically incoherent, and because it suffered from ham-handed direction, I can't actively recommend it to anyone.




*Sometimes the gender roles are reversed. I seem to remember a Korean folk tale about a farmer who ensnares a beautiful nymph by stealing and hiding her clothing while she bathes will fellow nymphs. In Hindu mythology (though once again with the divine being male), Krsna is a prankster who, according to tradition, did the same thing to some mortal women (gopis).


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Thursday, September 23, 2010

well, there's that, at least

I've been informed that I need only retest the failed section of the certification exam. That's a relief... especially since I'm unsure I would have passed it a second time! Heh.

I now have until 11:59PM, September 27, to pass the previously-failed section. Gonna study up again, I suppose, but ETS isn't offering any new tutorials, which is a bummer.


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provocative contention?

From the American.com September 16, 2010 article titled "Why Does Government Grow and Grow and Grow?" We read:

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, AEI President Arthur Brooks and Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) discuss why America continues to have big government even though Americans consistently tell pollsters that they’d prefer smaller government. The Left answers that Americans suffer from some form of cognitive dissonance, in which they retain nominal loyalty to an outmoded view (from the Left’s perspective) of the government’s role , while in practice embracing the benefits of expansive government.

Brooks and Ryan answer that, despite Americans’ broader preferences, elected officials present the public with marginal choices in which bigger government always wins. Feed hungry children? Check. Keep grandma out of poverty? Check. Once you check enough of these boxes, you end up with big government even if you say you’d prefer something smaller. Brooks and Ryan argue that citizens need to be presented with larger, macro-oriented choices rather than incremental ones, since only with big choices do voters focus on the larger decisions that need to be made. I agree with this strategy.

But I think there’s an alternate explanation that may better account for the growth of government and also show why that growth is so hard to stop. While aid for vulnerable groups obviously drives a lot of government spending, we could lift every American, young or old, above the poverty line with government transfers of around 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Yet the federal government today spends more than 25 percent of GDP. Big government isn’t generated by caring for the truly poor; after all, despite spending 25 times more than needed to fill the poverty gap, we nevertheless leave millions in poverty. Rather, rising pension and health spending on middle- and upper-class Americans—principally through the Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid programs—is the true fiscal burden and the largest imposition on personal choice and freedom. Without these three programs, the current size of government would be much smaller and the dangers of future fiscal catastrophe due to rising spending and debt would be all but eliminated. The question is: How did we get here?
[emphasis added]

The rest of the article explores that question. Go thou and read.


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retesticle

My saga with ETS continues. You'll recall my original delay in testing was caused by my mis-assignment to take the wrong test (I was listed for TOEIC). This got me a six-day reprieve. I experienced a second delay, however, when it turned out that my temporary password had expired. That got me one more extra day.

So tonight (Wednesday night, September 22, DC time for my readers in South Korea), I took the test, which was in two parts: Independent Writing and Integrated Writing. Long story short: I passed the first part (grading essays) and failed the second (grading focused responses). This was, strangely enough, exactly the opposite of how I expected to do, based on my performance in that tutorial. But something about the exam's second part (Integrated Writing) tripped me up, and I'm not quite sure what it was. As always, I'm unable to delve into specifics here, since we're bumping up against material that belongs to ETS.

I'm allowed a single retest, but I have no idea whether I'll have to redo both sections, or just the failed one. I hoping it's the latter, but I wouldn't be surprised to discover that I'll need to jump through both hoops again.

Stay tuned.


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not a pretty way to go

I'm wondering whether this kid pulled a David Carradine. The article politely dances around the issue when it says, "Investigators do not believe the exercise equipment was responsible for the teen's death. Few details are available, but the Nevada County Sheriff's Office said in a statement that 'there is no information or evidence to suggest in any way the victim was trying to purposefully hurt himself or end his own life.'"

So how'd he end up tangled in the Bowflex?


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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

that didn't take long

Got my first Twitter spam last night, in the form of a "follower" who insinuated herself into my short list of followers. I blocked her. It's disconcerting to see how quickly a Twitter account can acquire spam.

UPDATE, 10:09PM: Another spamalicious follower appeared. Blocked him, too.


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Happy Chuseok!

For those who are celebrating it: Happy Chuseok!


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for what it's worth...

After an initial paroxysm of posting, I find that Twitter is already losing its appeal, now that the shock of novelty has worn off. While it's been fun to microblog, I can't help feeling that it's a bit of a chore to manage two must-update blogs at once (not to mention the less frequently updated auction blog).

Part of me thinks that Twitter might actually be better than Facebook were I ever to take another long walk across the country. You can tweet your GPS coordinates on it, or tell people that you're currently approaching (or already at) such-and-such a landmark, be it a rock outcropping or a downtown restaurant or a Jesus-shaped hay bale.

