It's windy again, and I'm not watching the Oscars. Tonight's more of a "curl up with a book" night, if that doesn't sound too much like a regression to childhood. No long, rambling speeches rudely interrupted by music, no fashion disasters or wardrobe malfunctions, no lame humor from soporific hosts-- just peace and quiet.
Except for the gusting wind outside.
Monday, February 28, 2011
It's windy again, and I'm not watching the Oscars. Tonight's more of a "curl up with a book" night, if that doesn't sound too much like a regression to childhood. No long, rambling speeches rudely interrupted by music, no fashion disasters or wardrobe malfunctions, no lame humor from soporific hosts-- just peace and quiet.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Na Suho vindicated:
Why we haven't started a French/English/Korean translation service is beyond me.
(Folks who are not Charles: see comment thread here to understand what's going on in this post.)
NB: The Korean subtitling under Mattie Ross seems to be saying "They say you've got a lot of grit" as opposed to "They tell me you're a man with true grit." The French rendering, "On m'a dit que vous aviez du cran," also loses something in the translation: "They told me you had grit." Maybe there's something strange, to the French ear, about saying "du vrai cran" as opposed to "du cran." All in all, I feel the Korean subtitle is more faithful in spirit to the English than the French rendering is.
The next step up from a "Ryan vs. Dorkman 2" lightsaber battle is... a lightsaber battle that's part of an actual storyline. Harry Shum, Jr. (Mike Chang on "Glee") stars in this short film about a dude who has only three minutes to accomplish... something.
My only critique relates to the camera work: some of the atemi-style strikes should have been shown in close-up shots. They don't look so impressive when seen from afar. Otherwise, great job by the actors: fan-fic lightsaber duels vary from lame to awesome, and this one had fantastic footwork and superior choreography. Just tighten up the camera work, guys! Not so many wide shots! Lastly, mad props to the FX crew for the saber effects, including reflections off polished stone.
"3 Minutes" is a story in several parts. There's something to be said for long-form episodic storytelling using short-form media like YouTube. Kiefer Sutherland is exploring this same area right now with a series of webisodes called "The Confession," about a killer (Sutherland) who confesses past and future murders to a priest (the awesome John Hurt, who gets plenty of praise here), leaving it up to the priest to try and stop him (see Hulu interview here).
Well, Charles, I guess that settles it: the French are indeed translating "grit" as "cran." (For those not in on the conversation, see the comment thread following this review of "True Grit.") It looks as if the French are keeping the English title, however.
For "grit as cran" in context, see this French-dubbed movie trailer, and listen at around 0:17 for the word that means guts, nerve, or even grit.
Ever heard of Otis Frampton? Me, neither. But the guy's a gifted cartoonist who seems to specialize in SFF art. His blog hosts all sorts of images from the Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica universes, as well as some Lord of the Rings. Go check him out.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Shinhan Bank is no longer located at its original Annandale address. I drove there today (7002 Evergreen Court, Annandale, VA), and discovered that the bank had been taken over by two other establishments. I'm having a devil of a time trying to find out where a local branch might be; neither the English nor the Korean versions of the Shinhan Bank America website is very helpful; there's no "locate a branch" link on the splash page.
I had a sneaking feeling that something was up when I first Googled Shinhan Bank and tried calling the number I found (see here). Number no longer in service. When I tried to look up Shinhan Bank Annandale on my Droid in order to navigate there... the bank itself didn't come up, but the street address did. It seems that, sometimes, the only way to find something out for sure is to drive there yourself. At least now I know that Shinhan didn't merely change their phone numbers; they got the fuck outta Dodge.
So now I'm poring over the Shinhan websites in Korean and English to determine where a local branch (with a working phone number) might be. More news as it happens, but right now, it looks as if the closest branch (and ATM) may be in New York City. While I wouldn't mind tripping up to NYC once a month to fetch payments, just to hang in the city, that might get a bit expensive.
If you have the time (I did last night), go read Nathan's fantastic essay, "A 'Close Reading' of Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey.'" Nathan had never seen this movie until recently, so he approaches it with fresh eyes. The fact that he found it to offer such rich food for thought is icing on the cake for the rest of us.
A few applications of the disinfectant goop, two applications of a warm compress per my buddy Mike's suggestion, and boom: I woke up this morning with a nearly pristine eyelid. Good. Yesterday's problem would have been a distracting nightmare to everyone I met, because that damn lump was actually close enough to my eyeball to touch it. At one point, I seriously considered popping it like a zit; I have plenty of sharp objects in the apartment to help with that endeavor. But this turned out to be unnecessary: the zit popped itself later in the day, and all I had to do was dutifully wipe away the pus and other fluids periodically throughout the evening.
The zitoid was barely two millimeters across, so I hope you're not imagining some witch-sized wart hanging off my eye. Still, trust me: back when it was a nasty-looking whitehead, it was easily visible and would have distracted you.
Friday, February 25, 2011
I woke up this morning to a new houseguest: a zit-like whitehead sitting saucily on the edge of my lower left eyelid. My right eye had been infected three days ago; I still have plenty of the medicine that I'd bought last year to combat it, and the infection was gone within a single day. I'm not sure whether the infection in my left eye is the same thing; it might be. Then again, I had no whiteheads on my right eyelids, so this might be a different beastie altogether. I was tempted to think, at first, that today's invader was a zit that had chosen a radically different place to hang out, but the surrounding redness, too wide for normal zittity, convinced me that I was dealing with a full-on infection similar to, if not exactly the same as, the one on Monday.
So I've got goop in my left eye, an ointment that disinfects without irritating. I'm keeping that eye shut since the goop needs to rest against the zitoid to be effective. I'm also wishing I had an eyepatch to go with the Popeye squint. I don't think CafePress has gotten into the eyepatch business yet, but a Google search turns up plenty of online eyepatch resources.
I'll be washing my pillowcases today, just to be sure. What I'm not doing is driving out to the bank: that's going to have to wait until I feel like opening my left eye again. I'd rather have full peripheral vision, especially when changing lanes at 80 miles an hour. (Sixty-- I mean 60 miles an hour.)
Thursday, February 24, 2011
I saw "Frog Baseball," the first Mike Judge cartoon ever to feature Beavis and his buddy Butt-Head, at a Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation in Washington DC. This had to have been in the very early 1990s. True to its name, the animation festival was a series of films by various artists, most of whom did their damnedest to violate the boundaries of taste. The festival continues to this day, I believe, and I was happy to discover that some of the shorts are currently featured on YouTube. Not for the easily offended:
1. Teddy Bears' Picnic (a new one to me, and gut-bustingly funny)
2. Lloyd's Lunchbox 1
3. the classic Bambi vs. Godzilla
4. Slaughter Day
5. Mutilator: I remember the presenters talking about how lame this one was; it was animated at a rate of 6 frames per second. I also remember the audience laughing at all the unintended humor.
6. While I'm not a fan of the scripting, I love-love-love the expressiveness of the characters in Dr. Mal Practice.
Way back in 1994, my buddy Tom and I worked for this idiot at his language school in downtown Chongno. What do you think, Tom? Am I close?
The guy was my first-ever Korean boss. I ended up suing him when he stiffed me on my last month's pay plus my severance. Tom sued him, too. We both won our respective suits.
When I saw that picture of Gaddafi on the news, I thought-- "Damn! He's almost the spitting image of our former boss." Hopefully, that boss is dead and buried by now; the problem is that evil people have a tendency to linger on this earth.
May neither of these men linger much longer.
Today, I'm trekking over to the local Shinhan Bank in Annandale, VA (KOREATOOOOOOWWWWWWN MANSAEEEEEE!!) to find out, per an excellent suggestion by my buddy Charles, whether they can provide me with an international ATM card so I can access my old Shinhan account in Korea. That would be so, so sweet right about now. Wish me luck.
UPDATE, 3:11PM: You obviously didn't wish me luck. I've been digging around for my old tongjang, the ATM bank book that Koreans (and Canadians!) like to use to keep track of their transactions and balances. Haven't found it yet, which means I'm not off to the bank today. Tomorrow, then! I'll find that sucker tonight so I can show it to the Korean folks in the morning.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
The more enterprising among you may have noted this already, but in case you didn't, the eBay book ads are now up:
1. the un-autographed Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms ($7.50 plus shipping)
2. the most definitely autographed Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms ($10.00 plus shipping)
The original cover price was $15; these books, the last few dozen of a run of several hundred which I never got around to selling back in 2001, are still in perfect, brand spanking new condition. Each ad links to a Picasa web album/slide show that takes you through-- damn, almost half the book.
Hope to see you on eBay!
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
A large earthquake just hit Christchurch, New Zealand. My good friend John Williamson, who lives in Dunedin, reports that his neighborhood felt only "a tiny roll at lunchtime" (Tuesday afternoon, February 22, New Zealand time), but he didn't immediately realize that other areas had been more severely affected. I'm glad my friend was safely away from the worst of the quake, and I hope that, whatever the property damage, injury and loss of life are minimal. More news here. Check Google News or your favorite news feed for updates.
UPDATE: A death toll of 65 and counting. The quake was magnitude 6.3, with aftershocks still happening. Good God.
Monday, February 21, 2011
We used to have a cat that was so damn lazy that he wouldn't drink from his bowl of milk unless someone (usually the parent who spoiled him in the first place) held the bowl up off the floor and close to his face. I get the feeling that a lot of the people who haven't come around to buying my book Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms: A Panoply of Paeans to Putrescence and a Cornucopia of Corrosive Coprophilia, are simply too damn lazy to do so without my shoving excerpts from the book in their faces. So I've finally scanned almost half the freaking book and have placed the cropped, resized images in my Picasa album.
Here's a link to the slide show. Enjoy. In the next 24 hours, I'll have an eBay post up so I can sell the last batch.
(As you can see by my charming bedside manner, I'm not about to be hired by anybody's marketing department.)
A few comments about the slide show:
1. The above link takes you to the Picasa page showing all the pictures at once. Near the upper left corner, click on "Slide Show" to get the actual slide show going.
2. I don't know why the pages appear in slightly different sizes on Picasa. They're all 1200 pixels wide, and have been reduced from 300 to 72 dpi. I assume this is some sort of Picasa quirk. Ideally, they should all be the same size, except for the first two images, which are of the front and back covers.
3. The faded text is merely a scanning issue, not a reflection of the print quality of the physical book.
4. The reason why the left-hand margin of each page seems so wide while the right-hand margin seems so narrow is cropping. All I did was crop away unnecessary strips of black from around the scanned image. Because of the way the book rested on the scanner's glass, some of the pages not touching the glass were scanned in, too, and I elected not to crop them.
5. This isn't about the slide show, but I'll be creating two eBay entries for the book: un-autographed copies ($7.50 plus shipping) and autographed copies ($10 plus shipping). Were this a print-on-demand book, I wouldn't be able to offer that.
Back when I was at my previous residence, I had access to the HDNet Movies channel on FiOS. HDNet Movies is distinguished by the fact that it'll show some new films for free as part of a "pre-release" promo. If you time it right-- or set your DVR's timer right-- you can watch a new release for no extra cost than your monthly cable fee.
I saw a few new movies that way, and among them was the 2010 film "Centurion," which is a bit of jazzed-up, speculative historical fiction about the fate of the Roman Ninth Legion, which may have disappeared in Caledonia around 117AD. Where did 5000 men vanish to? "Centurion," which is in many ways a simple chase movie, offers us one possible theory: the soldiers were slaughtered by the local Picts, the barbaric ancestors of today's Scots.
A new movie, "The Eagle," is about to come out and explore the same territory. Like "Centurion," "The Eagle" surmises that the Romans didn't merely disband and blend in with the locals: they were hacked to pieces by them. I'll be curious to see this film's version of the story, even as I roll my eyes at Hollywood's annoying tendency to green-light pairs of films about the same topic at roughly the same time (cf. "Happy Feet" and "Surf's Up," etc.).
A recent article, however, notes that the mystery of the Ninth Legion's disappearance may have been solved:
Now a group of experts say the elite infantry force was indeed defeated by a band of ‘barbarians’ in a military catastrophe that shamed the empire, prompting a conspiracy of silence.
The dramatic new evidence hinges on a single gravestone tribute and was brought to light by historian and film-maker Phil Hirst, whose documentary Rome’s Lost Legion will be screened next month.
‘The battle of Mons Graupius was thought to have marked the end of any serious threat to imp¬erial might,’ he said. ‘But the discovery of a tombstone of a centurion stationed at the Northumbrian fort of Vindolanda shows the Romans were under attack from the north 20 years later.’
Historian Neil Faulkner, of Channel 4’s Time Team, said: ‘It is likely the insurgents formed a confederation of tribes. So what the Romans could have been facing was a rising of pretty well the whole of the north of Britain.’
Rome’s reaction after the Ninth’s disappearance lends weight to the theory. Reinforcements were drafted in to Britain to fight a major war at the beginning of Emperor Hadrian’s reign around 117 AD and the construction of Hadrian’s Wall was ordered.
Mr Hirst said: ‘The loss of the Ninth may have led Hadrian to realise that the total conquest of Britain was unachievable and a dividing wall needed to be built separating occupied territory from the barbarian hordes.’
Mr Faulkner added: ‘My guess is that the Ninth Legion was destroyed in a carefully executed ambush by northern tribes.’
Rome’s Lost Legion is on the History Channel on March 18. The Eagle opens in UK cinemas on March 25.
Uh-oh, Hollywood! Along come the researchers to spoil all the fun! But at least the research seems to confirm that the fictional stories made the right guess.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Peter Schroepfer, a.k.a. Oranckay to friends and enemies alike, accosted me on Twitter with a "Pictures, please!" when I announced that I planned on making chicken shawarmas for dinner. Well, sir, here are the pics.
A closeup of the better-made one:
These are, of course, mutant shawarmas-- they've got home-made tzatziki on them, and the tzatziki has dill in it, so that's two counts of mutant violation right there.
But damn, they tasted good.
What you see in the pictures:
1. naan that's been painted with a mixture of olive oil, salt, and garlic, then fried in a skillet to get the oil into the bread (otherwise, the naan would have ripped when curled into the wrap shape)
2. a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce
3. chicken sliced thinly to simulate its having been sawed off from a rotating spit, spiced with my seven-fold combo of salt, pepper, paprika, red chili pepper, cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder; the chicken was fried in olive oil on medium heat and tasted nothing like real shawarma-style chicken, but it was good all the same
4. minced Italian tomato from the local Costco-- very red and juicy
5. thin slices of jalapeño, seeds and all (seed removal is for wusses)
6. Président brand feta, a Costco standard
7. home-made mutant tzatziki: Greek yogurt, mayo, dill, salt, pepper, olive oil, peeled and finely minced cucumbers, a few drops of vinegar (didn't have lemon juice), and a wee bit of sweetener to take the edge off the tartness
8. sriracha, standing in for the red sauce that normally goes with a shawarma
All in all, it was nowhere near the real thing, but I downed both sandwiches with gusto. You normal folks might have been able to handle only one such sandwich: either the size or the heat would have killed you. I replaced my own stomach with a pickup truck's gas tank long ago, so I have no problems in terms of storage capacity or heat tolerance.