But such thoughts are merely practical, not aesthetic or literary: I don't appreciate Twitter for its potential to make me a better writer; I see it merely as a means of getting word out when necessary. What's more, I can microblog just as easily here, on Blogger, as I can on Twitter, and since Blogger has a moblogging function, I can hook my blog up to a cell phone and text updates to my blog that way. That is, in fact, what I did while I was out west in 2008. You'll see plenty of BlackBerry posts over at Kevin's Walk.

How long can the Twitter madness continue? Stay tuned and let's find out together. At a guess, I may stop updating on Twitter, but I won't kill the Twitter account.


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mumyeong beullogeu (무명/無名 블로그)

My Kiwi buddy John Williamson, owner of his own language school in New Zealand, has a new blog called The Nameless Blog. Go check it out.


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et maintenant, je gazouille

Belatedly inspired by my buddy Mike, I am now a resident of Twitter. God help me. I kept protesting that it would never happen, that Facebook and Twitter both sucked... that I didn't need to spend my days writing one-liner after one-liner... but then I discovered that the writing you do on Twitter doesn't bear the same sorts of security risks associated with Facebook membership, and that microblogging presents a sexy challenge to those of a writerly mindset: the challenge of making one's thoughts as concise yet information-saturated as possible in the face of tight constraints... and that was all she wrote. I can now say from experience: Twitter reduces your life to solipsistic, narcissistic haiku, and you'll love it. I don't even have any followers, and I still love it.

So now-- or perhaps I should say for now-- I tweet. I hoot, screech, chirp, squawk, and caw. I can't guarantee that I'll do it routinely, but right now I'm still in that gleeful, kid-in-a-candy-store, get-it-out-of-my-system phase, so if you head over to my Twitter page, you'll see plenty of examples of me trying out the one-liners-- serious, naughty, philosophical, political, whatever. Those familiar with this blog will also see plenty of recycled material.

The addictive power of microblogging is analogous to the fattening power of mini-Reese's peanut butter cups: you keep eating and eating them, thinking that you're not eating too many, and by the time you realize that you've eaten the equivalent of twelve regular-size peanut butter cups, it's too late: the sugar has already been coursing through your system for ten minutes, and there's nothing you can do about it. So you keep eating. Twitter encourages just that sort of addiction, one based on minute quanta, substituting prose for chocolate and peanut butter. Praise be unto Allah that I no longer have a cell phone. Were I to tweet from that, I'd never be off Twitter.

It's possible that I may quickly become bored with Twitter. Possible, but not likely anytime soon.

Good God, I'm a whore.


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Monday, September 20, 2010

interesting film?

Instead of going out to see movies, I often find myself merely watching their previews over at Apple.com/trailers. I'd say that, for every twenty previews I see, only one might catch my eye, perhaps because I'm becoming older and crankier. This time around, the film that got my attention was "Today's Special," which at first looked like yet another annoying Bollywood comedy, but on second glance seemed to be more substantive. The film's blurb on Apple.com says it's based on a stage play; plays are often far better scripted than movies, and movies based on plays generally strike me as more intelligent than the average Hollywood boilerplate (this may also explain why I'm a fan of films scripted by playwright David Mamet).

"Today's Special" looks to be a film about the conflict and harmony of human values, and also about the rejection or acceptance of one's own ethnic heritage. That, plus the fact that it appeals to my Food Network-skewed sensibilities, is undoubtedly part of the reason why I'm interested in the film.

In a related vein, it occurred to me a few days ago that this is why I also enjoyed "Rambo," Stallone's latest entry in the Rambo franchise: for a goofy action movie, it contains a stark and primal conflict of worldviews. The conflict isn't where you'd expect it to be, either: it isn't between Rambo and the Burmese junta. Instead, it's between Rambo and the American pastor who gets taken hostage with his flock-- between a cynical notion of eternal return and a more optimistic notion of linear, progressive history. In the end, which worldview comes out on top? Rambo's "conversion" seems to come when he decides that the hostages and their cause are worth fighting for ("Live for nothing, or die for something"); the pastor, meanwhile, comes to realize that you can't be absolutistic about violence. His bashing of the skull of that Burmese soldier was shorthand for his tacit recognition that the world can be an ugly place, and violence is sometimes the best answer to that ugliness. Among the Rambo films, this one stands out for actually taking the time to flesh out such a debate in both words and imagery. No one will ever mistake "Rambo" for an Oscar-worthy work, but like the very first Rambo film, "First Blood," it treats a serious issue seriously. (The same can't be said for the middle two Rambo films.)

It may seem strange to segue so abruptly from cooking to warfare, but what unites these movies, "Today's Special" and "Rambo," is the static arising from the intersection of deeply held values.