You might be wondering about the left-hand shawarma pictured above, the one with the ripped naan. That problem wasn't hard to handle: I sliced the bread straight across, following the rip, and ate that section as if it were a mini-sandwich. Then I ate the remainder.
1. So I started thinking about the implications of "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home," which many fans know as the "Save the Whales" sequel. It's the twenty-third century and whales are, sadly, extinct. Kirk and Company go back in time to twentieth-century Earth to gather some whales, bring them forward in time, and then hope like hell that they won't be too freaked out by the temporal displacement to reproduce. (One whale is, in fact, pregnant at the time of transfer. Good thing she didn't shoot out her calf while inside the Klingon fighter. Scotty would have had a lot of cleaning to do, and I don't think the Klingons had placed any mops in the hold. Klingons don't strike me as a mopping culture.)
The movie ends with the crew's success, of course. Two-and-a-half whales arrive safely in the twenty-third century, communicate with the enormous, marauding probe that's been visiting Old Testament-style destruction on the planet, and all is right with the galaxy.
What does all this look like from the point of view of a twenty-sixth century cetacean biologist? Evidence would seem to indicate that all whales had died out shortly after the twentieth century... then suddenly, humpback whales reappeared! It's a miracle! Time travel opens up a whole new realm of transtemporal relocation for endangered species. This would certainly wreak havoc with any fossil record, because now we'd be dealing with man-made gaps. And once the potential to engage in such an activity has been established, then it's only a matter of time(!) before someone actually goes ahead and does it.
I'm reminded of the Simulation Hypothesis, which says that the closer we get to creating perfectly rendered virtual worlds, the closer to 100% is the probability that we're actually living in one right now. The same goes for time travel: the closer we get to making time travel feasible, the closer to 100% is the chance that someone will already have traveled through time. Most unsettling.
2. I'm not the first person to have this thought: the only device you need for a Cylon detector is a penis. Why? Because as we saw in the very first episode of the revamped "Battlestar Galactica," i.e., the miniseries, Cylon spines light up during sex. All you need, as a Cylon inspector, is an inclination to do it doggie style, and voilà-- lit spine = your ass is mine!
For the Cylon women, at least. For Cylon men, well, I guess we need a lady with a willing mouth, and a mirror. Assuming the men's spines light up, of course.
As I joked with my buddy Mike, the writers silently did away with the whole spine-glowing thing as the series progressed, probably because they, too, realized that this could be problematic.
Why would anyone in their right mind ever want to buy a CafePress mug (like this one) for the ridiculous price of $12-$14 when they can get a mug of equal or better quality for only $2-$5 from this site? Is there some sort of scam or trick involved here? Those mugs are damn cheap.
Along with the news of all the rumbling going on the Middle Eastern countries, we've got Wisconsin. The state elected a Republican governor and now has a majority-Republican legislature, which is currently trying to pass legislation that would strip away unions' collective bargaining leverage (some would say "rights"). I've never been a big fan of unions. As I commented on Lee's blog (comment somewhat edited):
I have my doubts about unions. After watching what two very different unions did to each of my parents, neither of whom seemed to receive any great benefits from the “efforts” of the unions to which they belonged, I’m deeply skeptical about what unions actually do. I understand that, in principle, they’re “for the working person,” but in practical reality they often seem to be more about (1) dues that pad the union leaders’ salaries, (2) picketing that accomplishes next to nothing, unless we count microscopically incremental changes to a given contract as huge victories, (3) rivalry with other unions (as I saw, in particular, with my mother’s job: she belonged to a small union that worked for a much larger union, and that larger union frequently took advantage of her union), and (4) the promotion of stagnation and incompetence.Lee's reply was very thoughtful; he emphasized the undeniable role of unions in the past that agitated to give today's workers many of the rights and privileges we nowadays take for granted. Unfortunately, this doesn't alleviate my doubts about unions today.
Couple that with the nonsense I see happening routinely in countries like France and South Korea, where transportation unions and auto workers’ unions strike and act out violently (especially in Korea’s case) on a regular basis, and I have trouble seeing what unions are good for.
That said, I’m not for abolishing unions; I do believe that workers need to stick up for each other, and that the labor/management divide is a real and significant issue. But a lot has to change before I can be convinced that unions are clearly a good thing. A good start might be for union leaders to be more accountable to union members, and for something to be done about the Mafia-like mentality that causes such blinding hatred toward scabs who, far from being Judases, are often just people who need to feed their families. Unions shouldn’t eat their own, but they so often do. More compassion, please, and less of the black-and-white, in-group/out-group mentality. My two cents, anyway.
The resultant pyrotechnics in Wisconsin have taken an unpredictable turn: conservative/Tea Party counter-demonstrations in support of the Republican Governor Scott Walker are now taking place, and some angry citizens have started recall movements to oust the Democrats who've fled the state for parts unknown (at least one Democrat has to be present for voting to take place, which is why they're all gone). Other Wisconsin citizens are telling the state's public school teachers to get the hell back to work (they've been demonstrating, too), and on some level, it looks as if Democrat efforts are backfiring, especially as more and more statistics reveal how a disproportionate amount of public funding is being funneled into supporting a very small public-sector demographic.
Similar backlashes are happening elsewhere. It's with grim satisfaction that I witness, for example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's constant battles with the unions in his state, or House Speaker John Boehner's open desire to strip away public-sector benefits. But at the same time, especially as I've followed the news about Wisconsin, a nagging thought has dogged me about the self-consistency of the conservative position. In response to a recent post by Malcolm, I wrote this comment:
I don’t know enough about economics to comment intelligently and at length on the subject, but I have to wonder whether there isn’t a sort of “reverse redistributionism” now blossoming in the conservative mind. The inequities of payments and benefits need to be evened out somehow:
[quoting John Derbyshire, from Malcolm's post] “I mentioned Scott Walker raising state employees’ health-care contributions to 12 percent and their pension contributions to 5.6 percent. Who pays for the other 88 percent on health care? Who pays for the other 94.4 percent on pensions? Why, the taxpayers of Wisconsin, of course. That’s the kind of distortion, the kind of injustice, that public-sector unionization has brought us. It’s wrong and it needs fixing.”Obviously, on one level, there are disanalogies. When liberals get redistributive, they’re usually targeting rich corporate types, individuals who have amassed fortunes and who don’t seem to want to “spread the wealth around” — a dynamic that appears unfair to the redistributionist mindset. The conservative response to this is that, in a free market, you can expect inequities to appear as people demonstrate varying degrees of competitiveness: how far one rises is in large part a function of one’s willingness to work for that brass ring.
The current case, with conservatives crying foul over fiscal inequities, might be disanalogous because, from the conservative standpoint, anyway, this is about the collusion of large entities like the federal government and unions with thousands of members to siphon off public money. As Derb says, it’s a systemic problem (which is, by the way, the sort of language I tend to associate more with liberals than with conservatives: the language of systems, not individuals).
But however we slice it, there’s still the redistributive mindset at work among conservatives, disanalogies aside. Or so it seems to me, anyway. Does this mean conservatives are for equitable redistribution of money in some cases? To put it more succinctly: conservatives normally define economic “justice” in more Darwinian terms (competition, inherent inequities, different outcomes, etc.), leaving redistributive justice to the liberals. Has this changed?
That, for me, is the problem in a nutshell. I may disagree with an ideological position, but I'll respect it as long as it seems self-consistent to me. What seems to be happening now, however, strikes me as inconsistent on some level-- possibly even hypocritical. I'm not sure. And it's because I'm not sure that I invite you to comment here. If you're conservative, feel free to set me straight. If you're liberal, feel free to cheer my analysis and confirm it with more data. If you're on the fence, feel free to commiserate, and to say, along with a former coworker of mine, "They're all dirty bastards!"