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Sunday, September 19, 2010

your moment of Greek awesomeness

Long ago, I found a YouTube clip that had the super-cool theme music for the 1970s cop series "Kojak." I just stumbled upon an even better, fuller version of that theme. Enjoy. Bask ye now in the coolness of Telly Savalas. Who loves ya', baby?

You're welcome.


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what dog-sitting involves

I'm dog-sitting my brother's chihuahua, Maqz, over the weekend. This means driving across town to Sean's apartment and spending a few hours with the pooch. Maqz is friendly and loves company, so dog-sitting him is easy. He has a few chew toys scattered throughout the apartment; playing fetch with him keeps him entertained. He also likes a good scratch on the chest, neck, and head, and enjoys his own bizarre version of cuddling, which involves burying himself under pillows or blankets at your feet. Occasionally, Maqz will go for a more standard cuddle, but not that often. Otherwise, he's a quiet, well-behaved dog-- quite unlike the stereotypical TV chihuahua with the overly beady eyes and the trembling, meth-addict head. Best of all: unlike the way he behaves at our house, Maqz never dribbles off the edge of his pee pad when he does his business; as a result, cleanup is barely a chore at all. I think I have one or two more days with the dog. He's fun to hang with.


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Saturday, September 18, 2010

the fractal shape of life

A day is like a whole life. You start out doing one thing, but end up doing something else, plan to run an errand, but never get there... And at the end of your life, your whole existence has that same haphazard quality, too. Your whole life has the same shape as a single day.

--mathematician Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park (by Michael Crichton)


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chickens need tentacles!

I'm pretty sure this line comes from my brother David. I immediately had a vision for a tee shirt design.


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solemnity

It's probably not appropriate to wish a Jew a "happy Yom Kippur," but allow me to wish my Jewish readers a mindful one. (With thanks to Elisson, who reminded me of what today is, as of sunset this evening.)

NB to Elisson: I surf with Google Chrome, which can be rather finicky and sensitive, and today I received a malware warning from the browser when I visited your blog. This has happened before with another blog I visited; the solution may just be a matter of de-linking a certain link. The malware warning I received:

"The website at cheeseaisle.blogspot.com contains elements from the site rpc.blogrolling.com, which appears to host malware – software that can hurt your computer or otherwise operate without your consent. Just visiting a site that contains malware can infect your computer.

For detailed information about the problems with these elements, visit the Google Safe Browsing diagnostic page for rpc.blogrolling.com."

It may be nothing. The other "infected" blog wasn't really infected; I suffered no ill effects from visiting it.


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hangin' with the dawg

I'll be spending a few hours dog-sitting for my brother Sean, whose chihuahua Maqz needs some care and attention while Sean is away for the weekend. Any calls should be directed to Maqz's cell phone. That was our quid pro quo: I dog-sit for him, and he takes my calls.


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interested?

Check out the auction site. Tell your friends. Have them tell their friends. Spread the word.


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Friday, September 17, 2010

quantum computing

We appear to be on the threshold of quantum computing (by which is meant super-duper fast, super-duper versatile computing based on the principles of quantum mechanics) thanks to the invention of a new "photonic" chip that relies on light and not electricity. The Financial Times article:

A new photonic chip that works on light rather than electricity has been built by an international research team, paving the way for the production of ultra-fast quantum computers with capabilities far beyond today’s devices.

Future quantum computers will, for example, be able to pull important information out of the biggest databases almost instantaneously. As the amount of electronic data stored worldwide grows exponentially, the technology will make it easier for people to search with precision for what they want.

An early application will be to investigate and design complex molecules, such as new drugs and other materials, that cannot be simulated with ordinary computers. More general consumer applications should follow.

Jeremy O’Brien, director of the UK’s Centre for Quantum Photonics, who led the project, said many people in the field had believed a functional quantum computer would not be a reality for at least 25 years.

“However, we can say with real confidence that, using our new technique, a quantum computer could, within five years, be performing calculations that are outside the capabilities of conventional computers,” he told the British Science Festival, as he presented the research.

The breakthrough, published today in the journal Science, means data can be processed according to the counterintuitive rules of quantum physics that allow individual subatomic particles to be in several places at the same time.

This property will enable quantum computers to process information in quantities and at speeds far beyond conventional supercomputers. But formidable technical barriers must be overcome before quantum computing becomes practical.

The team, from Bristol university in the UK, Tohuku university in Japan, Weizmann Institute in Israel and Twente university in the Netherlands, say they have overcome an important barrier, by making a quantum chip that can work at ordinary temperatures and pressures, rather than the extreme conditions required by other approaches.