For your reference, Scott Walker's page on "The Cost of Public-sector Benefits," here.
UPDATE: Malcolm's response to my comment.
UPDATE 2: Aaron McKenzie writes a post that, while not a direct response to my post, nevertheless rebuts my claim about the Darwinian flavor of conservative conceptions of economic "justice."
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
I finally figured out how I'm going to write most of my eBay entries from now on: Q&A!
ITEM: C-Icon Laptop Backpack
STARTING BID: $13.95
BUY IT NOW: $18.95
DIMENSIONS: (without handle and straps) approx. 18.5" H x 15" W at widest point; thickness varies, but approx 5.5" to 6"
WEIGHT: 21.8 ounces
Q: Will this item increase my penis length by at least 3 inches?
Q: Can I fuck it?
A: Yes. But why?
Q: Will it make chicks dig me?
A: If you're stupid enough to ask the penis question, then... yes.
Q: What R U wearing?
A: Grandma, stop texting me. It's creepy.
Q: Is there a God?
A: Yes, and He is very, very angry with your penis question.
Q: Is this laptop backpack for real?
A: You mean, like, furreallz? Here's an idea: buy it and find out.
Q: What if I don't like it?
A: What if I don't like your mom?
Q: Why R U so mean to me?
A: Don't think I don't know it's you again, Grandma. Your overuse of "R U" is giving you away. And it's still creepy.
Oh, I think this is gonna be fun. But it may get me kicked off eBay.
I've applied to two temp agencies, Manpower and Kelly, which have local offices. I had originally wanted to drive over to their offices to apply, but when I called the Manpower number to schedule an appointment, the lady said that everything is done online these days: you fill out the application and attach your resume, then when a company comes looking for someone with approximately your skill set, you'll receive a call or an email, according to your preferred contact method.
A kind reader (thanks, John) also sent me a job announcement for a proofreading position with Yonsei University; I applied last week. It would be a pretty sweet gig if I could get it: roughly $3000/month salary, and the work would involve polishing research papers written in English by Korean professors looking to submit their work. At this point, I'm getting desperate for some sort of steady, salaried work. My fear, though, is that because the ad was sent to me on February 11, and the job ad itself has a January 25 date, it may already be filled. Another problem is that the ad says that Yonsei is looking for a full-time proofreader who would be on site for them, which is obviously problematic since I'm an ocean and a continent away. In my application, I did what I could to sweeten the deal in hopes of finagling a contract.
At this point, I've written Yonsei three times, and plan to write them once more, possibly today. Will they interpret this as desperation or gung-ho eagerness? (And are these states of mind mutually exclusive?) If there's no response, I'll stop hoping that this job might come through. Right now, I'm scoping the vile swamp that is Craigslist, doing laundry, and getting ready for a much-needed shopping excursion to pick up some human food. My pantry contains little more than carbs, spices, and seasonings.
So! How's your month been?
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
An example of the specious "I can't see a horse in his brain, so the brain can't be linked to the mind" argument here. Alas, this sort of thinking seems little different from a "God of the gaps" argument: Science hasn't fully explained this phenomenon, so any current scientific speculation about it must be false. (God-of-the-gapsistas would replace "any current scientific speculation about it must be false" with "it must be the work of God.") This argument has about as much worth as saying, "I can't see an actual image of Jack Black when I use my microscope to look closely at my Blu-ray disc, so I conclude that there's no connection between this disc and the image of Jack Black on my screen."
What will the substance dualists say if scientists do manage to invent a way to render thoughts-- with increasing accuracy-- on a screen, per the "Black Hole" episode of House (Season 6, episode 15, which shows a fictionalized version of cognitive mapping of the subconscious)? I'm assuming the dualists' answer is a confident "They won't." Which is good: that provides us with our Popperian metric for falsifiability. Should scientists ever achieve this breakthrough, dualists should fall on their swords to recover their honor. But they won't; we already know this. Instead, they'll just move the goalposts, as they've been doing, because that's the nature of ego. They want to insist on their own ignorance, science and evidence be damned. As I wrote in Water from a Skull:
Britney: The problem is that you can’t really build an artificial mind. You can build something that simulates the mind, perhaps, or at least simulates conscious behavior. But you can’t construct something that’s actually conscious. The mind isn’t material, so it can’t be built out of material things.
Arnold: I was afraid you’d take that stance. You realize, of course, that your approach to mind dooms you to permanent ignorance about its fundamental nature.
Britney: What? How so?
Arnold: You’ve made two unprovable claims: first, that mind is immaterial, a claim that places itself outside the purview of scientific inquiry, making it, as Carl Sagan contended, “veridically worthless.” Second, that qualia are radically subjective, which makes it impossible to build an argument about minds in general on them. How is this different from solipsism?
Britney: I still don’t get the whole “ignorance” thing. I’m a philosopher, Arnold. My entire life has been one long inquiry into the nature of reality. Why would I wall myself off from certain speculative possibilities?
Arnold: Because your fundamental commitments prevent you from seeing a very obvious truth: materialistic assumptions about minds are producing results. We’re building artificial entities that exhibit increasingly complex behaviors. Sometime in the future, those entities will manifest behaviors that are, effectively speaking, the products of consciousness.
Britney: You can’t be sure of that!
Arnold: Why can’t I be sure of that?
Britney: Because no matter how complex an entity you build, there’s no way to confirm that the thing actually has a mind!
Arnold: Yes! My point exactly! Your underlying claim is that we can’t test for consciousness, ja? That, dear Britney, is an admission of ignorance. What if we devise amazingly stringent, subtle, comprehensive tests?
Britney: You still won’t have proven anything. Let’s say you make a robot that acts so human it can pass for human. It’s still just a machine, just a complex version of a toaster. It won’t have a mind; it won’t have that immaterial spark.
Arnold: How can I convince you that this hypothetical machine is indeed conscious?
Britney: You can’t. It’s simply impossible.
Arnold: That’s why I say your position is one of willful ignorance. Such a test, you contend, is impossible now, and will always be impossible.
Britney: Back up. I still don’t get your accusation about “ignorance.”
Arnold: Look; you’re saying that the mind is immaterial and that qualia are radically subjective. This means that your side can never really understand what mind is, because you’re convinced there’s no way to explore it scientifically. Further, you insist there’s no way to test for the presence of consciousness, which is tantamount to saying you don’t know what consciousness is. After all, when you want to test for something—to see whether it’s there or not—you have to know something about it. Take AIDS testing. If I don’t have any idea what AIDS is, it’s kind of hard to design a test for it, don’t you think? By the same token, if you don’t have a clear idea what consciousness is, it’s kind of hard to test for that as well. I infer your ignorance from your inability to envision a test for consciousness.
Just saw this on Twitter:
The transition is complete -- Boehner shifts from "where are the jobs" to "to hell with the jobs" http://bit.ly/dIGtslI thought this was interesting enough to follow up, so I clicked the link, which led to this:
QUOTE OF THE DAY.... As of this morning, the official Republican line has gone from "where are the jobs" to "to hell with the jobs." As a substantive matter, that's not exactly new, but as a rhetorical matter, I didn't expect this much candor from the House Speaker.I'm guessing that this commenter hasn't been following conservative rhetoric, which is one reason why he's completely misinterpreted the situation. (And here I'm not taking sides as to whose economic philosophy is right; I'm merely pointing out that the commenter is accusing Boehner/the GOP of self-inconsistency when no such inconsistency exists in this case.)