The immense promise of quantum computing has led governments and companies worldwide to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the field.

Big spenders, including the US defence and intelligence agencies concerned with the national security issues, and governments – such as Canada, Australia and Singapore – see quantum electronics as the foundation for IT industries in the mid-21st century.

The article has a sidebar, done up in Q&A format, which will also be of interest to you. You can reach the article and sidebar here, but I had to log in in order to reach the URL. That's why I was naughty and copied the entire main article above.


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space creeps!

Researchers say Pioneer 10, which took the first close-up pictures of Jupiter before leaving our solar system in 1983, is being pulled back to the sun by an unknown force. The effect shows no sign of getting weaker as the spacecraft travels deeper into space, and scientists are considering the possibility that the probe has revealed a new force of nature.

Dr Philip Laing, a member of the research team tracking the craft, said: "We have examined every mechanism and theory we can think of and so far nothing works.

"If the effect is real, it will have a big impact on cosmology and spacecraft navigation," said Dr Laing, of the Aerospace Corporation of California.

Pioneer 10 was launched by Nasa on March 2 1972, and with Pioneer 11, its twin, revolutionised astronomy with detailed images of Jupiter and Saturn. In June 1983, Pioneer 10 passed Pluto, the most distant planet in our solar system.

Both probes are now travelling at 27,000mph towards stars that they will encounter several million years from now. Scientists are continuing to monitor signals from Pioneer 10, which is more than seven billion miles from Earth.

Research to be published shortly in The Physical Review, a leading physics journal, will show that the speed of the two probes is being changed by about 6 mph per century - a barely-perceptible effect about 10 billion times weaker than gravity.

Bizarre, eh? Like a Jedi playing a Force-prank on us. Read the rest.


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Thursday, September 16, 2010

reprieve

I received an email on Wednesday morning from the ETS office, apologizing for the scheduling misfire and granting me an extra several days to take the certification test. I now have until 11:59PM,* September 21. Whew. Or maybe that's a half-whew: I still view the cert exam with trepidation.

It's not all Sturm und Drang, though: I do have to praise the office's very rapid response to my email. The staffer with whom I've communicated over the past couple of weeks has been extremely friendly and helpful.





*I imagine they chose 11:59PM to eliminate any midnight-related ambiguity: in a manner of speaking, every calendar day has two midnights.


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GBM story

My brother David told me about a recent article describing a father's fight with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), an incurable strain of brain cancer whose most famous recent victim was Ted Kennedy. The same cancer took my mother from us this past January. Treatments for GBM tend to be palliative; despite decades of research, there has been no breakthrough cure. This article, however, describes a treatment that may provide some hope for GBM patients and their families:

Eryn Holl's dad, Steve, was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was in the middle of planning her wedding. The prognosis was devastating -- less than one-third of patients with Steve's form of glioblastoma survive a year.

She and then-fiance Ryan King were living in Virginia, but when she got the news, Eryn left her job and spent much of her time in California with her parents, all while continuing preparations for her marriage -- and never once giving in to the idea of not having her father there.

But the outlook wasn't always sunny. As CNN reported, Steve's cancer is in the same family as Ted Kennedy's fatal tumor, a type in which cancer cells can linger inside the brain after the tumor is removed and grow back, usually within a few weeks.

Knowing that, the Holls elected to try a potentially risky experimental treatment that involves removing the tumor and using cells from it to create a vaccine. Steve received the first of 14 doses last February and, last month -- on Aug. 21 -- was able to dance at his daughter's wedding.

As always, caution is called for. The article is uplifting, but it's also vague on matters that became very important to me as I started researching GBM during my mother's illness. It doesn't say anything about Steve Holl's age; it's vague as to when, exactly, he was diagnosed; and it tells us nothing about the effectiveness of this new treatment on other patients, instead stating that Mr. Holl was still healthy enough to dance at his daughter's wedding several months after treatment began.

It's good that Eryn Holl still had her father at her wedding, and I hope this new treatment staves off her father's GBM for as long as possible, but I also hope that she and her family proceed in the awareness that, barring a revolutionary cure, nobody survives GBM. There are patients who occupy the thin forward edge of the bell curve, and who do indeed live several years past diagnosis, but based on what little I can glean from the above-linked article, Steve Holl hasn't broken any curves yet. My advice to that family would be to treat each day as the golden borrowed time it is, because with GBM, that's about all you can do. Cautious optimism firmly married to realism is the best approach, not wild optimism coupled with false hope.

I'm always encouraged when I hear about new treatments; the one we had hoped to give to Mom-- intra-arterial Avastin-- sounded very promising as a measure for holding back the progress of the cancer, but as it turned out, Mom's GBM had progressed too far for her to be a candidate in the trial. There was nothing left for her to do but succumb.