If House Republicans succeed in cutting tens of billions of dollars in discretionary spending over the next six months, some of the most immediate victims will be federal employees, many of whose jobs will be slashed as their agencies pare back.That's a rather extraordinary acknowledgement. Confronted with accusations that his own budget plan would kill jobs, Boehner not only conceded that the charges are correct, he went on to say he simply doesn't care.
At a press conference in the lobby of RNC headquarters Tuesday morning, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) shrugged this off as collateral damage.
"In the last two years, under President Obama, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs," Boehner said. "If some of those jobs are lost so be it. We're broke."
Mark the day and time -- the House Republican leadership no longer thinks it matters if GOP policies force thousands of American workers from their jobs.
I try to read around both the liberal and conservative blogosphere, but I admit I often gravitate toward Instapundit, who frequently dumps on the left but also occasionally excoriates the GOP. Reynolds sees himself more as a libertarian, which means he's aligned with many present-day conservatives (and also with most classical conservatives) on the question of the size and role of the federal government. Like most classical conservatives, Reynolds the libertarian sees government's role as minimal in most affairs: ideally, it should be stripped down to bare essentials like border control, national security/defense, maintenance of the freeways, etc. On Instapundit, for months now if not longer, Reynolds and his gaggle of like-minded partisans have been decrying the relative health of job numbers in the government sector while agitating for more to be done to improve job numbers in the private sector.
So it should come as no surprise that House Speaker John Boehner might say what he said: it's consistent with the new Republican/conservative/Tea Party/libertarian position. In his heart of hearts, he's gleeful that government workers might find themselves in as precarious a position as the private sector. His agenda is-- at least ostensibly-- to whittle down the size of the federal government, and he and his cronies will do that however they can.
So if Boehner's rhetoric comes as a surprise, or seems somehow hypocritical, to anyone on the left, this can only be because of the enormous communication gap between the two sides of the ever-widening aisle. The fact of the matter is that both sides engage in a great deal more incestuous amplification than across-the-aisle communication. Silly blog posts like the above are the result. Read each other's rhetoric, guys. That goes for you, too, Beck, Hannity, and all the other righties who distort, exaggerate, and twist the public's perception of reality.
No matter what side you're on in this ongoing national debate, do yourself a favor and cleave to the classic maxim, Know thine enemy.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
A message from the cosmos? An omen that love is near?
If so, only a humorous goddess would send me a rose through the medium of soup scum.
The above pic was taken a week or so ago. Just the other day, I visited a Chinese restaurant, and got the following fortune:
Taken very literally, the above doesn't bode well, and I'd better guard my ribcage. But if I were to interpret the fortune as it was likely intended to be read, then I'd say this fortune is part of a trend: the soup scum rose was somewhat oblique; the Chinese fortune was more explicit, so the final omen will have to be even more of an in-your-face sign that 2011 will see a dramatic romantic upturn. What might the next sign be? What could be more obvious than that fortune?
I'm rooting for amazingly sexy, naked woman falls through my ceiling, machine guns blazing. That kind of reminds me of one of my favorite 100 Belows...
And for those still experiencing a Valentine's afterglow, there's this (with thanks to Malcolm for reminding me of this comic).
I'm eBaying off the remaining few dozen copies of Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms, the book whose title gave rise to this blog's title. I've scanned a slew of pages and am putting together a Picasa album-- sort of a poor man's version of Amazon.com's "Look Inside!" function.
The book is old and a bit dated at this point. I'm actually planning to revise it somewhat and get it up on CafePress, where it can spend eternity as a print-on-demand work. But most of what's in the book will remain. This lovely Valentine's Day poem, for example:
Once I've got the slide show done and the eBay entry ready, I'll let you know.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Substance dualists like to say that there's no clear connection between brain states and subjectivity. This divide between first- and third-person ontology (more simply, subjective and objective reality) is at present inexplicable, and presents itself to scientists and philosophers as "the hard problem" of human consciousness: why do we experience? One of the substance dualists' favorite arguments is that, when one thinks of a horse, no actual horse appears inside the human brain: no horse-shaped electrical pattern, no homunculus-like horseling running around inside the gray matter, nothing recognizable as (and relatable to) a horse. To be fair, the dualists aren't saying that no representation of the horse exists (many would grudgingly concede that it may), but rather that the connection between a thought about a horse and a particular brain state indicating a thought about a horse is far from obvious, and that this militates against the physicalist contention that "the mind is what the brain does."
I concede that the dualists' basic point can't be refuted directly; science is still figuring out how to correlate brain states with subjectivity but has, in my opinion, already come a long way. And yet, despite the continued existence of the hard problem, the dualists' "no horse in my head" argument strikes me as a weak objection to physicalism. Look at a Blu-ray disc, for example. All you see is a disc that, when you tilt it in different directions, seems to reflect a shifting rainbow pattern. Yet you know that, in conjunction with a TV and a Blu-ray player and all the proper settings and connections, that disc is a key component in displaying a movie-- sight, sound, director's and actors' commentaries, etc. When I look at the disc, I see no movie, no director, no actors, and yet I know that the information corresponding to those concepts is contained on the disc.
Why, then, should we be troubled about the absence of literal horse-images in our brains? As the Blu-ray shows us, other non-conscious phenomena have similar properties: they contain information that isn't evident until an array of devices makes it so.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
I had an epiphany a few seconds ago, having just figured out how Matt Drudge selects which photos to display on his mega-meta-website, the Drudge Report: every picture must be such that it can be plausibly captioned "Elephant testicles!" or "Elephant testicles?"
Allow me to demonstrate with a random sampling. Here are all the Drudge photos currently on display at 12:46AM, February 13, 2011:
Justin Yoshida, in his "Spicy Maple Links of Destruction," recently linked to an interesting article by Dr. Stephen Asma (I think Sperwer first pointed me to Asma's writing) about the often-misguided nature of the New Atheism's attack on religion. I'd like to write a reaction to Asma's article, which says much that I both agree and disagree with. But not tonight: I just don't have the energy. Stay tuned, though; an essay is forming in me noggin. Meanwhile, please read Asma's piece, and feel free to leave comments here. (For the record: Asma is a practicing Buddhist who has spent a great deal of time in Southeast Asia.)
UPDATE: While you're at Justin's blog, be sure to check out that other link to "Alternate Universe Movie Posters." Those are hilarious. Not to mention way cool. The Clint-Eastwood-as-Wolverine poster caught my eye: "X-Men" was my first-ever encounter with the actor Hugh Jackman, and in that movie, Jackman reminded me of nothing so much as a young Clint Eastwood, right down to the squint. So this alternate-universe poster makes a bizarre kind of sense, at least to me.
And just like that, the traffic evaporated. As I knew it would. I guess what happened yesterday was the Czech version of an Instalanche. Now that Eastern Europe has come to know Korean gaebul, they turn to other things.
My own thirst for knowledge about the gaebul hasn't been slaked, however. I'd like to know where it's usually found, and how the fishermen retrieve them. Is this manual labor done by divers? How far out does one have to go to find these creatures? Do they hide among the rocks and coral, or do they bury themselves in the undersea sand? Although I can imagine what they eat, I'd like to know for sure what it is and how the eating's done. And how the hell do they reproduce in such vast numbers? Does the answer lie in the gaebul's disturbingly phallic shape? Is there some mysterious, yet-to-be-discovered sea-vagina that these little guys penetrate regularly, squirting their gaebul-juice? Does the sea-vagina lead to an immensely fecund marine uterus that periodically spews out baby gaebul in clouds of tiny millions?
And what animals prey on the gaebul? Considering how easy the creature is for humans to catch, it's got to be easy pickings for the local sea life. Which creature is the greatest gaebul-hunter of them all? Does the gaebul have any defenses against predators, or is reproduction its only real defense, with every lost gaebul being replaced by two more?