Ah-- the above article links to a CNN article that provides a bit more data. Steve Holl has survived a year past diagnosis, and thus far, "none of the eight patients who have received vaccines made from their tumors has seen cancer return." That's very encouraging, but here, too, I'd want to delve deeper into the real statistics before giving in to my own private optimism. Example: not all the patients started treatment at the same time, I'm sure; how long has the longest-surviving patient been on the trial? As the article rightly notes, it's too early to draw any big conclusions; Steve Holl, by surviving a year past diagnosis, hasn't done anything different from Ted Kennedy, who lasted 14 or 15 months. But at this point, given the initial results, I'd say that it's not crazy to have a little hope.



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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

anticlimax

It took me longer than it would have taken most 20-somethings to assimilate the deluge of information I had to absorb from those ETS tutorials, so when I finally signed in to take my certification exam, it was September 14, and I had until midnight to get certified. I signed in using the login ID and password with which I'd been provided...

...and discovered that ETS had mis-assigned me to take the TOEIC certification exam. D'oh!

I tried several times to re-log back in to the testing site, hoping that a "refresh" might bring up the correct exam (TOEFL iBT Writing), but no dice. Clicking various links on the TOEIC screen proved equally unhelpful. Unsure what to do next, I wrote an email to ETS, and hope to hear back from them in the morning. I asked for an extra day to take the exam, since I'd been given the wrong exam to take, but also said that I'd understand if they said no: I had, after all, waited until the last possible day to take the certification exam. Had I taken the exam earlier, I could have informed ETS earlier.

Truth be told, I'm a bit intimidated by the prospect of the exam. Then I worked my way through the exercises in the tutorial, I was disconcerted to discover that ETS and I operate on very different wavelengths regarding how to "think through" an essay evaluation. As I mentioned before, the confidentiality agreement prevents me from getting into details, but I think it's safe to say that I'm not sure I understand ETS's preferred rationale, especially for the Independent Writing section. I managed to rate most of the essays in the same ballpark as ETS did, but I apparently tended to err on the side of mercy: if I gave an essay a score of "3," ETS's rating would almost invariably be a "2." If one were to tally my performance purely in terms of right/wrong, then I'd say I averaged around 30% in the Independent Writing section. By contrast, I averaged over 70% with the Integrated Writing section, whose assessment criteria seem more clear-cut and less subjective.

Despite having gone through over 80 pages of material, I still have no idea how I'll be graded on the actual certification exam. If the exam grades purely on a right/wrong basis, then at this point I'd say I have little chance of passing. If, however, it's enough to be one point off in my ratings, then I've got a fighting chance.

Upshot: I need a Plan B, and fast, because there's a good chance I won't be working with ETS. But tonight, the night when everything was supposed to come together, felt more like an anticlimax than anything else.


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Happy Birthday!

My brother David turns 34 today. He's done well for himself, busting his ass with two jobs, and saving enough money to purchase his own house (just the other day, he watered his new lawn for the first time). He's also been a great brother over the years; it'd be hard to imagine life without him.

Happy Birthday, Big Boy. I love you.

(Perhaps Lee Farrand could perform David's birthday toast.)


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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

family

An image from my French parents' 50th anniversary. Over 70 people-- all family-- were there.





An image I found while digging through the archives:



The above photo can't be more than a couple years old.



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Monday, September 13, 2010

Eastwood au delà du seuil

Clint Eastwood, now beyond 80, has put out a new movie (again with Matt Damon) about death and the afterlife titled "Hereafter." Looks interesting, though it also looks rather formulaic. Is this Eastwood's foray into Shyamalan territory?


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wisdom?

"A conservative is a liberal who's been mugged."
-- common bit of modern American folk wisdom

"A liberal is a conservative who has been arrested."
-- Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities, supposedly quoting another common bit of modern American folk wisdom


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Sunday, September 12, 2010

I had a happy 9/11

I spent a good chunk of the late afternoon and evening at my buddy Mike's house down in Undisclosed Location, Virginia. My goddaughter pronounced my gifts "awesome" (a card, a CafePress tote bag, and two books related to her current interest in Egyptology), and the food I ate was equally awesome. Good company, good times-- the sort of therapy I've needed. Togetherness.

That reminds me: I didn't write my usual 9/11 remembrance this year, but I'll say this: if there's one thing I've learned from my own experience with tragedy over this past year and a half, it's the vital importance of being there when someone is in crisis. There's simply no substitute for presence-- not cards, not emails, not phone calls. As nice as those gestures are, they can't hold a candle to a hug or to a warm palm or to kind words spoken from three feet away. A person in crisis finds out very quickly who, exactly, is willing to invest the time and effort to be there. I can only hope that the friends and relatives who remember the ones they lost on that tragic day nine years ago have access to their own circles of care. How sad, how very sad, to be alone at such a time.


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Saturday, September 11, 2010

done for the night... but not done

There's an amazing amount of material to wade through for ETS, and I can't talk about any of it because of the confidentiality agreement I signed. Suffice it to say that I've read through the text of the orientation and tutorial once online, and have printed the many pages out (well, the ones that are printable; some are interactive) and will re-read the material the old-fashioned way tomorrow.

Yesterday, Friday, was my goddaughter's 13th birthday, but her party will be on Saturday afternoon. Time flies. I remember her Terrible Twos, and now she's about to start her Terrible Teens. Luckily, she's not terrible. How could she be? She's my goddaughter.


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Islam and what to do about it

Skippy's excellent post on Islam reminds me of this post and exchange from last year, over at Malcolm's blog.

(And now... back to work.)


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Friday, September 10, 2010

by Friday night...

By Friday night, DC time, I'll have completed my certification and will be an official ETS employee. I've been wrestling with my two computers, trying to get both of them ETS-ready. For the Mac, this meant downloading software called Virtual Box, but I eventually nixed that idea after tinkering fruitlessly with VB for several hours. I had thought about using the Mac for my essay rating, but since VB didn't seem to be running correctly on it, I uninstalled everything and focused solely on my Asus netbook. Per my brother's advice, I'll be attempting to use Virtual Box again later, but right now, I need to have a system up and running. The only Windows-compatible machine in the house is my Asus, so... voilà, quoi.

For the laptop, then, preparation has meant flushing out the virus-laden OS and memory, reinstalling everything anew from the system disk, patching the software by finding and installing updates, and then making certain browser- and system-related tweaks based on a template given to me by ETS. All that's left for me to do is to go through the training (8 hours), the review (1 hour), and the certification test (2 hours). Eleven hours in all. If I start in the morning, I'll be done and certified by evening, and will be four days ahead of schedule (certification deadline is September 14, my brother David's birthday).

Thus begins the next phase of life. I've had to rely on a lot of charity over the past year and a half, since I quit two (admittedly low-paying) jobs to take care of Mom. Now I'm going to be back in the workaday world, and along with my scholastic debt, I've got some personal debts that need paying. It'll be good to start paying them, and to start thinking about the future. Some things have become a lot clearer to me over the course of this trial; others haven't, and I'll probably do a bit of my thinking out loud right here, on Ye Olde Blogge.

Life-changes are happening everywhere, it seems. My French brother Dominique wrote me to say that he and his family are thinking about moving back west, away from Alsace and closer to Nantes-- possibly to one of the touristy islands that lie off the coast of Bretagne (Brittany), to set up a bed-and-breakfast. I think the idea sounds awesome. My own dreams aren't quite so big, but I wish Dom and his family luck as they ponder this great leap westward. At least they'll be closer to Dom's parents. That's not a bad thing.


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Thursday, September 09, 2010

mini-hiatus

Might not be posting for a while, ladies and gents. Just FYI.


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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

the hitch

Obviously not on board with Macs, ETS wrote me that they require the use of a Windows OS-friendly machine. Since I didn't plan to pollute my Mac with Windows emulator software, I had to turn once again to my Asus Eee PC-- a netbook that started out great when I bought it, but became so rife with viruses that it was almost impossible to use-- this despite the presence of antivirus software. (I suspect the antivirus software slowed the computer's performance down as well.)

So after months of dormancy, my pestilential Asus (did you know that it's supposed to be pronounced "uh-SOOS"-- a Seuss!-- and not "AY-suss"?*) has just undergone The Great Flush: it came with a system software CD-ROM, so I've booted from the CD, vaporized all the data that been locked inside the computer (I did manage to rescue crucial files before the computer clogged up completely), and performed a total system restore.

Once I have a bit of cash, I think I'll have to buy a proper desktop PC devoted almost exclusively to TOEFL essay rating. But that's not something I can think about right now. Right now, I need to go through the training and certification process, which I'll be doing later in the morning (it's 1:46AM on Wednesday as I write this). The training is something like an 8-hour program; the certification process is a three-hour procedure that, once started, must be completed in the allotted time. ETS pays for all this, and if you fail the certification test at the end, they'll even pay you (though not as much) for a single retest.

So I'm about to start work with ETS. About to become a cog in a very, very large corporate machine. On the bright side, I'll be swimming against the current in an economy that's gone to shit, and making enough money both to stay afloat and to start figuring out what happens for the rest of my life. A new chapter begins.





*Wikipedia lists both pronunciations as common, but a recent TV commercial-- the only one in which I've ever heard Asus mentioned-- favors the "a Seuss!" rendering.