Questions. Only questions.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
I got the following email just now:
"Welcome, visitors from the Czech Republic! I don't know why you're all suddenly here, but I appreciate the visits."
well, it's a sort of feedback you created :-)
this video appered on a very popular www.stream.cz
and if you google "Urechis unicinctus" you come across the pics you posted on your blog
that's why you're having so many guests from CZ
bye from Prague, CZ
BTW did you really eat those babies? I like some of the Korean cuisine /I make my own kim-chi/ but this was new to me.
I wrote back that I haven't eaten any babies (yet), especially if I hope to visit the beautiful city of Prague which, quite rightly, won't appreciate hosting anyone with a baby-eating reputation.
It's all over the news right now: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down after 30 years of rule, much of which was on an emergency mandate. The revolution was essentially 18 days of peaceful demonstrations largely inspired by events in other countries like Tunisia. Egypt's military distinguished itself by its nonviolence and its studied neutrality, especially during the early stages of the revolution (now being called a "Winter Revolution" by Western journalists; whether Egyptians are also using this phrase is unclear to me). [UPDATE: Talk of all this being the outcome of a largely nonviolent military coup is racing through cyberspace. See Malcolm's post here.]
On a BBC webpage, a live-streamed interview was in progress a few minutes ago as a BBC reporter spoke with an elated Egyptian named Zakaria about the significance of this revolution. When the reporter asked what it was about Mubarak that had so enraged the Egyptian people, Zakaria said that it wasn't so much what Mubarak had done as what he had not done for decades, namely, encourage the market. Zakaria also felt that the next country to experience such a revolution might well not be an Arab one, but would instead be Iran. Significantly, he also said that Iran and other Middle Eastern countries have mischaracterized Egypt's revolution as Islamic. In Zakaria's opinion, the revolution was fundamentally secular, and any involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood merely signified that the Muslim Brotherhood was one oppressed party among many, nothing more.
Despite my doubts about the Muslim Brotherhood, I hope Zakaria is right, and that after the celebrations die down, more and more people will also see this moment in history as Egypt's great opportunity to modernize, embrace an openly secular market paradigm, and swim with the flow of history. It's going to be a hard swim: other bloggers have noted that 80% of Egyptians still advocate stoning an adulteress; I don't see such primitive mores changing anytime soon, but an increased focus on cultivating a true market economy will do much to introduce Egyptians to different viewpoints regarding the proper treatment of women and other aspects of modernity.
I have no desire to see Egypt move in an explicitly American direction as it embarks on the next phase of its evolution, but as has been true for the rest of us in the modern industrialized world, I hope the country begins a slow but steady process of self-examination, and starts to whittle away the more embarrassing vestiges of its history. America still wrestles with the consequences of slavery, racism, and genocide within its own borders, but to its credit, it engages in open, spirited dialogue on multiple fronts about these topics, encouraging a conscious awareness of the prickly issues that are still unresolved in our culture. The result has been massive gains for ethnic minorities, up to and including a black president. Egypt has 80 million people; who knows what such a country is capable of?
I have no idea what the future holds for a land that was the cradle of so much human civilization, but I wish the Egyptian people well, and hope that their revolution bears beneficent fruit.
UPDATE: Mike offers his "wet blanket" view here.
This morning, I've gotten a ton of hits from the Czech Republic as everyone Czechs out my old post on Korean gaebul. That post is one of the most popular pages on my blog: hundreds, possibly thousands of people have sought it out over the years. While I'm honored to be the popularizer of gaebul in the West, I can't helping feeling a bit disappointed that it wasn't a blog post on religion or a post containing filthy humor that drew so many people in. But hey-- maybe gaebul will prove to be like a gateway drug, fostering an addiction to this blog.
And let me just say that you Czechs had an amazing leader in Vaclav Havel. He could teach our current administration a thing or two about a proper geopolitical stance.
Friday, February 11, 2011
An interesting article by sociologist Peter Berger (he of the classic The Sacred Canopy): "Religious Double Citizenship." The topic: belonging to two distinct religious traditions (Christian-Buddhist, Jewish-Christian, Muslim-Christian, etc.). Berger writes:
What is one to make of all this? Let me first, in the interest of full disclosure, make three observations. As a sociologist, I am not surprised by any of it. I have long been convinced that plurality—the co-existence of different worldviews and value systems in the same society—is an almost inevitable consequence of modernity. I have endlessly written about this. Pluralism—most easily defined as the ideological embrace of plurality—is the most benign response to plurality (as against Balkanization and civil war). As a citizen, I am very much in favor of it. Moreover, as a Christian who likes to dabble in theology, I too believe that religious traditions should be in dialogue with each other and that each can learn from such activity. Thus I am predisposed to be sympathetic with the overall impetus behind the notion of religious double citizenship. However, I am skeptical regarding the syntheses described in Frykholm’s article.
There are two important themes that frequently occur in pluralistic approaches to religious diversity. They also occur here. One is the notion that one can relate to other religious traditions by way of common moral principles and of joint political actions. The other is the notion that commonality can be perceived as a result of comparable mystical experiences. Both notions underemphasize the cognitive aspect of religion. Both notions, I think, are problematic. It is doubtful that most traditions share moral principles. One can reduce morality to some practical recommendations. Buddhists and Christians can agree that one should not kick little old ladies into the gutter. But behind this shared recommendation lie vastly different definitions of reality.
Some of the above claims strike me as, at the very least, controversial, and Berger's advocacy of inclusivism at the very end of the essay seems abrupt, begging to be unpacked. But read the article and judge for yourself. Berger also writes on gay marriage here. Somewhat similar to my own stance, Berger sees himself as a religious liberal and a political conservative (I'd call myself a religious liberal and a political moderate, being skeptical of much that I see and hear in liberal and conservative camps while holding explicitly right- and left-leaning views); he is in favor of same-sex civil unions, is mildly against gay marriage, but also says that his stance is "evolving." (I'm very pro-gay marriage, and have been for years, but I've come around to agreeing that there are civil/legal and religious components in this discussion that need to be kept separate.)
So I'll be reading more of The American Interest with interest. It's where I read the article on Sun Tzu, after all, so it must be a good site.
UPDATE: I deal with the JuBu phenomenon in this old post from 2006. More here.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
UPDATE: I've established that one's Word Nerd score can fluctuate rapidly, simply by tweeting a slew of 50-cent words. I jumped from 551 to 565 by doing this; had I continued, I would doubtless have made it into the 600s. I wonder who the top Word Nerd is. At a guess, it's a woman. A woman with an enormous skull that barely contains her gigantic, grotesquely pulsating brain.
A link from Instapundit led to this interesting essay about Sun Tzu, the Chinese author of The Art of War. The writer argues that Sun Tzu's politically incorrect understanding of human nature stands in stark opposition to the bureaucratic mindset:
The Art of War, a book which has inspired Chinese emperors, Japanese shoguns, Napoleon, Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh, does not just subvert conventional morality. It is even more profoundly opposed to the bureaucratic mind: the approach to the world that believes that everything can be reduced to technique and procedures.
Much of America today is as addicted to bureaucratic, rule based thinking as ancient China. The uncertainties of life in a thermonuclear world haunt us. There must, we feel, be infallible techniques for making the economy grow, keeping inflation at bay, understanding international events and managing American foreign policy. When there is a problem — a financial crash, a revolution in a friendly country, an attack by hostile forces — somebody must have made an obvious mistake. They must have misapplied or failed to apply an obvious technique. We would rather believe that our leaders are foolish and incompetent (which they often are) than face the truth that we live in a radically unpredictable world in which no methods and no rules can guarantee safety.