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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

heh heh

OK, here's one you've never heard before: strikes disrupt transportation in France and England!

I don't think of unions as intrinsically evil. Workers have rights; they need to stick up for each other and that's as it should be. But unions often grow and fester and become monstrous entities that-- as happens in places like western Europe and South Korea-- do more harm than good. France and Korea, in particular, routinely demonstrate the downside of unions gone wild.


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ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

My buddy Dr. Steve and I took a stroll around my alma mater yesterday; I sweated profusely while Steve, who's too thin to retain any water, chafed at how the sun was murdering his fog-loving Irish skin. When we arrived on campus at 2PM, the front quad was thronging with students: various tables and booths had been set up to announce different activities and causes; and hundreds, possibly thousands, of people were milling about in a spirit of beginning-of-semester conviviality.

Georgetown University, the campus itself, has changed since the last time I visited. New construction is going on close to the old Jesuit graveyard by the ICC Building; God only knows what's being put together there. I can no longer find the giant, scribbled Pollock that used to hang ponderously across from some elevators inside that same ICC Building. It may have been taken away. Perhaps too many students had picked at it-- peeling off paint, as if it were errant strands of petrified mozzarella, in an attempt to leave only the paint-squiggles that "belonged." Other edifices, meanwhile, have sprung up along the axis connecting the Leavey Center and Yates Field House. The campus is starting to feel a bit too crowded, a bit too shadowy, a bit too... Jee Double Yew.

That's unfortunate. We Hoyas have long taken pride in having a real city campus instead of the non-campus that is George Washington University, which lies just up the street from us, about a 45-minute walk away. GW's campus, viewed from above, looks like part of the gridwork of a typical city. If you didn't know where to look, you'd never guess which cluster of buildings constituted the campus. GW's buildings are distinct at ground level (and actually quite nice, when you enter them), but the university has no walls, no boundaries, no significant quad or greenery, nothing to separate it from the surrounding city-- no threshold that proclaims that you're now on hallowed ground. My alma mater, for all its faults, at least has distinctness going for it.

Of course, the common GW retort is that their women are hotter, which may be true. But that's only if we're talking overall physical hotness, which means that Georgetown has some ladies who rise above the crowd not only in terms of brains, but also in terms of beauty. In fact, I saw such a lady yesterday, stepping out of Copley Hall (sophomores' dorm; I was there during the '88-'89 school year) for a jog. She coolly scanned the campus before setting off on her trot, perfectly aware of the effect she would have on any men in line of sight. I could tell by the sublime, celestial curvature and tightness of her ass that she was endowed with a formidable IQ. Beauty and brains. GU wins this round.

During our wanderings, I picked up the latest issue of The Hoya, one of the major campus rags, and saw that actor Bradley Cooper had given a talk in Gaston Hall (here's a similar article from the online version of the Georgetown Voice). Didn't realize he was a Hoya as well. Does his Hoya-ness count as a connection if we're playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

Lunch was at The Tombs, which is owned by Clyde's, thus ensuring that any burger you order will kick much ass. I had my usual Bacon Bleu Burger, which was cooked to the perfect medium-well state that I enjoy. By the time we left the Tombs, the crowd on Copley Lawn (a.k.a. Copley Beach, due to the high incidence of sunbathing-- take that, GW!) had completely dispersed; the sight of all that emptiness was shocking.

We wandered around a few hours and went our separate ways a bit before dinnertime, yet still stuffed from lunch. This had been my first meet-up with my buddy Steve since Mom got sick. It was good to see him, and I wish him the best of luck as he teaches his current crop of students the ins and outs of modern American literature.





*I just checked. The policy is expressed thus:

12. Smoking Policy

Georgetown University is committed to a smoke-free environment. In accordance with District of Columbia laws, smoking is prohibited in all indoor locations, except in designated smoking areas. The Leavey Center is a smoke free building.

So you can smoke outdoors while on campus.

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Monday, September 06, 2010

belabored day

Happy Labor Day to my Yank and Canuck readers.

I'll be completing some laborious projects of my own today, which will bring me to the brink of finishing all the home improvement I've been working on for the past, oh, several months. One project I still haven't completed is the bombing of that hornet-infested bush in our front yard. I'm a bit worried that that might get out of hand if the hornets are allowed to fortify too strongly, so I'll need to bomb soon.

I'm also on the brink of starting a new job as a TOEFL essay rater with ETS (Educational Testing Service: the makers of the SAT, TOEFL, GRE, etc.). I won't be able to blog in any detail about that work, given the nature of the contract I recently e-signed, but I'm sure I can get away with vague generalities. I don't know when, exactly, this job will start, but it had better start soon. I've got debts to pay. Everything is being done through email right now, and ETS seems to dole out its information on a need-to-know basis. I'm expecting an email that will set me up with a rating tutorial; I was already advised in a previous email that this tutorial, when it comes, will be timed, and I'll have until midnight on the day it arrives to complete it and receive a certification. In the meantime, I need to call a certain number to find out specifics such as work schedule and other details.

And that's what I have on tap for today. Exciting, eh?


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grand design

A fascinating MSNBC article-- and embedded YouTube video-- about whether we're on the cusp of a true Theory of Everything can be found here. The video (despite its anti-religious tenor) reminds me of all that's best in academe-- the polemics, the wit, the humor of an excellent lecturer. Even though I think lecture is the absolute worst teaching technique, there are those who do it well, and Lawrence Krauss, the man in the video (introduced by "New Atheist" Richard Dawkins), has a gift for communicating difficult ideas to us laymen. Worth a read-- the article focuses on Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow-- and worth a viewing.


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envious

My brother David has been given quite a treat to reward his ten years' faithful service at his firm: a trip to Canada! He'll be spending the next few days at a four-star hotel in old-town Quebec City. I wish him well; the online photos of the hotel look amazing.


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Sunday, September 05, 2010

bad star

Disaster is the best description for yesterday's cake effort. It was a dense, ugly mess. While I'm tempted to throw the cake away, I'm going to make like the NTSB and poke around the wreckage a bit to determine what went wrong.


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culinary experimentation

I'm attempting to make a Peach Schnapps cake that's a riff off our family's secret, bombtits* rum cake recipes. My brother Sean will be the first guinea pig tonight. The batter tasted awesome before I stuck it in the oven, but seemed a bit runnier than I would have liked. I hope "runny" translates to "moist" after a bit of alchimie au four.





*Kevin of the now-defunct blog Incestuous Amplification introduced me to the term after ordering a rum cake from our family. "Bombtits" was his review of the taste.


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Saturday, September 04, 2010

for my goddaughter's birthday

While it sucks to recycle creative works, I haven't been feeling all that creative these days. My goddaughter's birthday is the first date of my September Triple Whammy (September 10 = my goddaughter; September 12 = Dr. Steve; September 14 = my brother David). I made two CafePress designs for her.

The front of her birthday card:



(I think I drew that tiger back in 2004. Somewhere in my archives, I've got a Photoshopped image of the tiger with a red lightsaber in its paw, gleefully leaping toward an unseen opponent.)



The design on her tote bag:



I figure her dad won't kill me for slipping in smoking and fart jokes.



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shout-out to Wisc.edu!

One of my readers apparently attends (or teaches at) the University of Wisconsin. He or she stops by One Free Korea first, then heads right over to this blog. Although I'm not a fan of sloppy seconds, I appreciate the patronage. Truly dost thou rock, Whoeveryouare. Indeed, you are powerful, as the Emperor has foreseen. Now go and sin no more, and work out your salvation with diligence. There is another Skywalker.


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Friday, September 03, 2010

never trust a man with 3 widow's peaks

Below is James J. Lee (Korean? Chinese?), the latest Asian guy to go nuts in public with the intention of killing a whole lot of people.



Note to my Asian peeps: Yeah, yeah, we're "passionate" people (like, uh, everyone else on the planet who claims to come from "passionate" ethnic roots), but for Christ's sake, STOP GOING CRAZY. Life is hard enough without you going all batshit and killing-- or trying to kill-- everyone around you. And think about the PR: most of us are just average Cheol-sus and Beom-seoks and Mi-gyeongs going about our daily affairs like normal, sane folk, but when people like you make the news, the rest of us start to look a little unhinged.

Mr. Lee contended that the planet doesn't need humans. He's probably right: anthropomorphizing the planet-- thinking of it as a being with "needs"-- is a mistake right there. So I'd agree with the Crazian, but only because a non-living thing doesn't need anything. The flip side, of course, is that the planet doesn't not need us, either. (My thoughts on environmentalism: here, here, and here.)

Quit staring, James. You're reminding me of any number of Koreans who used to do that to me when I lived in Seoul.


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Thursday, September 02, 2010

what hurricane?

The outlets are abuzz with news of the arrival of Hurricane Earl, which is likely to rub itself salaciously against the American east coast, nibbling on the ear of North Carolina and trailing the tip of its tongue lightly over the carotid pulse of New England, but prudently skipping the DC-Metro area, where I live. No storm for us, it would appear. Even Nature knows to avoid those pestilential politicians. And that's why the Weather.com forecast for my zip code remains relentlessly sunny and hot. Damn.


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bedbugs: friend or foe?

Friend, I say! Gather a few thousand into a bowl and they're tastier than Rice Krispies.


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