Sun Tzu’s approach is directly opposed to most modern thought about social problems. He speaks about art and comes to war from a deeply Taoist worldview that highlights chaos, evanescence and change. We study “IR theory” and “political science” in the hope that some rational explanations exist that will hold all this chaos at bay. (At Bard I am happy to say we have “Political Studies” instead of “Political Science”; the more modest title recognizes the limits of the discipline. Sun Tzu, I think, would approve.) We want sure and safe rules: democracies don’t go to war with each other, rational considerations guide the policy of great states, most problems have win-win solutions that everyone can accept, the age of great power war is behind us. Sun Tzu says we are fooling ourselves by inventing these rules, blinding ourselves to perils on every side.
I like how the essay concludes:
I was not reaching for hyperbole when I wrote that this is a book that wants to slap its readers in the face. Like a Zen monk trying to astonish and trick the novice into a moment of enlightenment, Sun Tzu seeks to surprise, to shock and ultimately to awaken his readers. He is not teaching a body of doctrine but a habit of mind: a habit of attentive clarity out of which can come true judgment and decisive action. To the one with this habit, Sun Tzu’s specific precepts about war are highly useful and applicable to many domains beyond war. To the one lacking this awareness, Sun Tzu is worse than useless; he can breed that false confidence which is, next to despair itself, the attitude most likely [to] lead to utter and overwhelming defeat.
Go thou and read.
$593 = federal tax refund
$122 = VA tax refund
Come quickly, my precious dollars! Yes! Come to Papa!
For those who don't already know this: the H&R Block website will help you e-file your federal income tax form for FREE. To file the state form as well, it's about $28. This charge can be deducted from your refund, or you can have it debited directly out of your bank account.
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
So I've finished Shogun. The ending was as abrupt as I remembered it: the threat of epic battle loomed large throughout the nearly 1200-page novel, but in the end was glossed over as the MacGuffin it was. Toranaga's thoughts about the future were essentially what brought the novel to a close (excepting that italicized authorial intrusion at the very, very end, describing the outcome of the war and Lord Ishido's ignoble fate). Characters' thoughts were a major part of the story: Clavell had no scruples about jumping from character to character as an omniscient narrator; sometimes his jumps would occur in the midst of a dialogue. I occasionally wished, though, that he had chosen only one person to be the point-of-view character (isn't this what the TV miniseries "Shogun" originally did, when it chose to show everything through Blackthorne's eyes, leaving the Japanese dialogue unsubtitled?).
Those final five or six pages of the novel wrapped up almost all the loose ends, including the ones I've mentioned in earlier posts and comments. Blackthorne's logs weren't mentioned again, but since the logs had been grouped with his rutters, we did find out the fate of all that information, and came to know that Toranaga wasn't worked up about it at all. We also learned that Mura, the village headman, was actually one of Toranaga's greatest spies.
It's unfortunate that almost every single reference to Koreans in the novel denigrated them as "Garlic Eaters" (always capitalized) and cowards. Only one character, the former Taiko, pondered using Koreans as part of an army to invade China, but even this reference was made in the context of conscription or subjugation. A more Korean-friendly reading of Clavell might be that he was emphasizing Japanese arrogance, but Clavell's book is open to multiple interpretations. He's been accused of a form of "orientalism" by those who feel he's caricatured the Japanese (many of whom seem all too willing to slit their own bellies), but he's also been accused of being a Japanophile by those who take a dim view of his portrayal of most of the Westerners in the novel. About the only two respectable Westerners are Blackthorne and Father Alvito, with the pilot Rodrigues a distant third.
Reading this novel both before and after a Master's program in religious studies proved enlightening; this time around, I was more sensitive to the various conflicts between and among Portuguese/Spanish Catholicism, English Protestantism, Pure Land and Zen Buddhism, and, underlying all Japanese sensibilities, Shinto. The internal struggle of Catholic characters like Mariko-- born into Shinto/Buddhist syncretism, converting to Catholicism, and falling in love with a roguish English Protestant-- was more poignant to me this time around.
I have both praise and complaints about Clavell's writing style. As I mentioned before, his prose tends to be clipped and overly spare. At the same time, I have great admiration for his mastery of 1600-era nautical terminology. I don't know how much he knew about ships and sailing before he sat down to write his novel, but Clavell was eminently comfortable with the terms. It did feel a bit strange, though, to see those terms used when we knew that Blackthorne was speaking in either Dutch or Portuguese almost the entire time.
Shogun remains an excellent novel, to my mind. Not one of my favorites, but well-plotted and fleshed out. It took a long-lost world and made it somehow real, and if a writer has managed that feat, he deserves high praise.
Instead of concentrating on my own blog, I've been unfaithful again and have left a few comments over at Malcolm's blog as he dives once more into the fascinating and frustrating question of an objective basis for morality. Malcolm's posts are here and here.
My own fuzzy suspicion is that the old formulation, most familiarly associated with David Hume, that "one cannot logically derive ought from is" is a bad approach to the problem. I think we need to take imperatives as a given because we see teleonomic behavior in living beings. From there, it should be obvious that oughts are actually a subset of ises. However, Bob Koepp, in one of his comments to Malcolm's posts, notes that "We need to be careful, though, not to conflate evaluations with values. There’s no question that we make evaluations — it’s a fact that we make them. But that’s not what it means for values to be a species of fact." I gather, then, that Bob would disagree that, in an onto-axiological Venn diagram, "ought" would be the smaller circle inside "is."
I may need to break out my old copy of Jacques Monod's Chance and Necessity (orig. Le hasard et la nécessité), which may be somewhat relevant to this discussion.
Tuesday, February 08, 2011
Holden Beck expresses a feeling I understand well, but which many of my Korean friends and relatives, gregarious creatures that they are, can't fathom. The quote from Thoreau is particularly relevant, and illustrates one of the reasons why I often prefer to travel alone.
Monday, February 07, 2011
I need to work the numbers more precisely, but I may be in for a nice federal tax refund in the neighborhood of $600-- more, if I figure in some aspects of my scholastic debt. That's the advantage of having just started a job that doesn't pay much, I guess: more benefits for us po' folk.
I'm almost done with my rereading of James Clavell's Shogun, and one question that's been bugging me for a while, now, is What happened to Blackthorne's logs? The Catholic priests, who recognized Blackthorne as a threat early on (our hero is an English Protestant, and thus more than just a political enemy of Spain and Portugal), were convinced that the best way to turn Lord Toranaga against Blackthorne would be to show Toranaga the Englishman's logs, which would have been a long chronicle of rape, murder, and plunder, most distasteful and dishonorable to samurai eyes. If I remember correctly, the logs and rutter (navigation chart, in this case one stolen from the Portuguese, since the English hadn't mapped the route to Japan themselves) are indeed handed over to Toranaga... but nothing has happened. I still have a hundred or so pages to go, and it's been so long since I last read the book. Is it possible that the pilot's logs will serve as some sort of punchline at the end, or did Clavell make a huge narrative gaffe by leaving this part of the story unresolved? I'll soon know.
Sunday, February 06, 2011
My first-ever glimpse of so-called "dharma combat." It's not quite the same as the combat I've read about (Wikipedia talks about that style here), but it was interesting all the same for what it was. It reminded me of footage I've seen of an aikido master facing student after student, demonstrating his mental and spiritual poise. It was also reminiscent of the laughter I've heard in Korean dharma halls during dharma talks. Religion is nobler when it remembers to laugh-- both at the world and at itself.
At long last, I seem to have gotten sick. Nothing incapacitating-- just a slightly sore throat, a headache, and some mucus that won't go away-- but annoying all the same. I'm pretty sure the cause is my apartment's temperature: in an attempt to save on electricity costs, I normally keep the thermostat dialed down to 69 degrees (20.6 Celsius), which is apparently a few degrees cooler than my body likes. It's been this way for several weeks, now. Last night, I ratcheted the temperature back up to 73 (22.8), which is closer to my usual comfort zone. I slept better, but the damage of the past few weeks had been done, and I woke up this morning with the aforementioned symptoms playing discordant jazz riffs in my head. Part of the problem may also be that I recently ran out of Vitamin C, which I guzzle in the 2000mg range daily. The sudden drop in C intake may have played its own role in the current discomfort.
Not to worry, though: a few gargling sessions with a peroxide solution ought to combat the sore throat, and a temporary raising of the ambient temperature to 73 degrees for a few days ought to do the trick for the rest. As for the vitamins, I'll buy them when I can afford them.
Saturday, February 05, 2011
I had a great two-hour conversation with one of my very best friends today, JW Kang. He's now stationed in Navi Mumbai, a satellite of Mumbai, and in a few months his wife and children will be following him there from Seoul. They'll be in Navi Mumbai for four or five years; my friend works for Korean giant Posco, which is setting up steel production facilities in India. It'll take some time for the project to get off the ground, and JW is part of the advance team spearheading the effort. Posco's activities in India aren't without controversy, as some of you may know; my friend is, of course, hyper-aware of this fact. He tells me his colleagues are a mix of Koreans and Indians, and that caste plays a significant role in daily goings-on, sometimes creating a measure of social awkwardness, e.g., if one's boss happens to be of lower caste than oneself. JW wryly noted that foreigners are lower than the lowest caste members; this reminded me a bit of life as a foreigner in Korea, where my place in the social structure was often unclear.
We talked about life, family, politics, business (definitely outside my comfort zone), language issues (Indian accents can be pretty thick), and of course, food. It was great to hear from my buddy, who tracked me down on Skype. I wish him and his family the very best. Life in a foreign country is never easy.
Friday, February 04, 2011
Well folks, it's no lie: eBay works. I've just sold three items over the past 72 hours, and in all three cases, the items were purchased at the Buy It Now price as opposed to the minimum bid.
This is further evidence for my theory that eBay isn't really an auction site at all: it doesn't work like a normal auction, and only superficially resembles a silent auction. In a normal English-style auction, bidding begins right away, and people have to lay down bids from the first moment the auctioneer starts crying the wares. On eBay, if an item is up for bidding for a period of seven days, what most potential buyers do is bide their time, waiting until the final hour of the final day to place a bid.
Either that, or they decide to forgo bidding altogether and just buy the item at its Buy It Now price, a fixed price that's substantially higher than the minimum bid. In my case, what this means is that (1) a $3 item has sold for $5; (2) a $5 item has sold for $7, and (3) a $15 item has sold for $24. While it would have been nice to see these items driven up to insane prices-- say, $500 each (ha ha!)-- through long and drawn-out bidding wars, the sad fact is that bidding wars can't happen on eBay because everyone waits until the last damn minute, precisely to avoid having the prices driven up.
There needs to be some sort of rule about this, but I can't imagine what it would be. The site has no right to twist anyone's arm: Bid, damn you! What sane person would shop at a place that didn't allow you to walk back out of the store without purchasing anything? That would be a bit like living in one of those countries where citizens are required to vote under penalty of law-- a scary prospect.
I keep hoping that some newer, better auction paradigm will come along. Wikipedia has a good list of different auction styles; perhaps some method more suited to online browsing can be found. In the meantime, though, I'm happy that eBay has proved to be a pretty good way to sell my wares. It's not working out so well with my proposed Skype courses (no nibbles as of yet), but that may have more to do with my poor marketing skills than with any eBay-related problems. For personal goods, though, it's been eye-opening to see just how many buyers are out there on eBay. So I guess I'll keep on selling.
A cool BoingBoing feature on octopus brains. Taken along with that nifty TV show I saw last year, "Underwater Aliens," which focuses on octopod intelligence, it's a fascinating glimpse of a type of consciousness that is both radically other and yet disturbingly familiar.
Then, of course, there's Bear Grylls showing us how to kill an octopus instantly.
Thursday, February 03, 2011
Peace and prosperity to you and yours.
NOTE: A horrifying misspelling in the above cartoon was caught by reader and friend Bill Keezer. Soon to be corrected, along with a number of other artistic flaws. Meanwhile, enjoy my brain fart while it's there for all to see, and be glad that my current reading of Shogun hasn't inspired me to commit seppuku to expunge my dishonor.
UPDATE: Image fixed. Whew.
I've often wondered whether JK Rowling took inspiration from reading the work of American SF/fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson. Some of the phrases in her Harry Potter books seem to indicate such inspiration. Lately, however, I find myself wondering whether Donaldson himself might have taken inspiration from a fellow novelist: James Clavell, author of Shogun, which I'm currently rereading.
The evidence is sketchy, I admit, but as I've been rereading Clavell's novel, Donaldson's tropes and diction have occasionally come to mind. One example is the locution "God-rotting," used by a Dutch sailor in Clavell's novel and also by a character in one of Donaldson's novels, Darsint in A Man Rides Through. These are the only two instances of "God-rotting" that I've ever read.
Then there's the behavior of Toranaga, the daimyo who spends most of the story denying any ambition to become Shogun. Toranaga has never lost a battle, and somewhere just after the middle of the novel, he feigns capitulation to his enemies, doing such a convincing job that even his own minions are convinced they will have to follow their lord into ignominy. This closely resembles the ploy used by King Joyse in both books of the Mordant series, The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through. Joyse plays the doddering fool for most of the length of the story, revealing only toward the end that he had been in control the entire time, having pretended weakness both to draw out his enemies and to keep his own people in close orbit around him, where they would be in a position to do what was necessary when war finally broke out.
I had one or two more data points I wanted to add, other bits of Clavelliana that may have been borrowed (or merely referenced-- no need to accuse anyone of underhandedness, here), but they've slipped my mind, dammit. Gotta learn to take notes faster.
Wednesday, February 02, 2011
There were reports, yesterday, that today was going to be hell on earth for drivers-- that temperatures were going to plunge below freezing during a wintry mix of rain, sleet, and snow, leaving many roads covered in a dangerous sheen of black ice.
Not so, said the weather reports this morning. Instead, it's to be rain and above-freezing temperatures. All the better for me, as I have miles to drive before I sleep.
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
I never thought I'd say such a thing about Hershey's chocolate, but I'm happy to admit I was wrong: this Hershey's recipe for eggless chocolate mousse actually beats out the recipe I got from Nigella Lawson's website. Just made a batch of mousse yesterday, using this new recipe, and it turned out amazingly well.
Nigella's trick for simulating a mousse's consistency without eggs is to use marshmallows-- a move I found extremely clever. But no matter how I tried, the texture of Nigella's mousse never quite seemed right to me. A decent mousse should not merely retain its shape when you dig into it with your spoon: the divot left by the spoon should be pitted with tiny bubbles that indicate you are indeed eating a mousse (French for foam) and not a mere pudding. Nigella's recipe led to only a few scattered, lackluster bubbles.
The Hershey's recipe, however, relies on a different cheat, which you might or might not find disgusting: gelatin instead of marshmallows. Gelatin is mammalian byproduct, as you may know. It doesn't seem quite right that we use it so casually in desserts, but there's no questioning its effectiveness. It's a crucial ingredient in the Hershey's recipe, and guarantees that your mousse will, when attacked, reveal myriad bubbles in its delicious wounds.
The end result doesn't taste bad, either, perhaps because the recipe calls for Hershey's Special Dark chocolate powder and not the regular powder.
Try it. You'll like it.